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Nigeria: A Stunted Democracy By Dr. Eddie Mbadiwe

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WINSTON Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons in 1947 in the course of which he said that democracy is the worst form of government except for the other forms that have been tried from time to time now has universal acceptance.

China, Russia, Cuba apart from the Western world and the so called third world countries practise one form of democracy or the other. The icing on the cake is that even North Korea as recently as three weeks ago had democratic elections and crowned Kim as Supreme leader.

For Nigeria, the journey has been long and arduous starting with the pre-independence struggle led by Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and the Sardauna of Sokoto. The military intervened post-independence and we had many years of stagnation and little growth. NADECO stepped in to drive away the military and there were lots of sacrifices and casualties but the heroes remain MKO Abiola and the aborted June 12 election.

Democracy involves active people participation and you can take it as given that nobody will attempt to rig the June 23 European Union Election in Britain. More than 70% of eligible voters will actively take part. Same can be said of Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark. In the United States, the dynamics are quite different.

It is necessary to have the small re-hash before getting to our core subject Nigeria.

In Igbo language, a child that refuses to or is incapable of growing is called AKAKPO. As the Buhari Administration clocks one year in office, there has been a lot of parroting of seventeen years of uninterrupted democracy. The question is at which cost and what level of development. This is not a critique of the PDP which had been in power at the centre for most of those years or the APC. We must be courageous and accept our collective incapacitations afterall 60% of the major players in APC had executive power as PDP Governors etc. As one preacher paraphrased on radio not long ago, we have all sinned and have fallen short of the glory of our maker God.

For people like me, it is important to know our past and that is why I think it is wrong not to make history compulsory in WAEC. However dwelling daily on the failure of past administrations is not only irritating but a sign of unpreparedness to govern. What is the way forward – that is the thrust.

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Like in any field of scientific research, proper diagnosis is 50% of the cure or solution. Long – term mass education must remain at the core of our social emancipation but what of the short and medium – term objectives.

As long as politics remain attractive in terms of remuneration, so long will money which is at the root of all evils continue to occupy centre court in Nigeria. Courage demands that we take the bull by the horns and bring public officers pay at par with what obtains in civilised countries. There is a league of pay structure and Nigeria has to decide where she falls in.

The next thing Nigerians cannot afford to sweep under the carpet is the 2016 Appropriation bill.

Section 58 (4) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Amended) states “When a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 30 days signify his assent or that he withholds assent.” The President said he refused to assent because there was a lot of padding (a word new to our lexicon) and it took another six weeks presumably for the bill to be unpadded.

One is on the same page with the President and will not sign what is shrouded in dense clouds.

The question now is who have contravened our constitution and are there any consequences? The six weeks delay will negatively affect implementation of the 2016 appropriation act.

Another sore thumb which has stunted Nigeria’s democracy is section 162 (6) of the same constitution. Since a vast majority of us do not have a reading culture, let me reproduce this for ease of reference.

Section 162 (6) states that “Each state shall maintain a special account to be called “state local Government Joint Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the local government councils of the state from the federation account and from the Government of the State”

This is the major Albatross that has stunted development nation – wide. At the local government level nothing has happened for the past 17 years.

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The state governor’s confiscate the entire amount. There are states where the local governments (most of them run by sole administrators) get as little as N1m (one million) a month: not even enough to pay salaries. The seventh Assembly granted financial custody to local governments but this was killed by a majority of state assemblies who are of course extensions of the State Executive Council.

Lovers of democracy irrespective of party affiliation and this includes trade unions, student bodies, women organisations must start a spirited fight within the 8th Assembly to actualise financial autonomy for local government. If this is not done, state governors will continue to misappropriate local government funds and continue to live as Emperors sans former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

As a parting shot, let me comment briefly on the last National Conference and play the devil’s advocate. I have it on good authority that it was a knee jerk reaction canvassed and actualised by a group of PDP Senators when the polity almost got to boiling point. Before the last election and infact when the National Conference was still sitting, I was at a meeting addressed by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari where he said explicitly that the national Conference was a waste of scarce resources and valuable time. His argument was that all Nigerians were represented in the National Assembly and any constitutional change should emanate therefrom. One is therefore not surprised that the Conference report is still in the Archives.

In many advanced and developed countries, organised groups such as writers, actors, scientists, medical professionals, academics, lawyers and etc. brainstorm and come up with apolitical position papers to advance their nations. Unfortunately in our dear country, many of these groups are either not organised or are in various stages of comatose dementia. How sad for our dear country. As we continue our journey through planet earth, let us not forget we can only be remembered for two things; the problems we solve or those we create.

Dr. Eddie Mbadiwe is a former member of the House of Reps.