Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the US President in tough times. The Great Depression and World War II were harrowing events that could have mowed Americans down to the rubble. But, the 32nd President successfully pulled the country to safety and succour. There is none in American history granted more frequent access to sit in the Oval Office as President Roosevelt. He was voted into the White House four times. In those seasons, he saw a lot, heard aplenty, and experienced much from the hands of friends and foes. Anytime his legendary public statements are rehearsed and rehashed in historical accounts, you know they are deserving. “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way”, Roosevelt once said. This statement explains that things that happen in politics are never outside of the collaboration, collusion, and co-ordination of politicians. I believe Roosevelt.
In this week’s treatise, I discuss the good idea called democracy while examining its perverted version in Nigeria. An idea may be good, but when yielded results and rewards are no good, we must be concerned. Electricity was a good idea in the hands of men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison. Most of the entire world is now able to leap from darkness into light as a result of the ingenuity. Television was a good idea when invented by Scotsman John Logie Baird in the 1920s. Through the technological creativity, our world has become one small global village. The Internet was a good idea when the US government envisioned a World Wide Web as early as the 1940s; and then dropped in the good hands of men like Vannevar Bush, J.C.R. Licklider, and Vint Cerf who perfected the discovery. Through this invention, one end of the world connects knowledge and understanding with the other in a nanosecond.
Democracy was simply defined by Abraham Lincoln as “government of the people; by the people; and for the people”. It means that people who run the system are extractions from among the people; and they should never forget that they work for the people; not for their egotistic selves. Democracy is a good idea. It is why out of 197 countries of the world, six in 10 have embraced the system. The practice only becomes bad when bad people drive it. Nigeria’s democratic practice appalls many. Its pilfering, repressive, insensitive practitioners are also annoying. A government of the people that starves and enslaves its people is definitely and defiantly not on the side of the people.
Going back to Roosevelt’s public statement referenced above; can we say that at this point in Nigeria, whatever is hitting the country hard happened by accident? Are the raging and ravaging hunger in the land, the kidnapping, the killings, the bloodlettings planned handiworks of politicians or outside their knowledge? Can we say that a retired army general sitting in the Villa as President; a man who once reportedly bravely chased terrorists into their Chadian enclaves snuffing lives out of them has now lost the grits to stem the tides of ravaging and rampaging insecurity, routing rebellion, and destabilising dithers? Are these the days of mounting mayhems?
I read recently that a two-year-old girl was kidnapped from the cares of babysitters in a Lagos church. The miscreants then demanded a ransom from the parents and the church. The hoodlums were rounded up and baby safely returned to mother. People are stealing babies and using them as bargains to extort? What has become of us as a people? But the voice of Nelson Mandela from his graves tugs on my spirit this morning: “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw”. When poverty and hunger spike; lawlessness spikes. Since 1999, Nigerians have not benefitted much good from democracy. And only a few practitioners and their cronies continue to feed fat on our expansive commonwealth. Democracy has created more poverty and squalour. The unemployed are growing in number, and you wonder why kidnapping has become a new business enterprise? I concur with former American President John F Kennedy who said: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo said it differently: “Children of the poor you failed to train will never let your children live in peace…”
Children of the poor have now enlisted in kidnapping platoons and killing squads because they must survive by every means necessary. Nigeria’s young people are the real victims of Nigeria’s dysfunctional system. They were born and raised in a dark era of greed, misrule, recklessness in the management of national resources, deprivation, and unbridled poverty in the midst of plenty. They have been psychologically sedated to imbibe the negative lifestyle of greed, fraud, and a get-rich-quick-at-all-cost mentality. A country becomes a failure not necessarily because of what was done wrong, but what it knows to do right but was never done to pursue success.
Nigerians continue to qualify the unqualified and unqualifiable. We hail fools as men of wisdom; and analphabets as men of letters and knowledge.
Where is the requisite vetting process in Nigeria for men who seek to lead? Democracy has helped groom and nurture dream killers. A group of Nigerians killed Skye Bank; and a cahoots of criminals sent Co-operative Bank to its early banking grave. They beheaded the Société Générale Bank; and sent Intercontinental Bank reeling into an eternal evanescence. Some crooked personalities obtained loans ranging from N10bn to N100bn they never paid back. Instead of creating an enabling environment for economic growth and life worth-living for all, our so-called democracy has stifled it and stirred up the hornets’ nests. Are you still wondering why kidnappers are growing like bees and stinging like hornets? Stop wondering why; we all know why.
A wobbly, jiggly, and inveterate system like ours in Nigeria will always experience some determinedly delinquent acts that are even rare finds in the animal kingdom. Our system needs a firm, fast, and furious fumigation. But who will administer it? A professor was cornered along the Ife-Ibadan Expressway a few days ago by men he described as Fulani herdsmen. They didn’t let him go until he coughed up over N5m. Nigeria’s royal fathers are kidnapped and bishops are ensnared by men who are desperately trying to live in a country that has much corralled by a few. If democracy in Nigeria is like a house that was built with wisdom, ignorance is administering it with no yielded dividends. Behaviours of our leaders run me into a shellshock. Their acts are appalling and annoying. Angst and anger pervade the terrain today even with ‘Change’ chants in the air.
Recently, I met a Caucasian American in the Bahamas who knows Nigeria like the back of his hand. We talked at length about the world, and he then chuckled when we swerved to discussing Nigeria: “My Nigerian friends always tell me that Nigeria will become greater than Japan and America very soon; what do you think?”; he asked. Like Jesus, and in parables, I answered him in Latin: “RES IPSA LOQUITOR – the thing speaks for itself”. When you go into razzmatazz and razzle-dazzle about a nation that has it all, but her citizens have not enough, something moves you into speaking in tongues.
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