In the seemingly endless battle for the soul of Nigeria (whatever and wherever that is), both sides – or all the different sides – seem to have settled upon an unwritten consensus; that untruths and exaggeration are legitimate tools for engagement.
We’ll take you on an uncomfortable journey through a few of them.
It is not true that the Federal Government of Nigeria has done nothing over the past one year. What is rather true is that what has been done is inadequate and disorganised, not befitting of the leadership of a nation such as ours – and that for all the goodwill and resource at the disposal of this government, its record is dismal.
It is not at all true that all of Nigeria’s state governors are incompetent – what is true is that there are a few bright spots in an otherwise challenging local environment, but cumulatively, we have a report card that tends towards dysfunction.
It is not true that the National Assembly is a den of thieves and, for good measure, armed robbers. What is rather true is that is that they are over-paid, under-worked, and clearly unfocused on the issues that matter.
It is not true, as people like to gloat, that there is no real opposition party in Nigeria, or that they exist only by press release. Considering that at least a third of the nation is in the political hands of the opposition including our most strategic state (Lagos), what is rather true is that the opposition has not yet been able to overturn the in-built advantages of the ruling party; but in fact that they are making the best of a bad situation.
It is not true that once the government solves either the problems of corruption or power, Nigerians will be satisfied. There is no anecdotal or empirical evidence of such miraculous transformation. What is rather consistent with history is that modern governments must give the people confidence in their ability to lead so that the people can in turn give them the space to implement needed reforms.
It is not true that Muhammadu Buhari wants Nigeria to crash and burn if he doesn’t rule this nation as president; what is closer to the truth is that this insular and erratic leader seems so driven by anger at the state of the nation that he will not rule out an extreme solution.
There are indeed many – very many – such untruths and exaggerations like the above that have become common fare in the Nigerian market place of ideas. But perhaps the ultimate of all these is that which declares with moral certitude that “what we have in Nigeria is not a democracy”.
While there is a kernel of substance in this unnecessary declamation (one that has become fashionable amongst segments of the identifiable elite), it is so largely over bloated that it has defeated its own purpose. We do not need to dismiss our hard-won democracy just to prove a point about the inadequacies of the present governments. It is not useful and it is not productive.
Those kinds of declarations make nonsense of the progress that this country has made over the past 13 years. They make nonsense of the bravery of the judiciary during the presidential over-reach of Olusegun Obasanjo; they make nonsense of the democratic willpower that pushed the National Assembly to knock the same man’s inane desire for a Third Term. They make nonsense of the millions across the country who came out to make a loud case for faith in nation by casting their votes peacefully and enthusiastically, and they certainly make nonsense of a steady string of admirable and inspiring civil protests including the recent #OccupyNigeria rallies.
More than anything else, that statement shows a cavalier disregard for the huge difference in governance, politics, business and the media that has followed after the likes of MKO Abiola, Alfred Rewane and others too many to mention gave their lives to bring democracy back to our country.
Ours is an imperfect, sometimes even embarrassing, democracy, but it is one we have earned, and it is a functional one. It is one that, today, we can savour even if for the basic freedoms that it brings.
Make no mistake, today’s Democracy Day calls for no celebration. There is very little to be jubilant about as we flail our arms seeking a leadership that can provide direction. Indeed, only a silly nation would clap for joy for what we have 13 years after the military was forced to step aside.
No one even says we should be thankful for what we have.
What is important, however, is to appreciate it for what it is – a hard-won democracy and a system of hard-fought freedoms. That simple appreciation should inspire us to ensure that it continues to work better each day; and that every time we make a mistake – either in voting the wrong leaders or allowing the wrong policy – we learn our lessons and do better next time.
That seems to us the only way that we can maintain forward motion, together.