The nation’s literary clan went agog recently when it generously expended kilometers of expensive newsprint and megawatts of electronic media energy on what looked like a stock-taking ritual in commemoration of the second year of the Obasanjo regime. One by one, all the learned commentators who mounted the podium had something to say about the status of the regime’s half time scorecard. And depending on the analyst’s loyalty, it was possible to make a general classification of the various conflicting verdicts which ranged from the most charitable by those who think that things have changed for the better in Nigeria since the inauguration of the new democracy to those less charitable who lamented that, if anything, the lot of the average citizen has actually deteriorated pitiably since then.
It was however clear that no one, not even the usually loud government megaphones, had the audacity to proclaim that it has all been rosy as they could only mutely harp on the old refrain of the arrival of ‘democracy dividends’, whereas, with proper contextualization of the Nigerian reality, it is indeed possible to say that we are making progress since there are mounting evidence everywhere that the nation is hankering after some positive developments. By an accounting metaphor, the nation might not have made profits yet out of her democracy enterprise but it has undoubtedly broken even. As for the declaration of dividends, I am not too sure about that for dividends, as a form of reward for success, cannot be lawfully paid out when the business is not doing very well.
What appears to be the frustration of Nigerians may indeed be the result of a baseless and premature very high expectation. While we glibly boast of a return to democracy, no one has asked what indeed are the incidents of democracy. What happened in May 1999, on a proper reflection, is at best a bold step towards the establishment of a democracy in Nigeria BUT certainly nothing near the minimum of a truly democratic process. I am not quite sure if it is generally understood in Nigeria that partisan politics is not necessarily interchangeable with democratic governance. While it is usual for elective political processes to function within a democracy, it does not necessarily mean that every political arrangement is democratic. Going through the mechanics of electioneering without the spirit and discipline of democracy is nothing but empty ritual devoid of dividends.
It is conceded that contrary to the situation under the naked military governments of the past, Nigerians can now openly express ourselves on almost any subject without the fear of being locked up or made to disappear arbitrarily; previous taboos are being challenged and government is being gradually demystified. But it is not necessarily an exclusive requirement of democracy that some civil liberties be tolerated in a society. It is a lot more than that. No doubt, one of the features of a functioning democracy is the full exercise of the right to self-determination, which, in its most elementary sense, includes the power of the society to govern itself. I do not know how many of our compatriots who are now lamenting the absence of the much-promised dividends of democracy can honestly claim that they now have the power to democratically influence the election of those who govern them. It is still the same old game of money power, open intimidation and primordial loyalty.
A truly democratic process, for example, will have no problem recognizing, as well as respecting, the mounting demands by a large segment of the population for the convocation of a National Conference, sovereign in status or not, with a view to resolving the nation’s nagging national questions and establishing the foundations for constitutional legitimacy which has continue to elude the Republic since 1966. Neither would it be difficult for a truly democratic society to appreciate the imperatives of...