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Published On: Thu, Mar 13th, 2014

What our democracy is not

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By Bobby Udoh

With almost 15 years of this democracy, we are still acting like citizens under military rule. This mindset is a serious cause for concern with the 2015 general elections 12 months away. I admit that the 8 years of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency were more like a civilian/military rule than of democracy at work but the fault was with us because we continued to act as if we were in a military regime. We refused to participate actively in the process.

In this democracy, we have freedom of choice, the right of participation in party politics and intra and inter-party elections, the right to be persuaded by candidates seeking our votes and the right to demand accountability when candidates get into elected offices. Knowing this, our democracy is more than region or ethnicity. We cannot be forced to support and vote for a candidate because they are from our region or ethnic group. If we are sincere, there is little difference in our region when our ‘brother’ is in power.

Unemployment, insecurity, poor basic infrastructure, etc. affect Nigerians from all parts of Nigeria. Irrespective of where they are from, we seek political leadership at federal, state and local government levels with the courage, the sacrificial lifestyle and the capacity to lead the change we desire.

The rise of religion in our political process has hindered the growth of our democracy, keeping many citizens in bondage because they have lost the freedom to choose. The fact that a candidate shares the same religion with us is not enough to determine his or her ability to deliver on our long desired dividends of democracy.

Our democracy is more than the individual. We must no longer be influenced solely by our connection to the individual (a fellow alumnus, a friend, friend of a friend, etc). Democracy includes the right to be persuaded by the candidate seeking our support and vote. Therefore, we must work to determine their suitability and they too must work to persuade us. The mere fact that someone is in office and is constitutionally entitled to two terms must no longer be a qualifying factor for support and vote. Rather, their performance during their first term in office will be the yardstick. If within 2 years they are unable to communicate and commence implementation of their manifestos, with significant results in 3-4 years, they have no business seeking another 4 years. Or the fact that a political party has been in power for 15 years and has established offices in every ward in Nigeria or the fact that a party is perceived to be dominant in an area, are insufficient reasons to get our support. Also, the opposition cannot assume our support because the party in power has failed and their rank has seen a surge with the arrival of decampees. We must insist on our right to be persuaded by the political parties.

Democracy is more than performance. That a candidate had performed ‘well’ in his first term or in a previous office is not enough reason to secure our support and vote. I say this because we have had very poor leadership for too long so a little performance is usually over-celebrated. For example, we over-celebrate a rail system renovated to almost its original state of the 70’s yet the population of rail users, the recent technology and speed has increased significantly.

We must evaluate performance based on our present and future needs rather than comparison with previous governments. If we do this, we will demand much more from our government. I must add that when a candidate has been successful in office, we must not allow any attempt to extend their tenure. Success must not provide a route to autocracy and besides, part of good leadership is having a good succession plan. Democracy provides citizens with an enormous capacity for participation in governance.

We can participate in party politics as active members and as part of the party leadership, put ourselves forward as candidates for elective offices or members of the manifesto think tank (these group usually form the team of aides to implement the manifesto when in office), participate in the campaign activities of our party candidates and participate actively in demanding accountability and transparency when our candidate(s) get into office. Let’s be clear about this, if we don’t fight to grow and sustain our democracy, we will lose it and its enormous benefits. The power belongs to us, would you use it?

Bobby Udoh is reachable on bobbyudoh.com

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