In the light of the increasingly ugly turn of the #EndSARS protest and its management, it is not too much to emphasise to ourselves, especially to Nigeria’s ruling elites that deepening democratic culture and practice is the solution to any and all governance and development problems occasioned by democracy. The alternative is anarchy.
Democracy has limitless capacity in terms of processes for civic engagement even in war situation as to guarantee the fulfilment by government of its basic functions: security of lives and property of the citizens. A protracted protest for good governance is among the least challenges for a committed democratic government and people to handle.
Understandably, the present sad realities are products of history. In pre-independent times, the mode of government common across Nigeria and most of Africa is Monarchy. The monarchs were next in rank only to the Almighty God and had powers of life and death and engaged citizens according to their whims and caprices, with mechanism for checks and balances almost nonexistent. This went on for hundreds of years before the colonial masters came.
The colonial masters, of course, came with forceful domination of the citizens (natives) for the achievement of their colonial interests – political, economic and social; and that lasted for another hundred years before Independence. The narrative, therefore, for hundreds of years, is that whosoever is in power is Almighty and has his way against the will of the people.
Independence then came through hard struggles. Democracy was then adopted as the mode of government along with a federation and republic structure to deliver its dividends. The failure by our elites from the onset to understand this transition and new concept, and their continuation in carrying on with the attitudinal hangovers of monarchy and colonialism in governance, quickly led to the collapse of the republic and democratic governance. Long years of military rules, replica of monarchy, only more brutal through the force of gun, followed with attempts to return to democratic rule twice aborted until finally a stable return to democracy was achieved in 1999.
For the last 20 years, civil society, rights and democracy organisations, the ruling elite and the professions, society leaders in cultural and community organisations had the golden opportunity to first of all retrain their minds and become compliant with democracy and rule of law, republicanism and federalism, and then spread the compliance down the citizenry through enlightenment and great examples, in and out of government. Rather than achieve that, majority of persons mentioned in the classes above only reinforced their authoritarian dispositions within all organisations and within occupied offices. Not only has the country consequently stagnated in development, the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to widen, deep-seated anger and animosities across all Nigeria’s fault lines (religious, ethnic, class) developed until an unacceptable level of poverty, ignorance and insecurity came in place.
The occasion of Nigeria’s Independence Anniversary amidst Covid-19 management presented opportunity to revaluate the past and recommit ourselves, from leadership down to citizenry, to democratic values and a genuine federal republic, and at least begin a restructuring process accordingly. We missed it yet again. Few weeks later, here we are!
While hoping for a peaceful resolution of the challenges posed by the #EndSARS Crises management in the immediate, nothing can change fundamentally until we restructure all our institutions, polity, minds, attitude and practises to reflect and abide by the letters and spirit of a Federal Republic and Democracy, thereby throwing away the vestiges of our monarchical and military mentalities and orientations forever. For development, peace, harmony and prosperity, there is simply no other lasting solution.