June 12, Democracy And The Emerging Culture Of “One Man One Bomb”

Posted: June 12, 2012 in Uncategorized


By Ugochukwu Raymond Ogubuariri


The date, June 12, has come to acquire a special significance in the annals of Nigeria’s democratic metamorphosis. To most Nigerians, it marks a watershed in the citizens’ struggle against the tyranny of militarism and the suppression of popular sovereignty. To a great extent, it symbolizes the bedrock upon which the country’s current democratic caricature is embedded. As the country marks yet another anniversary of the aborted June 12 dispensation, it becomes pertinent to reflect on the extent to which the cherished ideals embodied in the June 12 struggle has been realized.


Today, Nigeria prides itself as being firmly rooted in democracy as a preferred system of governance. In his Democracy Day speech on May 29, 2012, the country’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, had stated thus: “Our democracy is stable. Its foundation is strong and firm. Its future is bright…Since this administration came into office, we have gone to great lengths to strengthen our democratic institutions.”

To avoid confusion, it has to be understood that in Nigeria – as elsewhere –  democracy, as a notion,  is interpreted and projected to reflect the salient interests and objective condition of those making such interpretations. Thus, when the President – or any other member of the ruling oligarchy for that matter – extols the “virtues of democracy;” when they talk persuasively about “democracy being on course,” they merely do so in consideration of the purpose which democracy serves them. Not surprisingly, democracy – to the governing class – is primarily a means to power. To them, “democratic stability” essentially connotes the enthronement and preservation of a political culture that is conducive to the consolidation of their domination; one that promotes the satisfaction of their egocentric political interests.


This overtly simplistic, self-serving conception of democracy is starkly and radically opposed to the idea of democracy as conceived by ordinary Nigerians. Reflecting their material conditions, democracy, for them, basically entails emancipation. Their clamour for it is dictated by the expectation that it offers the prospect of their expeditious redemption from the stranglehold of a ruthless leadership whose misgovernance and moral turpitude have become singularly life-threatening. Herein lies the merit of the June 12 struggle: it was a movement for transformative change; a verdict against leadership non-performance; a triumphant resistance to the divisive gambit of religious and ethnic parochialism; and, above all, an agitation for the socio-economic empowerment of ordinary citizens.


In spite of the farcical optimism often radiated by Nigeria’s ruling elite regarding the country’s unfettered progress in democratization, the objective reality on the ground today points to the fact that Nigeria is anything but democratic; indeed, the Nigerian space has remained a hostile destination for democracy, and in the process, constituting democracy as contraband.


A major aspect of the problems of democracy in Nigeria relates to the fact that the country is democratizing in the context of state institutions, structures and a constitutional framework that are inherently undemocratic. The “Nigerian state” reflects a unique configuration that renders it decidedly unaccountable to its subjects, its powers are prone to abuse and arbitrariness while it’s various institutions are highly functional as fertile incubators for corruption and kleptocracy.  


Impliedly, democratic elections – in the last thirteen years – have entailed the selection of persons who would exercise the enormous, tyrannous powers of an undemocratic state, and to do so without any intentionality or program of societal transformation. During this period, elections had simply become innocuous rituals in which people merely voted without actually choosing; one in which citizens’ participation in the electioneering process inevitably resulted in the legitimation of their political bondage.


At present, the pitiable and precarious condition of existence of an average Nigerian, the harshness  and brutality of the economic situation in the country, and the diminishing prospects of a “brighter future” all serve as an ominous signpost to the travesty of Nigeria’s brand of democracy – a democracy that preserves and deepens social and economic inequality, accommodates horrific institutional corruption, and  accentuates the dehumanization of its citizens through the virtual non-availability of the basic necessities of life etc. The growing feeling of disenchantment and sense of alienation exuded by Nigerians have become increasingly reinforced by their leaders’ hypocritical posture in the anti-corruption crusade and their lip-service to the necessity of national transformation.


As if the displacement of democracy by the authoritarianism of the Nigerian state is not enough, democracy has also come under serious onslaught from the emergent oddity called terrorism. It is particularly instructive to not that in this month of June with also doubles as a commemorative month for the June 12 struggle, the terrorist attacks of Boko Haram insurgents have grown both in intensity and ferocity, with many Christian worship centres in the Northern part of the country coming under serious bomb attacks intended to create the illusion of a religious warfare between Christians and Moslems.


These renewed attacks, more than anything else, would seem to have been aggravated – rather ironically – by the tactless, thoughtless, and fatuous assurance given by the country’s President to the effect that the menace of Boko Haram would be a thing of the past by this month of June. Clearly, in the absence of any discernible or plausible strategy of containment of the Boko Haram insurgency, the President’s vociferous announcement of an end-date for Boko Haram has become a major security risk as the terrorists would be impelled to rubbish, at all costs, the Presidents whimsical declaration and to force him to walk with his tail between his legs.  


Expectedly, the remainder of the month of June will, regrettably, be particularly challenging for the country’s security network and the citizens at large, especially, those residents in the troubled towns of Northern Nigeria. Perhaps, it will be helpful to caution that the residents of such areas – in particular, Christian worshipers – need to take extra, legitimate, precautionary measures to secure their safety during these trying times.


In the face of these evolving anarchy and riotous insecurity currently buffeting Nigeria and its people, is there any chance that the country’s democracy will survive the mutinous rampage of terrorism, much less flourish under an atmosphere of intense political instability? I doubt as much. For in a state of lawlessness and insecurity, there is no democracy. In a supposedly peaceful country like ours where the death tolls of citizens on weekly basis compete with those of Iraq and Afghanistan, there can be no talk about “one man, one vote.” What will obtain is “one man, one bomb.”


For democracy to become truly meaningful in Nigeria, it must take the issue of the progressive restructuring of the polity as its top priority. The structure of governance across all tiers must be transformed to ensure that political power is made truly accountable to the people. A situation where the President, Governors and Local Government Chairmen are shielded from criminal prosecution by the draconian, constitutionally-enshrined “immunity clause” even in the face of their manifest addiction to unbridled corruption is a fatal disincentive to – indeed, a huge mockery of – democracy.


A situation where these political office holders – including their counterparts in the Legislature – are allowed the indulgence of bleeding the public treasury in the guise of “security votes” or “constituency allowance” (amid growing spate of national insecurity) is simply akin to engaging in an organized, high-profile robbery disguised as official entitlement. A state of affair in which the powers, functions and responsibilities of the central government is exceedingly multifarious that the states are reduced to mere appendages of the centre is a major impediment to true federalism, democracy and decentralized, grassroots development.


The palpable reluctance by successive governments – and the Nigerian people at large – to realistically confront these salient contradictions of the Nigerian polity and to resolve them democratically has become a major reason why our claim to democracy has remained an exercise in political masturbation.



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