Sustainable Development And Democracy
culled from THISDAY, May 06, 2005
The greatest thing in the
world is not so much were we stand as in what direction we are moving. – Oliver
Anyone who has
closely and passionately followed the trends in our nation's political evolution
in the last few years could easily cut the air with a knife. Such social reading
presents a benighted country on the perilous precipice of disintegration. The
twilight of the atmosphere precedent to the political reform foreboded a
disconcerting bedlam that if not vigorously contained could spell disaster for
the country and render it a proverb and a byword in the comity of nations.
Vices of frightening description characterised the nation so unprecedently that
superior democracies like America gave travel advisory to her citizens wishing
to come to Nigeria to be cautious. There was mutual suspicion, ethnic chauvinism
expressed through militia groups. There was insecurity of lives and properties
as armed robbers and hired killers held the nation hostage. There was strident
allegation of marginalisation by almost every tribe and everyone with the
resultant clamour for equity, fairness and balance in the distribution of power
As if these were not enough, our politicians became turncoat patriots who
elevated thuggery to a fine art and grew fat from morbid corruption. They
imported arms into the country without let or hindrance to undo political
opponents. We saw a government that became unrittingly paranoid of the
opposition. We saw government officials who flagrantly violated the "due
process" imperative in the award of contracts.
The Delta region "combusted almost inextinguishably on the issue of resource
control and alleged government dereliction on the persistently thorny issue of
environmental degradation. It was so serious that an activist, Asari Dokubo,
confronted the government frontally in a militaristic manner leading to urgent
exit of multinationals like Texaco, Total Fina ELF, Chevron and so on from the
The movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the movement for the
Actualisationof the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Arewa Consultative Forum
(ACF), Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Ebira Youth Congress (EYC) were vehement in
The scenario painted above was a pathetic reality of the state of the nation.
But for the fact that Nigerians are tired of the tyranny and dishonesty of the
military, a sanguinary putsch from revolutionary military officers would have
been timely intervention.
Violence, restiveness and frenetic agitations are an implosive response of the
people to implicit shortcomings of our leaders.
The citizens' call for sovereign national political reform conference pleads
justification. It is not an entirely new development because conflicts had
trailed the existence of Nigeria. The Constituion Drafting Committee of 1975,
the Constituent Assembly of 1978, the Justice Anthony Aniagolu Constituent
Assembly mooted by Babangida and the Constitution Drafting Committee headed by
Justice Niki Tobi under General Abdulsalami in 1999 were all expression to
mollify a disenchanted people.
But when a phenomenon that agitates a people becomes a recurring decimal, when
it appears the evolutionary process is being advertently and flippantly tampered
with, we must come to terms with the reality that the roof may come down if
pillars are not erected immediately.
One of such pillars in the current trend and dispensation is the need for a
holistic political reform that will address critical issues capable of rendering
the nation moribund.
Democracy, as esoterically tantalizing as it is, can never thrive in a chaotic
and dissonant ambience.
The issue of power rotation is first of the octopus problem that must be
resolved. Succeeding constitutions of this country mouth egalitarianism and
equal opportunities for all. But we know, from historical hindsight, that this
is all a charade. One section of the country or State must not dominate the
other on the matter of power equilibrium. If that State or the country belongs
to all of us, power must go round to ensure a sense of beloging. The pivotal
representation of power is the presidency at the Federal, the Governorship at
the State, and, Chairmanship at the Local Government level. Anybody from any
part of the country should have access to the higehst political office either at
the Federal, State or Local Government level.
The notion behind yester-years' geo-political restructuring of the country into
six namely: South-East, South-south, South-west, North-east, North-west, and
North-central, is to break the myth of the 'big-brothers' syndrome. In other
words, no particular part of the country will use size and population as
demanding parameter to capture the seat of power or persistently insist on it.
This certainly conduces to the practice of democracy and ensures even
development in the context of true federalism. Power rotation must also apply to
states and local government councils. It is a criterion for peace and progress.
It may not be a perfect democratic arrangement but it is a necessary safeguardto
preserve our corporate entity as we transit to true democracy/stable polity.
Afterall, every nation has its own brand of democracy. This may well be a
Nigerian brand of democracy to take care of our peculiar problems.
Next that will help democracy and development thrive in this country is the
issue of resource control. I personally believe that the federal government, if
manned by integrity-conscious and value-eager leaders can control the resources
of this country to ensure even development. But this it can by faithfully
meeting the demands of the communities naturally endowed with these resources.
Resources are providentially located. The communities endowed with robust
resources must realise that other parts of the country not so endowed need to be
taken care of. So demands must be modest and not selfish.
But the mordant irony besetting the Nigeria nation is that even the
constitutionally guaranteed 13 per cent derivation formula meant to accrue
proceeds to community hosting them seems not being faithfully implemented. Even
if this is done, the extra-constitutional demands occasioned by environmental
perils as oil spillage that wastes lands, farms, properties and lives or gas
leakage that pollute the air and affect the health of the people, seem not often
met. This is the crux of the fervid and torrid agitation in the oil rich Delta
region of the country.
MOSOP leader, Ledum Mittee, in a hilarious but punchy submission in defence of
the restiveness of Niger Delta Youths once captured the misery of the people. He
reportedly said that when the youths requested for water, they were promised it
was in the pipeline. When they requested for electricity, they were told it was
in the pipeline. When they clamoured for education they were told it was
seething in the pipeline. So, the youths then concluded they should open the
pipeline to find out.
This submission is a biting sarcasm on the unfulfilling posture of the nation's
leadership. It is a barbed criticism of the nation's phantom leadership. It
paints Nigeria a groteque caricature of a never-do-well polity. This is what the
political conference must address and reform. In essence, the conference ought
to make submissiions that will help government put in place a salavaging
machinery that will permanently end violent and wasteful agitations. If a
democracy is threatened by trends like these, investors cannot sow in the
country. And that throttles development.
A polticially reformed country will have an electoral body that is truely
independent – independent of government funding, government influence and
intrigues. The people certainly cannot have faith in an electoral body that
almost always announces results in favour of the party in power almost
throughout the country as if the country is a one-party state; as if that party
is so popular even in the enclaves where ethnic hegemony entrenches a particular
party therein. This practice of 'he who pays the piper dictates the tune', has
triggered untold violence in our electoral system. It has made opposition to be
unhealthy. It has led to tribunal and court actions that caused the defendant -
government to spend the people's money defending herself.
While I believe in the presidential system, it still has to be tailored to the
peculiar needs, culture and plurality of our country. Considering the sit-tight
nature of our leaders, the avarice and official kleptomania of our leaders,
considering the manipulative tendency of our politicians, a single term of five
years for elective officers at national, state and local government levels will
do. This provides not only a level-playing field for all actors but guarantee
equal opportunity for all. It breaks the concept of political dynasty and
Corruption has assumed the frightening dimension of a bubonic plague. In recent
years, Transparency International, rated Nigeria the second most corrupt country
in the world after Bangladesh. Corruption became a high profile practice from
the top to bottom of the Nigerian social pyramid. You could not see your file
except the clerk is 'settled'. You could not pass the police checkpoints until
you have parted with gifts. Contractors disappeared with mobilisation fees.
The bribery scam involving key officials of the National Assembly smacks gross
irresponsibility on the part of our leaders. First, former minister of the FCT,
Nasir el-Rufai, alleged members of the National Assembly demanded bribe from him
to approve his ministerial appointment. That time, the lawmakers felt the bold
minister had dented their image. Recently, another can of worms was blown open.
Professor Fabian Osuji, ex-education minister provenly awarded N55 million
bribery to the lawmakers including Adolphus Wabara, Senate President, to
increase the ministry's budget. There was the National Identity scam also. That
bad. We definitely cannot continue like this!
But government's swift swoop on all the guilty officials must elicit applause.
Part of what we envisage from the political reform is a situation where no one
will be a sacred cow in this country. Perversion of justice weakens democracy
and devlopment. Indeed while the president wielded his executive powers to bring
culprits to book, we also envisage a thoroughbred and totally reformed judiciary
which is a critical institution that can lubricate the engine of democracy and
development in Nigeria.
We envisage, with the political reforms, a corruption-free society, beginning
from the top to bottom, where for instance mediocrity is not elevated above
We envisage a politically reformed country that will be free of thuggery. Indeed
thuggery from now should be seen as a deliberate felony. Much of it has the
potential of destabilisation. It should be punishable with death. My area, the
youth tend to view politically related killing or maiming as normal. This is so
because of the lack of will on the part of government to prosecute and punish
criminals who kill and maim in the name of political thuggery.
As Presient Obasanjo said: "the national political reform conference is not
designed to dismember or disintegrate Nigeria. It is not established to
encourage mudslinging; or to organise protest or subterranean political
activities that could be detrimental to effective discussion. Rather, the
conference is about designing the most appropriate and relevant institutional
mechanism for managing our diversity". That caution is instructive. I believe
the no-go areas spelt out by the president: federalism, presidentialism, federal
character, unity for the country, secularity of the nation and so on are meant
to sustain the Nigerian project for which many have laboured, fought and lost
their lives. To me, this is in order and it is good for our collective
aspirations for a united and peaceful Nigeria.
A nation that has lost faith and confidence in the executive, the legislature
and the judiciary surely holds this conference close to her chest. The people
will hold all of her patriotic submissions sacrosanct.
As a member of the conference, I regard this house in a messianic context. A
drowning man, it is said, will clutch at a straw. The nation is almost drowning.
But the conference, I believe is stronger than a straw. Chukwuemeka Ezeife,
former governor of Anambra State and also a member of the conference said that
the unity of the country depends on the outcome of the conference. True. As
Nigerians wait with bated breath, they should return to values of yesteryears of
love: of caring and sharing; of being each other's keeper; of communialism; of
faith in God as the all-important panacea to our problem.
Democracy, we believe is better than the most benevolent dictatorship. But it is
all-participatory, to sustain it and move it from the threadbare defence of
For this reform to succeed, leadership has a crucial role to play. While the
need for a holistic overhaul of our value system is imperative for all of us, it
will even be more propitious on the part of our leaders to become moral
exemplars. Nothing hamstrings a policy as when those who put it in a place
patently violates its tenets. There is therefore need for our leaders to abide
by the moral charter implicit in the reform we want. The anti-corruption war of
Obasanjo is impacting on the nation's psyche so evidently because the president
himself is living his sermon and crusade. When he began the crusade, it was
treated, severally, to a satirical lampoon as a Pandora's box. But the Osuji
example and the reference of the Wabaras to the Economic and Financial Crimes
Commissiion (EFCC) shows a doggedly determined president bent on clearing the
Augean stable from the top. It is a moral obligation on the part of leadership
to show the way and the people will follow. This, to me is the road map to a
reformed Nigeria that all of us will be proud to call our own; a Nigeria to
defend and protect and, if possible, die for. This Conference cannot afford to
a Kogi State Delegate to the National Political Reforms Conference, Abuja.