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Adingupu: Nigeria’s democracy on trial

It was argued in certain quarters that the emergence of the Fourth Republic was coincidental. The reason for this postulation was hinged on the betrayal of trust by the then military government, who, after series of failed attempts to enthrone democracy rather introduced an alien system of government known in political parlance as diarchy -khaki and agbada in power. The undercurrents of this broken promise by the military junta, was, ostensibly, aimed at perpetuating their dictatorial presence in governance.

However, when this child of circumstance, otherwise referred to as the Fourth Republic came into existence, the true politicians who were masters of the game, took the entire process with a pitch of salt. For them, the military was out again to pull another April fool stunt. The consequence of their perceived suspicion and lay back, created great vacuum for political neophytes, who, systematically tested the turbulent water with one weary foot after the other before committing the whole body. But since the sudden birth of this child, the nation has been thrown into confusion. This is akin to a man with many wives, whose attempt to taste the food of each of the wives brought great confusion to his mouth. It is glaring to discerning minds that neither the people have gotten any respite in whatever guise, facilities improved upon nor structures of government properly orchestrated since the dawn of the Fourth Republic.

This succinctly explains how Nigeria’s kind of democracy has become an object of whispering entertainment for beer parlour political analysts across the globe. Virtually all arms of government seem to be in topsy-turvey.

At the Executive arm government, the power play between the President and his Vice remains to be seen as a test case. For the ordinary onlookers, it is one friction too many. It is needless recalling the chain of events that culminated to this conclusion that things are no longer at ease with President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

At the moment, there is a growing concern by the overwhelming masses on purported attempts by Honourable members of both the upper and lower Houses to amend the constitution of Nigeria to accommodate an alleged third term agenda of the current President. Though most Nigerians who have heard this rumour had waved it aside with the mere back of their hands. For them, if the former almighty President Obasanjo failed to get the third term, then, President Buhari’s attempt would suffer similar faith. Though President Buhari has publicly denounced stories associated with his third term bid. Then he promised to uphold the tenets of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and his party constitution which frowned against seeking the third term. However, Nigerians who are familiar with developments in this government and the ruling APC party would treat all these dramas with levity.

The Nigerian judiciary has also, sadly become a laughing stock to the world. All too recently there had been flagrant disregard to court orders by the powers that be. Besides, judicial officers now interpret the law to suit their whims and caprices. From the local government to state and finally to upper chambers, the story of poor shallow legislation pervade the entire spectrum of our cracking democracy while the people wallow in hapless despair.

For these fresh politicians who have tested power, it would be difficult for them to relinquish it irrespective of the cost. Hence, today, electoral victory has become a do or die affair as exemplified in the just concluded Kogi and Bayelsa states election. Never in the history of Nigeria had politicians engaged the services of voodoo angels to win elections. There is no gainsaying the fact that today’s politicians employ all manners of diabolical means to remain relevant in an already botched democratic system.

Recent unfolding events show that Nigeria’s democracy is gradually drifting into a monarchy of sorts. Evidence abounds on how successive governors want their own appointees to assume office at the expiration of their tenure. At the regional level, Nigerians have seen political overlords whose major preoccupation is to build a monarchy for themselves. They have consolidated their one step electoral victory by enthroning their relatives and acolytes as governors in their fiefdoms.

This selective system of democracy has brought a lot of misfits to power. Today, most councils are ruled by motor park touts otherwise known in local parlance as Agberos. Also, some of the lawmakers at both state and national levels are not better than retired Area boys. Hence, the hallowed Chambers of both the lower and upper legislative Houses are bereft of robust debate and legislation.

Without attempting to ruffle the dusty pages of history, Nigerians who were privileged to witness the botched Third Republic would attest to this claim. Though not near perfection, there was a semblance of true democracy in practice, as the attitudes, mannerism, and deliberations emanating from both hallowed Chambers then, put Nigerians on a better footing than what we have today. There were such commitment and admirable style and something to cheer about whenever lawmakers then met to deliberate on a Bill or the aftermath of their deliberations.

Contrary to expectations, the quality of the debate leaves much to be desired. Besides, the questionable Bills tossed for debate leaves the average Nigerian wondering if the lawmakers are true representatives of the people. The Fake News and Hate Speech Bill had generated dust and condemnation, thereby putting to question the credibility of lawmakers this Republic has produced.

Though many Nigerians have seen sense in what others tagged as a nonsensical Bill, l won’t want to engage in a slanging match, but it has become obvious that we have politicians in military garb. There are many questions begging for answers: What are the immediate motives behind this Bill? Perhaps, were this Bill to have been initiated during the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan –led Peoples Democratic Party’(DPD) administration, the likes of the current Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed would have been cooling their heels in jail. It would be too early to forget easily the venoms he unleashed on the then President and his party while working as the spokesperson of his party. True to his earlier claim that he, then President Goodluck Jonathan remains one of the most abuse President democracy has ever produced. It is on record that Politicians, technocrats alike and even ordinary Nigerians threw tantrums on former President Jonathan in the guise of criticizing his policies or his stance over certain national issues. Yet, the then President did not threaten the arrest of any of the critics because he realised that one of the hallmarks of democracy as freedom of speech. But beyond mundane prism, fake news, Nigerians may understand but hate speech, is what is beyond human comprehension.

The pedestrian coinage, hate speech, only makes a mockery of our collective intelligence.

Who interprets what becomes hate speech without sentiments? Perhaps, the services of lexicographers and stylists would be deployed to analyze the contextual usage of hate speech in whatever guise.

Undoubtedly, this hate speech war was aimed at suppressing freedom of speech and perpetuate impunity. Not even in America, with over three hundred years of democracy practice have we heard of hate speech Law or Bill.

Already, Nigerians seem to be helpless in the face of the deteriorating state of livelihood. Virtually all existing infrastructures have reached a decay point. Yet, the lawmakers are comfortable in the hallow chambers deliberating frivolities even as crippling unemployment in Nigeria blossoms with every ticking of the clock. Though, Nigerians would be happier were this death sentence for fake news and hate speech was proposed for the ravaging kidnappers that have held this country spellbound since the advent of this administration.

Today, it is difficult to stage public protest even though a handful of those in government now were once self-acclaimed champions of democracy. They once staged, led and participated in a series of public protests against the government’s unfavourable policies. Hence, Nigerians see this Hate Speech Bill as the antithesis of public betrayal. We must collectively struggle to remove the hand of the monkey from our mother’s soup pot before it becomes a human hand.

By Charles Adingupu

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