Fowler: Ignorance and arrogance of our democracy

IT is lamentable as well as unacceptable that our fledgling democracy, on which the fortunes of this great country and its millions of citizens rest, seems destined to remain in an infantile stage. The sacrosanct and non-negotiable hallmarks of a functioning democracy include the following principles: Individual worth, right to be informed, enlightened citizens, clarity of purpose, transparency,  accountability, accessibility and responsiveness of government to the people, and choice.    

   As we are on the threshold of determining the next leadership of Nigeria, the erstwhile “giant of Africa,” we must exercise our voting rights with the utmost dedication,  confidence and precision.  Now is not the time to cast our precious vote on a whim, or in ignorance  and certainly not according to the dictates of sentiment. To do so would court certain disaster. How long can Nigeria “dodge the bullet of national suicide?” How tragic it would be for us to elect a president who will flounder and disappoint and about whom it can be justly said “the emperor has no clothes on?” One of the ways we can safeguard ourselves from incessant and prolonged disappointment with and disarray in our leadership is to be fully convinced about the integrity, sincerity and competence of our next leader. Our vote should be based on these considerations alone, demonstrating that we are  ready to move to the next level in strengthening our democracy. 

  By now the electorate should be in a position  to debate amongst ourselves about the colossal  issues affecting us and in doing so, examine  and evaluate the positions of the principal presidential candidates. We therefore call on the contenders to expound, elucidate and disseminate their stand and road map on the issues to the whole nation in a transparent and effective manner. We demand an election which is “issues driven” and not based on counterproductive factors such as personality, ethnicity, political posturing or maverick tendencies.  We, the people, have a right to be informed and to know the policies and action plans of each candidate,  and not be treated in a cavalier or nonchalant manner, which have no place in a modern democracy and hearken back to the medieval times of feudal lords and serfs. We want our vote to not only be counted, but to count. There is too much at stake for anything else!  

   In today’s technology driven world, there are ways and means to involve the electorate in the true meaning and spirit of “democracy.”  It cannot be gainsaid that nearly every household in Nigeria has access to at least one mobile phone. This is now the lowest common denominator in Nigeria. If commercial businesses can send out unceasing barrages of promotional messages to the populace, why can’t the presidential candidates act in a similar vein to broadcast their positions on the issues? This  is the very least we deserve. We can no longer allow the democratic process to be shrouded in darkness, obtuseness and ignorance. We demand “enlightenment!” 

    The situation now on the “eve” of the presidential election is that the vast majority of the electorate, are ignorant of the tenets and priorities of the candidates. We demand that this situation be immediately addressed so as to enable us cast our vote in an informed manner in favour of the candidate presenting superior solutions and demonstrating an iron will to tackle our national challenges and succeed. 

   Let us not quibble or prevaricate concerning the state of our flawed democracy. In essence, our democracy is an aberration in its present form and falls far short of a “ functioning democracy,” let alone a “model democracy.” It represents a travesty and negation of the rights of ordinary citizens who will go to the ballot boxes practically clueless and for all intents and purposes,  with blind folds on. The hand may be free to tick the boxes, but the mind, intellect and reasoning powers, mankind’s greatest resources, are languishing in dark places in chains and shackles. Partial freedom or liberty still constitutes bondage and enslavement. The status quo is indefensible and unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest terms.

   Even though our national challenges may be so daunting, as to render possible solutions labyrinthine or far-fetched,  does our next  leader not have a vision for  Nigeria to share with us? Effective and dynamic leadership is rarely visionless. Such a scenario would be akin to “the blind leading the blind.” Martin Luther King 

Jnr., one of the greatest global icons to have walked the face of the earth, had a vision for the United States of America, which ushered in a new dawn that affected not only the oppressed, but also the oppressor. Permit me to re-visit portions of his vision or “dream.” “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair”, I say to you today my friends.

   And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words “interposition” and “nullification”…“one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!”

   Evidence of the culmination of his dream can be found at the following address:  The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest Washington, DC 20500

United States of America

  The current tenant at this address also happens to be the leader of the free world today.  The vision of Martin Luther King Jnr was a “game changer,” as it was inspirational and motivational. It was also a rallying cry for unity. Ordinary citizens were imbued with faith, hope and the will to not only act, but to sacrifice for the cause.   This was a vision that not only the American people could identify with and invest in, spirit, soul and body, but which at the time, resonated with countless millions of people of colour all over the world.

  Is it too much to ask our future leader to share his vision for Nigeria with fellow Nigerians? At this 11th hour, we the electorate demand enlightenment! We deserve nothing less than to witness televised town hall meetings, discussions and debates centered on the overwhelming challenges we face on a daily basis. The principal contenders or their representatives should mount radio campaigns around the issues, proffering remedial actions. Finally, a televised debate between the presidential candidates is obligatory. Anything short of these measures is tantamount to sheer disregard for and contempt of the Nigerian people and the democratic process. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

  Only when the individual worth of every Nigerian is recognised and upheld, can we begin to fan the incandescent embers of our democracy and not allow the nation to go up in flames as a result of ignorance and arrogance.

• Fowler Ms, is a lawyer LL.B B.L LL.M (Harvard).

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