By  Ayo Oyoze Baje
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”
    –Franklin D. Roosevelt
Going by the swirl of misplaced priorities, aberrant actions and inactions on the part of those high up in the corridors of political power, one has started having doubts if Nigerians have learnt their hard lessons ahead of the 2023 general elections. That is more so, predicated on the attendant undue hero-worshipping, guttersnipe utterances, brickbats, mischief making by some of the led majority. Added is the baggage of deep deceit being thrown at the mass of the electorate by the pay masters.
It is worrisome, for instance, that what is engaging the people’s attention are redolent issues chasing the shadows of winning elections by all coercive and brow-beating means, instead of the candidates telling us in crisp-clear terms how they would find solutions to critical matters such as grave insecurity, economic downturn and disunity plaguing our dear fatherland. For instance, how would Mister President justify the recent donation of N1.14 billion worth of vehicles to the Republic of Niger, at a time we are in the lowest rung of the global debt trap? What about now that our federal university students have been held at home for upward of five months and we still battle with high inflation rate of almost all consumables? In fact, what does it mean for the extension of rail line and supply of crude oil to the same neighbouring country? There are still more questions than answers! For the electorate, what sense does it make for a once-respected columnist to caption an opinion essay, “Obi-tuary” couched with derogatory lines aimed at pulling down a presidential candidate, right on the back page of a national newspaper? Does that solve our problems? The backlash so far should inform us all never to cross the boundary of decency as we support our preferred candidates. Must morality be thrown to the dogs all in the efforts to satiate one’s pecuniary gains? Not at all. And what do we make of the allegations that some our celebrities are busy receiving humongous sums running into millions of Naira while others, presumably out of conscience are saying nay for the endorsement of the players on the political field?  While one is highly impressed by the huge number of Nigerians who have so far collected their Permanent Voter’s Card(PVC), extreme caution and circumspection must be exhibited  in what we say and do before, during and after the elections. Only that would ensure that democracy is instituted and eventually thrives right here in Nigeria.
Ordinarily, democracy is “that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens; as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy”, according to thelawdictionary.org. In its ideal form the essence of a true democracy is such that every citizen should participate directly in the business of governing, and the legislative assembly should comprise the whole people. But the introduction of the representative system does not remove a government from this type. However, a government of the latter kind is sometimes specifically described as a “representative democracy.” As fate would have it, that is the type of democracy we currently run here in Nigeria but it is of a most weird and anti-people variant. If not, how do we explain the several absurdities that have dominated the public domain in recent time, many months before we cast our votes?  Why should the two most popular political parties sell the presidential forms for between N40 million to N100 million? Is that not a clear but scary signal that power is meant for only the rich members of our overtly materialistic society, no matter how mentally and physically prepared the poorer candidates are to solve to solve our myriad of sky-rocketing economic challenges? But these are just a few of the burning questions troubling the nation-state.
In addition, for how long would some of us- the truly concerned Nigerians-continue to call on the policy and law makers to understand that the holistic restructuring of this country, buoyed with true fiscal federalism would make us face the harsh economic realities biting the masses? Will it not allow the geo-political zones or states to control their God-giving resources and pay an agreed percentage to the federal centre as tax?  How do you explain that the proceeds from Zamfara gold grow wings, far off from the federation account while that from the Niger-Delta crude oil must be paid into the same account?!
Perhaps, if true restructuring finally plays out the proceeds from Ondo state bitumen, cashew nuts, cocoa and  coffee would be one of the determining factors for the tax regime and of course, the salaries of the state workers. Similarly, the proceeds from the iron ore, gold, coal, bitumen, gemstones, cassiterite, tantalite and many more would go a long way to determining the quality of life of the average citizen of Kogi state. So absurd is the current economic paradigm of revenue sharing that one keeps asking the million-naira question: In which other democracy do you have state governors going cap-in-hand, asking for monthly peanuts from the central table that is now smelling of huge, rotten debts? None! But here some of us keep wallowing in the deep oceans of grand, self-deceit.  In retrospect, exactly 20 years ago, in August 2002, one was compelled to remind Nigerians through my opinion essay published by the Daily Times newspaper, that as much as we blame the political leaders about the many woes that define the political landscape, we, the millions of voters and followers have a significant role to play in ensuring that we make the right choices, when it comes to elections. And thereafter, ask the right questions from the leaders in power, if they truly represent our collective interests.  As stated back then: “Almost every Nigerian knows something about the socio¬economic problems confronting the country. But few are really ready to be part of the solution. Instead, some of us heap vitriolic criticisms on our leaders out of sheer hatred and base sentiments. Others do so because such leaders do not share the same ethnicity, political persuasion or religious belief as theirs. This is wrong. Criticism should be borne out of the genuine desire to right the wrongs.
“We know that the economy is worsening by the day. The value of the Naira is depreciating. Food items like bread, rice and garri are getting out of reach of the common man. But that is not enough reason for us to lose hope or to want our leaders’ head when we have our votes as our power to elect, and to remove those who do not meet our aspirations. “If we are not satisfied with any of our leaders, the onus lies on us, to reject their money and their guns, and use our franchise to vote them out, come year 2003”. That was some 20 years ago!  Is history about to repeat itself, come 2023? Our votes, actions and choices will determine wherever we find ourselves.
     
Baje writes from Lagos

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