Given the swirl of public apprehensions ahead of the 2023 general elections, the choice of the much-respected Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Minister of Works and Housing to deliver the 3rd edition of ‘The Niche’ Annual Lecture on the critical subject of “2023 and the future of Nigeria’s democracy,” was clearly out of the realm of public expectation. The reasons are obvious or should be.
There is cause for serious public concern, with millions of Nigerians still battling for survival with the spin-off effects of the blood-letting insecurity, crass corruption in high places, economic downturn via high inflation rate, food insecurity and the huge debt profile. Add all these to the querulous nepotistic appointments, the stormy, ethnoreligious sentiments, capped by the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket, all traced to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the fear-triggering picture becomes patently clear.
“Truth be told, elections are only a part of the democratic process, and this requires not only the successful party to play their role in the formation and running of government, but the opposition as a watchdog, and government in waiting, has an equally important role to play in enriching the process.”
– Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), the Minister of Works And Housing, at the ‘TheNiche’3rdAnnual Lecture(2022)
But yours truly, a self-confessed, ardent fan of the former governor of the Centre of Excellence shared the opinion of revered journalist and the CEO of ‘The Niche’ Newspaper, Ikechukwu Amaechi. As he recently confessed: “Fashola is not only cerebral, he is an unrepentant democrat, always seeking ways of deepening Nigeria’s democracy, which is still fledgling at 23. The lecture provides him an opportunity to live his passion.”
Of course, he did it so brilliantly that much of what he said became not only thought-provoking but stirred in one the patriotic challenge to veer into some moment of self-reflection.
Notable too was the choice ofthe96-year-old Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, veteran First Republic politician, human rights activist and an epitome of candour to chair the occasion. As expected, the founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) stated it point blank, devoid of sentiments. Nigeria needs a paradigm shift from the current money-guzzling structure to the less expensive French presidential system of government. It was all in the national interest. That seemed to have balanced the brain-storming equation.
Good enough, Fashola promised that he was going to be as objective as it was possible- and so he did! On the critical subject of “2023 and the future of Nigeria’s democracy,” Fashola insisted that no two elections are ever the same. Said he: “The intensity always varies, as does the number of voters, the number of parties, and occasionally the novelty of some candidates.” That is the truth. What with the increasing number of eligible voters, the push for Permanent Voter Card (PVC) and the introduction of the game-changing Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS)? With all these, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has taken the voting system some notches higher.
Ordinarily, most of the enlightened members of the Nigerian society view democracy as “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”. According to the National Geographic Resource Dictionary it was in the year 507 B.C., that the Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a system of political reforms that he called demokratia, or “rule by the people” (from demos, “the people,” and kratos, or “power”).
In its distilled essence, the key element of democracy is that the people have a voice and it is meant to deliver the goodies to them. But is it so here in Nigeria? Not much so, I dare say! In fact, as Fashola rightly admitted: “Democracy does not guarantee that the leader or those leaders will deliver or indeed are able to deliver on what we want.” So, why do we operate it here, many of the attendees murmured their dissenting view?
Going by the increasing poverty level of the masses and the deplorable Human Development Index (HDI),amidst the huge cost of governance for political appointees the dysfunctional variant of democracy we practise here is “a government of the rich, by the rich and mostly for the rich”.
That of course, begins with the astronomical cost of nomination forms for the presidential candidates of political parties, jerked up to N40 million(Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) to N100 million (All Progressives Congress, APC)! That underscored the question yours truly asked as part of the lecture.
If one has to pay such humongous sums of money to get his party’s presidential ticket would he not want to recoup his money once he gets into the corridor of political power? Would be his guiding philosophy not be the lure of the filthy lucre? What happens to some other Nigerians who have more brilliant ideas on how to get the country moving forward but do not have the financial muscle to contest for political posts?
It is based on the money-driven pursuit for power that we have the king-slave mentality ruling the Nigerian political sphere. This is reflected in my book titled: ‘Drumbeats of Democracy”. One has felt concerned, seeing millions of Nigerians, who have been rendered extremely poor by their relentless oppressors, mudslinging, or even fighting fellow citizens to satisfy the epicurean tastes of their pay-masters, after collecting peanuts!
That obnoxious social situation explains Fashola’s question. He asked: “If they have sponsored weddings for our families, financed the burial of our dear departed ones or paid school fees for a whole community do we understand that these things or some of them are funded by the budget from which we also expect good schools, good roads and other public infrastructure and services upon which our prosperity depends collectively?” The answer again is conscience-pricking.
Fashola added another troubling question: “True enough, we hear criticisms of what the party in government is not doing or getting right; but when I ask, can you recall an opposition party offering a credible and alternative solution to what the party in government has done wrong?”
The notion this position has given is that, if care is not taken it may be business as usual come 2023. This is worrisome because in all honesty, we cannot continue to tread along this wobbling, pot-hole riddled footpath if we want a better future for our children. That brings to bear Nigeria’s huge debt profile.
“On the question of revenue or lack thereof for example and the borrowing by Government … I have challenged the critics to provide the alternative; and I am still awaiting a response.”
Well, my candid opinion on this matter is a clarion call for the holistic restructuring of this entity called Nigeria. Put simply, let the geo-political zones control their resources, pay an agreed per cent of their income as tax to the centre, as it was during the First Republic.
One of the profound lessons learnt from the highly engaging lecture and the question-and-answer segment has to do with the role the people have to play towards achieving the democracy of our dream. Indeed, it was one rude shock when only four people out of over 100 attendees stated that they had read the 1999 constitution when Fashola asked the all-important question.
That underscores the significant role we can play in sustained voter education down to the grassroots. These include non-governmental organisations, public affairs analysts and the mass media as ‘The Niche’ has nobly done.
Yet, the burning question remains: Will it still be business as usual during the next elections? The choice is ours-the electorate, to make.