Nigeria: How did we get here? (1) – Dr.Muiz Banire
Let me start by expressing my gratitude to the board and management of The Sun for availing me this platform to express my thoughts on various issues of interest to the nation and me. Prior to this, I have substantially relied on Twitter as a means of communication weekly on a number of these seemingly intractable issues in our polity.
Let me state from the outset that, in channelling the opinions herein and subsequent ones, I have had, and will still have, to contend with my academic writing style vis-a-vis the need for simple communication approach in these engagements. I believe that, in order to communicate with an average literate reader, I have to be as elementary as possible. Again, this effort and several others on my part are not borne out of love for public discourse or lack of what to do, but informed by the present situation of things in our country, which calls for sober reflection among all of us in our different capacities as leaders, on one hand, and followers, on the other. It is also instructive to state that the opinions expressed in this write-up are not targeted against any person or group. It is a product of my perception of issues afflicting our nation for which I claim neither monopoly of wisdom nor superiority of knowledge. It is borne out of my genuine desire for the development of our nation for which I expect interrogation from others, all in the hope that, at a point during our engagement, there will be handshake in the collective interest of our nation.
It is a sad commentary on our affairs that our role as leaders in this generation has been a terrible source of worry. In consequence, those who should emulate our ways of life for the betterment of tomorrow have denigrated our profession of faith in the survival and progress of Nigeria. They have justifiably concluded that we cannot give what we do not have. As Littluns, apologies to William Golding in Lord of the Flies, in years gone by, we were compelled to attend school to acquire Western education. Today, we are proud leaders of our society with immense pride in the past. That is why our commitment to the survival of the coming generations must be examined in the context of today’s reality and the questions that tomorrow poses for us to answer.
As captured in the topic, for the next couple of weeks, we shall be exploring the issues and factors that have led us as a nation to where we are today. The question has been on the lips of several Nigerians, particularly genuine elder statesmen. Essentially, we shall be doing a diagnosis of how we arrived at where we are as a nation, and prognosis of where we ought to be as a nation.
As said earlier, it is a common query across several quarters, how did we get to this abysmal state in our nation? Several theories have been offered, analyses made and proposals put forth. While I do not discount some of the opinions already expressed, I take a different view, albeit not entirely distant from earlier expressed views. In answering the query, I believe the starting point must be an evaluation of the system of government that we run as a nation, among other factors, ranging from religious and cultural inhibitions, the moral and virtual question, the citizenship spirit, the rule of law and the building of institutions.
Why the starting point must be from the fundamental post of the system of government that we adopt is simply because the system throws up the quality of the operators and the mode by which the society is run. Our nation professes democracy, at least, in the last 20 years, although there are those who still believe that what we actually have is civil rule in substance, not democracy. In my view, they may not be far from the truth after all. I leave this to our various conclusions after the completion of this series. This leads us to the enquiry of what ‘democracy’ actually is.
In this regard, I recall Niki Tobi, JSC, of blessed memory, in one of his judgements when he said: “Definitions of words, including ‘federalism’ or ‘federal government,’ by their nature, concept or content, are never fully accurate all the time, like a mathematical solution to a problem. Definitions are definitions because they reflect the idiosyncrasies, inclinations, prejudices, slants and emotions of the person offering them. While a definer of a word may pretend to be impartial and unbiased, the final product of his definition will, in a number of situations, be a victim of partiality and bias.”
Definitions in most cases arise from observation of facts pieced together to form a theory. While lawyers say facts speak for themselves, the conclusion of Thomas Sowell in his book, Wealth, Poverty and Politics, about lack of neutrality of facts, more so when it comes to politics, may not be too strange as the writer summarised that “facts do not speak for themselves. They speak for or against competing beliefs or competing theories.”
This applies with all force to the word ‘democracy.’ Democracy is a word that appears to have a universal English definition. Etymologically, “democracy “ has its root in two Greek words: ‘demos’ (people) and ‘kratic’ (to rule). This, ordinarily, means rule by the people. In this context, democracy as a political concept is the direct opposite of ‘oligarchy,’ that is, rule by the few. Democracy as known to most people is as defined by Abraham Lincoln in The Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863, where he stated it to mean “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
This definition is only meaningful, however, if we can consider Schaffer’s view that the definition can only be ideal if democracy has something to do with the goal of people participating meaningfully in their own governance, a goal that seems to require, among other things, the lessening of inequalities that inhibit such participation. (Frederic C. Schaffer, Political Concepts and the Study of Democracy: The Case of Demokaraasi in Senegal).
It is important to quickly point out that democracy can be direct or representative. Where all the people participated directly, it is said to be direct but where the act of governance is carried out by the representatives, it becomes indirect and representative democracy. From the above descriptions of democracy, can we truly say that democracy obtains in Nigeria? Is there anything wrong with our democracy? Or pushed further, is democracy the best system of governance for Nigeria or for any developing country?
From Schaffer’s postulation, two thresholds are crucial to the validity of a democratic system, the first being “meaningful participation” and, the second, lessening of inequalities that make the former unrealistic. These are issues that will continuously agitate our minds as we appreciate the practice of democracy in our country, particularly in terms of the dividends. It also will define the distinction between democracy and civil rule.
At this juncture, let us pause and ask the question about the goal of democracy. What does our adoption of democracy seek to achieve? In my modest view, and just as in other nations, it is simply to engender good governance. What does ‘good governance’ connote? Again, several opinions have been expressed on the meaning of governance, which is not unusual. Etymologically, the word, ‘governance’ originates from the Greek word ‘Kunernao,’ meaning, “to steer,” as in steering a ship.