May 29, 2021
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Nigeria’s democracy is 22 years old today. Hurray! At the very least, we should cheer the fact that we are among the living and we must also remember to give thanks to Almighty God for that. If nothing, we should be grateful that we are alive to witness what we have made of the democracy many Nigerians died trying to institute. It should not be lost on us that some Nigerians have been designated as “heroes of democracy” and even if we are not happy with the unusualness of our democracy after 22 years, we should remember that the labours of our heroes past should never be in vain.

The level of development of Nigeria’s democracy at the age of 22 years leaves us feeling like parents of a stunted child. The people who were in the vanguard of the quest to push soldiers out of government and see Nigeria return to democratic rule fought so hard to bring us where we are. Today is also for all of us to think and reflect on what we have made of the efforts of people like Chief Alfred Rewane, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr Beko Ransom Kuti, Pa Abraham Adesanya, Chief Frank Ovie Kokori, Chief Alao Aka-Bashorun among many others. It is indeed worth reflecting on if indeed, the memories of those unsung heroes of the Nigerian struggle for democracy is honoured. From May 29, 1999 to date, have we not progressively retrogressed from the rudiments of democracy?

The great music icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti was one of the most notable social crusaders that readily come to mind. He sang so much about social justice and the ills of a disproportionate, unfair society and government. He was a fearless campaigner who named his subjects in his records. In 1986, he sang “Teacher don’t teach me nonsense” and in 1989 “Beast of no nation” in which he lampooned democracy as being practiced by some nations and how such nations ignore their “pupils” or “students” when they falter and crash in their self-inflicted foolishness.

In “Teacher don’t teach me nonsense,” Fela gave a unique description of democracy. He submitted that from what he had seen of how some leaders practice and manipulate the concept of democracy, it is a display of madness, “demonstration of craze”. He knew that all the negative ‘isms’ – Nepotism, favouritism, tribalism – were inherent in what we do and warned of the deadly consequences of such dispositions for a country like Nigeria.

Fela wailed that the shenanigans our military dictators descend into when they held sway in our social life and have subsequently turned our democracy to, is nothing but “Baba nla nonsense” (grandfather of nonsense).

Fela sang:

“I come think about this demo-crazy

Demo-crazy (Demo-crazy)

Crazy demo (Demo-crazy)

Demonstration of craze (Demo-crazy)

Crazy demonstration (Demo-crazy)

If it no be craze (Demo-crazy)

Why for Afrika? (Demo-crazy)

As time dey go (Demo-crazy)

Things just dey bad (Demo-crazy)

They bad more and more (Demo-crazy)

Poor man dey cry (Demo-crazy)

Rich man dey mess (Demo-crazy)”

“Thinking about this democracy, demonstration of madness, mad demonstration; if it’s not madness, why is it in Africa? With the passing of time, things get worse, things keep getting bad more and more. The poor is crying while the rich keeps creating mess.” His queasy feeling, even while delivering the lines stemmed from his analysis of rigged elections (people no go vote, dem come get big big numbers); the white man taught us many things, but they didn’t teach us not to rig elections. When the military upstaged the Shagari government, the teachers (Oyinbo) didn’t intervene and stop it by explaining that military cannot take over in England.”

Translate this to the winner takes all that our democracy has become and the unrelenting quest for aggrandizement by some people, what Fela is saying will make sense. The country is so skewed that we had to fashion what we call “federal character” for ourselves. The federal character has turned out to be a legitimate avenue to cheat others and to create a base for the government to cheat for its favourites.

In 2016, when President Muhammadu Buhari addressed Nigerians on the first anniversary of his government, he touched on the economy, security, fight against the Boko Haram, his anti-corruption crusade and the economy. One year after, during his address on Democracy Day 2016, he noted that “our problems as government are like that of a farmer who in a good season harvests ten bags of produce. The proceeds enable him to get by for rest of the year. However, this year he could only manage three bags from his farm. He must now think of other ways to make ends meet.” Twenty-two years after we returned to democratic rule, six years of which President Buhari has been in charge, Nigerians can by themselves determine if he had made moves to find “other ways to make ends meet.” He might have thought of that, but what can we point at as efforts towards making the thoughts a reality.

In 2018, the president said “the economic misfortune we are experiencing in the shape of very low oil prices has provided us with an opportunity to restructure our economy and diversify. We are in the process of promoting agriculture, livestock, exploiting our solid mineral resources and expanding our industrial and manufacturing base. That way, we will import less and make the social investments necessary to allow us to produce a large and skilled workforce.” With the cost of food occasioned by the farmers abandoning their farms due to the violent activities of herders, the facts speak for themselves.

He said the federal and state governments were on the same page in tackling the hurdles in our efforts at increased food production and ultimately food security. The difference in what the states are saying about security of farmers and their produce and what the agents of the federal government are saying regarding this, shows where we are on this vexed issue. The government at the centre seems to have a different thought it wants to force down the throat of the federating units, which is causing tension.

The action of the federal government show that even at 22 years, our democracy is still being spoon-fed. And that is at the very best of it. Nigeria’s democracy is a sickly child. It is being nurtured by unfeeling parents who are supported by careless caregivers. It is growing but not developing, it is causing or characterised by unhealthiness… The country is currently like a deep, sickly vaporous swamp, unpleasant as to induce discomfort or nausea.

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