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Between Govt And The People



No matter how democracy is practiced in this part of the African continent called Nigeria, it would continue to remain, arguably, the best form of government all over the world.  In a democracy, the real power belongs to the people.  It is the people who give out their power when they exercise their franchise through the ballot and they reserve right to withdraw such mandate when they so decide.  In a democratic dispensation, the relationship which exists between the government, as an established authority brought into life by the governed, must therefore be a servant-servant one.  The head of the government, whatever ever name he is branded, is the chief servant.  His actions while in office must be in total service to the improvement and protection of the lives of the people.


Senator Barack Obama may have been sworn in as 44th President of the United States of America but only few people would cease to acknowledge the sheer power of the electorates.  They promised him.  They voted him.  No matter what critics say, America remains the wonderland of the world, where like in other civilized societies, the people decide the fate of their leaders.  It was to Obama's credit that he was able to mobilize young voters, who had hitherto maintained an apathetical stance including penetrating some presumably Republican strongholds to achieve a key victory, which has marked a watershed in America's democracy.  This story would continually be told. 

Only last week, the people of Ghana demonstrated their power in the ballot process by electing opposition leader, Prof. Atta Mills.  In that election, incumbency or power of incumbency did not count.  Interestingly, Atta Mills, a professor of law, who appeared to be losing to his rival and ruling party candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo in the first round of elections, bounced back after a re-run twice.   Ghana's successful transition remains a pride to the people and its leaders.  Those who campaigned and sold out their manifestoes where chosen without the usual political interference whatsoever.  It was emotional to see people rally behind their new leader as he took oath at the Independence Square recently.   But the beauty of the show was the high level of sportsmanship displayed by Akufo-Addo, who despite losing narrowly, was present at the swearing-in ceremony.

Shortly after the Ghanaian polls, some Nigerians have been calling on our leaders to learn from their neighbour's experience.  Some visitors to the former Gold coast were amazed at the high level of maturity exhibited by Ghanaians as the presidential elections lingered, wondering why it could not have possible in our clime.   It however appears the election which has been widely applauded the world over is an anathema in Nigeria, our beloved fatherland.   Nigeria boasts as the giant of Africa.  The implication is that Nigeria leads the way for others to emulate in the continent. She is the big brother.  I always dispute this assertion.  My argument is simple. I am yet to reconcile this swank, popularly professed by our big-bellied leaders each time they junket around the world the reality on ground.  How can these statements be reconciled with our skewed democratic process, high political and economic corruption and a shaky economy that that is held by oil?  Infact, in what areas do we claim to be giants when we have been overtaken by smaller nations like Ghana, Botswana and South Africa politically and other key sectors.  That the vast majority of Nigerians are poverty-stricken is not in doubt, the shock is that situation might not improve in the next 20 years.  My pessimism is anchored on the fact that there our leaders are being recycled.  The same old leaders who plundered our resources to its comatose level, since independence are still the ones at the echelon directing affairs, in what looks as if we are being stage-managed. They come in different clones.  Some simply remove their army uniform, preferring Agbada.  Others recruit their children, in-laws, girlfriends and godsons. It is high time we begin to learn from the likes of Ghana.

Our story is one which has often been told often.  Most times, I glance through the OP-ED pages of most national dailies stocked under my bed five years ago and to my surprise some of the articles appear as if they were written today.  They are bizarre stories of a nation in search of true leadership and direction with a mindset of the 21st century. Those of abandoned people. Tales of hunger, robbery and election violence. The pitiable stories are those of stolen mandates.  Stories were the people's votes never count and a leader is foisted on the people by a Godfather who doles out money and expects to reap the benefits when his son climbs the throne.  They are stories, then and now.  I have always argued that the solution to most of Nigeria's problems is anchored in how we can get our electoral process right.   A whole process, anchored on acceptable and universal democratic norms and equity.  An atmosphere where an elected leader rather than abandon his constituency use his privilege position to strengthen ties with the people. It is through this breakthrough, that the synergy between the government and governed would be defined.  That rapport creates the needed bond that oils the wheels of progress and prosperity of the people.  

Significantly, Nigeria needs a listening leadership.  It would be wide of the mark if President Yar'Adua sits in the Aso Rock villa, which some visitors have likened to a street in heaven, to assume that most our Agbada-wearing legislators are truly the representatives of the people.   If those in the National Assembly have performed better, their counterparts in the states Assembly are worse.  Most states' legislatures are mere rubber stamps of state's chief executives who connive with the executive arm to milk the states' resources. Posterity does not forgive those who misuse the people's mandate under whatever cloak. That is why the impeccable leadership of the likes of Ken Nnamani would continue to remain a case study of students of the Nigerian politics. 


In a state like Rivers, recent polices of the Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi government have given the people cause for concern.  First was the El-rufai-like demolition exercise embarked by the State Ministry of Urban Development and the state's Sanitation Authority and the recent ban on motorcycles popularly called Okada in Port Harcourt and its environs.   Both polices are part of the urban renewal efforts of the government which, to all intents and purposes are to restored the beauty of the once garden city of Nigeria.  The ban on Okada in the state was particularly was greeted with mixed feelings.  Till this moment, most residents trek long distances to their homes and business areas, while bus stops in the city have become perpetual stands.  

The truth is that the government did not make provision for the biting effects the ban on Okada would have on the people, no matter how lofty the idea is.  Okada is a pleasurable ride which is able to weave through major suburbs and overtime became a popular mass  transit system in the state.  But despite its menace to the society, a listening government can not afford to ban Okada without a corresponding action that would cushion the effect of its proscription on the populace.   Despite the government's Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement with Skye Bank, Rivers residents are still in an unending wait for adequate cabs to take them to their various destinations, a situation that has led to the hike in transport fares.  In the course of this hardship they tend to question their relationship with the government?  

Of a truth, the solution to our transport system in Rivers State does not lie in the ban of Okada.  It requires a holistic approach that would see the revamping of the land, sea and rail transportation sector.  These actions should be backed by creating sustainable policies and effective institutions manned by professionals who can drive the vision.  Transportation is a prerequisite to economic buoyancy.  The government should therefore take the blame for the rise in Okada as a ready alternative, it arose as a result of the weak transportation system in the country. 

The continuing demolition of illegal structures in the state should also be done with a human face.   The people should not be made to suffer against the background of the rising unemployment in the Niger Delta.

There are high expectations from the Yar'Adua government to reform our electoral system and laws following the submission of the Justice Uwais report.  But the report is just blue print of government, which might go the way of other well-intentioned documents if Nigerians do not resolve to an attitudinal change.  Nigerians, with our never-say-die spirit must change from the old forms of celebrating mediocres and money-bags under the guise of democrats.    We must resolve to stand and defend the people's choice.  We must resolve to defend an enduring democratic culture that is a sine qua non to our bid to join the league of advanced nations.  It is when our votes count that we ordinary Nigerians can be recognized in the democratic process.


Akonte resides in Port Harcourt.


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