Wednesday, 24 April 2013

NIGERIAN DEMOCRACY; A CURSE OR A BLESSING.


Democracy according to the Collins dictionary is defined as the government by the people or their elected representatives. In other words, democracy is a system where the decision and the mode of governance is determined by all the people in the system through a few set of persons elected by the people to represent them. These representatives act on the behalf and in the interest of those who elected them.
Democracy is a system adopted by most countries in the world as it is a system that protects the rights of the citizens, gives room for accountability and gives room to a collective decision with everyone’s interest represented.
Democratic system is one where there is free and fair election, everyone is equal before the law irrespective of status or position, elected are accountable to the electorates who voted them in and the law is the greatest authority,[I.e the rule of law]. This is against what we have in the military and other authoritarian systems where the rulers have no regard for the lives of the people they govern. They don’t and don’t want to care about the welfare of the citizens of the country. Well, they are not to be totally blamed, as they were not elected into the offices they hold by anyone. Therefore, they owe no one any accountability so they claim.
Nigeria being a country in the world located in the western part of the African continent got its independence on the first of October 1960 from the British government and was for so many years under the dictatorial rule of the military. Although several attempts to practice a democratic rule was always short lived by the various chaos and military coup de tat that accompanied it. Not till 1999 when the military government led by General Abdulsalam Abubakar handed over the affairs of government to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a democratically elected president that Nigeria joined the league of nations practicing democracy. Ever since, till date, the country boasts around as one of the countries practicing democracy across the globe.
The question and the bone of contention now is; ‘is Nigeria practicing democracy the way the rest of the world are practicing it? In other words, have we been practicing it the right way? Have we been enjoying what people call the dividends of democracy? Is what we boast of as democracy worth the celebration or we should sit back at home and lick the wounds that this so called system has caused us? And make amends to the problems the system has caused us by examining the real roots of the problems and providing solutions to such problems’. This and many more issues that affect the Nigerian democracy will be discussed in this write up.
To start talking about the democratic system of government in Nigeria, it is necessary to start from the grass root level of democracy itself which the process of election. For those who were in the country during the 2003 and 2007 elections, you will agree and bear me witness of the various unpalatable and painful incidences that accompanied the election period. The election period was ushered in by a large number of political parties that were contesting for various political positions across the country at various levels. That is the local, state and federal level. The large number of contesting political made the political scene in the country full of tension. Thus resulting in high crime rate as the level of assassination, kidnapping, inter political crisis and other forms of humiliation was very high. The number of political thugs was on the increase and the abuse of money was the order of the day. As politicians always distributed money to the people in order to buy their interests. They organize rallies and campaigns where they fill the minds of the people with promises that are not really attainable within the shortest period and are most. They sometimes go as far as cooking for people just to portray that they are nice. In fact, some go as far as giving huge sum of money to men and women of the clergy who in return declared them as Gods choice for the nation. And Nigeria being a country made up of strong religious fanatics, blindly follow what these so called religious leaders tell them. As they are seen as the only people who hear and understand God’s voice.  
After the various dubious steps have been taken by the politicians, the populace is then always left arguing with each other on the topic of which politician or political party distributed more money. In other words, the decision of who to vote for [for those who go out to vote] was based on how much a political party spends during their campaigns. Not really based on their credibility if there is anything like that in the Nigerian context.
To a large extent, the politicians are not to be totally blamed for wasting resources and funds. The people also have their own share of the blame. Because if the people are more interested in the credibility of the individual and political party who claim to want to represent them in the affairs of government, may be the political problems the country is experiencing now would have been on the decrease.
Another problem that characterized the political period was the electoral process itself. The electoral periods of 2003 and 2007 were ones that came with so many surprises. At these periods, it’s only those who have no value for their lives or those who have some supernatural powers that can save them from death that go out to vote on election dates. This is because the polling centers were made up of the election officials, security men or better still, political thugs armed with serious weapons to humiliate and pressurize people to vote for their parties. Those who tried proving stubborn by insisting on voting for the parties of their choices were inflicted with serious injuries and some others were killed. As a result of this inhumane treatment, many people prefer to stay back at home and watch t.v rather than go out to polling booths risking their lives trying to cast a vote. Despite the fact that most people did not come out to cast their votes, it was surprising how the election figures were always matching up the total number of registered voters who did not necessarily go out to vote. These announced results were usually accepted by the electorate as their fates or what has been destined by ‘GOD’. Therefore, the electorates do nothing but accept whatever results were announced to them. Only the opposing parties that felt aggrieved went to court where in most cases they lost the cases to the winners of the election.
Also in relation to the election malpractices, in these two years, during the elections, mercenaries were in place to fill up the spaces created by the electorates who have refused to come to votes. In fact in so many polling centers, ballot boxes were forcefully stolen away and later returned filled up with ballot papers. Who dared question their actions? Only the one who was ready to pay with his or her life.
At this point, one can say that Nigeria’s democratic problem is actually from the root. We are then left with the question David asked in the bible; ‘if the foundation is destroyed, what will the righteous do?’
Before an adequate answer will be given, let’s take a look into what the faulty democratic foundation has cost us over the years and what our fate is at the moment.
Ever since the country started practicing the so called democracy, so many things had been going wrong. This has gotten to the extent that Nigerians now resign their fates to God as the last resort.
Having elected the so called representatives, and the electorates waiting to enjoy the dividends of democracy, tears and disappointment meet the expectations of the electorates. It is saddening to know that rather than improving the economy and improving the the lives of the masses, the elected representatives only find solace in enriching their bank accounts at every political session of four years. No wonder that at the end of their political tenure in office, most of them are always indicted and arrested for the misuse of public funds.
They sometimes embark on projects that never exist and refer the money assigned for the non existent projects into personal affairs. At other times, some of them embark on projects but such projects are not adequately funded. As a result, the projects are either abandoned or below standards. That is the reason why virtually all the sectors are not performing to standard.
The health sector for instance, is nothing to write home about. Instead of the hospitals in the country to be improved to meet international standard, the leaders send the money travelling to other countries like America, Japan, Israel, Russia and many other countries with improved medical facilities leaving the populace with the hospitals where, doctors are not adequately funded. Where even in cases of emergencies, they are not ready to treat patients with claims that the government have refused to pay them as a result of which they are on strike. In some other situations, when critical health issues re taken to some government hospitals, they claim not to have the facilities to take care of such ailments therefore referring them to private hospitals for medical attention which are in many cases not affordable for the masses. It is also embarrassing to know that many times in these hospitals, they always complain of the unavailability of drugs to administer to patients. This accounted for the reason why a former president of the country who is now late had to travel abroad to seek medical attention when he fainted during a presidential campaign. It was also the reason why this same person while in office had a health challenge was flown abroad to get medical treatment even though it was painful that he died in that sickness. Another popular case was that of a former first lady of this same country who also lost her life at a hospital abroad while getting medical attention. The most recent of them all is that of the current first lady who was said to have been poisoned and is currently receiving treatment abroad. These are just few of the many more instances of political leaders ignoring their responsibilities of improving the health sector but travel out of the country to get medical attention. The irony of it all is that, these people come on air to make declaration that the health sector has been improved and go at other times to the extent that they declare free health care service. But the health care services are so free that they and their families do not ever want to risk their lives by being beneficiaries of the free health care they provide. Some of the health care centers especially the primary health center, are not well staffed. Patients at various instances get there and meet the centers either on lock and key or at other times, with no one to attend to them.
Another sector apart from the health I will be talking about is the education sector. Education as they say is the best policy. Some even go as far as saying education is power. This is so because education is the platform for building the leaders of tomorrow today. Going by all the various definitions given by various educational scholars, the sector is supposed to be one of the most improved sectors in the economy. But it is pathetic to know that the reverse is the case in Nigeria.
The Nigerian education system is divided into the primary, secondary school, vocational and tertiary institution. The tertiary institution ranges from the technical colleges, colleges of education, polytechnics and universities.
In many cases, the government owned primary and secondary schools are nothing to write home about. Most of these schools are ill equipped with both human resources and other facilities. Most of these institutions do not have teachers to teach certain subjects, making students deficient in the knowledge of such subjects. At some other times, the teachers are always busy sitting under the trees or at other times in the staff rooms talking and jesting ignoring their assignments of going to class to teach the students. At this points, the students not knowing the value of what they are losing, also stay in their classes making unnecessary noise. In fact, some teachers go to the extent of asking students to do their house chores such as washing clothes, cleaning the houses of their teachers. Some even ask the students to work on their farms as part of the practical aspect of their agricultural science class. Some teachers go to the extent of relating with some of the female students as girl friends by going to bed with them. Apart from this personal deteriorating facts, the government of is also neglecting its responsibility of adequate funding as teachers go on strike from time to time as they complain of either not being paid or being under paid. That is, they are being paid low compared to the services they are rendering.
Some of these schools are so bad that some schools don’t have enough class room blocks. As a result, students receive lectures under the trees or even under the sun. Some schools that even claim to have class rooms are not furnished. This responsible for why the students sit on the floor to receive lectures and the teachers write on an unpainted wall as there are no chalk boards. The science laboratories of some schools are unequipped that there are no laboratory facilities, while some schools don’t even have at all.
Tertiary institutions are no exception to the decaying education sector. Many of the tertiary institutions still make use of the facilities that had been in place for so many decades. The syllabuses for teaching has for so many years been the same with no serious improvement, despite the fact that the world is not a static entity. No wonder we use the same old ideas to deal with new problems. The infrastructures are so archaic and the government seems to find no interest in the development of new ones. Classrooms are so small that they can no longer contain the increasing number of students. This situation is so bad that class halls meant for 150 students are sometimes occupied by 250 to 300 students. These over populated class halls are usually not well ventilated. In some other cases, the overpopulated uncontrolled classes do not have public address systems to enhance lecturer-student relationship in the class. Thus, those who are far away from where the lecturer is cannot actively participate in the lecture session.
The hostel facilities in these institutions are nothing to write home about. As the hostels are still structures erected for ages. These structures which were actually designed for the low population of students willing to further their education is the same for the increasing number of people putting in for admission into tertiary institutions of learning. The electricity and water supply in the hostel is so epileptic that students a times have to go to streams around to get bathing water. At other times when the water is supplied, it is not consumable. The over population in the hostels are so alarming that the idea of squatting in the hostel cannot be done away with. In fact, in most schools, accommodation is only provided to the first and final year students; thus not making provision for the other regular students. Therefore those who cannot afford the expensive houses that are rented out to students off campus resort to staying illegally in the hostel. In other words, the negligence of the government is promoting crime at the level of tertiary institutions.
Academic activities at so many times have been cut short as a result of the various strike actions embarked upon by the various staff unions that make up the various tertiary institutions in the country causing the academic calendars of these institutions to be imbalance. Having rain semester during the harmattan season and making students graduate at the wrong time. That is, those who were meant to graduate in 1999 for instance ended up graduating in 2001. This unfortunate case was not so before this political era. In addition to what had been said earlier, the school fees of most institutions of learning owned by the government are becoming unaffordable as the increment in fees is becoming frequent making education a choice just for the rich. Someone once said ‘to gauge the development of a society, the education system of that country should be checked. If the education system is of standard, the development in such communities will be rapid. But if not, such a society will always lag behind other economies in the world’. These are just few out of the many poor instances of how bad the education sector of the country is.
Unemployment is another great ‘dividend of democracy that Nigerians’ enjoyed over time.                                                                                  Having spent 6 years in primary school, another 6 years in secondary, then at least 4 years in tertiary institution after which you serve the country in the national youth service corps for one year, the hope of getting a job to make a living is not ensured. As part of every political party’s manifesto to create jobs for the youth, the reverse is always the case by the time they get to the offices. As little or no employment opportunities are made available for the rising number of graduates in the country. Even the jobs created are not usually meant for fresh graduates as some of the criteria for employment are 3 to 7 years of work experience. Where on earth do they expect a fresh graduate to have got a working experience of about 3 years when there is no avenue for them to get employed? The cause is usually either because there are no available environments to employ people or those who are due for retirement are still in the work force. May be those who have also chosen not to leave the workforce are not to be totally blamed as for a lot of them, age had gone past them before them before they also got the job. Any way, that is not enough justification. This unemployment fact is responsible for situations where a firm would advertise positions meant for just two people and over 20,000 people will apply. The high rate of unemployment has over time been responsible for the high crime rate among the youth. The issue of unemployment has become a threatening issue to students approaching their final years in schools. Even the few opportunities available are usually given out based on political influence. It has now become a practice in the country that for you to make it, you have to be either directly or indirectly connected to the political class especially the ruling class. Even though the government set up schemes like youth empowerment and poverty alleviation programs, no concrete effort is made to ascertain the number of permanent jobs that will be created so as to see whether they can significantly have impact on employment.
Insecurity is another strong mechanism which characterizes the Nigerian democratic system.                                                                          As earlier mentioned, insecurity has started from the grass root of the political system in the country. By this I mean that right from the election process, insecurity has been evident. How then can it be corrected or controlled by the time they get to power as the elections that brought them into government was characterized by violence either directly or indirectly. Before now, the level of insecurity was at the level of armed robbery and kidnapping. Now, the level of insecurity now ranges from tribal riot, to inter religious violence. It has now even gone beyond shooting of guns to the use of bombs by the so called faceless sects ‘Boko haram’ who now pose a threat to the government of the day. This sect is so ‘powerful’ that the government of the day is kind of confused on how best to deal with the security threat posed by this group. Countless number of youth corps members lost their lives to the last post election violence. There are so many cases of kidnapping where the kidnapers demand ransom in cash before releasing the person kidnapped. In the same vein, when you get materials like phones, jewelries and many more handy items, the fear of getting them snatched from your hand becomes a thing of great concern.
How well can these ‘dividends of democracy’ be more described in a society where the law makers are the law breakers, where the public office holders do not obey traffic orders. An environment where the media is so ‘free’ that the police cells becomes their homes whenever they make known to the public the misconduct of the government. A nation where there are so many innocent people who have been sent to prisons for crimes they never committed but amnesty is granted to indicted former public office holders who were arrested for embezzling and misusing public funds. Well, it’s not too bad some people claim. After all these politicians and public office holders frequently hold parties where money is sprinkled and food is in abundance. It’s a pity, peoples heritage have been exchanged for a plate of porridge.
The psychology of Nigerian politicians cannot be underrated as they’ve got higher degrees in brain washing and camouflage   

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