Democracy promotes the same sets of value no matter where it is practiced. Simple definition implies that government is made up of people, and should serve the people. In order to enjoy the fruits (or as we call it in Nigeria, the dividends) of democracy, all its various components i.e. people and its legal frame work of operation (constitution) will have to work hand in hand. We also want to emphasize that greed, fraud and corruption, and democracy are members of the same family.
One critical factor that undermines democracy is lack of knowledge and accountability on the part of the people. Look at it from this angle; your close associate of more than 20 years is fortunate to secure a political position, and on resumption at his duty post, he was privileged to oversee projects on designated assignments, in hundreds of millions in naira value. This new position cum money becomes power, which attracts unscrupulous gangs, sometimes referred to as lobbyists. They often approach him with the intent to conjure him into a spending scheme that benefits them both. Challenging as that may be, you and I are probably the last man on the politician’s radar. If he does remember us, all we are going to get is the crumbs.
Now let us approach the same scenario from another perspective, you and the same associate live in an organized community where you are both committed to its development process. All residents ensure the roads in and out of your community are maintained, everyone contributes to cleaning, laws and orders (per the community standard) are maintained, residents invest heavily in security to protect lives and property, private schools meet certain standards before they are allowed to operate, and a host of other social activities are promoted (not anything fancy). Are you telling me, your associate, as a politician (for those following US politics, House Speaker recently lashed out at some of their conservative financial backers because the shutdown strategy they employed towards the end of 2013 against Obama care, did not sit well with the general public, and both democrats and republicans quickly joined hands and agreed to a long term budget deal for 2014/2015 periods) will forget about the trade mark of that community when he/she has the opportunity to influence the life of the people living in his/her constituency? Because the community has a pre-existing foundation for reforms, the residents, I am sure will task him with a laundry list of projects as he departs to take up his new assignment. Even if he has a stone-heart, he will cherish to see his name written in gold plate as a sign of his accomplishment for that community. Don’t forget, he also recognizes the consequence of doing nothing (No chance for 2nd term). The caveat here is that, the community speaks in one progressive voice (has nothing to do with wealth) and will not mind to chastise their own when he/she is wrong. When people know there are consequences for their actions, they tend to behave rationally.
Nigeria politicians are on top of their greedy and selfish games because the populace choose the role of “sit-down-dey-look”, and become errand boys to the political class. Instead of Nigerians priding themselves with the courage to partake in the rebuilding process through constituency politics, we are conferring martyrdom to the lowly, heartless money bags. From time immemorial, Republican, Democrat and Independent parties are not just political jargons; they are real identity of constituency politics in the USA. Similarly, British people define their social and economic beliefs through their political affiliations. There are the Liberals, the socially democratic people (Labour) and those that indulge in the philosophy of conservatism (Conservative).
So much drama is unfolding in Nigerian political arena today, and the big players seem to care less about the people or the identity of the people they are governing. Otherwise, how best can anyone define the power play or the movement of a political class from PDP to APC? There is no ideological agenda behind this façade. The PDP and the federal government have failed us, and the gang of APC is going to fail us. We need to demonstrate our determination to want to participate in the running of the government, at least at the local level by clearly defining our political identities through our respective demographics; religious affiliation, community members association, members of parents/teachers association, social networking groups, professional groups, old students associations, university alumni, and so on. This is one critical step towards the institutionalization of constituency politics. A demographic-based constituency may not have the same power as the big power brokers, but they will have immense influence to some extent, in the appointments of their representatives at the local and state levels, and that is the starting point for the constructive changes we are all yearning for.
In many of my political discuss, I often balance the blame of the state of Nigeria on both the politicians and the populace. And, I often use state governments that have publicly demonstrated good intentions as my baseline metric. Kwara and Oyo State governments are recognized for their efforts on infrastructure developments; and Lagos, Enugu and Delta states have taken decisive stands in fighting insecurity. These are initiatives that may have come with zero contribution from constituency politics. Now, imagine what the results will look like with extra pressure from cabinet members that represent your demographics. Whatever improvement these state governments need to make, we owe them our undiluted support through our representatives to achieve these goals. The onus is on us to have our representatives in the cabinets of these state governments in fighting vices like corruption.
Nigerians need to start a nation rebuilding at community level. It should be a flow process (community-local-state-federal) where all levels of government are carefully made to account for their responsibilities. It is difficult to completely demonize the politicians, if we, the people do not recognize the role we need to play in the governance process. Our roles are very critical, where people’s core identities are defined in their representatives, through a well-structured political agenda, that carefully articulate the need of the people. Recently a Chinese politician recommended solutions to addressing the 4 evils bedeviling Nigeria, and he made example of how China overcame the same predicament. According to him, “China was able to evolve a strong system of governance with the aid of the CPC which he stressed has been promoting discipline among members, while deriving its strength from the grassroots. Ping said China never joked with the idea of constant reforms, noting that Nigeria too can imbibe the tradition of fashioning out home grown reforms to change its governing system through democracy.” (Mr Ai Ping, the Vice Minister, International Department of CPC Central Committee, disclosed this to the National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, during the latter’s visit to the Foreign Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing, China).
I wonder when we as a people will begin to reflect on how we have individually contributed to this mess the country is in. Some of the professional unions in Nigeria have turn activism into militancy. Fight for a just cause has become destructive efforts: We all witness what ASUU did to the universities. Ministry of Health is so rotten that strikes are called with no human face. NNPC workers have lost all required professional ethics, that they are unable to balance their books. The airport services lack decent decorum, and passengers are treated with so much levity. Experience at the port authority will stiffen life out of you, and you will hate to ever do business in that country again. Bank workers will compromise your identity for their selfish gains. Family and friends will make fun of you in the face of life challenges. We have grown to be extremely insensitive and inhuman to our brothers and sisters. We need to assume some sense of responsibilities and fairness in promoting a progressive, prosperous and ethical society, and we mean at community level where we honour commitments, show respect and discipline, express trust and share real love, and stop the hypocrisies and corruption that have eaten deep into the fabric of our society.
Community development, education and enlightenment are very critical in fighting corruption in Nigeria. At this point, can any of us go to our neighbourhood and engage other residents with initiatives that will benefit our communities? Of course not, because the effort will probably yield little or no response. If we are unable to define and outline our priorities at the lowest level of human politics, what do you expect of the local government chairman, not to talk of a senator or Governor? It’s time to start thinking outside the box and begin to look inward. We have to show that human face, and think more about giving than what you can receive. We should task our different professional and social affiliations to helping one another. We should be involved in volunteer programs, share knowledge, give gifts of life (I met a lady who helped a family friend carry pregnancy. Another lady gave her sister egg for embryo fertilization), organize and show up at community meetings, discuss political and social issues at community meetings, persuade your professional and social affiliations to donate blood, and be sensitive to others pains and challenges.
Here is a take away; we love the standard of living in the western world, right? There should be recognition of the prices people pay for the good neighbourhood roads, constant and regular electricity supply, competent policing, regular water supply, access to public library, easy access to local and community schools, access to medical services and the provision of other social services.
These amenities are made available as a result of individual and communal based sacrifices; in terms of taxes, volunteer programs and respect for human lives, dignifying lifestyle among the people, self-discipline, trust, and high sense of community ownership. Nigerians need to ensure that politicians “Senators and other representatives” are given mandates to go to the higher political body and lobby for the growth and development of their communities (and not wait for the Greek gifts we are used to receiving from them) to complement the formation of a communal goal, focusing at decent and affordable lifestyle. Let us put our guts to task, and do a little soul-searching. Let us attempt at reaching out to local residents in our respective areas, and ask them to contribute to the construction of community gutter, help in clearing waste, volunteer to repair and maintain secondary roads, commit financial investment to secure life and property, and let me know how many will respond positively. In the same token, tell them you want to “yi eyin oku pada” (do a party to celebrate the anniversary of a relative who died 10 years ago), and everybody will have the time and money to buy “aso ebi”. That mentality has to change. We need to value life more and set our priorities in the right direction. In retrospect, we will have the courage and confidence to use politics as means to serve the people and not the other way round. People should amass enough power through the electoral process (votes) to determine when to give or take away mandates.
In December 2012, after the killings at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, Obama decided to introduce gun control legislation in the USA. Even though the bill was very popular in North East (NY, NJ, Mass, CT etc.), the Mid-West felt that the bill is a dent on their identity, and one state, Colorado fought back by immediately recalling two of their state senators (that is what is referred to as politics of constituency).
In most democratic formation, the primary tasks of representatives are to initiate bills that become law of the land. Apparently, bills in form of farm bill, immigration bill, education bill, gun control, workers compensation, regulation and deregulation of business sectors, and other social and economic related bills on Capitol Hill are based on pressures from either the big corporation (power brokers) or are driven by some specific constituency interest.
The authors of this article are in no way suggesting that Nigeria politics should simulate what is practiced in USA, UK or China. The narrative is about the structure of political institution in general, and how democracy can benefit Nigerians today and tomorrow. Politics under any type of structure is driven by two main caucuses; the politics of power brokers and the politics of constituencies. For a very long time, Nigerian politics has been dominated by the power brokers, while the constituency politics has been sitting in the burner. It is time we all wake up from our slumber and assume the responsibilities of taking part in Nigerian politics through our constituencies, so that our children will have the opportunity we never had. It is not too late to reform the landscape, and level the playing field for equal opportunities to all. We need to understand that, if we choose not to use our constituency votes to influence the local politics, the power brokers will fill in the blanks and the story will never change.
Femi Fabiyi and Akintokunbo A Adejumo
firstname.lastname@example.org and Akinadejum@aol.com