We are all aware that there are models of democracy that have been variously put into practice all over the world.
In Europe before the end of 20th century, for instance, there were the Scandinavian countries that practiced a model of democracy known as social democracy. This is a kind of democracy with a human face. It is a form of welfare-based democracy in which the interests of the generality of people is paramount.
There were also other countries that have been practicing liberal democracy, another form of economically driven democracy that augments the system of laissez faire capitalism. The example of United Kingdom, France and Germany readily comes to mind here.
The collapse of cold war bipolar world and the ascendancy of neoliberal global order have since dissolved the different models of democracy, including what is found in socialist countries like China where economic liberalization was meshed with its own brand of communism.
In Africa also, decolonizing nation-states in the second part of the 20th century were made to shed the toga of their welfare pretentiousness. One after the other, several African countries were browbeaten into accepting a mindless form of capitalism, guided by the diktats of Washington Consensus, which unbearably wrought havoc and inexplicable social disaster in form and content.
Without exception, Nigeria is caught up in the snares of this new order, which can at best be described as social disorientation on a massive scale. Nigerian democracy apparently draws its inspiration from a global hegemonic structuring that has been on the ascendancy since the days of European brutal conquest of the world.
Liberal democracy in Nigeria is everywhere accentuating corruption and corrupt practices on the part of its players; hence the mess in which it plunges the entire country. Democratic ethos is however becoming deeply entrenched merely through the periodic rituals of electoral processes, without minding the chaos that is Nigeria today, and amidst the mammoth ignorance of the people. In short, Nigerians are generally unaware of the implications of the precarious existence brought about largely by the traps set for the country by the global movers and shakers of liberal democracy.
In the name democracy, elected officials are behaving like some feudal potentates, dispensing with our commonweal as they wish. If our officials were not sharing their loot stolen from us with members of their family and friends, they would be found stashing humongous amounts of public money in foreign bank accounts. And the system is incapable doing anything about it. Public institutions are deliberately weakened to make things easy for abuse. Rights and privileges of office are no longer enough means of personal ingratiation, but a veritable means of fleecing the resources entrusted into the hands of public officials. Democracy, as people experience it in Nigeria, is a system of kleptocracy that is happily operated by the party of kleptomaniacs whose understanding of governance is simply to go there and steal the common till belonging to the people.
As we have it elsewhere in advanced democracies, democracy is no longer that idealized utopia it was said to be, a kind of government of the people by the people and for the people, but a mere pipedream. The most apt description of what is being practiced in our clime is a rule of the few powerful elite by few powerful elite for the few powerful elite, pure and simple! In this case, democracy, the type we practice in Nigeria, is just a sham, a system installed for no known recognizable value other than the perpetuation of vested interests through the active consent of the people themselves.
The people, whatever they are, are being hoodwinked to believe that they are being governed purely on the basis of their choice, their desire and their active participation in the electoral process. Despite this grand deception, promoted by its propaganda zealots, democracy is said to be the best socio-political order that has so far been developed by the best political theorists that have steadily evolved over the millennia, from the Greco-Roman times, through the birth of modern European nations, down to the struggles of the founding fathers of the United States. In practice, democracy is just a system of popular political participation through periodic elections. Period!
In the above sense, the democracy we make so much noise about can easily be equated to a self-serving universal credo or a kind of pastoral order in which the laity were treated like sheep without commensurate benefits coming their way. Otherwise, how else do you explain a system that only multiplies human misery and agony all over the place? Again, how do you rationalize a political system in which you elect people to represent you, but would however end up representing their selfish interests from the very first day they assumed duties into their elected political offices? The system may be working elsewhere, but it is clearly not working in Nigeria. Instead, Nigeria is falling apart from such a system that only cares to maximize the advantages of elected representatives at all levels – local, state and federal levels. Apparently, this system is either defective or not working for us at all. And its gatekeepers are constantly telling us that there is no alternative to democracy, particularly the dominant form of liberal democracy that is causing crises and chaos in most nations of the world that are practicing the system. How honest is it to claim that there are no alternatives to a system that serves only the interests of the minority at the expense of the majority in society?
As far as I know, there is no human system that is perfect, that is without another humane alternative. The task ahead of us is to do the hard thinking for a way out. We must search for a better alternative to something that is not working for us. In this regard, we need a system that will work for us based on our cultural and historical peculiarities. As a matter of fact, we need a homegrown system, a democracy made in Nigeria for Nigeria by Nigeria. Rather than blindly transplant a monstrously expensive system that proves to be not working for us, that is promoting corruption, and nothing but corruption in the land. We should quickly start thinking of evolving something that will work before it is too late. We must take time to understand the meaning of the unity of theory and practice in what we do daily with our lives. If we observe incongruity between theory and practice, we must know that somehow there is something fundamentally wrong with the system. We must then not allow ourselves to get carried away by the propaganda blitz unleashed by the paid agents of the global system of injustice and oppression via global media agencies. If the system is not working, it simply means it is not working. The adage that says practice makes perfect should be our guiding principle at all times. Once it is realized that a political order or the entire social system is not working, the answer must therefore sought elsewhere by sourcing for an effective alternative.
No matter our sympathy to the travesty we are calling democracy, it is evidently leading our country to the path of destruction and penury despite our great abundance. Sensible members of society are clearly seeing the inadequacies of the system. This political model of democracy needs total overhaul. The system has to be reengineered for the sake of present and future generations of Nigerians. Like zombies, we cannot afford to sleepwalk over the quagmire that is the Nigerian democracy, a democracy that does not cater for the needs of the people. In case the drivers of our brand of democracy have forgotten, all that Nigerians want is development, social mobility and security for themselves and members of their family. Anything short of that from our self-seeking leaders is unacceptable.
The whole world knows that Nigeria is richly endowed with resources, human and natural, but majority of Nigerians could not afford a decent meal per day despite the rhetoric of bringing development to the people by successive civilian regimes that have been very much around since our hasty and bungled return to democracy. This situation can no longer be sustained. The country is groaning and reeling under careless handling by politicians, but our politicians don’t seem to understand the implications of system shutdown that is everywhere starring at us directly in the face. The politicians don’t see that our country is tottering on the edge of the precipice. And all they care about is how to perpetuate themselves in office.
No matter how we want to look at our situation, our denials and everything in-between, the country has reached a cul-de-sac, a dead end if you like, that necessitates serious action for our own collective survival. For all intents and purposes, we cannot move forward any more. Right now nothing is working. We need to retrace our steps back to the point where we took a wrong detour. Something has to give way whether we like it or not. Something serious has to be consciously done by Nigerians in order to rescue the country from decomposition. No country of our size and demography can take the kind of recklessness we engage in.
Nigeria needs careful planning and management in the hands of prudent individuals. These are however not in short supply in the country. The responsibility to source prudent managers for Nigeria, the only nation that belongs to us, must be a collective one. The country can no longer continue to tread the dishonorable path of rascality and brigandage in the hands of cruel and heartless leaders, scoundrels masquerading as politicians. As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine!
Mr Liman is professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria