Nigerians have habitually allowed bad leaders and kakistocrats to enter positions of power and govern them either by means of coup d’etas or fraudulent ballots with relative ease and the resultant dissatisfaction is left to be managed by even worse leaders. The cycle of bad leader to bad leader to worse leader has thus become a solidly stable equilibrium in the nation, escaping it seems unlikely. Most Nigerians wonder endlessly how this habit can be broken or bad elections ended in order for good leaders to come into power and foster best governance possible in the society. All by itself this is a very mistaken expectation.
For the guaranteed realisation of good governance and good politics in Nigeria, the German philosopher Karl Popper provides some perspicacious practical advice. In the Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper is disappointed that people often ask the question, how can citizens get good leaders to elect into power. Popper unequivocally counsels that that is the wrong question. The citizens sell themselves short with such a question. Why? People who aspire to power are either as a rule venal (Obasanjo, Babangida, Abacha and Atiku) or mediocre (Buhari [democrat], Gowon, Jonathan, and Shagari). Murtala Mohammed and Muhammadu Buhari [stratocrat] are approximately the only exception. The right question is how does the electorate get those in office to be afraid of the electorate to the extent the leaders seriously fear to misbehave or misgovern while in power.
Many say “democracy takes time to mature”. This statement is only true if the electorate becomes matured enough to perpetually pose the potential threat of fearsome opposition to politicians who act “as they like”. When the potential threats to politicians are existential they will start working very quickly. Right now the politicians feel they can use political ricism to buy votes the spit on the destiny of voters. What a very cheap citizenry.
Individuals in power do not usually govern well because of the kindness of their heart, their political convictions, moral principles or their campaign promises. The elected politicians only govern well or as promised if doing the contrary invariably presents them with existential threats to the continuation of their tenures in office. In many advanced countries the biggest threats to elected officials comes from corporate behemoths courtesy of “Big Money” in a neoliberally governed globe; in Nigeria such threats are presented to those in power by the “Owner of Nigeria Technostructure” (ONT).
If we assume or can prove absolute power corrupts absolutely then saints, the honest and the hitherto incorruptible can somehow be corrupted by the paraphernalia and pomp of power once in office. The ONT has no greater job than to co-opt, compromise and corrupt those elected and appointed to power. If necessary the ONT would even corrupt office clerks, accounts clerks, drivers, messengers and other auxiliary staff to achieve their ends. The ONT is the biggest challenge to the maturation of democracy in Nigeria and protects the leaders in power from the wrath of an ever-dissatisfied electorate.
As such Nigeria’s challenge is doubled by the fact that if the electorate wants those in power to be afraid governing “as they like” because of the existentially threatening reactions, they would have to make themselves become a bigger threat than the ONT and / or even decimate the power of the ONT itself. Of what use has the ONT been to Nigeria other than steal the wealth of the nation, stagnate real growth and rendering it poor? Nigerians lack clean water, electricity, good roads, guaranteed salaries, security and health care only because the ONT want the money for themselves.
The ONT is so used to taking Nigerian citizens for granted in the extreme, that even with warning, it will not be too difficult to surprise it decisively. They are now too reliant on “mumu citizens” that the mere plural existence of a “wisened up citizens”will dislodge and decimate them out with certainty.
Many may be persuaded that violence, sabotage and destruction is the only thing that citizens could do could make those power listen to the electorate and govern their jurisdictions responsibly. And who can be more violent and bloodthirsty than elected politicians and security forces in Nigeria defending their personal interests? Though it has worked sometimes in the past, it is usually an overly extreme reaction and mostly a last resort in the face over-saturated hopelessness. Violence and its allies are not the first-lines or second-lines of action to ensuring those power govern well. The primary solution is the ballot box. A mix of coups, unfree and unfair elections and the power of high court judges who put the highest bidders in office do not create much hope in the ballot box. A thoroughgoing transformation in voter attitudes towards voting, voting coordination and voting results is the “Big Advocacy” needed.
Those who are in power administer with downward causation, simply put, top-down command or coordination mechanisms. In a democracy the vote of citizens counters the instruments of power through upward causation, put otherwise, the votes of the electorate can remove those in power through elections. When Nigerians continue to accept “bought and sold elections” their most important and rightful capability within the democracy has been stolen.
Those who want corruption to end in Nigeria should start with stopping politicians from stealing their vote. Thinking seriously about it is a fine beginning; self-persuasion gives more voter satisfaction than slavishly adhering to the sweeties of political public relations or tribal and religious sentiments.
To those who say “we have heard this all before”, it is because you have heard too few times that its realities are not in the psyche of the nation despite its enabling and indispensable usefulness for citizens and their futures.
We need it hear it all again.