In general, human societies that use the ballot to select a leader or a representative, seek the most qualified.
They look for a dignified and respectable achiever who is dedicated to the best interests of the society. It is not an emotional decision, and the ideal is not always achievable. What is most dangerous and must be avoided, however, is the trap at the other end of the spectrum: empowering the weakest.
In this area, Nigerians continue to get it wrong. We enthrone the unmotivated, the compromised and the uncommitted, and then grumble about why nothing is going right. Sometimes, we do not even bother to get involved: we refuse to vote, or even to register to do so, only to complain about bad leadership.
Our irresponsibility demonstrates itself in our dilapidated institutions and glorified scam establishments, from government agencies to political parties. We would rather put an idiot in charge, especially if he is a relative, than someone whose abilities we know to be vastly superior. A man we know to be a thief arrives with a bribe and we greedily grab it and give him our support. He saunters into office and steals us blind, and we throw up our hands.
This is the soil in which our legislatures are planted and nourished, and it explains why the National Assembly has been in scandal mode since 1999 and has not changed. It is difficult to argue that the average federal legislator is interested in better legislation, or even legislation. The federal legislature, the world’s best paid, is not the world’s most patriotic or hardworking. It is the world’s best paid because its members simply help themselves to the money.
There is a word for that: robbery. But we do not call it that, especially whenthose involved are friends and relatives, or when we feel we can benefit. We worship them. We give them chieftaincy titles. We beg them to marry our daughter who has been jobless for five years in the first place partly on account of legislative irresponsibility.
What we know of the executive is even more alarming, especially since they are fewer, and have more ways of helping themselves to the money. Members of the executive branch do not ask, in the tradition of civil servants, “What is in for me?” They simply take it. They make very little attempt to disguise their brigandage as they build homes and buy bulletproof cars and private jets and travel the world. We give them a great big Robin Hood cheer, as if we were not their very victims.
The truth is that we are responsible for where we have found ourselves. That is why we do not need to be rescued. We can rescue ourselves if we wish.
The first step is that we must resolve to be “victims” no longer. Not to be hypocrites. Not to be cowards.
And then we must learn to stand up straight and use the powerful tool each of us is already armed with: the power to question. We must summon the courage to ask questions of those who run our affairs.
Think about it: we are governed not by aliens. Not even by boys hiding inside starched khaki shirts pretending to be monsters. We are governed by people we know; people who, in principle, we sent out ourselves through the ballot box. We must be able to ask them what they are doing, and how.
The ability to ask questions is the most important weapon of a citizen in a democracy.It permits and challenges the citizen to assert his place as the foundation of the political process by questioning an electoral candidate; by questioning the winner so he remembers he is responsible to those who elected him.
The citizen must question the official so he does not take his office for granted. He must question the official about the principlesthat govern his work. He must question him about the substance of his work. The dog in the hunt hunts for itself especially in Nigeria’s public life; in the end, the hunter must recover the kill for the hunter.
A question does not have to be cynical, insulting or rude. Indeed, the best questions are not; they are based on the simple understanding that theelected owes his position to those in whose name he says he speaks.
Actually, the office-holder usually understands this point very well; he just hopes that the electors do not so that he can present himself not as servant but as Master; not as a messenger but as all-knowing and all-powerful.
We have not just a right, but a responsibility, to question those who serve in our names, even if they rigged themselves into that position. A critical part of the problem we have in our hands is that some of us, when we see a man who holds power, become star-struck and mute, as if the man manufactured the power.
We tremble and stutter not in amazement at how well they are serving the common weal, but at simply how powerful they are. Even journalists align with the applauding and immobilized party faithful, forgetting that while anyone can quote what a politician said, fewer can ask or report what he actually accomplished, if anything.
With that said, it is clear that election year 2015 is critical for Nigeria. It is a chance to stand up, speak up, and take responsibility for doing the right thing. We can pay attention and seek workable solutions, or we can do what we have always done. You cannot present the clown as a prophet only to go home and then complain about how “bad” things are.
Things are not bad. We are, and that is what must stop.This is particularly important for Nigeria’s younger generations. We can begin to negotiate change that will benefit our future when we are courageous enough to ask questions of those who seek our permission to dominate us.
And we must remember we have the right to say NO, to get angry when they think they mislead. Democracy permits us to merge our outrage with the outrage of others who feel the same way as we do.
You die not when you speak up, but when you look away, in which case you die twice.