COLUMNS - 30 MAY 2017

Editorial: Letter on Democracy Day

Editorial: Letter on Democracy Day
President Buhari's first two years have seen a host of different challenges. Source: Ibi Cookey

Dear Nigerians,


This year, through this Democracy Day series, this publication will do you both a service and a disservice. It is in remedying this disservice, that this Editorial is necessary.

We will, alongside both reputable and non-reputable Nigerian media, provide what we consider incisive analysis of Nigeria under President Buhari. We will look at the Big Issues including the economy, anti-corruption, financial markets, foreign policy and national security. However, in doing so, we will overlook more fundamental questions about the state of our democracy and the national question surrounding our existential crisis. As we do so, you may come under the impression that Buhari's administration is the only driving force behind Nigeria.

That is not the full picture.

From the upper echelons of society to the poorest of the poor, there is a sense that this government has disappointed us. But, unlike our counterparts, we hold no opinion on President Buhari, because to do so would betray our editorial stance. We would have to index the promises and performance of the Buhari administration against the expectations and assumptions of all Nigerians. Ironically, Nigeria's diversity of opinion, religion, tribe, education, and standard of living make this an almost impossible task.

If you think we overdraw the picture, then that is more reason to read this Editorial, as we intend to outline the bigger picture. Neither one, nor all of the issues that any news outlet will discuss can paint the absolute truth of Buhari's tenure because to do so would require assumptions about what Nigerians wanted at his election, or even, what they should have wanted. Both are complex questions.

We know that we voted for change, but we are not in agreement on the nature or scale of the change. That being said, like citizens all around the world, we hold the implicit assumption that every government, including this one, must serve some purpose.

This makes the crucial question clear – what is the purpose of the Nigerian government?

Stripping this question down to its bare bones will lead to a range of responses, some emotive or patriotic, others self-interested or short term. Either way, the assumptions we make about the purpose of President Buhari's administration are useful guides to assessing his tenure. If for example, the old regime worked for you as a Nigerian, with access to state funds and a controlling say in Nigerian affairs, then perhaps you would hope the Nigerian government remained the same; its essential purpose being to maintain the status quo. If on the other hand, the privilege of the ruling elite did not trickle down to you, then you may prefer if the status quo were turned on its head.

Chinua Achebe remains one of the enlightened few who asked the ‘purpose’ question as a part of his Nigerian discourse. For him, the purpose of the Nigerian government is to promote peace and the implementation of social justice. On these metrics, President Buhari's performance is less than perfect. However, Achebe also highlights a more pressing concern for the Nigerian society, one which any government should achieve – good leadership.

This circular point is possibly something that all Nigerians agree upon; the purpose of the Nigerian government is to address the abject failure of leadership in our society. It requires more than stability and is more than guaranteeing that Nigeria is still here tomorrow. But it also has its root deep in our history.

When Zik made his 1937 New Year's oath, which was repeated in 1943, his idea of leadership was a lot more modest than his reputation would otherwise suggest. He pledged:

'that henceforth I shall utilise my earned income to secure my enjoyment of a high standard of living and also to give a helping hand to the needy'.

That was the sentiment born of one of our nation's premier leaders and echoed by others. Awo, in his own words pledged:

'I was going to make myself formidably intellectually, morally invulnerable, to make all the money that is possible for a man with my brains and brawn to make in Nigeria.'

Today, it is hard to identify the difference between those securing financial success, as opposed to those seeking the loftier ideals of national progress. Aggravated by limited resources, a scramble in the corridors of power now dominates our mindsets, charging Nigerians to approach things with a fear of missing out. Chinua Achebe summed this appropriately when he said:

'A normal sensible person will wait for his turn if he is sure that the cake will go round; if not, he might start a scramble'.

This scramble is well depicted by Nicholas Shaxson, using his two queues analogy. Simply put, Nigeria is a queue, and all queues are really made up of two queues; a mental one and a physical one. Disrupting the physical queue will cause no harm because even if it breaks up, as long as the mental queue remains intact, then order will re-emerge and people will recreate the line as it was once. In practical terms, Nigeria’s current recession, militancy in the Niger Delta and the rise of Boko Haram are all issues we could recover from because the physical line may be broken, but the polity continues to believe in the system.

However, there is a more terminal way to disrupt this queue that many Nigerians are familiar with – jump the queue at the very front. This will damage the fundamental belief in the mental queue, and if it happens often enough, the people will scramble, and the queue will be destroyed. There is no coming back from that. Practically, we see this when the systems and institutions fail to work unless you rig it or somehow cut corners. In essence, there is no reason to believe that doing the right thing will lead to the right result.

It is even clearer amongst our leaders who exploit the Nigerian system on the basis that their colleagues are no different, and if they do not grab what they can, someone else will grab it instead. These politicians, despite being the leaders of society, do not believe in the integrity of the systems they administer. They know all too well that to achieve their ends, they must cut corners and destroy the framework for governance that they are elected to protect.

This breakdown of belief in our society is probably more worthy of the present administration’s focus than on a range of disparate policies. It is an issue that the government can choose as its primary purpose. But it would be idealistic to think voters had this in mind when they chose President Buhari to lead.

Now, you may better understand the fundamental question to be asked when we decide to assess the President's administration. It is more nuanced than constitutional reform or economic planning. It is one that rests on what we think the government should be doing, beyond administration of the country. Any change to Nigeria that citizens expect might turn out to be less in executive orders and legal enactments, but more in the minds of Nigerians and the faith we place in our own system.


Yours Sincerely,
Stears Editorial Board


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