Febuharing and Atikulating the Issues: Naija Democrazy run Amok
Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome
Professor of Political Science, African & Women's Studies
Professor of Political Science, African & Women's Studies
Leonard & Claire Tow Professor, 2015/2016
Brooklyn College, CUNY
Brooklyn College, CUNY
I have a dream of a nation where no man is oppressed. An egalitarian society. That is what we are working towards. We desire a nation, a true federal state where all the nationalities will have equal access to political power. Where justice, equity and the rule of law operate. We want to leave a good legacy for our children like you said, I am old. There is nothing again I am looking for. But our children and children's children must not be slaves in their father's land.
(Senator Abraham Adesanya 1999)
The quote above is from my 1999 paper, (Okome, State and Civil Society in Nigeria in the Era of the Structural Adjustment Program, 1986-93, 1999), which makes it clear that Nigeria’s current problems have deep roots.
I’d like to begin by emphasizing that democracy is not a spectator sport. Contesting for office and voting are essential elements, but are only parts of the necessary processes for a well-functioning democracy. Given historical experience and huge chasms between electoral campaign promises and post-electoral performance, one should not expect too much from elections regardless of who wins. What Nigeria needs is the deepening of democracy. The country’s masses, particularly currently-marginalized women and youth, need more development, more equality, less injustice, social emancipation, economic redistribution, support for human security, and meaningful participation in politics in their own interest. The elections will not address any of these imperatives.
Elections are important. What are the implications of the postponement of the 2019 elections for democracy in the context of state-society relations in Nigeria? In reflecting on the crisis of Nigeria's democracy, it’s remarkable how the long shadow of the past dogs the present practices and processes in the political system. Despite having approximately 70 Presidential candidates, Nigerians must make a choice between two people: the current incumbent, APC’s President Muhammadu Buhari and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar. That the race is a two-man affair is testament to the weakness of the Nigerian middle/upper class. This strata was decimated by the effects of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), but is recovering. Many are also to be found among the remittances-sending diaspora that is not allowed to exercise franchise, although they are responsible for massive financial transfers and investment in Nigeria.
One can also distinguish between the older middle class that experienced the devastating effects of what some call the locust years of SAP, and the newly emerging middle class that is alienated from politics, or whose entry into politics the ‘independent’ candidates captured. This is also the base for civil society activism. The dominance of President Buhari and Atiku Abubakar means that the middle class is yet to find a way to assert itself through candidates that speak directly to their interests and are driven by their agenda. It is also impossible not to remark on the passivity of this middle class, its self-absorption, retreat into individualism and consumerism, instead of working hard to envision and actualize more progressive politics. Thus, the nature of the choice entails choosing the lesser of two "evils," and given the realities, I believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is the better choice.
Nigeria is 20 years into its current foray into democratization. What has changed? To properly assess this, one must consider issues of governance including legitimacy, lack of transparency, abuse of office, corruption & kleptocracy, malfeasance, policy implementation, efficiency in the delivery of services, lack of physical infrastructure, lack of social welfare infrastructure, intractable and growing inequality, ethno-religious conflict, growing insecurity and lack of human security. The hot button issue of the moment is the postponed elections. The national electoral machinery looks disorganized and incompetent. There are growing fears that the elections will not be free and fair. There are agitated calls to arms that reveal persistent deep religious, ethnic, and other cleavages in Nigerian politics. Amidst this cacophony, I will consider how Febuharing and Atikulating the issues contribute to Naija Democrazy run amok.
I will now address three urgent aspects of the challenges of democracy in Nigeria: Febuharing the Issues; Atikulating the Issues; Naija Democrazy run amok, and wrap up by suggesting what is to be done.
The two-horse race is a major political issue. While Nigeria has a very young population, two men in their 70s are the strongest candidates in the Presidential contest. It would have been ideal for the country to have equally strong young candidates who were well-prepared to challenge the gerontocrats. There also are no strong women candidates to challenge the male preserve that Nigerian Presidency has become. Not having women and youth in leadership means there are few to no new ideas introduced into the political system. The dynamic ideas and innovations that women and youth could have offered to transform social, political and economic policy are prevented from seeing the light of day. It is also inequitable and undemocratic to shut out majority of Nigerians from leadership. Nigeria’s democratic project is therefore stymied, diminished and inadequate to meet contemporary challenges.
Political parties are important institutions for a well-functioning democratic system. They should mobilize and bring people who share common interests together, select the best candidates to run for office, strive to gain control of the government through well-organized campaigns that ask the electoral to vote for their candidates. They also should monitor the opposition, have platforms that identify and agglomerate issues based on the party’s ideology and interests. However, Nigerian political parties are expedient gatherings of people whose bandwagon-ing, cross-carpet strategies show that the only logic is that of capturing state power. Electoral campaigns are marked by violence, straightforward material inducements that ask the electorate to exchange votes for money, food, and other commodities. This transactional tendency is so strong that it has been dubbed “stomach infrastructure.” The parties also lack internal democracy, and primaries are often rigged. The two biggest parties—APC and PDP are indistinguishable. Each has people whose wealth cannot be attributed to anything but kleptocracy. Each has corrupt, expedient, unethical politicians. President Buhari, who has the good reputation of not being corrupt had to depend on many such people for support. Atiku, who is alleged to be corrupt is also surrounded by rich, powerful and corrupt politicians. The challenge that President Buhari has had during his first term is to kill corruption before it kills Nigeria. He has begun the war but is yet to win because vested interests will not give up without a fight. Given his pronouncements, I doubt that Atiku has any such intention and it would be a mistake to give him the reins of power.
The election machinery should function efficiently and in a manner that inspires trust in the freedom and fairness of the process. However, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) postponed the 2019 elections five hours before the polls were scheduled to open. Since this is the third consecutive time elections would be postponed (2011, 2015, and now 2019), the electoral machinery appears to be inefficient and disorganized. The electorate is disillusioned, disappointed and frustrated with rumours of rigging, sabotage, logistical nightmares, the massive waste of time, energy, and tremendous loss to the economy that postponements cause. They find the explanations by INEC illogical and unconscionable. This is bound to affect the level of confidence that the elections are free and fair, and highly damaging to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.
Nigeria continues its democratization with state-society relationship in a state of flux. There are fundamental questions regarding the nature of the state, and the type of state that will best serve a country whose goal is economic and political development. Particularly, where the state once again, is stuck deep in the morass of economic and political crisis.
Febuharing the Issues
President Buhari came in with a change agenda. Many Nigerians were excited and encouraged, believing that they were on the threshold of extraordinary social, economic, and political transformation that would propel the country into development and more accountable, legitimate, government and the deepening of democracy. Many are very disappointed that the myriad problems that the Buhari administration promised to conquer have become even more intractable. Among these are problems of personal and human security, lack of welfare infrastructure, lack of social services, particularly for Nigeria’s poor masses, the increase of material poverty, and lack of government interest in communicating regularly with the citizens on the state of the body politic and what was being done to address these and other serious problems. It did not help that President Muhammadu Buhari spent so much time abroad undergoing treatment. It also does not help that some of his pronouncements make Nigerians remember his War Against Indiscipline policies, with their dictatorial overtones.
There is restiveness in the Southeast from IPOB, and contrary to the administration’s pronouncement that Boko Haram was technically defeated, it remains a menace. It is also disheartening that the government seems to care more about answering questions posed by external actors, and in explaining its position to foreign actors, than to ordinary Nigerians, to whom it must be accountable, according to the constitution that it swore to uphold.
There is also strong perception that President Buhari, like President Olusegun Obasanjo before him, is using the anti-corruption agencies to persecute his political enemies and many of his supporters who are corrupt are left off the hook.
Youth unemployment is way too high. This has contributed to increased despair, disillusionment, crime, social strife, and heightened desire to embrace international migration as a solution. Time and again, gruesome deaths, robbery, and harsh assaults and other abuses in the Sahara desert, Libya, and in the Mediterranean remind us about the torment experienced by those caught up in this turmoil.
Clearly, the administration has not consistently and effectively explained what it is doing to address these and many other problems to Nigerians in a manner that captures the people’s imagination.
Nigeria has a mono export economy, and the misfortune of the Buhari administration is that the international oil market had tanked just before it took over. Without the earnings from petroleum exports, Nigeria is unable to fund many budgetary initiatives. The economy shrank considerably and given this dependence, only a dramatic upswing in the oil market would provide Nigeria with the funds needed to pay for much of what it needs. Understandably, people who suffer the brunt of this shrinkage are angry, disillusioned and impatient with what they see as flimsy government excuses for its ineptitude.
As a result, many Nigerians would not mind having corruption as long as the economy is flush and they are able to live relatively better than they are today. Although this is short-sighted and ill-advised, it’s the situation.
Atikulooting the Issues
I am particularly astounded about how Atiku emerged as the PDP's presidential candidate despite his 'sullied' past.
Atiku Abubakar, President Buhari’s main challenger for the Presidency, is a businessman who was VP under President Olusegun Obasanjo, and previous contestant for the Presidency. In pursuit of this agenda, he’s switched parties quite a few times, a strategy that’s pervasive in Nigerian politics. I remain astounded at Nigerians’ tendency to forget history. Atiku is accused of grand kleptocracy and malfeasance, most volubly by the man for whom he served as VP, President Obasanjo. There are transcripts of US congressional hearings with documentation of massive transfers of funds into the US by him and one of his four wives. He is accused of money laundering. The transcripts should be online for anyone to read. But just to present some of the documentation verbatim, here below is an excerpt:
Abubakar Case History
From 2000 to 2008, Jennifer Douglas, a U.S. citizen and the fourth wife of Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President and former candidate for President of Nigeria, helped her husband bring over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States through wire transfers sent by offshore corporations to U.S. bank accounts. In a 2008 civil complaint, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Ms. Douglas received over $2 million in bribe payments in 2001 and 2002, from Siemens AG, a major German corporation. While Ms. Douglas denies wrongdoing, Siemens has already pled guilty to U.S. criminal charges and settled civil charges related to bribery and told the Subcommittee that it sent the payments to one of her U.S. accounts. In 2007, Mr. Abubakar was the subject of corruption allegations in Nigeria related to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund.
Of the $40 million in suspect funds, $25 million was wire transferred by offshore corporations into more than 30 U.S. bank accounts opened by Ms. Douglas, primarily by Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Ltd., LetsGo Ltd. Inc., and Sima Holding Ltd. The U.S. banks maintaining those accounts were, at times, unaware of her PEP status, and they allowed multiple, large offshore wire transfers into her accounts. As each bank began to question the offshore wire transfers, Ms. Douglas indicated that all of the funds came from her husband and professed little familiarity with the offshore corporations actually sending her money. When one bank closed her account due to the offshore wire transfers, her lawyer helped convince other banks to provide a new account.
In addition, two of the offshore corporations wire transferred about $14 million over five years to American University in Washington, D.C., to pay for consulting services related to the development of a Nigerian university founded by Mr. Abubakar. American University accepted the wire transfers without asking about the identity of the offshore corporations or the source of their funds, because under current law, the University had no legal obligation to inquire (United States Senate, PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2010).
President Olusegun Obasanjo on Atiku in his book:
What I did not know, which came out glaringly later, was his parental background which was somewhat shadowy, his propensity to corruption, his tendency to disloyalty, his inability to say and stick to the truth all the time, a propensity for poor judgment, his belief and reliance on marabouts, his lack of transparency, his trust in money to buy his way out on all issues and his readiness to sacrifice morality, integrity, propriety truth and national interest for self and selfish interest (Volume 2, Pages 31- 32).
It is disingenuous for President Obasanjo to do a 360-degree turnaround and claim that since Atiku has apologized to him, he is to be trusted. Apologies to President Obasanjo and assurances made to him do not absolve Atiku Abubakar of these damning charges. Moreover, given the seriousness of the allegations made against him (some of which is documented in the US Congressional Hearing referenced above), and his own responses in the interview by Kadaria Ahmed, that indicate that he does not think conflicts of interest are important (Heartbeat 360 Media, 2019), I do not think anybody should give him the opportunity to take charge of Nigeria’s economy because his record leads one to believe that he would just do more of the same: crony capitalism, where corruption, graft, kleptocracy and impunity will prevail. Like him, Atiku’s VP running mate, Peter Obi also does not find conflict of interest and crony capitalism, and the ongoing global crisis of neoliberal capitalism important or relevant to their plans for Nigeria. They just want to do business and politics as usual. What do the masses of impoverished Nigerians stand to gain from this? What is at stake for the teeming population of unemployed and underemployed youth? What do all the apologists and champions of these two stand to gain? Is their plan for Nigeria the best we can do after these many years of independence and democratization?
For some, Atiku seems to be preferable to Buhari due to Buhari’s failure to address the concerns of Nigerians who are suffering the economic pains resulting from the decline in international petroleum prices, and other issues identified above. Nigerians feeling the pain blame it on Buhari. The Buhari administration has been inept in coming up with clear, digestible, convincing explanations that capture the imagination of Nigerians. It has had the last four years to do so. Having a convincing narrative of what’s going on and why is part of what good governance is about.
The trust reposed in Atiku however, is misguided and unwarranted. The elections have been delayed. Nigerians have a chance to think clearly and refuse to be Atikulated by an Atikulooter.
Naija Democrazy run amok
Here’s a long quote from an old paper of mine, which I still find relevant.
Slightly less than four [now six] decades ago, Nigeria became independent from colonial rule. The mandate as defined by the nationalist inheritors from the postcolonial state was clear: reforms of the structure and function of the state were imperative. First, the state had to be deracialized; also, to facilitate rapid economic growth, the state had to take over the commanding heights of the economy, one of its most important tasks being the creation of a national bourgeoisie. The decentralization of power was one of the pronounced goals. However, the Nigerian state maintains its essential character as a colonial imposition. It is bifurcated, Janus-faced, over-centralized. The indirect rule system that was introduced during colonialism persists, since there are a few citizens, composed overwhelmingly of male members of the state created bourgeoisie, a few token women, and many subjects, composed of the poor, and the overwhelming majority of women. The decentralization that has taken place thus far is a decentralization of despotism. In de facto terms, most Nigerians stand in relation to the state, as subjects, not citizens. Until the rights of citizenship are extended to all Nigerians, particularly women, through decentralization that allows full participation in the political process, the state will remain remote from the people. It will also not reach its full potential.
In 1999 when Nigeria’s fourth republic began, the specter of SAP was still very much alive in the Nigerian imagination. I said then that
Social cohesiveness was eroded because several social problems intensified and proliferated in the era of SAP. These included religious and ethnic conflicts that arose out of the struggle for scarce resources; increase in crime, including armed robbery and drug trafficking, which became the new avenue to instant prosperity; declined standards of living and increased polarization of society into the few wealthy, the shrinking numbers of the middle classes and rapidly increasing ranks of the impoverished. Social services were eroded to the point of non- existence. In consequence, many diseases which had been under control in the pre-SAP period wreaked havoc on society. Secondly, the educational system was besieged by problems arising from lack of funding and the after-effects of the struggle by students and the intelligentsia against the state for an improved educational system. Demonstrations and strikes were frequent and the tertiary institutions in consequence, were closed more often than they were open.
Both the economic crisis that preceded it, and the solution endorsed by the World Bank and IMF, the SAP did considerable violence to the social fabric in Nigeria. The standard and quality of life of the majority of Nigerians deteriorated with the fall in the value of the naira. Contrary to projections that SAP would benefit rural dwellers, the devaluation of the naira increased the prices they had to pay for goods and services, thus whittling any increase in the income of even commodity farmers. The speculative activities of merchants who used commodity exports as a means of facilitating capital flight, initially drove up the prices of some agricultural exports such as cocoa, but by 1989, the cocoa market slumped, causing the incomes of cocoa farmers to diminish precipitously. Many committed suicide. The consumption of food, health and social services declined due to the inability of the majority of Nigerians to afford these necessities. The level of social volatility was such that frequent mass demonstrations were sparked off to protest SAP policies. Many lives were lost due to the state's indiscriminate use of force against these protesters.
Discussions of policymaking and implementation under conditions of economic crisis abound, but scholars often assume that actors in economic policymaking and implementation are, or that they ought to be rational maximizers. Otherwise, it is assumed that state inability to either make or implement policies is due to rent-seeking behavior. These assumptions lead to conclusions which obfuscate more than they clarify. When powerful groups within an indebted country resist the implementation of SAP in debates over economic policy, their action is also often dismissed as irrational or rent-seeking behavior. It is more fruitful to consider these instances as episodes in the writing of a constantly evolving transition to democracy. Civil society during these periods, either challenges and confronts a still authoritarian state, or it becomes a pawn in the power game of ensuring a managed transition where voting does not amount to choosing, and the limited openings into the political arena is policed by a state that justifies its actions by claiming the importance of political order and economic survival.
The dynamic interplay of economic, political and social forces continues up to the present (April 1999) under the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. As living conditions continue to plunge down into hitherto unimagined depths and smoldering domestic resentment is held in check by the expectation that the ushering in of a new elected government may bring a combination of political and economic stability, autonomous associations thrive some of which oppose the government's political transition as not genuinely democratic, while the balance engage the government in discussions that will yield benefits to their membership.
I’ve often wondered whether Nigerians want to be SAPped again. SAP was said to have rent/torn the Nigerian social fabric. It inflicted great economic pain. It intensified the brain drain and created what the World Bank itself called "the lost decade" Looking at Nigeria today, clearly, many are unwilling to experience the depth of economic pain that was imposed during the SAP years. This explains why the willingness to trust that someone presented as a successful businessman just has to wave a magic wand and presto! The economy is transformed. Is a personal business the same as a national economy? Is there SAP not part of a neoliberal economic strategy? Part of the policy package is opening up the national economy to foreign competition and making the environment business-friendly. What this entails benefits multinationals more than young and struggling home industry. It benefits the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Economic growth might result, but it will be accompanied by increased inequality in a country that already has a huge mass of impoverished and immiserated citizens. There have been strong criticisms of this model of economic planning after the 2008 global economic meltdown (See liberal economists like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and even the IMF’s Christine Lagarde; as well as Thomas Piketty and Robert Reich); but it does not seem as though Atiku and his running mate are aware of this crisis of capitalism and calls by for reform to decrease inequality and curtail crony capitalism.
This paper began with an excerpt from an interview of Senator Abraham Adesanya, who was asked by a journalist: “What is your vision of Nigeria in the next millennium?” The senator's reply that he dreams of a Nigeria where no one is oppressed, a country that is egalitarian, where all peoples can freely exercise the right to self-determination, where there is fairness, impartiality and the rule of law, where the legacy that the present generations leave for future Nigerians is that of freedom and equality in all respects. The claims that are being made by the organized civil society in Nigeria are essentially reflected in this statement. The demand that people participate in the making of decisions that will impact not only on them, and on their well-being, and also negatively impact on their material interests is not a frivolous demand. It is a claim by people against the state that question what the appropriate role of the state ought to be in the realization of economic and political development. It is a claim that remains relevant today. The economy is relevant, and so is politics.
However, in the dialectics between economics and politics, the social fabric was torn apart during the SAP era. Nigeria is still in the throes of the crisis that was set in motion as a result of the decision to experiment with policies that were devised for other economies in other lands. Having a strong civil society is a necessary bulwark against the misuse of state power. In this respect, both state and civil society in Nigeria are works in progress.
What is to be Done?
I will repeat myself once again. In a January 2012 blog, I used the quotes below to make the point that citizens of Nigeria have been denied the dividends of democracy. They are understandably dismayed and disillusioned. Some have even despaired. In such circumstances, politics as usual cannot suffice. Nigerians believed President Buhari when he said he was bringing change into the political system. It is incontrovertible that many Nigerians are not feeling the change because the reactionary forces are entrenched.
"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."
Frederick Douglass, 1857
Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sorrow,
Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sad tomorrow. . . (Bob Marley & The Wailers, Guiltiness)
My point in including excerpts from my past writing is that many issues that most Nigerians are just noticing have been part of our historical experience. However, people tend to notice problems and see them more clearly in bad times. In good times, problematic issues are swept under the rug, and euphoria obscures many challenges. Do we want to continue democrazy? Do we want meaningful change? The choice is in our hands. The elections give ordinary Nigerians the opportunity to consider their own interests instead of being hoodwinked by people who would get into power and Atikuloot our patrimony.
Instead, we must continue with democracy but just focusing on contestation for political office and voting are insufficient. Citizens must demand accountability, transparency, the rule of law, and other laudable democratic principles. These demands must be made publicly by broad coalitions that transcend the religious, class, ethnic, and gender divides that militate against united and effective agitation for change.
We need stronger institutions: laws, systems, and procedures that will strengthen and safeguard our young democracy. Our legislature is more interested in its perks and trappings of office than in doing its constitutionally mandated work in a way that contributes to strengthening Nigerian democracy.
The postponement of elections and the lack of convincing explanation for why four years have been insufficient to prepare for these current elections means that INEC must be seriously overhauled. The executive and bureaucratic institutions, the legal and judicial systems, the governance of the police, ombudsman, human rights institutions all need serious work.
Our system needs to operate the checks and balancing that ensure the functioning of governance in a manner that prevents abuse of power and impunity. We need press freedom. There is too much evidence that the press is captured, often by the highest bidders. The role of the press as watchdogs who keep people informed is key to enabling meaningful participation. The meaning of democracy is that power should belong to the people. Nigerians should rise to the challenge of making democracy work to our advantage.
In 2012 I said:
As a returned immigrant scholar in Nigeria in the summer of 2001, I felt like both an insider and outsider. I observed much and recorded much of such observations. I spoke with many, and empathized. However, I had an exit option that many of my subjects did not have. I could return to work to earn "hard currency" that gave me options that many of the people that I encountered did not have. I study Nigeria's political economy for a living, and thus differ from many other immigrants who have an exit option.
In the first place, I am a dis/relocated Nigerian who lives and works in the New York City, USA. I am also a woman, a mother of two boys that accompanied me on my research trip. All three of my sisters, my mother, and approximately 99% of my huge extended family continue to live and work in Nigeria. I also had the additional benefit of seeing things from the perspective of my children. For my teenage son who was en-route to his first year in college after the summer ended, this was a return to a Nigeria where he spent every summer for the first ten years of his life. Now eighteen, when we prepared to leave New York, he looked forward to going to Nigeria but also had forgotten much of what the experience was like, except that there was lots of family. He wondered how much of what he remembered would remain the same. As a young adult, he also was privy to many long conversations and arguments on Nigerian politics that I have had over the years with my fellow compatriots, some exiled, some marooned, yet others volubly and palpably glad to have "escaped" from "dead-end" Nigeria to a land where the possibilities were seemingly endless. He was familiar with dark musings about official and garden-variety armed robbery. He had heard discussions of the "Maradona" and "evil genius" of Nigerian politics, the military "president", Babangida. He knew about the Abacha dictatorship and attempts to perpetuate both the former and latter regimes. He constantly heard about SAP. He heard complaints of people who claimed to be perpetually besieged by innumerable family members and friends that wanted financial assistance, stipends, even sponsorship for American citizenship. He knew about Nigerian drug couriers that are arrested at the various US airports for transporting heroin into the country. He also knew from reports that we heard for the six months or so before leaving that armed robbery was on the rise. This was not just a matter of hearsay, one family member had been shot in the leg while waiting for the gate to his house to be open. Just before we left, we heard that other family members were attacked by armed robbers and their house was cleaned out. One of his concerns was whether it was really safe to go to Nigeria. He took his cue from me, and decided that if it was okay by me to go, it must really be okay. My six year old son also considered this to be a return trip. After all, he claimed, he had been in Nigeria when he was five months old. The three of us boarded the South Africa Airways plane sort of on a fact-finding mission. Each of us had different questions, but all were desirous of finding out what Nigeria was about at this point in time.
For me, the defining issue quickly became "the dividends of democracy". Remember I'd gone to Nigeria to research into the interaction between globalization and political and economic development. To properly answer the questions that were uppermost in my mind, I had to take the pulse of Nigeria's politics and its economy. I had to determine the extent to which the global affects the local and vice versa. Indeed, turning on the television for the talk shows on politics and reading the newspapers, engaging friends and family and research subjects in discussions on current events yielded much fruit on all the concerns that were uppermost in my mind. The news media was ubiquitous in its constant declamation on the dividends of democracy.
According to various and sundry experts, these dividends were few and far between. Inflation was sky-high. The cost of living was prohibitive. Roads were bad. Access to health care was an intractable problem for most. Potable water, reliable electricity supply, even reliable assurance that one's meager income would be regularly replenished by a paycheck as and when due was at best, an elusive proposition. Add to this the insecurity of life and limb due to the predatory activities of highly educated, but unemployed and underemployed university students or graduates, some of whom had turned to armed robbery in their desperation, some to be able to keep up with the high flying Joneses who threw money around like so much garbage or sand, and the universities that still remained more closed than they were open, the university professors who had been driven to pursue multiple means of guaranteeing their livelihood, while at the same time holding on to their day job, but performing associated tasks as though teaching and research were the less important parts of their employment. Bear in mind that the cost of loans was also prohibitively high, that urban life was hyper-crowded and chaotic, and you would begin to scratch the surface of the problems that frustrate ordinary Nigerians. When people are asked what their experience of democracy has been, they unequivocally answer that they are yet to enjoy its dividends. Were the dividends accessible, they argue, the roads would be good, all the lacks would be satisfied or fulfilled, the coming elections in 2003 would not cause anxiety about violence, dislocations, etc.
Yet, this would be an incomplete story if it is focused solely on the deprivations. The whole notion of "keeping up with the Joneses" implies that there are Joneses to keep up with, that there are some who are doing better than most, some for whom the dividends of democracy have arrived. They are the comfortable, the affluent, the creme de la creme of Nigerian society. They have either newly "arrived" nouveau riche, or they are comfortable, and have been for a few generations. Their forebears may actually have benefited from the dividends of colonialism, nationalism, past democracy, authoritarianism, or dictatorship. For these, if there is a paycheck, it is regular, guaranteed, substantial, and supported by various perquisites of office. Some of these Nigerians are the "big boys" and "big girls" that populate the new tabloids. They deal in contracts, they are power brokers. They can, like Terry Waya, throw a birthday bash to end all birthday bashes in London, England, invite over one hundred of their closest friends whose names are among the "Who's Who" in Nigerian politics and in the business world. That the party was the event of the moment was clear while I was in Nigeria because it was covered extensively by tabloids such as the National Encomium, Ovation, City People. It was also covered by all major news media. It even attracted the attention of President Obasanjo who was extremely critical of the high profile nature of this private celebration that seemed to have been given an official stamp due to the presence of so many of those that he dubbed the "Owambe" governors. One could see the point of the President. Many ordinary people were groaning under the weight of economic devastation and Nigeria was pushing the powers that be within the international financial system for debt forgiveness, or at least, debt relief. For many who were already cynical about giving any kind of breaks to a country that is thickly populated by "money miss roads" such as Waya, Nigeria needed no breaks, only a dose of good old common sense. In the parlance of International Political Economists, what Nigeria needs is not debt relief but decision makers with the skill to identify what the right policy mix is, and the will to implement such policies in the face of opposition by reactionary vested interests. The measures involved would probably involve purging the decision-making and policy circles of the influence of these rent seeking elites. Venal elites like Waya who have run amok would probably lose their automatic access to the corridors of powers. His foreign benefactors would be shut out/down, his "good friends" who consider him to be the man to know when you want to get things done would close up shop and get real jobs. One does not need a degree in rocket science to know that this is impossible. Many current and pending politicians are beholden to Waya and his godfathers, and they said as much in their speeches at his birthday party. For critics/advisers/analysts who call for an injection of good sense into economic policy making, the problem and solution are clear. When you are an indebted country in the contemporary global system, your options are the following: renegotiate your debt, but be prepared to fulfil… [harsh conditionalities].
The scholars/analysts forget one basic fact that pain is hard to bear. Further, they forget that pain that goes on for too long is bound to yield multiple bitter fruits. Finally, they forget that the dividends of democracy can be identified by both scholars and ordinary people alike. If people find that they are unable to identify them, they become at best, restive. At worst, explosions can be expected. However, there are also serious discussions about the dividends of democracy in Nigeria that go beyond the quantifiable bread and butter issues. People want transparency in governance. They want fairness, justice, the rule of law, institutions that protect and defend their rights. Although they want jobs, they also want a government that protects and defends their interests prior to doing likewise for multinational corporations under the impetus of creating a favorable atmosphere for foreign investment. They want a sovereign government that does not sell the heritage of future generations off for a mere "mess of pottage" as in the defense relationship with a powerful country where the said country "trains" soldiers in peacekeeping operations in return for spending about $1 million annually. Many Nigerians realize that what they must look forward to are the rules of "trickle down economics" if they are fully subscribed to the ideals of the market system as presented by the scholars/analysts that advice that market based democracy is the way to go. They reject such analysis, and act in a manner that is true to their interest in a universe where they have limited power. For each set of actors, the desirable action is different. This is why we have such an unmanageable system in Nigeria today. This paper takes this as a starting point in exploring the excitement and enigma of Nigeria at the beginning of the 21st Century.
Demands for the dividends of democracy do not emerge in a vacuum. For this reason, people feel duped when there are no dividends to be found. The politicians that won the last elections themselves set up the baseline expectations that while the Nigerian economy was in the doldrums when they took over, they would make quantifiable and progressive changes in the economic situation in Nigeria. While it is to be expected that politicians would want to sweep the pronouncements that made the expectations rational under the rug, people who believed them were quite unwilling to be duped. Therefore, through the press, they demand some reckoning. This is one reason why one of the chieftains of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) was questioned by a journalist in the following vein in September 2000:When the new administration took over power in 1999, the rate of interest for prime borrowers was between 12 and 15 per cent, it is now 30 and 35 per cent; the growth rate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 2.4 per cent, it is now negative; the naira then could be exchanged at the rate of N88 to 1 US Dollar, it is now N134 to 1 USD; inflation rate stood at 13 per cent then, it is now 26 per cent; unemployment rate then was...."
Of course, the journalist was cut off by the uncomfortable politician. Nigeria is not the only place where politicians prefer such statements to be remembered only when they want to take credit for a thriving economy. Naturally, the embarrassed chieftain responded true to type when he said the following: "... you cannot base the performance and achievement of the present government on mere numbers...."
It is heart-breaking that what obtained in 2001 is entrenched in 2019. The Naira has declined further. Poverty has increased exponentially. A few are wealthy and comfortable and majority are in dire straits. Even more Nigerians see migration as their only option, and they are taking desperate measures that baffle the comfortable few. Canada is the new nirvana for many Nigerian young professionals. Given these circumstances, there is even more at stake for people who want Nigerian democracy to thrive. Giving the reins of power to those who believe in self-enrichment at the expense of the masses is not the answer. But both the APC and PDP have their share of such individuals due to the head-spinning carpet-crossing that is a routine part of Nigeria’s politics.
Having been excluded, women and other marginalized minorities must work through organized, focused, coalitions that are trans-class, trans-region, trans-religion, trans-ethnicity, to put more women into formal and informal positions of power in Nigeria’s political system. Nigerian women and youth must organize, plan, and in every possible way, prepare to enter into Nigerian politics as leaders in their own interest. The extent to which they are able to do so would be the extent to which the country’s democracy deepens and meets the needs of the overwhelming majority of its people.
Nigerians should refuse to be persuaded to give up on the general interest of the nation to serve the sectional agenda of power-hungry elites that have not inspired confidence in the past.
I believe that between the two candidates in this two-person race, Buhari is the better option for Nigeria.