Democracy and its Malcontents By Chido Onumah
Nigeria is a deeply flawed polity. And unless we brace up to this reality and do something about it, we would continue to witness the show of shame that is going on in the name of democracy in Rivers State and indeed across the country.
In July 2003, a pseudo-democrat and putative dictator posing as the democratic president of the Federal Republic in cahoots with political jobbers and miscreants sacked an elected governor of a state. Exactly ten years later, history is repeating itself.
It was Karl Marx who in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, while complementing Hegel’s assertion that every major event, phenomenon or personage in history usually appeared twice, stated that the first appearance was usually a tragedy and the second a farce. If Obasanjo/Ngige in 2003 was a tragedy; Jonathan/Amaechi ten years later is certainly a farce. Or how else can you describe a situation where five members of the Rivers State House of Assembly – an assembly with 32 members – impeached the speaker and replaced him with one of their own.
The videos of that attempted coup have become media sensation. However, beyond the mindless violence that we witness and the comic relief that they provide, the horror show is an indictment of our democracy. But it is much more than that. It is window into a much deeper national problem. Therefore, if we focus on the Jonathans (Goodluck and Patience), Amaechi as well as their sidekicks and disciples we miss the point.
For me, the crisis in Rivers State is a reflection of our crisis of nationhood; the outcome of the distorted structure of Nigeria and its power relations. Many of those who are shouting themselves hoarse today will do the same thing if given the opportunity. Clearly, any attempt to understand the current crisis without focusing on this fundamental problem would amount to chasing shadows.
Prof. Chinweizu captured this reality when he noted during the January 2012 fuel subsidy crisis that, “Many of the deadly problems plaguing Nigeria are maintained by the provisions of the constitution as well as the structures it has set up. Therefore, tackling many of Nigeria’s problems would require a comprehensive critique and gutting of the constitution in which they are rooted”.
Last year, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, complained about “the scandalously limitless powers wielded by anyone who occupies the presidential seat in Nigeria”. It is the same limitless powers that governors enjoy in their states. Of course, the political class will complain and do everything except interrogate the very system that makes this scandal of a democracy possible: Whether we are talking about governors sacking local government chairmen with impunity, the president using the apparatuses of the state to solve his personal and intra-party problems or the National Assembly assuming powers it does not have – in this case, the illegal and unconstitutional “take-over” of the Rivers State Assembly.
Rather than being fixated on the Jonathan/Amaechi farce, perhaps, this offers us an opportunity to begin discussing the bigger question of restructuring the country. Unless we take that bold step, the affront to democracy we witnessed in Anambra State in 2003 and Rivers State in 2013 will happen again, perhaps on a grander and much more farcical form.
A few days ago, during a solidarity visit to Governor Amaechi, the governors of Kano, Jigawa, Adamawa and Niger States called for State Police. We must not stop at that. We should go a step further to discuss resource control/revenue allocation, citizenship rights and the many problems that make our democracy a huge joke.
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