In spite of its significance as a strong national symbol telegraphing the triumph of democracy over military despotism and autocratic tendencies, June 12, as national Democracy Day has, in recent times, lost that symbolic relevance owing to the entrenched anti-democratic machinations perpetrated by Nigerian politicians.
Through misgovernance and divisive politics that are inconsistent with enlightened common sense, progress and the public good, today’s political class has jettisoned and trampled upon that well-earned memory of freedom and self-governance achieved by the toil and blood of Nigeria’s finest critical mass.
Today, despite 23 years of continuous democratic rule, the politics of absurdity, characterized by widespread insecurity caused by ethnoreligious bigotry, lopsided power relations and institutional collapse, a thriving culture of corruption and a free-falling economy, has made many ask: What is the benefit of Democracy Day to the ordinary man? What is the benefit of democracy at all? Where is the hope heralded by the historically adjudged freest and fairest presidential election that this country conducted on June 12, 1993, that has translated into marking the day as democracy day?
In these trying times that require consolidation of past gains, Nigeria has remained a weeping child in the comity of democracies. The human development index leaves much to be desired. The capacity for refining petroleum, Nigeria’s economic mainstay, is plummeting by the day, with an unprecedented free-fall of the naira.
The corruption index of the country is ascending year in and year out, as legislators and political office holders pillage state coffers. In utter disregard for to rule of law and incredulity to free speech, administrations have been autocratic, sometimes draconian and inclined to impunity.
Nepotism and cronyism have reached an all-time high with fathers passing on supposedly contested political positions to their sons, daughters or family members. Industrial actions, especially strike actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), have been far too many and in crass discord with democracy.
This litany of lamentations has continued for too long. It is sad, shameful, and retrogressive for a country blessed with so many resources and potential. Thus, whilst Nigeria’s retreat from democratic ideals may be the bane of its sorry state today, Nigerians must rethink their past and pick up the country’s fragmenting present and work on them to become great again.
To accomplish this, Nigerians must draw lessons from the significance of June 12 to leadership. One of such lessons goes to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which ought to view its duty to conduct credible, free and fair elections as both a national assignment and sacred duty.
Another lesson is for the politician who must-see political positions as service to the common good rather than an avenue for self-aggrandizement, Viewed as such, political participation is value-laden and demands of its actors the cultivation of sound ethical and moral principles.
Furthermore, June 12 relays all that leadership demands: the courage to make the right decisions even if such decisions go against one’s moral preferences. This lesson is very instructive as Nigerians approach another election year. Given Nigeria’s besieged state, no politician or public officer can offer leadership unless he makes his presence felt amongst the people through a commitment to the common good and its best possible attainment. To do this he must step out of the protection of power and the comfort of wealth to lead the people by example. They must be willing to mortgage their lives for the service of the people and confront the risk and pain that foster genuine followership.
These lessons of June 12, as always, beckon on all Nigerians, especially the legislators who are acclaimed gatekeepers of the tenets of democracy. With each passing year, Nigerians unlearn the ideals of democracy through the sacrilegious mockery of the rule of law and judicial process, unconscionable impunity and utter disregard for human rights and respect for the dignity of the human person. Perhaps, this has been the kind of political life modeled to them by those in government and public service.
If as it is said, ‘the quality of your parliament reflects the nature of your government,’ then Nigeria’s beleaguered government is a reflection of its ill-equipped, unprepared and politically immature legislators. If political leaders and managers of public service are to revive the culture of democracy, they must be equipped for the task before them. They must be intellectually, emotionally, psychologically and roundly fit in their preparation. Continuous engagement and familiarity with the practices of democratic culture and values, availability to be engaged by constituencies, and openness to opposing views are some of the ideals that should aid our legislators in deepening democracy.
Another election year is around the corner, and once again, June 12 invites Nigerians to reflect on the characters presenting themselves for political offices. As is fitting, Nigerians must raise critical questions about those who aspire to lead them. Who are these aspirants for the political office today? Are they the same charlatans, neo-feudalists and chronic freewheelers we have painfully endured? What are their antecedents? What kind of people were they in private life or public office? How have they performed in the various positions of responsibility they have held in the past? What values drove them and still drive them in their private and personal lives? What measure of patriotism and sense of service have they demonstrated in their previous outings? What is their understanding of the common good? What is their sense of public morality, respect for the dignity of persons and rule of law? Are they those who exploit the law and advertise impunity like an entitlement?
June 12 must also open the eyes of Nigerians to see the connection between the present socio-economic and political destitution they have been thrown into and the rapacious, insane impunity of the ruling elite and its apathetic middle class. It must also enable them to understand that the value of their freedom to decide their destiny lies with them. And so, Nigerians must commit to exercising this freedom by subjecting political aspirants to the purifying fire of the genuine democratic process. Just as the critical mass fought for the recognition of June 12, Nigerians today should be educated about their civic responsibility, while the youths should be mentored constructively on social engagement. Wards, councils, and local governments should hold their administrators to task on performance and result-driven policies.