by Tunde Leye
I urge and encourage each of us to get involved. Register and vote. Protect your vote. Pursue changes within the law in between elections. Participate in nation building within your neighborhood, in the things that concern you and your community.
An American writer described democracy as the tyranny of the masses. Another writer, Alan Moore, popular for his dystopian books like V for Vendatta opined that the government should be afraid of its people. While there are negative extremes that these notions can go to, it the goal of every popular democracy for their ideals to be the case. The maturity of a democracy is in fact politically measured by the degree to which the fear of the reaction of the people influences public officers to act for the greater good.
In our society, most people would argue that not much is different about our democracy and there is a need for a quick and violent revolution to bring about the necessary change to the Nigerian system. Most proponents of these views point to the example of Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, and how his execution of the old military guard effectively ushered in a new period in Ghana’s polity that they seem to be enjoying as we speak. They in fact refer to Nigerian youths as cowards who cannot take the initiative that their Arab counterparts took to burst forth a decisive Arab spring-like movement.
But these people miss the point. While events like Jerry Rawlings’ swashbuckling and the cataclysm of the Arab spring are good for TV and news, and appeal to the yearnings of those who understandably impatiently want change in Nigeria, it is important for us to assess such revolutions and see if the achieve much.
Most of the Arab Spring movements have for example either replaced old dictatorships with new dictatorships as in Egypt, or precipitated chaos as in Libya. In the Ghanaian case, Rawlings was a dictator who ended up holding on to power for a long, long time. And without building the most critical thing to sustain change, Ghana today is already back at the IMF, with economic difficulties that only a few years ago seemed impossible. Revolutions and sudden changes in polity by their nature have an inherent flaw – the most organized group other than the government usually takes power after the revolution. In Russia, it was the Bolsheviks under Lenin, in France, it was the Jacobins under Robespierre, in Egypt it is the military under Sisi.
The truth is that we have attempted this revolution business before in Nigeria. Listening to the interview of Kaduna Nzeogwu after the January 1966 coup, he referred to it as a revolution. And we all know what happened right after that – the most organized group outside of the government, the military, took power. This incident and the reactions to it led up to the bloodiest war in our history. Today, we still live in the shadow of this “revolution”.
I would rather recommend that as citizens, we undertake to create the change we desire to see within the ambits of our democratic system. It may be slow, it may be boring. But ultimately, it leads to sustainable and deeper seated change. Already, we have made tremendous progress, and our democracy will only continue to mature even more.
First, the killings and imprisonments that follow the revolutions serve two main purposes. The first is to clear the polity of the old order so that a new one replaces it. The second is to punish those within the old order responsible for the suffering of the people. In Nigeria today, as much as most people will not admit, the old order is being replaced. Obasanjo effectively removed the coup planning capabilities of the military. Some politicized officers went into obscurity, whilst the smarter ones became part of the new political system, with some emerging at the head. The second goal is yet to be achieved, and the realist in me says it might not be achieved. But eventually, the old guard will be replaced. And it is in this replacement that the criticality of what is happening is important.
The 2015 elections are the first in which the interest of the general polity has been this heightened even in who emerges in the primaries. Politicians who are perceived as non-performing are increasingly losing primaries within their own parties. One of the direct results of politicians losing office is that it reduces their tendency not to perform. It is also evident that with each election cycle, the votes of the people matter more and more in determining who emerges as winner. As more and more people who did not grow up under colonial or military rule reach voting age, plus with the advent of technology in the voting system, it is clear that our votes will count even more as time goes on until it gets to the point where it is all that counts.
Of course, democracy is not just about voting and winning elections. The most two most important ingredients in democracy are institutions and accountability of government. A lot of the things that supported the old system in Nigeria are being torn down. What is great about it is that they are being torn down within the confines of our democracy. Some are not readily visible, but they are very important. Take for example the recent ruling that there should be no preferential cut-off marks for entry into government secondary schools. This is a ruling of epoch making proportions that attacks age long practices rooted in our turn by turn politics filtering down to education. In different places, different such boring examples are going on.
I urge and encourage each of us to get involved. Register and vote. Protect your vote. Pursue changes within the law in between elections. Participate in nation building within your neighborhood, in the things that concern you and your community. Where things within the old way of doing things stand in your way, challenge them and learn to use the legal and democratic tools to exert change. This process might be slower, but it is a surer way to create the society that we long for Nigeria to be.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.