Democracy in deficit: The tyranny of killers and poverty


By Ace Omozuwa

The recent massacre of over 100 people in Plateau State amply demonstrates the frail nature of our democracy. Democracy without human security is a fine expression of anarchy. The security situation in Nigeria presents a paradox. It creates the impression that democracy and anarchy are coextensive and coexistent. This impression is a lie. Its surface-level verisimilitude should not delude us into thinking it is a fact.

Functional democracy promises freedom from fear and freedom for want. Many Nigerians cannot truly say that these two forms of freedoms are marks of their existential reality.  The converse is almost always true: Nigerians now live in bondage to fear and want.  This curbing of two fundamental freedoms makes it seems as if “government for the people” is a theoretical ideal void of existential relevance.

When the essence of democracy is corrupted, it ceases to protect the vulnerable. The regime of terror instituted by psychopathic killers questions the quality of our democracy. It questions our readiness for business.  It makes nonsense of the advert that says “Nigeria is ready for business.”  Without peace and security the economic environment cannot be attractive. Productivity will decline. Investors will shun our clime. Peace is a harbinger of economic prosperity and development. Therefore, investments in peace building always make democratic and economic sense.

One way to know a strong democracy is to examine how it treats the weak.  Sham democracy does not prevent the dehumanization and exploitation of the vulnerable.  In fact, it does not give power to the people; rather, it exacerbates feelings of helplessness. In functional democracies citizens are not crippled by a chronic sense of powerlessness as manifest in Nigeria.  People are now so afraid to travel to certain parts of the nation. Also, the movement of capital is not entirely democratic, because of the fear factor. The needless death of a citizen cheapens the value of human life and creates a climate of fear.  If there is anything Nigeria does not need on the eve of 2019 election is a climate of fear, because, it has the inherent capabilities to repress democratic consolidation.  Without effective law enforcement fear will inevitably become palpable in the nation.

People feel powerless when laws are not enforced.  Insecurity becomes the order of the day when laws are not effectively enforced.  Sadly, the unjustifiable reprisal attack that led to the death of over 100 people in Plateau State would have been prevented, if law enforcement agents did their job in a noble manner.  At the risk of over reiteration, it should be noted that democracy is a sham or is in shambles where human security is poor due to ineffective law enforcement.

The sense of normalcy that pervades Nigeria after the tragic killings in Plateau State is worrisome. It reveals how desensitized we are to horrific carnage.  Due to overexposure to senselessly criminal wastage of human lives our societal conscience has been calcified. As a result, collective mourning is now a luxury beyond our reach.  Over 100 unarmed, law-abiding Nigerians were gruesomely killed not because they perpetuated a crime, but largely due to their identity, tribe affiliation, and perhaps, accident of location and our equanimity is not disturbed.  We conduct our businesses as usual.

Identity-based killings are gradually becoming a norm in Nigeria, because, our religious sermons, living room stories, beer parlor banters, and off-camera conversations present “the other” as a folk devil.  Increasingly, we lack the requisite social skills to meaningfully and respectfully engage otherness.   Ironically, in the age of globalization and multiculturalism, we are teaching those within our spheres of influences how to flourish in the cocoon of sameness. We teach them to extol the glories of otherness only when they are outside the shores of Nigeria.  We have turned logic upside down; charity now begins afar, abroad, not at home. In ancient times, universities were founded to promote uniformity in diversity, to explore “the sameness of otherness and the otherness of sameness.”   Sadly, in Nigeria, our universities rehash tribal sentiments that are detrimental to social cohesion and national development.

Not too long ago, the government recognizing the destructive effects of hate speech legislated against it. After that, for a while, the torrent of malicious information and pejorative group characterization that inundated public square receded.  It is doubtful if   the legislation ended the culture of hate speech.  It appears it succeeded in changing its dynamics; it is now a subterranean norm. We engage in it behind closed doors. Clearly, legislation alone cannot fix the problem. We need to educate and re-educate Nigerians about the desirability of mutual accommodation, irenic criticisms, social harmony, respect for difference, and national unity.

Respect for difference is a democratic benchmark.  Democracy that gives practical meaning to “government for the people” celebrates pluralism, and shuns insularity.  The multicultural outlook of the Nigerian society does not automatically pose a threat to democracy. It is ethnic tub-thumpers, religious extremists and political hacks that present diversity as the fountainhead of social vices and economic turmoil.

In the midst of the current security challenges facing the nation, it is important that we keep reaffirming the fact that democracy is a system that thrives in diversity of thoughts. Democracy cannot work without widespread renunciation of primitive parochialism and provincial proclivities. Heterodoxy is to democracy what oxygen is to human life.

On Poverty

The reality that Nigeria is now described as the poverty capital of the world does not sit well with the Federal Government. This is understandably so.  Government is making herculean efforts to show that the data that led to that conclusion were not harvested now and so cannot reflect the present socioeconomic reality of Nigeria.  This stance is logically plausible.  However, the fact remains, many Nigerians are poor. They do not context the verity of the conclusion because they embody the misery of material poverty.

As noted earlier many Nigerians do not know what it means to experience freedom from want. They do not know what it means to have more than enough or just enough. They are in a state of not enough. They do not have enough food. They do not have enough clothe to keep them safe from the adverse effects of nature. They do not have enough water.  Occupying or owning decent a house to many is an esoteric luxury.

Hence, it is now a common saying that the three tribe major tribes in Nigeria cannot outnumber the poor in Nigeria.  Poverty in Nigeria is not a respecter of geographical and religious boundaries.  It is not an outlaw in the cities and villages that produced past and present heads of state.  Also, poverty in Nigeria is not a respecter of educational and employment status. There are educated poor people all over Nigeria. Similarly, many hardworking Nigerians are 30 days away from poverty, if not less. This fact is not difficult to appreciate whenever there are delays in the payment of the salaries of civil servants.

One way Nigerians can truly enjoy the dividends of democracy is for government to expend it energies and resources formulating and implementing pro-people policies.  For the purposes of political credibility and electoral gains, government may contest the verity of the data that led to the conclusion that we are amongst the poorest of the poor in the world. Nonetheless, it is important to remind public policy formulators and implementers and government functionaries that the average Nigerian does not contest this claim as it is in consonance with his daily reality.

To strengthen democracy in Nigeria, government at all levels should show more commitment to ensure no Nigerian child sleeps without food.  Government must ensure that mechanisms for social justices are functioning properly. Government must restore the dignity of human life by discharging its primary function: protecting lives and properties.

Against this backdrop, it is heartwarming that the federal government is thinking of overhauling the security architecture of the nation. This is a step in the right direction. Our present security challenges cannot be fixed with orthodox methodologies inherited from colonial overlords. We need at the top echelons of our security architecture, brave nimble thinkers that can reinvent systems.

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