Democracy, Nationhood, According to Anyim

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TRIBUTE

Okey Ikechukwu

Today marks the 60th birthday of former Senate President and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim. Since his stint as SGF, he has been rather quiet; occupying himself with a Foundation that is dedicated to mentoring and nurturing young people of all walks of life on leadership and the virtues of responsible followership. But it is all being done without fanfare. “Values,” he once told his group, “define our humanity and it is on values that societies rise or fall. The values of development are different from the values of decay and those who do not follow the path of development constitute part of the developmental problems of any environment in which they find themselves. I would not like you, as leaders of tomorrow, to go astray in this all-important journey of life”

Encomiums are pouring in from all sides. So are hagiographies in the media waves. So, as Anyim is no longer in government and as we are now in a new regime that has been with us for about six years, let us use his ideas about leadership accountability, democracy and national development, as articulated on this page shortly after the 2014 democracy day. Writing under the title,” The Development and National Transformation I Mean,” he started his attempt to explain the deeper objectives of the government he was serving by saying: “It is now two weeks since we all celebrated Democracy Day. Within the intervening period Nigerians have had time to digest and react to the Mid-Term Review Report, through which the Government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan government gave us an update on policy and governance issues under the Transformation Agenda. We recall that on May 29 Mr. President said: “Democracy is as much a result as it is a process and today’s event invites us to reflect on both the processes and results of our thriving democracy. There is evidence of stronger democratic institutions. There is even stronger evidence of an evolving culture of better consultation, better stakeholder input and better mass buy-in on all major issues of national development.”

And Anyim added: “These observations, which some people may not have noted on the busy day of the celebrations, are incontrovertible.” My question here, following President Jonathan’s/Anyim’s remarks is: can we say the same of our situation under the APC government of today?

Continuing, Anyim said: “…it is within the context of making our democracy a reality for the generality of Nigerians that the administration made a Mid-Term Performance Review Report a central marker of Democracy Day proceedings. The primary purpose was to enable everyone see the progress made so far in implementing the policies, programmes and projects encapsulated in the Transformation Agenda (2011-2015). The facts are evident: the economy has recorded an impressive GDP growth and we surpassed our annual targets in 8 out of the 14 broad areas of the Transformation agenda. Also, it is partly because 57.14% of the sectoral targets were met that Nigeria’ global ranking by GDP has improved from the 44th position in 2010, to the 36th. Thus the question is should a government, in the name of a false sense of modesty, deny its achievements? Our answer is no. On the other hand, should we downplay our challenges and give Nigerians the impression that all of the nation’s problems are now solved? Again, the answer is no.” Fast forward to 2012, we are exaggerating achievements and denying (not just downplaying) challenges.

He went on: “The introduction of substance into the national Democracy Day celebrations was a deliberately designed intervention, with the aim of raising public awareness about the activities of government. It was our hope that in giving full account of our stewardship in the last two years, and that by acknowledging our present challenges; we can also explain the responsibilities and expectations that these times demand from the government, and indeed every citizen, so that we can all unite to build the society of our dreams…. Many commentators have observed that it will henceforth set the tone for all subsequent Democracy Day Celebrations in Nigeria. It is very likely that May 29 will henceforth be both a day dedicated to reflections on the meaning, gains and sustainability of democracy and an occasion to, in the words of Mr. President (Jonathan), “think about how to sustain our collective resolve to face the future together as one people, guided by the principles of consultation, mutual respect and equity. That is the only way to gird our loins for the distance ahead, because democracy is more of a journey across wide terrains than an arrival at some secluded waterhole.”

Anyim said, further: “…the time has come for us to see the need to engage every [citizen] in a conversation for national development. This will enable us separate cheap propaganda and political mischief from the real issues of governance. It will also enable us distinguish between the fundamentals of democracy and the incidentals to democracy. These are the two components of democracy, or the pillars without which the taste of democracy is lost.

The fundamental principles of democracy include personal liberties, popular participation, respect for the individuals’ rights, provision of equal opportunities, majority rule and minority rights, etc.; and these principles of democracy find expression in basic human freedoms. Protection and enjoyment of these freedoms guarantees human worth, which inspires the confidence to not only aim at the optimum in life but also the agility to protest and defend abuses of personal rights and social interests. The incidentals to democracy, on the other hand, are what is popularly referred to as democracy dividends in this clime. In ordinary language this means the good products of democracy. It is important to emphasize that this product of democracy can only be good if it is indeed, a product of a free society with popular participation. It must not only be verifiable but must also be subject to satisfaction of the populace.” So, how are we faring today, in both the fundamentals and the incidentals of democracy?

“The policy thrust of this (Jonathan’s) administration therefore is not only to deliver democracy dividends but also to make it good in accordance with the best principles of democracy. This explains the emphasis on consultation and dialogue, process and procedure, clear and need-driven projects conception, open and competitive procurement process, equitable distribution of social amenities, diligent planning and execution strategies, checks and balances, rule of law; and extensive expansion of civil space together with respect for citizens’ right, among others. This is the only way we can take democracy beyond the mere form and focus on the content, which is actually a way of life that combines good governance with economic efficiency.

The important point I wish to make here is that we should henceforth bear in mind that May 29 should no longer be just a day dedicated to a series of ceremonies in remembrance of the fact that an elected government emerged in Nigeria after nearly two decades of military rule. We should now have it at the back of our mind that it is, as President Jonathan said, “a day for stock taking and for the renewal of vows by governments at all levels to deliver good governance to Nigerians: that is the reason the administration is taking accountability and service delivery beyond the conventional idea of just enumerating specific projects. We wish to encourage Nigerians to also focus on the importance of a forward looking “service environment” created by sound policies and governance strategies. It is no accident that the Mid-Term Report has clear targets, unambiguous performance indicators and all of which are under close monitoring via Ministerial Performance Scorecards.

On May 29 Mr. President said: “As a people, our goal in deepening our collective democratic experience is to build a community of equals, wherein everyone has responsibility for the wellbeing of all. Our life together imposes on us all the responsibility of being protectors and guarantors of our joint patrimony. The leader must protect the democratic space, allow the people to exercise the duty of making free and informed choices and then protect and safeguard those choices, in order to build a lasting democratic community.” I reaffirm that assertion, but with a caveat. The caveat is that it is the duty of every Nigerian to make suggestions on how to move the country forward. It is also the duty of every Nigerian to join the discussion and help to monitor the performance of government, as this is a democratic right and duty of every citizen in relation to any elected government.

When, on May 29 President Jonathan said, “our commitment and our resolve to ensure that the practice of democracy goes beyond the claim to free choice, to include the overarching roles of credible persons and institutions that do not manage the political space as predators”, he was pointing to the fact that only such people and institutions can guarantee the political space for all. But creating such people and such institutions requires the cooperation of all. They must enjoy the goodwill and partnership of all Nigerians, if they are to succeed.

Our current national challenges are part of the overall process of our political evolution and national development. There is no need to present them as unheard-of tales, or overdramatise the occasional odd twists of social cohesion, as the challenges are already being overcome. The president used the occasion of the last Democracy Day celebrations to remind us all: “democracy thrives amidst the greatest disagreements, spurring dialogue and eventually galvanizing consensus and a common focus.” He also used the occasion to remind us that we have to consistently reaffirm our oneness, as we did when we flagged off “100 years of togetherness as a united political entity defined by discussion, consultation, mutual respect and commitment.”

Looking at our national history, our shared experiences, our profile in the world, the progressive deepening of our democratic experience and the greater maturity of our democratic institutions and practices, I can boldly say today, as the President said on May 29: “We are on the final stretch to eventual democratic stability and maturity, as evidenced by the greater synergy between the institutions of state. This is a tribute to our collective resolve, because those who fought for our current democracy can look back today and say: “yes, we have fought a good fight and there is something to show for it”. Well, looks like we took very elaborate backward steps since after the above statements of Anyim.

In terms of self-motivated accountability, he said: “This government was under no pressure, or compulsion, to give a Mid-Term Report. The Democracy Day celebrations would still have been considered a success without it. But what would have been the content of that event? What would the Administration have offered Nigerians, beyond speeches and ceremonies? What would have given them an anchor to hold unto and march along with Government as partners, if Mr. President did not present a report card and invite them to assess him and make suggestions; being that they are actually the masters we are in office to serve? Government gave a Mid-Term Report because it was felt that the time had come to say “enough of empty ceremonies and let us stand before those who gave us this job with a performance record they can evaluate and comment upon.” This is what will deepen and strengthen our democracy.

When, also on that day, the President said: “It is therefore in the spirit of our democratic enterprise that I am making the public presentation of the mid-term report of my transformation agenda, knowing that I have to give account of my stewardship to my fellow citizens, who elected me their President” he spoke from his heart. When he said: “This is my own modest way of contributing to the deepening of our democratic experience, as I stand before you in the service of our fatherland”, he was also telling Nigerians that anyone of can one day stand in this same position because he is standing there today through the inconceivable Grace of God.”
In concluding, Anyim said: “My fellow Nigerians, let the conversation on our nationhood, the dividends of democracy and the march to a greater Nigeria continue. As we constantly take stock and move forward, I urge you all never to forget that we remain one nation with a great promise; even as that is being fulfilled before our very eyes.”

I will add: As we say happy birthday to Anyim Pius Anyim on his 60th birthday, and as we recall that he became senate president while not yet 40 years of age, that the thoughts he shared on this page seven years ago about consultation, equity and true national development stand out as admonishing observations for a government that has done, and is still doing, a lot to undermine the unity and stability of the Nigerian State.