By Victoria N. Ikeano
What is our definition of the dividends of democracy? Or put simply, what are the dividends of democracy? This appears a simple question which answer everybody knows and to which there cannot be but one answer. Well, scholars may have to do a rethink, for events at the recently concluded Ekiti State governorship elections show that Nigerians, nay the electorate or better said, the masses appear to have a different definition of what democracy dividends are, different from what we generally perceive it to be.
And the Ekiti polls should be of interest to us in Nasarawa state, whether as residents, observers, scholars or politicians. For one, Ekiti and Nasawahave some things in common. They were established in the same year, October 1, 1996, by regime of the late Head of State, General SaniAbacha. Ekiti, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Gombe and Bayelsa were the last set of States to be created. None has been born since advent of democratic rule in 1999 notwithstanding the fervent clamour for them since then. It is either that civilians do not have the political will to do so or……. I am digressing; let me get back to track.
Apart from being relatively new States (albeit 18 years old), both Ekiti and Nasarawareceive about the lowest amounts from the federation account, in comparison to others. By way of information, Nasarawa and Bayelsa both have the least populations, going by the census figures but the latter gets more than double what Nasarawa State gets by virtue of the 13 per cent oil derivation principle (resource control).
Another similarity between Ekiti and Nasarawais that they are both being governed now, by All Progressives Party (APC); both governors are in their first tenure and took over from governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who held sway for only one term, that is, Kayode Oni and AkweDoma respectively. And both incumbent Governor KayodeFayemi and Governor Tanko Al-Makura have personally given their State capitals a facelift. Lafia, the Nasarawa state capital in particular is wearing a new look, gradually casting off its hitherto derisive appellation as a glorified local government headquarters. Indeed both governments had embarked on some massive infrastructural developments. So both governors can be said to be delivering the dividends of democracy to their people?
Now let us take a closer look at the definition of ‘dividends of democracy’. When our politicians mount the rostrum or (as is now customary in this 21st century) take to the media, both conventional and new, to seek our votes, they usually promise to build us roads, schools, hospitals, provide electricity. These are the basics for development. They are collectively known as infrastructural development. Therefore, by providing us these basics for development, they are providing the dividends of democracy. Correct? Yes. For especially African countries where democratic governance is still relatively new in contrast to western nations that have been practising it for centuries the aforementioned things are the first dividends of democracy. The second level of democracy dividends should be industrialisation. As it is, we are still stuck with the basic level; we are still grappling with providing the basic infrastructure of roads, electricity, hospital, education and agriculture.
When these have been sufficiently provided with these, we can then focus on the next level of democracy dividends. It may be argued that the dividends of democracy have been rather slow in coming; for 14 years after institution of democracy, electricity supply is still epileptic, education for all is yet to be achieved, only a small proportion of street, community, local, State and national roads nationwide are tarred, many still do not have access to affordable healthcare. So for the average Nigerian at least, these basic needs still remain the crux of democracy dividends for which our politicians are still promising.
And for the western industrialised nations, they have passed these rudimentary stages of democracy dividends. For their citizens, dividends of democracy entail essentially freedom, and participation in decision-making. That is, freedom in all its ramifications, viz, freedom of choice, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom to live work, be called an indigene (citizen) of wherever you are born, etc.
Going by his achievements, Governor Fayemi had delivered the dividends of democracy as per infrastructural development. Yet, the electorate rejected him at the polls, voting against him. Fayemi, the gentleman governor who had performed exceedingly well in the last four years and delivered on his mandate, failed ‘woefully’ at the elections. No, the elections were not rigged, they were generally adjudged fair and credible by both local and international monitors. Fayemi himself gracefully accepted defeat, saying the result reflected the masses’ wish. But the big question remains: how come a governor who had performed and delivered democracy dividends to his constituents was voted out? Does it mean that we now have a new definition of ‘performance’ and ‘dividends of democracy’?
As I mentioned earlier, both Fayemi and Al-makura fall in the same category with regard to provision of infrastructural development. In Ekiti, there were grumblings by teachers and civil servants about lack of promotions under Fayemi’s administration and his blocking financial leakages. Same for Nasarawa state. But Al-Makura can argue that his being tight fisted has helped to generate funds for execution of the projects that we see about us. So can what happened in Ekiti also happen here? Can the electorate turn their backs on the incumbent governor, notwithstanding provision of infrastructures that speak for themselves?
Here we must note the dissimilarities between the people that make up both States. The standard of education is generally higher than what obtains in Nasawa. Ekiti is called the land of professors but the political awareness of Nasarawapeople is high. In Ekiti only about half of the registered voters voted. So about half of the electorate stayed away and we know that in Nigeria the elites generally do not vote, those who participate most are the masses. More importantly, whereas the Ekiti electorate is homogenous (one tribe, overwhelming majority of one religion) that of Nasarawa is more diversified. There are over ten ethnic groups in Nasarawaand the two major religions are about equal in numbers. Primordial sentiments would be a factor in the elections.
Victoria N. Ikeano via firstname.lastname@example.org