Democracy and bad leadership in Nigeria, By Simon Shanum

Nigeria's National Assembly

 In Nigeria, the power of the political class is determined by how economically robust one is…”

The expectations of citizens for good governance were quite high when Nigeria returned to the democratic system of government in 1999. Nigerians were looking forward to reaping the dividends of democracy. The narrative was that the military was delinquent, corrupt and unaccountable; and democracy would offer answers to critical matters such as unemployment, poverty, insecurity, absence of basic infrastructure, corruption etc. Believing our politicians had picked a few lessons from the catastrophe of the first, second and third republics, we entered the fourth republic full of hope.

Fast forward fourteen years later and we are still searching for one key ingredient needed for development and nation build – quality leadership. It is true that the progress of any nation rests on the stature or standard of its leadership and how they can bring this to bear on the welfare of people of the nation. No nation can enjoy lasting peace if her citizens live in abject poverty particularly if that nation is acknowledged as having the ability and substantial means to provide development and guarantee a good standard of living. Unfortunately, that is the tale of Nigeria. It is a tale of poor governance, insecurity and poverty in the midst of plenty.

A former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili while speaking at the 42nd convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) stated that $45 billion in foreign reserves and $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account were unaccounted for by the Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration. In defence of this assertion, she challenged the President Jonathan administration to a debate, which the presidency is yet to accept. Neither did the administration proffer credible and coherent evidence to refute her assertion.

Recently, the President granted pardon to the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and a few other persons. This puts a big question mark on this administration’s anti-corruption stance and rhetoric. One can’t help but wonder if democracy in Nigeria is supposed to mean the opposite of accountability. Do we now practice a democracy that thrives on impunity?

Nigeria has enjoyed several cycles of oil boom, but our rulers have in all ramifications failed to convert oil income into development of human capital and critical sectors such as the transport, infrastructure, health, education, agriculture or investment in foreign assets as other resource-rich countries have done with their oil income. Rather, they have progressed in corruption and looting of public funds. They introduced the politics of recycled succession where the first elected persons in this so called democracy have positioned themselves and recycled themselves around their political interests. That philosophy has made it grim for anybody, particularly young people, to rise from outside and become anything significant in our political space without acquiescing to the role of god fathers.

When the leadership of a nation persistently fails to achieve its primary obligation of providing safety and progress, and begins to struggle with preserving security and order within its territory and borders, such a leadership becomes a threat to itself and the nation. A democratic society must separate its political power from its economic power. Some people must be seen to clearly control political power without also necessarily having control of economic power. This way, a synergetic correlation is fashioned. The political power containers know they have to deliver peace and stability and effective infrastructure if they must be buttressed by the economic power holders who guarantee the being of the political class through financing of campaigns and internal economic happenings that provide taxes to the government.

In Nigeria, the power of the political class is determined by how economically robust one is just as one’s economic position is determined by one’s political power. It is clear that the more economically strong one is, the more politically powerful one becomes, and vice versa. This clarifies why our democracy just would not work. The rich and powerful will do whatever it takes to have, control and continue in power; because to them it is the unquestionable way to more economic breakthrough. Since a clearly distinct separation cannot be made between the Nigerian political class and the economic class, individuals at the rudder of affairs do not feel grateful or obligated to any other class. So, the absence of the middle economic class, who by strategy of true democracy forces the political class to convey good governance, permits the political class to eat their cake and have it.

We are progressively sick and worn-out of a democracy that has demonstrated to be worse than the military. If the political rulers linger in their ride of corruption, misrule, looting and failure to protect the citizen of its nation, the rising tendency to survive without the government will push the society further apart. In the end, it will serve neither the government nor the people.

Simon Sylvester Shanum is a 300 Level student of Political Science at the University of Abuja.


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