By: Jonah Ibiamagabara
For today’s article marking Nigeria’s “Democracy Day”, a quote by Michelle Hodkin should provide a suitable explanatory introduction. The quote goes thus: “Thinking something does not make it true. Wanting something does not make it real.”Extending this, Philip Dick concisely says that “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”Combining these two quotes, I believe there is a strong enough foundation for this essay. Let us begin.
On 28 March 2015, Nigeria’s presidential elections held amidst fear of violent eruptions across the country. Despite an attempted drama on live television by a now infamous “elder statesman”, the electoral umpire announced the results—an incumbent president was defeated for the first time in Nigeria’s tumultuous history. The erstwhile General Muhammadu Buhari, presented as Nigeria’s unrelenting Abraham Lincoln, and Professor Yemi Osinbajo, erudite law professor, were to become Nigeria’s next president and vice president.
The awaited day—29 May 2015—came and Nigeria’s new leaders were sworn in. Their ascension ended an electioneering season in which Nigerians were promised the best of heaven, delivered by the anointed born-again democrat, and first of his name, the messianic President Muhammadu Buhari. If you feel that the descriptive words added before Buhari’s name are unwarranted or seem like smirky sarcasm, you may want to review campaign materials used for the election. Whereas even Jesus was careful with his promises by saying only his Father knew the time of his return, Buhari’s campaign effectively made incredible promises to woo voters, forgetting that the specificity of the promises made tracking possible.
Buhari promised real democracy. If one were to comprehend the different campaign statements made, one would believe Nigeria never had a democracy—it only had an illusion for sixteen years—and Buhari was coming in to fix that and institute real democracy. Sadly, two years after his triumphant entry, his government had been a failure on that count. I do speak plainly when I grade the Buhari administration as a failure. I understand the import of this claim, and I fully stand by it. Buhari has failed so far. The real democracy he promised has turned out to be more of the same, enmeshed in sanctimonious hiding of heads in the sand.
For sixteen years, Nigeria’s democracy was deeply rooted in corruption. Cronyism, nepotism, and outright fraud were the highlights of three civilian administrations that had some good points but failed to address the hydra-headed monster named corruption. While it is understandable that the complexity of the Nigerian political space makes any corruption fight difficult, when Buhari was making promises to clean the Aegean stables, he should have been prepared to deliver as promised, or at least, make some headway. Instead, what we see now is merely a refurbishment of pass illusional dramas tagged corruption fights.
What has changed since May 2015? Nothing. Government apologists may point to returned funds, captured funds, and some corruption-based arraignments. However, I don’t see how this is any different from President Obasanjo’s vaunted fight against corruption. In a way, it is still the same custom of going after political opponents and anyone who fails to simply “chop, clean mouth and keep quiet”. Even those who have been arrested are having their cases thrown out of the courts. While some would be inclined to blame this on the corrupt judicial system, it is instructive to note that the prosecuting agencies routinely fail to do their investigations correctly to present watertight cases.
Moving away from government-level corruption, a look at the government structure shows that nothing has truly changed. One of the campaign mantras was plugging waste and bringing the bloated bureaucracy under check. However, the past two years have shown that in structure, an APC government is exactly like a PDP government. If there has been any change in the civil service structure, it has not been made public. The same is seen in government appointments. A president that pledged slim governance has at least two spokespersons with some others bearing social media and ancillary portfolios. This is exactly what past administrations did—rewarding supporters with unnecessary political appointments.
If President Buhari had hit the ground running in May 2015, maybe the story would have been different. Instead, six months were wasted without a functioning cabinet. Those early days when Buhari had an incredible amount of public goodwill, which could have been used to drive his agenda. For years, there has been complaints about the limitations of Nigeria’s security and investigative agencies, alongside worries about the judicial system, the civil service and virtually everything else in Nigeria. Imagine if Buhari’s executive arm had submitted key bills to the national assembly in those early days, just as Obama pushed his health bill vigorously. With Buhari’s immense popularity back then, it may have been suicidal for legislators to be seen as obstructing the messiah. Instead, he “allowed” infighting in the legislature and spent those first months clocking frequent flyer miles on the presidential jet before being slowed down by ill-health.
Today, on the second anniversary of the Buhari administration, which is the midpoint, Nigerians still await the change they were promised. Nigeria has a president in London, and an Acting President in Abuja, and to be fair, Acting President Osinbajo appears to have much more presidential material than Buhari. With two more years to go,maybe by 2019 the Buhari-Osinbajo scorecard would have changed and they would have moved out of the assembly of failures. Well, I hope so. However, for now, our democracy has not changed because “By changing nothing, nothing changes.”
Read another perspective here