DEMOCRACY – STILL IN TRANSITION HERE

By NBF News
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Celebrating epochal moments of history can be very intriguing—depending on what bliss or blight the electorate has gone through in the period under review. Many take it as a period to record quick achievements as a reflector of bounteous and happier times to come. Sometimes, it may mean a source of hope for the people, if sunrise provides early warmth for the people being governed. At times, it is a mere fluke; a ruse. After the celebration and the people are sufficiently fooled, the leaders go to sleep.

But for us here, it should be more than an epoch-marker. It should be more than wining and dining— a festivity- streak. It should be a sober stock-taking event, during which set agenda are consolidated, with their strategic plans for implementation laid out clearly for the people to see and peruse. No doubt, a year is long enough, if it provides sun rays and warm showers after wintry and stormy times, to anticipate warmer times with a purposeful leadership in place. But if the signs are those of sighs and seamy disillusions, frustrations and castrated dreams, it will be time to raise serious questions. What discerning minds should be doing at this point is to engage a critical assessment of the new President's bench-marks or visional parameters and yardsticks. It should x-ray his clear leadership vision and its strategies of execution, given, especially the great power contention in the air, regarding the fate of our country and Goodluck Jonathan's own political destiny, one year hence.

On the level of the symbolism of May 29 as Democracy Day, there used to be a great discomfort and outright rejection of that day as a day that truly indexes genuine freedom and struggle for this country. The progressives, Human rights and civil society groups who genuinely upbraided and combated the June 12's horrifying annulment of the elections and the reign of terror that succeeded it, rightly claimed and named that day as the true freedom or Democracy Day. The argument continues, but it would appear that the reigning government may have been allowed to have its way after the popular masses may have had their say.

It is, however, gratifying that President Goodluck Jonathan has decided, in an aptly sensitive way, to give acknowledgment to the exploits, travails, sacrifices, even martyrdom of the great heroes of our struggle for sovereignty and freedom, in his May 29, D-Day Address. It is a good way of meeting the critical, popular masses half of the way, in a notable departure from his predecessors (Obasanjo and Yar'Adua) who curiously refused to acknowledge the great deeds of the heroes who built the foundation for today's transitional democracy. Yet, the real crunch and acid test of Democracy is not its temporal marker, but the concrete returns in terms of public goods, welfare benefits and quality of governance, such that make a clear, rewarding difference in the lives and living conditions of the electorate.

There is a sense in which that has not happened in any substantial way in the last eleven years of our re-embracement of civil Democracy. Obviously, it has not been a total blank, to be fair. And, in spite of dashed dreams and failed aspirations as a result of dysfunctional governance, there has been some evidence of good governance. Freedom of speech, in spite of the refusal of the Yar' Adua's government to pass the Freedom of Information Bill, the anti-corruption crusade well- begun by the Obasanjo regime, in spite of accusations of rabid selectivity of implementation, the GSM communication revolution in spite of its crushing cost and the cut-throat profit that the operations are carting away—all of these provide token evidence of minimal good governance. Yet, it is still so little and nearly too late and it is hoped that the one year remnant left of Yar'Adua's first term for Goodluck Jonathan may yet bring some difference.

What political theorists are pointing out is that a democratic culture is yet to evolve, and that we are still in the throes of democratic transition. Last week Thursday, on the eve of the Democracy Day, Attahiru Jega, veteran struggle interventionist as former President of ASUU, frontline political scientist and public intellectual, gave a talk in one of the Kuru Lecture Series and he spoke in a similar vein. He made an apt distinction between Good Governance and Good Democratic Governance. He argued persuasively, that, many undemocratic, even crassly authoritarian regimes do provide impressive public goods and services. It does not translate to making democracy irrelevant or unnecessary.

The crux of his argument is that about sixty percent of the fifty years duration of our sovereignty was lived under hardly broken military oligarchy, with its painfully enduring legacies, including the fact that militricians are still the hottest contenders for power in our immediate future, a democratic culture has been difficult to re-establish. Good Democratic Governance, whose indices are electoral reforms with a result of credible electoral culture, in which people's votes provide legitimacy of democratic governance, will provide the minimum scale and benchmark for the survival of Democracy.

Now, there is no way this government can receive credit for good governance unless it carries out electoral reforms that will ensure credible election in 2011 and erect a credible, independent electoral structure in our country, as is the case in civilized democracies all over, including a few African nation-states. Again, the tough stance that Goodluck Jonathan has recently announced of stiff strictures and heavy reprisals for political fraudsters and election riggers warms the heart. He has also done a salutary thing in the removal of Maurice Iwu as INEC Chairman. He must go the whole hug to implement the Justice Uwai's electoral reforms report way ahead the campaigns for 2011—and this should come in spite of whether he intends to run for President or not.

The great question of the moment, to my mind, is whether Goodluck Jonathan, in the short or long time ahead can and will make a significant difference in the real and core areas of governance in our country. Truly, no one should expect land-mark exploits and achievements from any government in just one year that he has ahead. No balance sheet can be expected from a government in just one brief year. Yet, I believe a clear ideology and perception of national needs, if provided within the period under review, should be notable indicators and signs of what he is capable of doing with power. It will clearly reveal to us his governance vision and missional directions. We can hardly expect more.

The key areas that Goodluck might focus on and make noticeable impact are some of the areas he has himself identified—Security as exemplified in the Niger-Delta and the Plateau crises, infrastructural work that will lay the critical foundation for our industrial and economic turn-around. This must be built concretely on his finding a solution to the power and energy, emergency crisis. He has, hopefully rightly placed the burdens of solving this problem squarely on his own, personal shoulders by allocating the Energy and Power Ministry to himself. That is a courageous assignment that he can ill-afford not to accomplish.

A lot of his assessment in power will be indexed on his achievement in this sector. Let him not attempt to bite too much more than he can rapidly chew. History can judge him only on what he tries to do and do very well, not on the volume of his ambition and the expanse of the landscape of his dreams. And by the way, on the heroes of our democracies that he has acknowledged and eulogized; the Abiolas, the Fawehinmis, and so on; he must think of concrete immortalizing actions and gestures that will keep them permanently on our national memories. On reflection, it can be said that we have begun to see such positive signs, even this early, such that will lead us to expect happier times, if they are pursued with vigour, purposefulness and commitment. It is hoped that these signs are permanent ones indeed.