THE SHORT END OF DEMOCRACY AND THE POVERTY OF HOPE IN NIGERIA

I wish to thank the Quantum Leap Africa Initiative for this invitation even as the notice and the invitation were rather short; a reality that is not too divorced form the clear knowledge and thinking of the prime mover that if the long years of our warm relationship add up to anything that is loyal and selfless, then I ought to say yes. He was careful though. He did not call himself, knowing again that l could say no, not because the task would be daunting, after all, as a professed philosopher, l think 24/7 and worry myself stiff with what normal human beings take for granted, but because of my hectic schedules at the University of which he is most aware. So he sent his foot soldiers with some distinct direct order ‘do not come back until and unless you get him’. lf I am here, then the foot soldiers did a good job. Besides, it is always a delightful pleasure to raise issues and think though them with good intensions of naming, interpreting and finding solutions to whatever problems we have identified. Thinking and reasoning after all are our generic mandates as rational elements and it is only by being engaged in them that we can authenticate our essence. When and if we stop thinking and reasoning, we cease to be human. This is the time that we become less human. We could become goat or lesser still, zombies saying yes to all commands and soulless directives.

          The advertised titled topic for discussion is ‘’The Short end of Democracy and the Poverty of Hope’’. I have however with guarded indulgence added a qualifier so as not to appear rather too ambitious. The title topic with moderation should now read ‘’ The short end of Democracy and the poverty of Hope in Nigeria’ ’. Even where l have numerous cases of deluded hope to cite from the first and second world nations, the realities from our home source in particular should facilitate richer discussions and bring closer home the tragedy of governance as we know it today. The disconnect between rulers and the ruled between the interests and expectations of the latter and the betrayal of the former.

Africa as a Continent is blessed. Hers is a contagious blessing that affects all nations within it, both in terms of natural and human resources. Our geographical seasons support life 365 days with the added advantage that they are predictable. There must certainly be something very wrong then if fruits and vegetables suddenly become scare, if yams and corn become hard to find, if hunger becomes a national crisis needing world attention as it is the case in Niger and Ethiopia and food suddenly becomes a weapon trade and war in South Sudan and Iraq. To say that that the seasons are predictable further suggests that as thinking elements we can from force of habit anticipate their arrivals and therefore do the needful. We cannot and should not therefore be caught unawares if we are truly thinking and faithfully committed towards the project of survival. If that is as they say in tennis, we keep our eyes on the ball. This is what it means for nations and regions prone to natural disasters to have dependable early warning infrastructures in place so that they can guarantee their maximal survival. It is what it means in desert regions prone to natural disasters to have dependable early warning infrastructures in place so that they can guarantee their maximal survival. It is what it means in desert regions of the world to have irrigated farmlands that would guarantee unlimited food supply all the year round. The desert nation of Lybia, Syria and Israel for example have cried out to the world for food aid.

          Nature and seasons themselves do not think. They simply happen in total disregard to everything else. They are informed by laws that are peculiar to them and they are uniform. When rain falls for example it does so regardless of wedding and laundry plans. Volcanoes erupt tsunamis occur regardless of high yielding farmlands and tourist centres that we build around their sites. There are no tragedies therefore since there existed no premeditated intention on their part to create any. If there should then be what we call tragedies, we must look to the thinking elements who in their thought must have lacked every initiative to anticipate and like the boys scout stayed prepare. Nature owes man no explanation so too life.  The latter is oblivious to our participation as human beings within it. We come in, we exit and life, without a wink, goes on being what it is, the source of aliveness to all that exist animate and inanimate. What is expected of us is to anticipate and harness nature. That was the mandate in Genesis Chapter verse 26. It is what it means to means to have dominion.

          Africa, blessed as she, is however equally cursed. It is curse that is also contagious affecting all nations and peoples within it. it is a generic curse of self – promotion, greed and trivial sense of the serious that now can be carefully patterned and categorized into specific aspects of every – day life. Some scholars and commentators have blamed this on the abundance of her resources and or the established mind-set that whatever is available as resources can never be enough for all. In this, there is a sickening disdain for common good and little respect for justice and fairness. As the topic suggests the notion of fair play is negotiable.

          I shall be concerned in this lecture with politics and governance as practiced in Nigeria. Specifically, I shall be using the prism of Democracy, that form of government that is said to be of the people, by the people for the people seeking to determine if it has truly been an organ of service and enrichment or a perverted impoverished instrument of exploitation and dehumanization. Using the generic curse highlighted above as backdrop, I shall conclude that the impotent posture of the cultural mind-set and the attending conceptual distortions, are plausible natural expectations.

          Democracy as a form of government has become the ideal to be sought after by whatever means. It is, we are told, the best form of government. This conclusion, ratified and popular as it is, however its history had. I belong in the 50s, the era of the Cold War when it was difficult to separate truth from propaganda, when against Capitalist, Communism and Socialism were paraded as synonyms for satanic manifestations. “Kill it before it grows“ was then the mandate of America. So Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana met his Waterloo. So did Julius Nyerere with his Ujama; likewise Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel and I wish to throw in Obafemi Awolowo. There was just somethings about a government that professed one for all and all for one, where people owned nothing for themselves yet owned everything and the state cared for all.

          I, of course, agree that there is something about the human nature that desires competition. There is the desire to the better than the other, to be the best; to be the first, the wealthiest, the richest, the one with the best car, the biggest house. Martin Luther King calls it the Drum Major instinct. The desire to lead parade. What is often forgotten however even as we preach and advocate 

Competition is the internal seeds of destruction that the process carries and which it always delivers. I need not bore you with the tragedy of competition in the office, female bankers who want it all, guys who will do anything to be promoted, the first against the second, Children who want to be Daddy’s pet. Competition and the colossal contest for supremacy among nations have historically led to many wars too numerous to count and too many death as the policy of sovereign supremacy and the principle of non- interference are thrown to the dogs with the devil may care attitude. Where there are noticeable resistance, the economic swords IMF or World Bank are drawn to drive home the point with ever ready bail-out strategies. Greece is the recent victim. All in the name of Democracy and victory at all cost for Capitalism.

          But do not be fooled when l say this. Democracy still has my vote because it guarantees my freedom and autonomy. It preserves my dignity as a human rational element and it provides the platform to raise my voice and be heard. Equal liberty and equal opportunities to grow and find purpose. It puts me in charge and gives me the power to initiate change and push it through legitimate means. I can vote.

          Africa has rightfully adopted democracy and from one nation to the other it has attracted various qualifications from nascent to crude, mixed to confused, developing to full blown democracies. Whatever these qualifications suggest may not be too clear but democracy remains the umbrella under which all operation are executed. It is the option of governance. Nigeria is a democracy. Our President has been invited by President of the U.S.A. the greatest democracy in the world. Nigeria is with the big league. She is on the world stage.

          I wish to re-emphasise the world option. An option presupposes that there are other alternatives to choose from as indeed there are other forms of government: Anarchism, Totalitarianism Welfarism, Fascism, and Military Dictatorship to mention just a few. To forsake these for democracy presupposes some preference or preference or preferences. Where such preferences are collective, there ought to be less difficulties of processing or execution. Where they are not or where they are outcome of military coups, the majority are kept in the dark and often they suffer. This is the birthplace of resistance movements and revolutions.

          Where Democracy is adopted as a preferred form of government, there are two major categories of people; the ruled who hold the power to vote those they deem fit into power and the rulers. The former have expectations and interests to be met and the latter have in various ways demonstrated that they are more than able to meet those expectations and interests. To forestall anarchy and fascist tendencies, the Constitution is thrown in as safeguard. In a democracy, the expectations and interests are made during campaigns for elective positions and promise are given. This then is the birthplace of hope.

          One word however which all parties involved always miss out in the democratic process of exchange of promises is the word “dicey’’. It is a word that is derived from the word `dice` a square object used in gambling. To gamble is to take risk in the hope of getting better results. The act of gambling is a risky undertaking with no valid assured guarantee. What drives gambling therefore is greed the hope that the next bid or throw of the dice will clinch the jackpot. A gambler is therefore a “hope freak“. A freak is an abnormality, someone that is a little possessed. He is an eccentric. Someone who behaves unconventionally, compulsively seemingly with little control of his volition.

       My observation here about the relations of hope and promises is typical of all other forms of relations. I need not dwell on the futility of the ‘I do’ on wedding day and how so quickly the ‘I love you’ becomes ‘I hate you’ and I would rather wish you pack your bag and move on. Promises give birth to hope.  However, conceptually both promises and hope have no epistemological or knowing content. They are mere wishes, and wishes like promises are empty. By the same token, hopes are mere mental figmentations without a knowing content. You cannot perceive hope enough to describe and verify it or scoop anything from it. In fact, it is not an ‘it’ because it has no existence that is definable, describable or knowable. Only the hope carrier know what he carries and he can fire it whichever way he feels. I am not affected by it. I cannot know or share his hope. Nonetheless, hoping is free. You do not pay to hope. It is like wishes. The electorate has all the right therefore to hope that his President, his excitement that all parties including himself are sitting in anticipation on a cloud of smoke. How do you cash on promises that have no guarantees? If you did it on trust, that also is just as knowledge empty. Who do you trust? How many times have that trust been betrayed?

          What is more? Governments are run by human beings and not by saints. They therefore have individual interests and motives which sometimes are never mentioned during campaigns. Motives are by their nature inscrutable, unshareable and unknowable. How many times for instance have we cheered on coup plotters with promises to right the wrongs and create a better life where justice and fairness will prevail?

          Only few months back, our erstwhile President Ebele Johnathan promised to get rid of Boko Haram in one month. He tried, He has left. He spent billions of naira to make that promise during his campaign for re-election. Our hope has now been transferred to the new President, Mohamadu Buari. A State Government not too far from here owes those who voted him in top owed three, some four months. The President was highly embarrassed he had to hang the promises of a better tomorrow when today is hopelessly hopeless. A free capitalist system with no thought of an efficient tax policy or one where free enterprise remains a private survival bid promises nothing and guarantees nothing. It is the typical dance of a headless chicken.

          You may wish to ask me if indeed things will get better. We sincerely hope it will particular now. There is something fresh and serious about the present dispensation. But as long as the scenario is a hope situation that is devoid of content and strategy; against the ephemeral and transitory natures of loose promises and the slippery hidden natures of motives, the fulfilment of such a hope is as good and real as moulding blocks from smoke. The truth is, the promise giver and the custodian of hope are both involved in a macabre dance, a gambling enterprise with no guarantees. Only the goodwill and genuine sincerity of the promise giver can possibly save the day. That is of course minus his motives and hidden interests.

          The dislocation of promises and hope thwarted or shattered will continue particularly under a democratic setting. You will think and wish to believe that indeed absolute power ultimately belongs actually and rightly so to the people. Often it is just not so particularly where the people has worked brilliantly at critical moments and the ship of governance is on course. Its exhuberance has however kept throwing itself up underscoring total ignorance about how democracy works and therefore the need for stiff moderation without breaking the symbiotic chain. And so the Deputy Governor had to issue a warning t some youth recently who are in the habit of taking laws into their own hands to press for domestic local issues.

You might then ask what to do in order to guarantee that promises translate as hope realised. That rulers will not always exploit the people who voted them in and betray their trust. One way is through is persistent engaging monitoring. Constructive engagement, to never cease to press and insist on accountability. Not to relent by lawful strategic mean to remind the rulers constantly of their promises and show them their score cards and ratings. They must be reminded always that new elections are coming if the people suddenly do not suffer memory loss, they should know then how to vote.

          The ball therefore is not in the court of the rulers to deliver on their promises and make people’s hope realisable. There is a strong demand on their integrity and loyalty to the people they promised to serve. The people’s court must be and remain vibrant. Today’s people are however wiser, and social networking media has made communication easier. News of exploitation, administrative rape and pilfering can go round easily. This is a call upon the civil and non-government organisations to teach the ethos of democracy and responsibility of government to the people. Power belongs to the people. Only when promises are not just and hopes conceived by the people are concretely met can democracy as a preferred mode of governance truly earns its stripes. In sum, both promises and hope must wear the same trouser. Period

I thank you for your kind attention

PROF. WALE OLAJIDE(Director of General Studies, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria)

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