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Dividends: Brightening up democracy

Wednesday, 2 May 2018


If the success of democracy is judged by the loads of dividends enjoyed by the electorate, then Nigeria is still far from success in its practice of democracy. Considering happenings in our polity, one is forced to ask a question: who actually enjoys the dividends of democracy? The elected or the electorate? The answer to this question is obvious, even to the oblivious. One would have thought that the bright flames of democracy would shine its light into the dark underdeveloped grassroots, but that is not the case across the nation. That is why Mr. Bill Gates had the nerve to school our leaders on what real development is all about: human capital development with a primary focus on health and education.

Nigeria has “thirty-six sub-democracies”, of which the strongest, in my estimation, is Lagos. I cannot speak for everybody but I can speak of my own experience. Yours truly grew up in Ojokoro, in Ifako-Ijaiye Local Government in Lagos. Having lived for three decades there, I can say that Governor Akinwunmi Oladapo Ambode has reset my mindset about the complexity of providing road infrastructure. This writer used to think that fixing bad roads and building bridges were a big deal. I, for one, did not know that flyovers, roads and drainages could be constructed in such a very short time. 

The delivery of Jubilee Bridge and connecting roads at Abule Egba, in my area, blew my mind. It was heartwarming to learn from Mr. Adebowale Akinsanya, the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, that the first phase of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane from Oshodi to Abule Egba was now at 55 per cent completion stage, and that government was working towards delivering it between September and October.  What is more, construction is on, on inner streets around my axis and this is happening across the entire state. If this is not bringing dividends down to the grassroots, I don’t know what it is.

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has not just performed above average; he has consistently demonstrated that he wants to change the face of Lagos. At the moment, development in Lagos is at a dizzying pace. Ambode comes across as a leader with a burning desire to make a colossal difference, though he has focused heavily on road infrastructure – a smart decision. People like to see tangibles. With visible road projects, it is very easy to score cheap points with the electorate. This is not say that Ambode has not recorded milestone achievements in other sectors.

This writer does not wish to repeat the long list of his laudable landmarks or the litany of reasons advanced by his teeming second-term endorsers but one accomplishment that is in right in the face of everyone is the delightsome improvements in transport infrastructure. His consistency in this direction is noteworthy considering the positive multiplier effect on the standard of living of the people and commerce, generally speaking. What baffles me about Ambode is his unrelenting posture. There is a school of thought that incumbents perform during their first term and then relax when they are given a second term. Even the proponents of this school of thought will agree that there is something refreshingly different about this human dynamo – a governor who acts and gets things done.

As our democracy matures, it is important that we become critically-minded and courageous enough to point to the areas where our leaders are missing it. One striking feature of democracy is its penchant for popularity. The candidate with the highest number of votes in an election is perceived as the most popular, and therefore, the winner. The polls go to the popular, not to the perfect candidate. It therefore means that the winner is not without imperfections. These imperfections, as insignificant as they might seem, can impact negatively on the electorate. This is where constructive criticism is needed.

 Our leaders are neither saints nor angels; they are far from being perfect. Most of the time, they are surrounded by sycophants who will never tell them the truth even when they are not performing. When elections are around the corner, we see our incumbents portrayed as being the best thing that has ever happened to us. Flattery fills the atmosphere with a mission to becloud the reality. As we prepare to go to the polls, we must open our eyes and judge by tangible results. Any democracy that does not represent the interests and increase the standard of living of the electorate has lost its essence.

Taking a cue from Mr. Gates’ sagacious perspectives, the government should create touchable dividends that will make education plus health accessible and affordable to citizens. Until democracy delivers goodies to the grassroots, it is a façade. By goodies, I am not referring to what is now called “stomach infrastructure” – the freebies that politicians dole out from time to time to their constituents. What is needed is not just stomach infrastructure; we need sustainable dividends in critical sectors such as health, education, power and transport, to mention a few.

It was on a Thursday afternoon, November 19, 1863 during the American Civil War. The Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was to be dedicated. The crowds had gathered. The atmosphere was intense. Then the moment came! Abraham Lincoln stepped onto the platform; he was going to make the one of the most celebrated speeches in American history. After he lionized the sacrifices of the soldiers who lost their lives, he went on to advocate that the "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the sixteenth President of the United States of America (USA), probably gave the most applicable meaning of democracy describing it as the government of the people, by the people, for the people. Democracy originated from two Greek words “demos” and “kratos” meaning “people” and “rule” respectively. Essentially, democracy is about the administration of the people themselves. Over the years, democracy gained momentum and spread across the globe. But times have changed.

In an essay titled “What’s gone wrong with democracy” published in The Economist, the writer noted that “Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.” This writer cannot agree more because the living conditions in most democracies, especially in Africa, is not encouraging. Democracy seems to have lost its shine; it needs to be brightened up with the rule of law, respect for fundamental human rights and more importantly, dividends that uplift the standard of living of the people.
Idowu Omisore, an advertising enthusiast, writes from Lagos.

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