Under The New Dispensation: The rape on democracy of 1979*

Continued from last week

• Address delivered on Sunday, 27 January, 1980 at the luncheon arranged by the Tribune Croup to mark the Silver Anniversary of the introduction of Free Universal Primary Education in the former Western Region of Nigeria. 


IN this connection, my first charge to you this afternoon is this: You must do everything in your power to ensure at all times that, in spite of Alhaji Shagari, and his men, this second experiment in democracy is a resounding success. To this end, there are certain categorical imperatives you must strictly, rigidly, and solemnly observe.

Firstly, election rigging and other kinds of electoral malpractices must be totally outlawed in future elections. One of the major causes of the failure of our first experiment in democracy in the First Republic was the blatant rigging of elections on two occasions. The first rigging created a tremor and alarm; the second generated a disastrous quake, eruption and violence, the seismic effects of which still linger with us.

Judging from past experience, and having regard to the mood of the vast majority of our people, I want to make a humble prediction.

No one should be under any illusion about it: Nigeria, as a corporate entity” will not survive another large scale and shameless election rigging such as took place in 1979. Those who, as I am told, are now making plans to rig the 1983 election, must realize, before it is too late, that they will only succeed not in rigging anyone out of power as on the last occasion, but in rigging Nigeria herself as a country, out of existence.

When you have this glimpse that I have given you of the gruesome consequences of manipulated ballots and results at the 1983 general elections, you can easily appreciate the enormity of the obligation which you and all of us owe to our motherland to ensure free and fair election at the next en-counter.

In my preside.ntial address to the UPN Annual Congress last December, I gave a fairly detailed blueprint for a free and fair election. It is up to you and all patriotic Nigerians to study this blueprint, improve upon, modify, and amplify it as you wish, and urge its acceptance upon the new FEDECO.

Secondly, dissent is a hallmark of representative democracy. It is invariably the first casualty in a move to establish a totalitarian regime. Anyone, therefore, who seriously advocates a National Government in peace time is an enemy of democracy, and hence of the progress and stability of Nigeria, and of the political rights and social well-being of our people.

Surely, Nigeria is big enough, under a democratic form of Government, to accommodate those in Government on the one hand, and those not in Government on the other. Besides, there is always more than one side to any issue. It is the congenital intolerance of the voice of dissent, on their part that makes those in Government desirous of bringing all articulate elements within their circle of decisive influence in order to silence and stifle such elements.

As young people, you naturally have a tendency to want to be many things at the same time. But as loyal supporters of the UPN which, together with the GNPP and the vast majority of the PRP, now constitutes the voice of dissent, you must resist with all the fibre in your being any temptation to lure you even into any favourable discussion about the National Government. Its advent, which God forbid, would mean “lights-out” for democracy in Nigeria. Alhaji Shehu Shagari has enough sycophants already. We must not do anything to add to their number, lest we break the camel’s back.

Thirdly, probity in public life, and absolute devotion and dedication to the cause of the masses of our people are indispensable to the successful practice of democracy. In this regard, however, the incipient signs and omens are not good. When the National Assembly expends so much time and energy in discussing the salaries of its members, while it does so little about reasonable minimum living wage or income for the working-classes and peasants; when our parliamentarians conceive of something in the neighbourhood of N 2,000.00 per month, by way of salary and allowances each for themselves, in a country where the low-income group including policemen earn as low as N70.00 per month (I don’t know how much the rank and file of the armed forces earn); when Members of the National Assembly with the encouragement or connivance of Alhaji Shagari are planning to pay only N25.00 a month for a luxuriously furnished three-bedroom flat in Victoria Island (a similar flat there is rented for over N2,000.00 per month), while the ordinary man living in nearby Maroko pays between N20.00 to N25.00 for a small single room in a wretched slum which has neither bathroom, nor kitchen, nor water, nor electricity, nor road, when all these things happen, we can be sure that the end of democracy is in sight, even though, in our blinding self-seeking, we may not perceive it.

We of the UPN are out to make a clean-sweep of the refuse of vileness, greed and corruption left behind by the past military regimes. But we must first make sure the brooms we use are clean.

Otherwise we will labour in vain.

My second charge to you is that you must begin now to do all such things as will ensure victory at all levels for the UPN in the 1983 elections, granting that the new judiciary, the new FEDECO, and Alhaji Shagari’s Government will not collude to manipulate the elections.

If the elections are free and fair, we are confident of victory. If, in spite of the freeness and fairness of the elections, we lose, we will gracefully and cheerfully accept FE DECO’s verdict. In all the history of sports, no hitting below the belt, nor foul play in the football field has ever evoked the applause of the spectators, or the admiration of the victim.

In closing, I thank our hosts – the Tribune Group – for a sumptuous luncheon, and a most enjoyable get-together.