By Tonnie Iredia
The beauty of democracy is the order it brings to bear on governance. Unlike other forms of government, democracy institutionalizes freedom and charts a clear path for the establishment and conduct of government business.
Although politicians perceive elections as the preeminent segment of democracy, the reality is that there are other aspects of the system, that are more important than the selection of persons to hold political offices.
Indeed, there is a school of thought which insists that the sovereignty of the people on whose behalf government is run is the basic foundation of democracy. Nothing in essence can be more important in any venture than its ownership.
Therefore, any system which seeks to convert the people of a nation into the object rather than the subject of governance is not true democracy.
Another crucial feature of democracy is the rule of law which provides for equality of all citizens before the law and which abhors impunity and dictatorial tendencies.
Again, for democracy to be said to exist in a country, majority rule and the protection of minority rights must also be provided for in such a country.
Above all, there is the rational understanding that the purpose of democracy is the development of society and the improvement of the living standards of the people. This cannot be achieved if as is done in Nigeria, governance is permanently displaced by electioneering.
Watchers of Nigeria’s democracy cannot but agree that the nation’s political class is forever consumed by arrangements for the next set of elections immediately after one set ends; thereby stultifying the growth and development of the country.
It was for this reason that some analysts may have hailed last week’s warning by President Muhammadu Buhari to his Ministers and other political appointees to not abandon their duties for electioneering.
Buhari spoke last Tuesday at the closing session of the 2022 Ministerial Performance Review Retreat.
He insisted and rightly too that the business of government must continue to receive the needed attention notwithstanding that the nation had entered the peak period of electioneering campaigns.
Of course, the improvement of performance management as well as the coordination and implementation of presidential priorities for which the president signed Executive Order 012 on the occasion would be undermined if the attention of ministers is shared between governance and electioneering.
In fact, ensuring that government business remains on course is crucial at this point because of the implication which a properly arranged performance has for the transition to another administration.
Although Buhari stated categorically that any breach of his warning would be viewed seriously, many believe that the warning was mere politics.
Such cynics cannot be blamed because apart from the quiet dropping of two ministers – Mohammed Nanono and Saleh Mamman in charge of the Ministries of Agriculture/Rural Development and Power respectively in September 2021, the president is not known for sacking any minister or top political appointee.
In another clime, many of Buhari’s ministers would hardly last beyond a year just as many citizens would have openly condemned governors particularly those of the ruling party who seem to cherish the excessive politicisation of their duties.
Surprisingly, President Buhari who is known for calling his party members to order whenever they derailed, did not halt the decision of his party to turn a governor who was elected to serve a state into the party’s national chairman.
As we argued when it was done, the move was unconstitutional as governors were not expected to be distracted from running their states.
Indeed, the reason our constitution provided for immunity for president and his vice as well as governors and their deputies was to stop Nigerians from using extreme litigation to distract them from governance.
All the arguments about a political party having the power to ask any of its members to undertake certain assignments are in breach of the spirit of the constitution which requires governors to concentrate on societal development.
As at today there is hardly any governor in any political party that is not engaged in such self-distraction for political consideration. It is in fact a major reason why governance is weak in Nigeria.
Against this backdrop, last week’s warning by the president to all his appointees to ensure that government business remained thriving is a step in the right direction though some analysts might see it as feeble because it was the third time this year that top political office holders have been so directed to remain dutiful.
It will be recalled that some six months back, the federal government had formally directed those of them nursing political ambition to resign their appointments so to avoid divided loyalty.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha who issued the circular clarified that the directive affected “all ministers, heads and members of extra-ministerial departments, agencies and parastatals of government, ambassadors as well as other political appointees.”
Again, when some ministers picked party nomination forms to run for elective offices, they were directed to stay in office or resign.
The ministers of Science and Technology, Education (state) Niger Delta Affairs and Transportation duly resigned while others such as those in charge of Justice, Petroleum (state) and Labour stayed back.
If the real purpose of the occasional directives was to prioritize governance, it is difficult to see why any cabinet minister should be allowed to serve in the ruling party’s presidential campaign council when other members of cabinet such as vice president Yemi Osinbajo and SGF Boss Mustapha were rightly excluded from the list. Labour and Employment Minister (state), Festus Keyamo should similarly be excluded.
If done it would offer ample time and opportunity for the president to use all (not some) of his appointees to assiduously supervise the completion of his legacy projects.
In the case of Minister Keyamo in particular, the rising unemployment in the land clearly suggests that his schedule of engaging more hands in the special public works in our rural areas should be revived and expanded.
The engagement of 774,000 Nigerians under the scheme should not be abandoned because it is a visible and worthy investment policy.
Apart from the utility value of the digging and clearance of rural feeder roads and irrigation canals, the advantage of continuing to ensure that such a large number of citizens are gainfully engaged even on an ad hoc basis cannot be overemphasized.
In any case pulling out top political appointees to join the electioneering campaign team of the ruling party is not what should bother government at this point in time.
Combative campaigns across the nation in the form of inter party attacks is a more problematic development that requires immediate action.
The other day, the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, was forced to cry out over what he described as coordinated attacks on members of the party in Ebonyi, Enugu Lagos and some other states of the federation. At about the same time, the PDP claimed that her members were attacked by party thugs in Kaduna.
INEC has since condemned the development and vowed to take up the matter with the leadership of the political parties.
Government should exercise greater control on law enforcement agencies that ought to prevent and or combat violent campaigns.
The continued violence at campaign rallies and other political venues places a dark spot on law enforcement.
The show of force exhibited at the Lekki toll gate last week to stop an otherwise peaceful protest which democracy permits would have made more sense if directed at political thugs.
Instead law enforcement agents are habitually absent at venues of political violence making it appear that they had been compromised to look the other way during such lawlessness.
It is time for government to sanction those in charge of law enforcement wherever violent campaigns occur.
October 23, 2022