Posted by By CHIDI OBINECHE on
All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate in Abia State, in the 2003 elections, Chief Onwuka Kalu, has scored the present democratic dispensation low though he is happy even though the rule of law is occationally violated.
All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate in Abia State, in the 2003 elections, Chief Onwuka Kalu, has scored the present democratic dispensation low though he is happy even though the rule of law is occationally violated. Speaking on the occasion of the last Democracy Day, the industrialist and politician bares his mind on a number of national issues.
Speaking from the perspective of how I feel as a victim of dictatorship, and having been a victim of the dictatorial government, which we had before the advent of the present democratic dispensation, I would say that I am happy that Nigeria is practising democracy today. Happy in the sense that at least, the rule of law appears to be the order of the day, but there are still some abuses and traces of flagrant disobedience of court orders.
By and large,however, I would say that there has been a great improvement. Democracy has brought additional freedom to Nigerians. At least, one can enforce his human rights. For example, if someone is arrested for any offence, the rule of law says the person must be released within 48 hours or so. The police appear to be obeying, but it wasn’t so in the military era. Such rights were taken away by decrees. It is good that we have democracy. But then democracy cannot be enjoyed in a vacuum. I think that every Nigerian has a role to play to ensure that every Nigerian, no matter his religion, tribe or class, enjoys the benefit of democracy. I think also that one of the fundamental roles for Nigerians is to know how to use their votes so that we can have true democracy.
What we have now is more of an experiment than actual practice. The democracy we have is still questionable, but we cannot jettison it because of that. Rather, what we have to do is to look at the areas that are faulty, areas that we have not done very well, areas that have made this democracy shaky, and then improve upon them.
One area you touched so much on is political enlightenment. Are we saying that we do not have enough of it? Yes, political enlightenment and electoral reform? We have a lot to do in these areas. We need to educate Nigerians that if they collect money to vote for someone you have inadvertently sold your rights to question that person if that person goes into office and fails to perform.
We also need to educate Nigerians to start learning from what happened in the Philippines sometime back and also in Ukraine recently. We even had a recent case in Lebanon where government was no more popular and people resisted. Nigerians can take such stand if the person they voted for was not the person that was declared a winner when results are announced. I think that the National Orientation Agency needs to do more in that direction and I think that one of the legacies that this government should leave for Nigerians is political education. We started since 1960 until we got to the present Fourth Republic. I would want you to take a look backwards and then compare it with the present. Sometimes, it is difficult to draw comparisons. The eras prior to 1960 and that after independence were eras of taking over from the colonial masters. The key thing at that time was for Nigerians to assess and assert themselves and say this is our country. We can run our own affairs. Nigerians were telling the colonial masters to go home that they were capable of running their own affairs.
The leaders at that time were more pre-occupied with how to gain political independence for Nigeria.
The Second Republic
In the second republic, basically the leaders were visionless. All the programmes they came up with you can’t really go back to them because all the major rubber plantations, all the palm plantations, all the cocoa plantations that you still see today in the West and former Eastern Region, be it in Cross River or Akwa Ibom State were built by the First Republic government. You can now ask yourself what exactly did leaders of Second Republic build? I don’t really see any. You may say that the Second Republic built some roads, but I think it was even the military that built the roads we are seeing today, apart from some really good roads built in Aba and Umuahia by Chief Mbakwe. Some of the industries the Second Republic government tried to embark upon were overpriced. The First Republic people were more honest. I am not saying they were not corrupt, but I said they were more honest. They had the interest of the people much more at heart than the subsequent governments, whether military or civilian. The Second Republic leaders went on a borrowing spree. The foreign debts we owe today were invested in white elephants. They became white elephant because they were overpriced. Is it the Volkswagen Company or the Steyr Motor that is functional today, or the Green Revolution? Is it industries that were established by Mbakwe’s administration in Abia and Imo states that are functioning? The governments we have today in these two states are not helping those industries to grow, but they are selling them off in the name of privatization mostly to their cronies. We are actually retrogressing.
Whichever republic we are in at this point in time we have to take a strong look at what happened in the First Republic and ask ourselves if we have really made progress from where the First Republic people stopped?
Or, on the other hand, have we destroyed the things they built. What you hear today is privatization all over the place. They said they want to make those things more efficient by privatising them. I am one of those people who think that somewhere along the line, the level of the economy and development we are is such that we cannot leave everything completely in private hands. There are certain areas that the state must get involved, especially provision of infrastructure, creation of conducive environment where businesses can thrive.
The government should take serious interest in the education of our youths. Our tertiary institutions have virtually become nothing to write home about. But in the First Republic when we talk about education, look at the University of Ibadan; look at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. They were institutions that were the pride of Africa. I remember that in those days medical students graduating from the University of Ibadan were rated high, which gave them jobs instantly in the United Kingdom.
Today, a medical graduate from Nigeria is not regarded anywhere. He is subjected to another schooling, he has to write series of examinations before he could be given a job.
Elusive dividend of democracy
The way you have spoken so far does not give the impression that
Nigerians are enjoying the dividends of democracy. What I am saying is that this is a continuous thing. When you talk about dividends of democracy, I think it is relative. You ask some people, they will tell you GSM is dividend of democracy. You ask others, they say to you, now they can talk, shout and nobody will arrest them. Other people’s dividend of democracy is getting fat contracts from Abuja. It all depends on which side of the divide you are.
For now, I would say that having been a victim of dictatorship my own particular benefit of democracy is freedom. So you cannot really generalize and somebody to beat his chest and say I am giving them dividends of democracy. That is deception.
The real dividend of democracy they should give to Nigerians is good governance. That should be done at the federal, state and local government levels. What this entails is responsible and responsive leadership. Our leaders must pay more attention to Nigerians. The people are crying. There is hardship in Nigeria today and the hardship is there because people are trading blames.
Many Nigerians are angry that the way federal system of administration is being practised is a drawback. They complain that the Federal Government who gets the larger share does not take larger responsibilities. What do you say to this?