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Democracy Day: Nigeria’s democracy seriously deficient, operates only in name –Onaiyekan, Kaigama, Ayokunle

As Nigeria celebrates 22 years of democracy, notable clerics; Archbishop Emeritus, Abuja Catholic Diocese, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Achbishop of Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, Ignatius Kaigama, and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Ayokunle, have said that Nigeria’s democracy is seriously deficient and that it operates only in name. Onaiyekan, Kaigama and Ayokunle, who spoke separately in exclusive interviews with Saturday Telegraph, condemned the hardship, sufferings and dictatorial rule which they said Nigerians have been subjected to. Cardinal John Onaiyekan described Nigeria as a country suffering from bad governance.

He said that the country was in a very bad shape and advised the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari to “stop pretending that the country was on the right track, and admit that his government has failed Nigerians.” The respected man of God noted that the only celebration for most Nigerians on yet another democracy day was not being dead or being held at kidnappers’ den.

Onaiyekan, who maintained that there was no perfect democracy globally, however described the democracy in Nigeria as deficient. He said: “Democracy is an ideal and there is nowhere in the world where you have a perfect democracy. What we have here is a democracy within the limits of the possibilities and arrangements we have made and the limits of the possibilities that the actors have allowed us to operate.

“We have a democracy but it is a democracy that is very deficient, I wouldn’t say that it has totally collapsed, but it can collapse; basically democracy is not an end in itself, democracy is a means to an end. “We shouldn’t be going around talking of democracy as if that is the end of the world, the ultimate objective should be good governance, which means no matter how often you go for elections, no matter how much you make noise about democracy, if at the end there is no good government and people don’t feel as if they have freedom and there is no justice, then it is useless.

“Similarly, you may not go for elections, you may not have what they call democracy, it may even be a military dictatorship but if governance is moving, people are taken care of, the economy is running, there is peace and security, then you have good governance.” Asked if there was good governance in Nigeria he said, “Right now no and I am not saying we had it under the military.

One of the major reasons we insisted on the soldiers going back to the barracks is because they were not able to assure us of good governance and most of the problems we have today derived from the difficulties we had under military rule. “It was our hope that if we tried our hands at democracy things would be better for us and we have been at it since 1999.

We thought we were making headway and improving but certainly as at now, we are in a very bad state. “Those of us alive can celebrate we are alive, those in the hands of kidnappers I do not know what they will celebrate today, those who have died if they are in Heaven they will celebrate in Heaven.” The Cleric, while lambasting Nigerians for indulging in corrupt practices, warned that the next democratic government might be worse if deliberate changes in attitude and principles were not embraced by individuals, to arm them with a voice to speak against bad governance.

“We will get it right if Nigerians are ready to abide by the principle that if you don’t do things right it will not go on well. We should stop deceiving ourselves that we can continue to play games with one another, refuse to accept the truth about one another.

Everybody is complaining about corruption and a lot of people are doing corrupt things regularly hoping to get away with it and because corruption has become part and parcel of the way we operate, we are not able to call our leaders to order.

“We hope that we shall all realise we cannot all continue this way, which means we will all have to change our minds. Not change the regime or the president, but change our way of doing things which is by the clamour for review of the constitution which is in the right direction; there are things we have to change but it is not only a matter of changing a document that is on ground, we must also agree to change our attitudes and agree that honesty is the best policy. “My advice to Nigerians is, don’t give up but understand and know that everyone of us has an examination of conscience to make and to see if we are contributing to the rot by the way we live.

“Let everybody do his own part as far as he can, we should be able to stand up for the truth and not be afraid because too many people are afraid and those who are in charge are threatening us and we are succumbing to their threats, all that has to stop. Onaiyekan, who maintained that the government was largely responsible for the insecurity and economic hardship confronting the citizenry added, “Do not tell us to wait till 2023 before anything can happen, we can’t be waiting. By then many would have died and if we continue like this, 2023 is going to give us another president that maybe worse than Buhari, so we have to move.

“Stop pretending that everything is fine, stop thinking the problem is other people; your enemies, the opposition. The problem is with your government; solve it and if you cannot solve it don’t go and beg America or China, ask for help from fellow Nigerians, we are there and ready to help you.

Be ready for criticisms, pull the nation together and stop scattering us.” On his part, ArchBishop Kaigama described the kind of rule practiced in the country as a mixed and peculiar leadership that was far from being democratic. According to him, the one good thing Nigerians were enjoying from the democratic dispensation, especially in recent times, was minimal freedom of movement and expression, which he said was equally being withdrawn from the citizenry gradually. He said: “We have a peculiar kind of democracy, not certainly the model of America, the UK and other places.

Our version of democracy is something between a traditional rule and a bit of dictatorship and some elements of democracy; all these joined together. “Democracy as democracy in a name is what we are practicing by constitution, but in reality what we are practicing is far from the ideal and genuine democracy. “We need genuine, authentic and real democracy where people’s socioeconomic standards change, that their life of integration is possible between the north and the south, east and west, between Muslims and Christians, that people are happy.

“But we are unfortunately polarised along religious lines, along tribal or ethnic lines and many people are complaining very terribly about exclusivity in the sense that they don’t feel they belong, that what is good in this country seems to go to one section when they are in power; as either a religious group or an ethnic group when they are in power take all and when another group takes over and are in power they equally take all.

“This interaction that should be healthy is threatened by suspicion and distrust, so we have a long way to go but it’s better to have a very dim light of democracy than to have a very bright light of military dictatorship or any other form of dictatorship.” The Cleric, who noted that Nigerians would always celebrate even as they were neck deep in hardship, trials and tribulations, said “actually there is very little to celebrate. I say this as a witness, as one who identifies with the grassroots, as one who walks with people who live in the periphery and who really would need the health of a democratic government to have a better life, but they don’t.

“Electricity, water, access roads, healthcare and education are grossly lacking and even where they exist, they are not at their best, so the only thing we can say is that we are a bit free to say what we are say ing without someone running after us in uniform and with a gun.

“Even freedom is not really there because now you have to stay indoors, you have to mind going to the streets or travelling from one town to another because of the serious situation of insecurity. It is very upsetting and disappointing that after all these years we are condemned to this type of life.”

On whether Nigeria can ever get it right democratically, Kaigama expressed optimism that with goodwill, Nigeria can change the narrative to become the African giant she once was. “We have to bury our prejudices as Nigerians, this superiority complex that we exhibit and the gross act of injustice whereby certain sections of the country feel they don’t belong or they don’t have access to power or even to the resources as they should, must stop. “We need to start teaching our children from infancy to primary and secondary school how to be honest, to be sincere and how to be able to engage others other than their religious or ethnic members.

“Nigeria is a country of vast possibilities and a county with people with great resilience and intelligence. Let’s minimise this hypersensitivity of religion and tribe and we shall rise to fantastic greatness,” Kaigama added. Ayokunle in the same vein, challenged Nigerians to rise up from their slumber to rescue the country from the “lurking disaster she was fast falling into.

He lamented that the country “has never had it this bad, where the masses find themselves getting more impoverished day after day.” On the state of the econo-my, and insecurity, he urged the National Assembly to come up with a Republican Constitution from the last two CONFAB reports that the nation has had. He said: “Democracy is a system of government that has its traits. The fact that we have an uninterrupted democratic system for over two decades is worth celebrating.

We have never had it this far, but ironically we have never had it this bad. We are not yet there, but we are not where we used to be. “The fundamental rights of the people are being denied, the press has ceased to function as the watchdog of the society, all the promises made during the electioneering period mean nothing to them, and unprecedented killings, abduction and violence have become the usual occurrences as if our security agencies are on holiday. “These are not good for democracy. The economy remains in the woods, while our government keeps borrowing as if we have no natural resources to generate funds. People are being taxed right, left and centre. Every banking transaction attracts levy. Our political office holders are insensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people.” Rev Ayokunle added, “Things are so bad that some people are calling for secession.

Why wouldn’t they, when the government cannot guarantee their security and welfare. “The Federal government is no longer protecting the people as if it has become a government of a section of the country. Every facet of life of the government reflects people of same faith and race in a multiethnic nation. “Those who criticise the government are being abused, insulted and even harassed as if criticism is no longer a hallmark of democracy. This is why CAN will no longer keeping mum. “We call on all right thinking people to rise up and rescue Nigeria from the imminent disaster. It is getting late.

“We call on the National Assembly to study the reports of the two previous CONFABs with a view to adopting them to produce a true Republican Constitution like that of the 1963. “The 1999 Constitution must be replaced and people should be ready to use their voting rights to liberate themselves from these vultures who are not interested in their welfare.”




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