We don’t have democracy yet —Nwolise

Nigeria has had 21 years of democratic governance since 1999. Professor OBC Nwolise, a retired professor from the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, speaks with LUCKY UKPERI on infrastructural developments during military rule and democratic governance, and elections.

 

MAY 29, 2020 marks 21 years of sustained democratic governance in Nigeria after many years of military rule. Do you think the return to civil rule has brought any positive change to the nation when compared with military rule with focus on infrastructural development?

We don’t have democracy in Nigeria yet. There is no election here and that is why I have been saying for the past 20 years that we don’t have democracy in Nigeria. This system is not a democracy, not a republic, not a federation but a Nigeria state.

In terms of general infrastructure, I don’t think we have fared better than what we saw under military rule. Most of the infrastructure we have today whether you’re talking of health, roads, bridges, expressways, or even educational facilities, hospitals, etc were constructed under the military. A lot of the roads that we see today, even the new ones that we have since 1999, were not properly constructed. We see a road that was constructed, and within one year or six months it is destroyed by water. This is because the politicians award contracts and take their kickbacks and kick-fronts and nobody supervises what job is done. Only a few contractors like Julius Berger will insist on quality work. it is just this few contractors that have their names to protect that have done good jobs in this country. A lot of the roads that contracts were awarded for to be fixed have nobody to supervise them as a result of the corruption element. So, the roads don’t last, maximum six to nine months, they are eroded again. There are instances where roads that are yet to be commissioned after completion begin to develop potholes before commissioning. These things are there and Nigerians see them.

These are not the type of things we should be seeing in a democracy where there should be accountability. There should be oversight functions by the legislative body on the executive but because of corruption these legislative oversights are not performed. So, the contractors do what they like and people don’t have utility for their money that is spent on these roads.

For electricity, since 1999, Nigerians are still suffering. We’re still suffering. There is a lot of suffering in the land. At a point we were told that 6billion dollars was spent to fix light but where is the light? Where are the facilities? Nigerians are still dying under the weight of estimated billing, people pay for meters and do not get them, when they get meters, there is problem with installations and billings. So, there is serious problem which is sad especially at this stage. After more than fifty years as a nation, Nigeria should not be having these types of situations concerning our infrastructures. It’s a big shame indeed.

 

Your response seems to affirm statements from some quarters that the only existing and identifiable infrastructural facilities in the country today are the ones put in place by the military governments?

This is a fact. It is a verifiable fact. The assertion that the existing and identifiable infrastructure in the country today was put in place by the military is not hearsay at all. It can be verified. If anybody disputes it, let them go on the roads. One of such is the national stadium in Lagos which was constructed years ago as an infrastructure for sports and health. We also have surviving infrastructure for education put in place by the military.

 

The gloomy state of the nation’s infrastructural development notwithstanding, some Nigerians have said that the worse democracy is far better than the best military rule. What is your view of this assertion?

I will not suggest a return to military rule because that is tantamount to marching backward. The issue is that the citizens of Nigeria have to get organised and insist on seeing the utility of the money being spent on developmental facilities. It is a pity that poverty makes people to acquiesce to unaccountability. When somebody is seen to have stolen money, instead of Nigerians to insist the person returns the money and is prosecuted, they go to his house to get their own share and when they get it they keep quiet.

Another issue connected to infrastructural development is the quality of people who get into power. As I have always said, we have not had elections in this country. What we have been having are just selections. Apart from the June 12 presidential election, all other things from 1999 to date are not elections and if election is removed, there is nothing democratic about any system.

Elections have two aspects: the technical and the social. The technical aspect is the election process and the social aspect is the consent of the people. Thus, when elections are conducted and thugs and security forces determine who becomes the president, governor or chairman of a local government area, then there is problem because the consent of the people is not part of the process, if this is missing, there is no democracy. People should not be killed or assassinated because of elections. Security forces should not be sent after the citizens because there is going to be an election. Election is not warfare. Sadly in this country, it is a warfare. That is why when elections are coming, people get afraid instead of jubilating and dancing.

Democracy is something that brings happiness to the people as they look forward to elections with jubilation and dancing because they know they have franchise to elect their leaders. But what we have in this country is selection and imposition.

We know how democracies are run. We know how federations are run. We know how republics are run. In a republic, for example, the people determine the great issues of the day. If the issues are so strong, they are taken to a national referendum. There has never been a referendum in the history of Nigeria. No issue has been referred to the people. The politicians think for us, act and take decisions for us, and when we complain, they tell us to shut up. In a republic, nobody inherits power. Then, we were told that NPN will rule forever, later politicians said the PDP will rule for generations. All these are not signs of democracy, but that of non-democratic systems.

 

Are these not part of the experimental or growing problems of Nigeria’s democratic journey?

No, a country should not be growing after 50 years. Nigeria cannot be a toddler or infant crawling at this stage. Other nations are flying; we’re crawling. We cannot be crawling after 50 years. Any child that is 50 or 60 years and still crawling is gone.

Today, we’re talking about the coronavirus pandemic, and imagine a small country like Madagascar getting a solution when there is a so-called giant of Africa called Nigeria! Most Nigerians are ashamed of themselves at the way things are handled in the country but they cannot denounce their country.

 

How can Nigeria attain the level needed for her to be truly democratic in governance and take the lead in infrastructural developments?

The right people have to be put into the system but until we stop rigging elections, honest and right people cannot come in. Our electoral laws need to be changed so that good people can participate in elections. For example, in Nigeria, a teacher, lecturer, civil servant cannot participate and go for elective position in an election unless they resign. This is part of the electoral law that needs to be changed to accommodate decent people in the democratic process. For example, in Benin Republic, when they started, a military person can take three months leave to go and contest for elective position, if he wins, his name is struck out of their register but if he loses, he returns to his job.

In Nigeria, government employee must resign from his job in order to contest for elective positions. Which professor, civil servant or teacher can take such a risk when there is no guarantee of winning the election? All these have opened the electoral processes to a situation where only those who can kill, hire thugs or subject themselves to godfathers can win elections.

Nigerians must take their destinies in their own hands and insist that elections must be conducted not as warfare and our electoral laws are changed to enable good people to vie for elective positions. Until political parties begin to groom leaders, because our political parties don’t groom leaders, they will continue to have intra-party crises all the time and people crossing from one party to the other since they have no ideology. There must be internal party democracy which would allow good people to join them.

Until Nigeria gets statesmen who are about service then the situation will remain the same, but until good people go into governance, there will be no statesmen. This might warrant a change of our laws to allow independent candidacy which could provide a platform for good people to seek elections.

Knowledge is not respected in this country. Abroad, teachers are one of the most respected people because they bring up their children but in this country teachers are treated worse. It looks like a curse to be educated in Nigeria. People who have worked for decades for the country are not sure of their gratuity. Some who have been retired for one to two years are without gratuity. This is not how a country is run.

When a nation does not respect knowledge but prefers mediocrity to competence, loyalty to competence, and capacities are not respected, people are asked where they come from and not what they have in their heads, their ideas, capacities, and competencies, then, there can’t be true democracy.

There is need for Nigerians to elect their first 11, that is those who have knowledge, competence and capacities that can generate ideas to better the nation. Knowledge and intelligence rule the world we live in today.

 

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