Dividends of Democracy as Misnomer

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THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE  kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

Here comes, again, May, the month in which political publicists are wont to stage a festival of what they call “dividends of democracy.” In 1999 President Olusegun Obasanjo declared May 29 the “Democracy Day” to mark his inauguration as an elected President at the take-of this dispensation. Since then the month has become a period of stock- taking for those observing the anniversaries of their coming to power. By the way, there was hardly anything symbolic about May 29 other than the fact that General Abdulsalami Abubakar wanted his transition programme to terminate by all means within a year of his coming to power.

Consequently, May 29 is being erroneously given a greater historical weight than October 1, which is the actual day to celebrate freedom. This is a subject that should interest those who seek to promote national orientation. The teaching of the lessons of the National Day should be a component of national orientation.

It is a pity that the significance of October 1 as a day to reflect on freedom for which the nationalists fought gallantly is being down graded in favour of May 29. Generations are being nurtured with this gross distortion. In another dimension, this conceptual confusion about the real import of May 29 is further reflected in the catalogue of “dividends of democracy” often put on display at this period. Federal and state governments advertise the roads, bridges, boreholes, classrooms, healthcare centres built in the period under review.

Some advertise newly constructed offices and governors’ lodges as part of the achievements. Even some others now advertise payment of salaries. Yet the development history of Nigeria has shown, warts and all, that some of the undeniable landmark projects were not built by “democratic governments.” The military regimes also constructed major highways, bridges, airports, seaports, refineries, power plants, dams, housing estates, water projects, etc. Yet no one would dare classify these projects as “dividends of democracy.”

Doubtless, many of the projects and programmes that the reputation managers of governments flaunt at this season are not the real dividends of democracy. Celebrated mathematician, Professor Chike Obi, once advocated “benevolent dictatorship by a committee” to accelerate the process of Nigeria’s development. Implicit in Obi’s spectacular proposition in his lifetime was the fact that it did not really require liberal democracy to build good roads, bridges, schools and hospitals. The theory still remains valid.

The real dividend of democracy is freedom. For the people, the most enduring democratic gain is liberty. Democracy can bear real dividends only when it is deepened and the institutions fostering it are actually working. The dividends can also take the form of democratic values.
A proper audit of this dispensation would hardly return a verdict of bounteous harvest of the real dividends of democracy in terms of strong institutions and blossoming of the flowers of democratic values. For instance, the political parties are yet to congeal into organic institutions of democracy. In most cases, they remain inchoate organisations. Their growth is pitiably stunted. Politicians are not attracted to parties because of programmes or ideologies. The parties are treated virtually as electoral vehicles to board to power.

Similar verdicts could be returned on departments and agencies of the three arms of government. Arms of governments cannot bring forth dividends of democracy when they are not strengthened to be instruments of freedom, equity and social justice. True dividends of democracy are impaired when the institutions are corrupt and are rendered to be instruments to promote personal, greedy and selfish ends. The arms of government can only engender dividends of democracy when they work for the values of common good.

For a judicious assessment of the real democratic dividends issuing from the system, a political economy approach could be useful. It could be helpful in getting round the mounting socio-economic challenges in the land if a political economy approach is considered for development. A big picture of development is necessary to produce real dividends of democracy at this historical conjuncture. The government has put together a plan to confront socio-economic problems. Similarly, there should be conscious political efforts to ensure the real dividends of democracy in terms of human freedom. A political plan to deepen democracy is also important.

Democracy will not bear dividends when voices of dissent are muzzled and government cannot be held accountable. Transparency in governance, freedom of expression, freedom of choice, respect for the rights of the minorities, and the legitimacy of opposition are among significant dividends of democracy. The May 29 cataloguing of dividends of democracy becomes hollow when the orders of the court to set free those in custody are routinely ignored by executive authorities. The celebration of dividends of democracy would be more meaningful when the democratic culture blooms – when the opposition take responsible actions within the law and the government duly respects the legitimacy of the opposition.
As governments at all levels showcase again roads, bridges, classrooms and hospital beds as dividends of democracy this season, let there be a greater awareness about an unyielding defence of human freedom as the genuine dividend of democracy.

RIGHT OF REPLY

By Opeyemi Ojo

For Increase in Social Spending
I write in response to Kayode Komolafe’s column in the THISDAY edition of April 26, 2017.
For some time now, I have held the opinion that our social crusaders have not helped matters in our national development. I have also viewed it as a crisis of knowledge.

May be they do not know. We have witnessed a lot of organized criticism where there is money. Attacks are mostly aimed at what government is doing wrong, with little suggestion of what government should be doing right. There is hardly a pool of voices showing the way forward- what should be done. Most of the time we have the loudest of voices are thriving on criticism. Just a few folks are showing the way forward in patriotism, a few showing the path of service delivery, nobody is showing the burden of a sound value system. We usually have people’s position skewed towards one interest or the other.

So it was refreshing for me to read Komolafe’s article re-echoing UNDP’s Selim Jahan that “every human being counts and every human life is equally valuable”. I feel strongly that this is the basis in which a government can be said to be serving the people- a government should be a representative of the Supreme God.

For me we are here today, not because of President Goodluck Jonathan or President Ibrahim Babangida; but because we as a people have not learnt to take a “pro-people path to development”.
Now I would like to make an appeal that there should be a greater focus on “how to increase social spending”. Maybe the honest liberal among us will be encouraged to get to the next level of radical probing of our problems and we will begin to see solutions flowing.
*Mr. Ojo sent in this piece from Abuja.