By Oluwatobi Odeyinka
Democracy and federalism have proven to be among the best approaches to governance. One can imagine the excitement with which the old generation of pre-independent Nigeria would have embraced the Democratic white dove that was handed over by Britain and how they would have been enchanted by its pureness. Democracy was perceived an unblemished system. Our leaders announced that our democracy and federal system would be modelled after the United States of America, a nation that many covet for its near perfection in political administration.
The poor man thought democracy was the potent and effective pill for the pains inflicted by many decades of terrible governance from the military, but Nigerians were soon disillusioned because the green and white fabric of our federalism soon got ruffled up and it is almost tearing apart.
It started with the ethnic and religious killings. Although, our anthem bind us “in love and unity” but the machineries of government condone disunity and sow seeds of hatred rather than love.
The ethnic and religious bigotry soon led to a bloody coup – our cherished democracy was gone. Gone, so corruption could be institutionalized; gone, so minority groups would have no voice against domination and marginalization, and if they found a voice, their Saro-Wiwa would be silenced forever. Our democracy was gone, so injustice and tyranny could be legalized through draconian decrees – but our democracy was not gone forever.
On 8th June, 1998,there happened, a coup from heaven which took the life of the dreaded General Sani Abacha. It was a voice from heaven saying to the military, “let my people go” – of course not to Canaan but to the promised land called ‘democracy’. We rejoiced for we thought we would be able to breathe again, but the excitement was short lived.
The Democratic sheeps that should lead us to the promise land, had befriended the autocratic dogs and they had learnt to eat faeces. The Agbada was the symbol of democracy and all that it cost the the former oppressors was a new identity in the dressing room. They became the new champions of democracy.
The institutions that should entrench the core values of democracy was battered in the ring of politicking and the strong men paraded the corridors or power, with clubs of oppression and tyranny concealed in their agbada.
The seemingly perfect system of democracy fail to work in Nigeria. It is only in democratic Nigeria that we debate which is better between democracy and military rule (the difference is hard to spot). It is in Nigeria, that citizens pray for a “benevolent dictator” because of course, democracy has been a colossal failure in our peculiar Nigeria and the reason? We focus on having good men rather than good institutions.
I was walking to the bank one sunny afternoon. The last N7, 000 in my account had suffered dispense error and I was approaching the bank with the fury of Rottweiler. As I crossed the road, just opposite the bank, I saw a vehicle approach me from the wrong side of the one-way road and I saw an Official of the Ogun state Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps (TRACE) pointing to him and shouting “can’t you see you are passing one way?” The fear of death subdued my anger and I fled for my dear life. The erring driver was driving a Hilux 4X4 with the name of a federal ministry written on it. He stopped and looked at the officer shouting at him. I could read his mind saying “what effrontery!” He fired back at the TRACE officer, “come and arrest me and those that employed you would not be able to save you…”The officer who was only trying to maintain order sensed that this man was a senior officer in the federal ministry, at least, his confidence showed that. He quickly retreated and returned to his post.
This is the story of Nigeria, a democratically lawless country. The Nigeria where strong men dominate over the weak and vulnerable; the Nigeria where institutions can be manipulated and tinkered against justice and fairness. The TRACE Officer knew that his institution would not rescue him from this overbearing, insensitive, uncultured, and reckless ministry man, if the latter decides to “deal with him”. Let me not mention how the bank frustrated me on my N7, 000. Everything is designed to frustrate a poor man in democratic Nigeria.
If Nigeria must work as a democracy; a democracy where people’s rights would not be trampled upon with impunity, we may need to take our gaze away from the strong men and look the other way to inspect our institutions. The suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, may be corrupt but clearly his travails today are inflicted by some powerful men in the presidency. Magu is not being investigated, he is being disgraced, and stripped of his faded and ungenuine garb of integrity, which he wore as an anticorruption crooner, so that even if he eventually comes out innocent, he may not be fit to return to his position. Nuhu Ribadu suffered the same fate; Ibrahim Lamorde was not spared; Onoghen got the same tablet.
Is it not high time we fortified our institutions? For if the institution be weak, what can the righteous do?
Oluwatobi Odeyinka is a student of Communication and Language Art, at the University of Ibadan.