Sometime in April, I finally got the opportunity to go on leave. Since I graduated, I’ve spent about four years working, and the only times I didn’t go to work were during public holidays, or when I was sick. So when the chance to go on vacation came, to say I grabbed it would be an understatement. I travelled a bit, invested some time in my hobbies….let’s just say I enjoyed it. “What does this have to do with democracy?”, you might want to ask. Just hold on a bit, I’m getting there. Back to my reverie. It so happened that during my leave, I got an invite to attend a media lecture/workshop celebrating the World Press Freedom Day themed the role of the Nigerian media in protecting her nascent democracy. “Nascent? maybe they do not understand the meaning of the word”, I thought to myself. But then, the think tank that organized the event are seasoned lecturers of Mass Communication/Journalism. Surely, they would have an understanding of words and their meanings. So I decided to attend; to see what they wanted to achieve with that choice of term. And then one of my lecturers, Pastor Popoola made mention of our nascency, making the same point that inspired this piece.
I took the liberty to look up the word, nascent. A rather interesting word, rather two-faced if you please, but the point it makes is that anything trend described as nascent is just starting, still developing. Apparently, applying that word to Nigeria as a whole would be in order, since economists still tag us as developing even though we’re 52 years old. Which would make us growth-deficient or growth-inefficient, which ever way you want to label the malaise – but that is not the point.
I have watched our dalliance with democracy from 1993, which was my first experience (I’ve kinda revealed my age, but again, I digress), and then again in 1999, and 13 years since then I watch on. And in that period, I have tried to match what I learnt in government/political sciences classes about democracy to what we are feigning to practice, and I’ve found out that we confound even the best of political theorists. It would either be that we are living in some form of military dictatorship hangover/denial or our democracy is nascent, and by that, I meant that our democracy is a 23-year old with stunted growth. I said 23 because we have enjoyed about 23 years of democracy in our history; six under the British model, and 17 and counting under the American system, and yet we still say we’re nascent – and rightly so.
Democracy, in its ideal form, operates on the tenets of sovereignty of the constitution and the rule of law, free and fair elections, government accountability, and free press; all of which are essential in ensuring that sovereignty rests in the hands of the people. It is a harbinger of good things apparently, because it encourages capitalism and aids economic development, as is the case with most countries of the West. Democracy respects the devolution of powers amongst the constituent elements of the nation-state, and the presence of checks-and-balances measures among the three arms of government. When democracy stands, having these features, then we can say it is developed – a man, if you like.
So when the government uses kid gloves to handle corruption, using the anti-corruption body to target political enemies, while the ‘friends’ of government continue to pillage and loot; when the government is lopsided at the federal level, where the executive is clearly the biggest fish in the polity, where the legislature is a mere rubber stamp in most instances; where presidential fiat is used to ratify acts of parliament, where the legislature pass bills in recess; where the government cannot protect its citizens from insurgents, but then use force to coerce its unpopular decisions on its unprotected subjects – military style, when they just want reprieve from government’s continued drive to impoverish and pauperise them; when the government is too weak to fight a group of people, a cabal, to exact justice on them for a fraud so massive, it’s some countries’ annual budgets, just because that fraud helped them maintain their place in government; when the head of government leaves pressing issues of national security and posterity to meddle in the affairs of a state, campaigning for the gubernatorial candidate; when the government spends gazillions to set up probe and investigation panels, when at the end of the day, the panel report is swept under the carpet, because it does not represent the interests of a few cash cows; when the electorate themselves are poor students of history, selling their votes to perpetuate in power, a government that is uninterested in bettering their lives; when the electorate make decisions that will affect posterity based on mundane criteria such as regional and tribalistic sentiments, instead of merit, track record, etc; when the press cannot perform its functions for whatever reasons – clearly, these depict characteristics of children who do not know what they want, children who petulantly will demand what they want, regardless of who their action hurt; children who only see today with no interest whatsoever in tomorrow; children who still make decisions based on their ‘id’, the ‘ego’ and ‘superego’ are hardly consulted; children who run away from responsibility, hiding under their mother’s leg. Clearly, this aptly depicts nascency, but in the case of Nigeria’s democracy, it is a situation where the child has refused to grow – a state of self-induced stunted growth – an enduring nascency. Such is the pitiable state of our democracy; so help us God.