October 4, 2022

If Nigeria were a democracy – Vanguard

  • October 27, 2021
  • 7 min read
If Nigeria were a democracy – Vanguard

WE won democracy with blood, sweat, and tears. But somewhere along the line, we succumbed to state capture and creeping fascism. The results are coming home to roost.
The thick clouds of discontent with politics, politicians, and sometimes even with the Nigeria project continue to form a huge pall with existential consequences for a people impoverished by bad economic management, insecurity causing pain for those who watch their family, friends, and even foe yield the gift of life, in agony, as their blood run like a stream down the gutters of their neighbourhood.
Then they witness the devastation of disease: whether it be cholera, or malaria claim the best of the rest as their leaders fly abroad when they have headaches.
If we were a democracy politicians driven more by purpose than power would be troubleshooting and problem-solving these and other scourges with rational public conversations as fuel. Sadly, we are not a democracy, and the make-belief of civilian government as democracy when elections are more or less coup d’états by other means has reached the point of a crisis of legitimacy that the big Quo Vadis moment is here. As Sonny Okosun used to sing, ‘Which way Nigeria? I want to know’. No true citizen and patriot can live through this and be unaffected and keep from acting.
So how did we get here? For people like me who have been in the thick of the struggle for Nigeria’s emancipation for nearly 50 years, since age 17, survived assassination attempts, economic shut-out by people who cornered power and fear truth and justice, and who have invested passions and resources in providing the generation next shoulders to stand on, engaging in this kind of independence day reflection is a huge dilemma.
I will be telling a lie if I do not admit that these days my emotions swing from “you have given enough of yourself so just find some peaceful place on the planet to live out the rest of your days watching the drama of Nigeria like a Big Brother Naija reality show”, to a ‘duty is duty and to retreat from a call to rescue Nigeria is to incur history’s wrath’ mode and mood.
This is a dilemma I seldom experienced in the many years of effort to get compatriots to recognise how we can elevate the common good and build a nation. But watching the hard-won democracy become more of a government of politicians for politicians by politicians with the people as excuse and seeing the consequence for tragic economic management, social and security upheavals, and deteriorating legitimacy of the political order does sometimes make me wonder if the personal sacrifices and self-denial can be justified when the gains you hoped for in the lives of the people are not visible. Fortunately, the emotion that favours legacy and the common good tends to triumph over that tending toward despair or self love.
The Quo Vadis Nigeria question immediately leads to initiatives on how Nigeria can be salvaged knowing that votes seldom count here and impunity is so the way that people who seek the common Good can easily be hounded with institutions of state, framed, or harassed through social media. My frustration with seeking to find partners to work for change for good left a crater of frustration in my activist nature.
Am I knocking my head against the wall on a fruitless mission? Was the weight of the burden of so limited progress in Nigeria, relative to our dreams and great expectations, pushing us down to hunchback status?
I recognised long ago that a good heart and generous spirit would be necessary but not sufficient to rescue Nigeria from the iron clasp of those that despoil her innocence. Careful strategy making was imperative. I then made the choice to draw from experience 700 years after the Magna Carta as Laissez faire reigned over 19th Century Europe.
A few lessons from the intellectual elite that were threatened for wanting change in the late 19th Century in Laissez Faire Britain would help my thinking on how to engage. In Britain, these men meeting behind beer parlours (pubs) found as model for their own mission to rescue Britain the Roman General Fabius Quintus Maximus who in the face of superior “fire power” of the Carthaginian Army led by Hannibal the famed General from Carthage, chose persistent harassment and massive chipping away to wear down the enemy and bring triumph to Rome.
One in this group which included the poets Edward Carpenter and John Davidson, Frank Podmore, suggested they name themselves from Fabius the General. They thus became the Fabians, after Fabius. The Fabians founded the London School of Economics and Political Science to institutionalise the enlightenment and the Labour Party to proselytise Fabian Socialism.
In the flattery of imitation I began to rally old friends to zoom meetings bearing the strategy of the Fabians in mind. I pulled together a romp of the Concerned Professionals which I had helped found to challenge the annulment of the June 12 election of 1993, and called it the new Fabian Society.
The strategy was to encourage several social movements that were issues focused to enlighten and bombard the strongholds of a formidable cancer, a Nigerian political class that has been self-serving and indifferent to the growing poverty of the people, the insecurity it has generated, and Nigeria’s lost glory in a world that once saw in far away West Africa, a frontline state in Africa’s liberation war which sadly is now seen as strategically irrelevant. In my visioning of things, effort already under way by groups of patriots could be coordinated.
The NCF(National Consultative Forum) would work on a redraft of the Constitution of Nigeria, electoral process reforms, or including the debate on electronic transmission of results, and modeling a political party or parties with clear values, ethics, and developmental state, and others focus on leadership selection criteria, and National Economic and National Integration Strategy to chisel away at the obsession with ethnicity and identity politics.
I have been worn down from actively participating in the planning as operations of many as seven of these groups now beginning to formally go public with their strategies. When the Rescue Nigeria initiative went public with work that had been going on about how to lay down criteria for leadership selection in public life that can lead to better governance a media anxious to push street feelings that something different from the current order was needed was quick to declare that the third force had come and a new party had arrived. That declaration showed a limited understanding of Fabius the General and how Fabian socialism overcame laissez-faire Britain.
To save Nigeria new blood needs to enter public life and old blood flushed or put through auto-transfusion where the blood is filtered and re-injected into the body. My goal is that the new thinking moves clear-headed minds into APC and PDP to reform from within while one or two new parties emerge to create a truly democratic order and culture.
Unless such can happen and democracy is restored, fascism pushed back and a developmental state in which production is emphasised over and above the sharing of revenues, Nigeria will continue down the road to Somalia with its gifted youth getting on the plane to Canada and elsewhere. This is what burdens me as Nigeria marks 61 years of independence.
Utomi, Founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership, is a political economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship, and teaches at the Lagos Business School.



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