Thoughts and perspectives on democratic practices in Nigeria

Open submission by Eziano Spencer

Challenges

The ruling party in Nigeria is not doing anything different from the past government. For years we have been yearning for internal democracy, but we are still very far from it. The central government and its 36 states have abandoned their manifestos. Promises are not kept.

There is no strong leadership, and decision taking is so slow - it can take months - so we are having many crises and controversies all over. Party members are taking each other to court, up to Supreme Court level. A current case involves the executive, the senate president and the legislature.

Political parties are not inclusive or participatory enough. Nigerian politics is personality based. People want to exercise authority and dictate what happens in parties. Those who have looted the government treasury become godfather figures, winning elections and claiming power, all to acquire more wealth and protect their investments, arrogating power to themselves.

There is no transparency and accountability in the political system. Politicians do not take care of those who elected them into power and reached out to them or carry them along. Candidates are imposed on voters. Those candidates are not their choice and not the right candidates.

Politicians acquire power to deal with their opponents and to solve their personal problems. They are not there to make history for themselves or make policies that will affect the lives of the people.

At the helm of affairs only one person is saying that he will fight corruption. Every other person around is silent about it, and some of them have been found to be corrupt. Some of those who were in the past administration, who are known to have looted the government treasury when they were governors or held other political positions, have changed to the ruling party and are serving in the present government. Ministers, governors and other political office holders are not talking about or fighting corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is not investigating them; it is going after the opposition members, which makes their activities selective. This action has silenced opposition members. Though we know that some huge amounts of money have been recovered from leakages in the system and from corrupt past political office holders, there is silence about those who have defected from opposition party to the ruling party. This is not good for our internal democracy. There is continuing abuse of public funds. Those who have their hands in the public treasury, from local government to state government up to the federal level, run, control and hijack the ruling party. They have become godfathers and kingmakers. They have bought over our traditional rulers. This does not augur well for our democracy.

The Federal Government have refused to recognise the critical problem of the massacre of the Benue people in Benue and Taraba States by terrorist Fulani herdsmen. Over months around 25,000 men, women and children were slaughtered with knives, shot with AK47 rifles or had their houses burnt down and had all their farm produce and farmland destroyed. On one day alone around 71 children, men and women were massacred by the herdsmen. This came without response and intervention from the federal government, which failed to send armed policemen and the military for operations. The state governors have no control over the armed police or the army: they have to wait for orders from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria before they can intervene. In Nigeria it is a serious crime and offence to be seen carrying arms, which should lead to arrest. These cattle herdsmen carried arms about without being arrested by the police. It is generally believed that this was because the president is a Fulani man, which means no one can arrest the Fulani cattle herdsmen.

Just recently at a catholic church, during one of their early morning services, around 20 people were killed, including two reverend fathers. This was followed by a mass protest by catholic church members and their priests in most states, before they buried their members. Professor Wole Soyinka, the Noble laureate, demanded international intervention. The unarmed Benue people and the Governor have for months been crying for help through the media from the United Nations and Africa Union. Thousands of homeless Benue people are internally displaced and in camps looking for help and living in fear. Nigerian people cannot conduct business in Benue or go to a place of worship there.

But politicians are not interested in the killings. We need a new leader to build confidence in Nigerians. The desperation of politicians brings about violence and killings. Feeding on poverty and insecurity, they import small arms into the country, and arm our unemployed youths and students, who are cultist in our higher institutions. They have rigged elections and clamped down on their opponents.

Students and others are recruited by Independent National Electoral Commission for jobs during elections. Their lives are put at risk by the politicians who are desperate. They manipulate them and threaten them with guns to accept rigged election results or face being killed if they refuse to cooperate. This has not helped our democracy.

The only thing the Nigerian government relies upon is oil. Each state is blessed with abundant mineral resources and land for farming. In the past our economy depended on agriculture and the economy was booming. Since the discovery of oil in the south of Nigeria, states have abandoned farming and go to the central government every month to get an allocation from the revenue from oil for their state. If Nigeria is restructured, we will stop depending on oil and develop our economic potential. It is only a few selfish, self-centred people or states that do not want a restructure.

The high levels of poverty in our land have led to the trading of human beings for exploitation for slavery and prostitution. Parents even allow human trafficking agents to take their daughters out of the country to Egypt, Oman and Saudi Arabia, under the guise of becoming housemaids or deceiving them that they are going to become shop workers. These girls, when interrogated, do not know where they are being taken to and what they are going to be used for. This has become a big business between the agents and migration officers at the airport. The agents bring these girls from Kwara State, Ondo State, Osun State, Ekiti State and neighbouring West Africa countries. They travel with Nigerian passports, and some with West African passports. The immigration excuse is that the women are above 18 years and if they were denied from travelling, who would refund their ticket money?

Reponses

We can rebuild democracy and respond to democratic challenges through the effort of civil society by making sure that the 1999 Constitution is revisited. The desperation, killings, looting of the treasury and the lack of economic development are a result of the huge amounts of salaries attached to political offices, the power of office holders to award billions of Naira in contracts, and the fact that they do not need to declare their assets when they assume office and after their tenure, both at home and abroad. Salaries and allowances should not be attached to political office holders who want to serve the people. The total amount of money to be received monthly by the president should not exceed 400,000 Naira monthly and governors and the Senate President should not receive more than 300,000 Naira monthly. This will help to reduce the desperation for power and the killings that follow and encourage economic development.

Auditors should be recruited and attached to each project and contract awarded, with spending monitored and quarterly reports published.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission office should not be headed by any government agencies like the police. A separate body, like the accounting body, should head that office for accountability and transparency.

More technical schools should be built to train our young people and help them acquire skills. They should be trained for one year before thinking of looking for jobs. More skills acquisition centres should be built by state governors for new graduates to acquire skills. Young people should be trained in how to demand from their government what they need.

Our leaders and policy makers should guide the utterances they make concerning their citizens; recently this has led to some Nigerian youths who had travelled to Tanzania being deported by Tanzania immigration officers after their president had said that they do not want to work.

Peace education should be taught from the primary school to university level to reduce religious and ethnic killings every time there is a conflict.