By Ayo Kehinde
With that view headlined above, Dr Wale Akinyemi, a well known international business strategist, consultant, author, inspirational speaker , arrested the attention of the almost 1,000 persons in the roomy Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island Annex, Lagos and kicked-off the one-day conference on governance and democracy convened by Covenant Christian Centre on March 10.
The event attracted speakers from the academia such as Professor Mahmood Lawan of the Political Science department, Bayero University, Kano; Dr Charles Omole, political strategist, author and leadership coach; Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Emmanuel Ayinde, and from the political elite, such as Jimi Agbaje, former Lagos State governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2015 general polls, Mr Francis Adebayo; Donatus Okonkwo, a governorship aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC in the November 18, 2017 in Anambra State governorship elections and Head of Voter Education and Publicity of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mr Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi
Enlarging on his viewpoint, Akinyemi said that as long as money commands attention and controls every plan of action in Nigeria, “no strategy will work. Corruption can never be won as long as the environment that breeds it is left intact. We need an environment where dreamers and visionaries can thrive. In Nigeria, many want to be president. They come up with manifestoes but there is something they are doing academically. Ask them what is Nigeria’s problem, they will say it is leadership. But what is at the root of the problem? Settling power of money. We celebrate pockets, not brains. We don’t ask our politicians where they get their money from, yet we are receiving them and blessing them in churches and mosques.”
Drawing lessons from the histories of America, Malaysia, Qatar, S/Korea, Sweden, which have developed strong economic and political institutions and Kenya, Qatar and Rwanda, which are posing similar social and political questions, he stated that economic empowerment of the youths must be a priority for African leaders and described Nigeria’s problem “ as the settling power of money. That is why no strategy seems to work”.
For him, Nigeria is not practicing democracy but ‘palicracy which is government of pals by pals and for pals”.
This skewed political system could only have come about as a result of the country’s political socialisation and culture, according to Professor Lawan. “The first coup on January 15, 1966 and subsequent ones which put Nigeria under military rule for a total of 29 out of the country’s 58 years since independence, destroyed the basis for a sound political culture that was being put in place in the first republic under parliamentary system.”
He argued that political culture- the totality of belief, values and orientation in society and political socialisation- the process through which citizens acquire views of political structure- were warped during the long years on military involvement in Nigeria politics. “It affected the psyche of Nigerians, fine values were debased; lack of compromise, tolerance, robust debate, vibrant opposition all came under attack under the military system of centralisation, obey before complain so that by 1998 when the new democratic regime started, the debasement has taken root. Imagine what is happening in Kaduna today where the party is under the sole power of Governor Nasri el-Rufai and there is fight over control of the party. Where is the party?.
“With the debasement of values have come primitive accumulation of wealth and the influence of money bags and the collapse of institutions that transmit political socialisation such as the family, the schools, peer groups and associations. Democracy is a mindset. If you don’t have it, you cannot actually participate in a democracy and most of our politicians don’t have it. In a democracy, it is not about your position or wealth but lets debate your position or views and ideas that are likely to be of collective interest to members. In 1961, a research predicted that India, Brazil and Nigeria would join the first world economy by the end of the century. Brazil is a manufacturing country today. India is known for ICT. Where is Nigeria?”
In his conclusion, Lawan told his listeners drawn from all the professions: “Get involved, register to vote and be a critical stakeholder of the Nigerian project; organise for a better society based on sound principles that are achievable under visionary leadership to inspire your community; invest in education to replace empty, debased mind with a liberated and open one.”
Getting involved and the value of knowing how one’s society works can only make people better citizens and governance a win -win situation for the rulers and the governed, argued Professor Ayinde in his contribution on political parties and participation of the citizens in quest for democratic governance. He dwelled on the difference between government and governance and stated that modern realities has since regarded the vital importance of the citizenry to the well-being of the polity, hence the the preference for the term governance over government.
“The term governance rather than government is a recognition that other stakeholders play very important role rather than only those in government, in our lives. So in the management of public affairs and exercise of political power, government is a facilitator, a custodian of power and authority. Groups, unions, organisations and professions are often involved in governance
“That is how governments are run in the 21st century. It is bottom to top approach, not from top where siren blowing officials with long convoys think they are overlords and owners of government. Governance focuses on citizens and not on office holders, recognise private and public sector participation. We had such at a time when Nigerians suffered from flooding and many individuals and corporate entities donated huge sum of money for relief materials and then there is the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, for examples.”
He urged governments to empower the citizens to enable them perform their civic duties and decried as disempowering a situation where aspirants for political offices are asked to pay as high as 5 million Naira for party forms. He stated that there two forms of citizenship; vertical and horizontal and traced the crises in the country to the lack of practice of the horizontal type whereby cooperation, trust building, participation and readiness “to carry each other as they do in Japan which make the country well integrated”, so that “we can collectively achieve prosperity.”
As a parting shot, he urged every Nigerian to get involve and stop complaining of the rot in the system by registering to vote, joining political parties and public interest groups, paying of taxes, protests and write petitions to office holders such as governors and the president.
Getting involved in governance can come through one or two of 14 ways, suggested by Dr. Omole. 1) Be informed and critical in analysing situations, not based on rumours 2) Register to vote 3) Engage in political debates and discussions 4)Become a political evangelist 5) Become a political activist-participate in boycotts, sit-ins, protests. 6) Become a political message promoter through use of, for examples; car stickers, badges, banners, pamphlets 7) Join a party, the surest way to become a delegate and see how you and others can join forces to strengthen internal party democracy 8) Stand as a candidate 9) Become a party donor 10) Become a volunteer for a political party or candidate 11) Become an institution builder because institutions need to be strengthened to influence institutions of government.12) Become a campaign star of your candidate or party13) Become a reliable source of information and 14) Keep the country in your prayers.
For Osaze-Uzzi, the INEC official, regular participation in voting during elections is one of the surest ways to strengthen democratic governance. “There are some any ways to influence the system for good. One is to get PVC. It is your power, for instance you can’t be a party delegate, a candidate or party member if you don’t have it. Another way is to get your own party if you can’t find accommodation in others. It is very simple; get a manifesto, a known address and pay one million for registration. We once had a party, the Peoples Progressive Alliance, PPA, which won governorship elections in Imo and Abia states and Labour Party in Ondo state. “Politics is too serious to be left to politicians,” he said, quoting French ex -president, De Gaulle.
Agbaje, Adetayo and Okonkwo, softened the academic atmosphere when they relieved their experiences as politicians who have contested elections in recent times. According to Agbaje, integrity is a high commodity required anyone who wants to go into politics for the purpose of offering service or else the motivation would be for self. For him, for one to be able to maintain integrity in party politics and electioneering, it is necessary for one to have an independent source of income or a good fall back option. “The starting point to learn the art of service is to join clubs and organisations such as Lions, Rotary, NGOs for examples. A sincere and independent source of income is necessary for you to be able to keep moral boundaries. Politics is a power game, nobody is going to give it to you. You have to be yourself and stand up to bullies”
Narrating how he was able to break into the mainstream of his party as a new comer, Adetayo said that a sense of commitment to personal and community relationships and well-being as well as loyalty to the party are key to getting to influence others and make a difference.
Okonkwo, who said is the first Igboman to win election in Lagos in 1995 as a councillor in Oshodin, blamed INEC for most of the rigging that has taken place in elections since the country’s return to democracy in 1998. Citing the governorship poll in Anambra state which former Governor Peter Obi had to reclaim through the courts, he said “2003 polls was the worst in the state, the entire 17 LGs collating centres were taken over by INEC and security men who chased away the citizens and at the end of the day, Andy Ubah who did not campaign was declared winner. What happened was not just rigging but written! You can protest rigging as in snatching of ballot boxes, but can you protest written results?. “Nooooo! the crowd yelled back.
“ In 2007, they did the same thing.” he said, pointing apologetically at Osazee, the INEC man seating in the front row with other dignitaries and the hall shook with prolonged laughter.
While stating that INEC has improved with the conduct of the recent Anambra governorship poll held on November 18, 2017, he urged the audience to register to vote and during voting wait and use their smartphones to capture results, which can be collated and used for litigation in case of any manipulation of the results.
For many of the participants, it was an intellectually and emotionally stimulating day. But for Dunni, an architect, she would have preferred a situation where participants were allowed to break into sessions and network in between the lecture. “Since this outing is titled governance and democracy 101, lets hope there would be a follow up and one can then raise that”, She said, adding that what she had learnt had given her a clearer picture of the Nigerian political landscape. Asonye, a lawyer couldn’t agree less. “I enjoyed it. All the speakers were practical and realistic in their assessments.”
Participants spoken to seem to agree that it is by getting involved that one can understand one’ environment and terrain and then be able to find answers to the many failings in financial interests and governance across the land.