18 YEARS OF DEMOCRACY: TIME TO ASK QUESTIONS
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) wishes to congratulate Nigerians, especially workers on the commemoration of another Democracy Day. May 29 reminds all of us that we are on a democratic journey. It also affords us the space to review how far and how well this journey has progressed. For Nigerian workers, democracy day reminds us of our commitment to building a just society.
It was Abraham Lincoln that described democracy as the government of the people, by the people and for the people. This simple but iconic definition of democracy offers ample insight into the purpose of democracy and provides a basic basis to evaluate the performance of democratic actors in any clime.
There is no doubt that the mention of ‘people’ thrice in the definition of democracy is not a coincidence. It is only a statement of fact that the people are the fulcrum of democracy. So, for us in Nigeria, it is perfectly fitting to ask ourselves “how has democracy served the people of Nigeria?” In our view, 18 years is long enough a time to ask ourselves “how much progress have we made as a people in our democratic journey?” The truth is that 18 years of democracy has come with very sparse rewards for the Nigerian people.
While we celebrate democracy’s irreplaceable gift of freedom, liberty and popular representation, the truth remains that this democracy has served the political class and not the average Nigerian.
Unfortunately, those we elected to serve as democratic leaders have not only turned around to serve themselves but continue to exploit every given opportunity to turn the rest of us into paupers in our own land.
Beside the frequent unlawful dipping of fingers into the public till, everything including salaries, pensions, perquisites, ways and means are skewed in their favour to the exclusion of workers
.This certainly makes a mockery of the very essence of democracy which is service to the people and for the benefit of the common good.
For us in the labour movement, a democracy that does not allocate resources in such a manner that ensures equity, justice and sustained national development or cohesion is beggarly.
We reason that Nigerian workers are frequently turned into canon fodder by the Nigerian political elite in their high stakes political games and mindless scramble for the commonwealth.
Despite escalating costs of living, devaluation of the Naira and general hardship in the land, the Nigerian worker is still forced to survive on N18,000 as minimum wage with not a few states owing backlog of salaries and pensions.
While Pensioners in not a few states wallow in misery and unimaginable suffering, the members of the political elite led by state governors as a matter of ‘law’ and policy, take in advance whopping severance packages to which they are not entitled in the first place.
How well has this democracy uplifted the spaces where we live and work? Without prejudice to the effort of this government, our infrastructure is still in tatters. Our roads are impassable and public electricity supply remains epileptic.
Our schools and health facilities have become sorry relics of what they used to be in the first decade post-independence.
The spate of killings, general wave of violence and insecurity across the country further traumatise the hapless citizenry.
In spite of the great effort by the Buhari administration to fight corruption, corruption keeps fighting back more viciously.
While, unarguably, our electoral processes are improving by the day, the same cannot be said of elections conducted by State Electoral Commissions. Worse still, we are worried by the political intolerance of governors and their philistinal behaviour, completely at variance with what obtains at the centre.
In light of the foregoing, this May 29th should be like no other as it should not be devoted to false homage to democracy but devoted to soul-searching and truth-telling, so that with commitment from all of us, we can get it right.
This day avails us a great opportunity to demand for accountability from our leaders, especially, governors, and also from ourselves as citizens of a great country that has potential to be greater
It is a day for us to shift from our pliant position as citizens to a position of virility, vitality, proactivity or of asking questions, especially, those who have appropriated the machinery of democracy to feather their nests.
This May 29 must be seized by those who have been under-served by the chefs manning our democratic kitchen. This May 29 must be captured by those who have been left behind in our democratic journey. There is no better time to demand for accountability from political office holders than now.
There is also no better time to demand accountability from the popular side – ourselves – than now. What have we done with our votes? What will we do with our votes in 2019 and in elections that would take place before and after then? Our destiny is our hands to shape!
Yet, despite the inability of our democracy to put on the table our expectations, it still remains the best form of government. Accordingly, we will continue to support all processes that will enthrone or perfect our democracy.
For us, the dark memories of military rule are still fresh and we pledge not to stand by as some elements seek to imperil this democracy by their acts of greed, insane desperation for power, petty proclivities and inanities.
Nigerian workers, activists, peasants, women and students did not work so hard to bring about this democracy – some even paid the supreme price – for opportunists masquerading as political leaders to loot it dry and then truncate it.
Nigerian workers must personally appropriate this challenge as we seek to rebuild an enduring political platform that would offer the fullest essence to our age-long struggle for a society where no one is oppressed, cheated, excluded, isolated or left behind.
At the risk of repetition, the biggest gift this anniversary offers us in our view is, as part of our civic duty, to register and obtain our voters cards, vote and defend our votes. It also gives us a chance to monitor government and hold it to account
As a people, we have the power to elect or change governments if only we are willing and committed. We are also obligated to support government if it is doing the right thing. On no account should we allow primordial or pristine considerations to preclude us from doing the right thing.
Once again, I congratulate the government and people of Nigeria, especially, workers on this day.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni