Nigeria: Dangers of   Sterile Politics

Nigeria: Dangers of Sterile Politics

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Chris O. Nwedo

Democratic politics in Nigeria is as contemptible as it is due to social, political and economic imbalances. There are no platforms for equality in the distribution of rights while injustices and poverty  are prevalent. Injustice prevents parity in access to structures of growth and development while ignorance and poverty are mental and structural barriers to democratization. It discourages impartiality in the distribution of political positions and promotes nepotism. Ignorance is a great impediment because no nation democratises genuinely if large segments of the people flounder in lack of knowledge. Education promotes democratic culture; attitude and behaviour are shaped by appropriate understanding. Democracy is learned. We learn our rights and rights of others. Knowing our rights and privileges give us the necessary platforms for active and meaningful participation in most spheres of community life. The understanding the limits of our chances go with tolerance of the chances of others.

Super-tribe is an illusion, an assumption so imperfect because such idea in reality does not exist. It is therefore true that “democracy is much more than an electoral code. It is a code of behaviour, an attitude and a state of mind.1 Democracy works only if citizens are active and it is incontrovertible that active life is life lived with knowledge and understanding. Democracy can function more effectively and serve the interests of citizens better if people formulate demands, exert pressure and monitor government’s actions continuously. It is merely theoretical to perform these functions when you have no knowledge of the processes in formulation of the demands. How do you influence or monitor the actions of your representatives if you have no understanding of their obligation? Knowledge gives citizens the capacities to seek democratic rights according to the provisions of the law while an ignorant society enforces their rights and monitors the government’s actions by means of violence, thus the society is injured by violence, death and destruction. The resentments and retribution devastate both the society and the individuals. Civilised society articulates its challenges and mobilises the citizens in pursuit of legitimate tools to resolve the challenges. Enlightened citizens can be the driving forces for change and development. The supposition is that the prevalent political apathy, discontentment and skepticism in some societies in Africa  have their roots deep in ignorance of proper ways of articulating grievances and low level attempt at sufficient appreciation of the operations of the government. The postulation that politics is a dirty game has no substantiation in reality. It is a premise founded on mistaken assumption. It could be a terror tactic of deceitful politicians to keep the weak and the ignorant minded away from the limitless advantages of active and influential political life. It is logical that you cannot effectively have right claims to just shares in the distribution of collective treasure if you do not know when and how to participate and you are on the periphery. This analogy helps to trace the origin of inequality, injustice and corruption that reproduce poverty, ignorance, frustration, antagonism and conflict in many developing societies.

 Poverty and ignorance create sentiment of powerlessness and discourage large sections of our citizens from playing active roles in the duty of making the society accommodate their interest. Democracy entails the enforcement of rights and privileges, enforcement implies an active action. It speaks of levels of participation in elections and in the decisions that influence the outcome of desired changes. This decline, which appears to indicate a lack,  poverty and ignorance on the parts of citizens, undermines the democratic process. If the support for credible election is low, the pressure for good policy is absent, the constitutional obligation of the governance to protect and care will be surely inexistent.


Democracy is built on the equality of citizens; the freedom of these citizens to associate with one another for the realisation of their ideals, the defence and promotion of their interests; and the freedom of these citizens to choose between the different political platforms of various political parties and candidates. This is only possible if the citizens are well informed about their country, their governments, their circumstances and the various contending interests in the various parties. To put all this in a very simple way, democracy, requires knowledge.2 Democracy as a tool for effective governance is a choice informed by knowledge. It is the knowledge that it is more amenable to collective interest that forms the foundations for support given to it. “A defining feature of democratic regimes is that they depend for their survival and effective functioning on the public’s willing acquiescence and support. Democratic stability, therefore, presupposes that people have, at any given time, the government which they choose and that, being rational beings, they are most likely to support a government which represents and pursues their interests.3 And a government which represents and pursue peoples’ interest must be responsive, responsible and accountable to the people. Responsiveness and accountability enhance people’s affection and support for the system. This further enhances the growth and development of democratic culture, which is a sine qua non for democratic survival. In essence, a developed democratic culture is a sine qua non for democratic stability.4

 For Victor E. Dike ‘illiteracy and ignorance are obstacles to the nation’s quest for true democracy, as bigots and political opportunists pandering to ethnicity and religion manipulate them to cause mischief in the society. It is appropriate to note that more than one half of the Nigerian population are uninformed on issues of politics and rights. Knowledge is indispensable in order to differentiate right from wrong and evaluate political principles of political office seekers so as to make an informed political decision.5 Usman Y.B. observed that ‘without knowledge, the exercise of the democratic right to choose lacks a stable and rational basis and, therefore, does not enable the citizen making the choice to make the party and the candidates accountable. Without knowledge, the association the citizens enter into is one based on irrational, but no less powerful instincts of fear, greed, envy, fascination, or, hatred. This is because the citizen entering into this association has no rational basis for assessing whether, or, not it serves his, or her, interest and promotes and defends his, or, her, ideals and principles.6  In short, democratic politics is not possible when the citizens who constitute the electorate are ignorant about the basic elements of the country, its economy, its political system, and its position in the world affairs. However, tribe and religion, which are political realities in Nigeria, remain the forces that have contributed greatly to socio-political instability in the nation. The latest sectarian turbulence in the society and the clamour for the presidency by the varied ethnic groups indicate that the society is still Balkanized by tribal and religious sentiments. And they are expected to keep playing prominent roles in elections.7

In Nigeria, the freedom of political association and the exercise of the democratic rights to choose freely in all elections is denied millions of Nigerians by violence or deadly unrests simulated by ethnic and/or rebellious religious groups. The pains of the disfranchisement continues with the intentional discrimination in the body charged with the duty of conducting transparent elections. Anti-democratic organisations using the fascist political tactics of intimidation, threats of and use of violence thrive in most Nigerian states where ignorance is predominant. For democracy to survive and grow in our country we have to build our political theory, consolidate the principles, increase the level of education of the citizenry, and construct political activities on the foundations of human values.

Consolidating democracy and stabilising it presuppose a knowledge based society. This is because it is necessary you understand why the right to culture and religion are important to others especially the minority or the people you do not really want or like. It is knowledge that moderates sentiments and stimulates understanding among dissimilar peoples. Society breaks down into instability if the reconditioning values of education are not there or emphasised. Consolidating democracy means reducing the probability of its breakdown to the point where [we] can feel reasonably confident that democracy will persist. Therefore, democratic consolidation is about regime maintenance and about perceiving the key political institutions as the only legitimate framework for political contestation and adherence to the democratic rules of the game.8 According to Ogundiya ‘the tiny gap between stability and consolidation is that stability begets consolidation. Indeed democracy must be stable for it to be consolidated. By implication, democracy must make sense to the people for it to enjoy considerable support required for its consolidation. Democratic consolidation is a function of so many factors, including enhanced economic development, developed democratic culture, stable party system etc.9

 Politics of ignorance is as devastating to political stability in Nigeria as ravages of war in Iraq or the senseless massacres of civilians in Syria. According to Usman Yusuf Bala, this politics is built on the dissemination of ignorance about how Nigeria and her people have come into being. It is the Yoruba nation, the Ijaw nation, the Igbo nation, the Urhobo nation, the Hausa-Fulani nation, etc,  who are said to be the original building blocks which are said to have agreed to come together to form Nigeria. But all these are only politically potent because they are based on ignorance10. It is incontrovertible to say that Nigerian politics is perforated by ignorance. The racist and fascist ideologies that found expressions in the pervading ignorance are deeply hostile to the principles of democratic politics.  The denigration of national institutions and deification of an individual witnessed in the APC led government demonstrated the degree  to which ignorance has replaced knowledge, and this ignorance is used to promote racist and anti-democratic politics in Nigeria. As a case in point, politics in Northern Nigeria is still largely the game for the powerful elite group whose choice of candidates for political positions is sacrosanct. The preference or selection are primarily based on complex ranges of discriminations including ‘core’ north, ‘core’ Hausa, ‘core’ Muslim, religion, wealth, sex, linage, etc.

‘Core’ principle is a ‘key barrier to politics of inclusion, it is the widespread discrimination against citizens known as non-indigenes, no matter how strong their ties to the communities in which they live are. The rights that are systematically denied non-indigenes run directly counter to the constitution’s guarantee of freedom against discrimination, and remain a source of considerable resentment among many Nigerians, especially as demographic changes in the country continue to take place. 11 At a time during governorship election in Kaduna state, text messages of all sorts were circulated. The messages passionately implored Muslims not to vote a particular candidate of a popular party in the north for governor because the candidate, though a Muslim, was not from the ‘core’ area. And of course, the fact that the former incumbent governor, late Patrick Yakowa, was a Christian and from the southern part of Kaduna was exasperating enough to trigger massive revolt and violent destruction if not because of ominous presence of trigger happy security agents in the state. Southern Kaduna is predominantly Christians. Kaduna is a state dichotomised between north and south, however, since independence and the creation of the state, a southerner has never been a state governor of Kaduna until Yakowa.  The political tug of wars existing between the north and south is a clear indication of the deep religious sentiments and a reflection of the supremacy tussle between the two different religious groups. And this fact has given the oligarchies both ammunition and will to forge ahead maintaining spheres and effectively using the unfortunate dichotomy in seeking redress when their varied interests are not prioritised. Since the politics in 2015 that gave the oligarchy the power of life and death, the enclave has been constantly under attacks. It is continuously invaded by alleged Fulani herdsmen hundreds have been killed, villages have been sacked and many houses burnt down. The continuously successful attacks against the defenceless people suggest that the government and security agencies are either complicit or helpless thus have no tactics to halt the horrendous carnage.

Every political controversy in Nigeria is expressed through religious violence and destruction. Nigeria’s oligarchies pool the strings of violence and they alone have the capacity and courage to do so continuously. These oligarchy-driven insecurity and instability have generated a strong and widespread sense of injustice among the Nigerian public. The government by the oligarchy is characterized by inefficiency, favouritism and dictatorial. The centralization of power, dearth of meaningful political representation, a culture of impunity, and a demoralizing climate of repression and corruption dating back to military rule still prevail. The combination of ill-treatment, deprivation and social misery of the majority produced disillusionment with democracy and conditions igniting social conflicts in Nigeria. The insurgency of Boko Haram is an example. The Islamic militants believed that democracy and education were responsible for impoverishment and  plight of their people and were determined not only to destroy democracy and education but themselves by means of suicide violence.

 Lack of knowledge takes blame for the inability of the militants to understand that democracy and education are solutions to their plight and that they are the victims of their own elite who veiled them with ignorance and bigotry. These are the phenomena inhibiting tolerance and integration. In addition, they make the creation of a common identity problematic, thereby exacerbating the difficulty in attaining a true national harmony and stability. Contemporary Nigeria has no character compatible with right values of freedom and tolerance.  Abuse is rampant, no one is free, secure and truthful. While some sections of the society abhor the taking of human life, others, kill for religious reasons. In this pervasively prejudiced society, if you are not discriminated for reasons of your tribe, you are unsafe because of your religion.

The inability of religion to keep mute in some sensitive political matters of this nation is a curse. Religion played the greatest role as a tool for tyrants of Nigeria. Directly or indirectly, the negative impact of religion manifests in crises that have led to massive loss of lives and destruction of properties. Religion has not played constructive or commendable roles in Nigeria, rather it is used to foster animosity and to intensify violence along the nations ‘fault lines’. ‘In the north, however, the introduction of the Sharia has had the counteractive effect of enabling women to use the law to seek to better their lot.12 Sarah Jubril a female presidential aspirant in 2011 election from the north said that her repulsion and humiliation by the Ciroma committee was probably because her gender was the issue. It is pertinent to note that the complexity of zoning controversy, the people desperately making it a principal national question and the threats of fatal violence demonstrated that the supremacists in Nigeria are actively working to plant their own, to undermine the democratic political processes and to reinvigorate roles of religion and regional prejudices in the choice of Nigerian future democratic president. No doubt, the 2015 presidential election appeared to have saved the duplicitous elites and gave them what they have been labouring for in the right proportion.

Oligarchy in Nigeria or the so-called godfather networks constitutes an informal system of power based on clientelism that overlays or contradicts the formal structures of power, which are the democratic political system and its laws. For democracy to flourish, therefore, the formal democratic system and the rule of law must gain greater prominence and eventually, primacy over the godfather system and its politics of might and money make right.13  Regrettably, political parties and politicians in Nigeria are not ideologically ingrained. The situation where political parties and those elected (or appointed) to manage the affairs of the nation do not represent nothing other than bribery and corruption makes the sustenance of true democracy impracticable. Continued poverty, reinforced by mass unemployment, is a barrier to Nigeria’s quest for true democracy. Any individual deprived of the basic wherewithal cannot participate effectively in a democratic political process.14 Discrimination, ethnicity, tribalism and poverty are closely related, these factors impact negatively on the culture of democracy as people’s ability to live a secured life, boost confidence and participation in politics and the society are weighed down.

In the opinions of Bernhard, M. N. Timothy and R. Christopher, the survival of democratic politics is directly connected to the nature of the prevailing economic environment and the predispositions of the national institutions. There is no perfect institutional frameworks even a perfect institution in the hands of political scoundrel is nothing but a misguided missile. For example, democratic instability in Nigeria is exacerbated not only by institutional flaws but mostly by deviations from institutional prescriptions.15 Nigeria has perfectly modelled institutions and laws but lacks the prerequisite leadership capable of distributing her wealth, inspiring creativity and laundering her society from stomach-churning miasma.