June 12: Nigerians expect more from their leaders
Kayode Oladele is a human rights activist and international lawyer who was a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives representing Yewa North/Imeko Afon Federal Constituency, Ogun State in the Eighth Assembly from 2015-2019. Oladele, who was the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes and sponsor of the Public Holidays Amendment (June 12) Bill to give the date a legal backing as Nigeria’s Democracy Day as declared by President Muhammadu Buhari last year, talks about June 12, democracy and people’s expectations in Nigeria.
Nigerians were excited when the President declared June 12 as Democracy Day and cancelled the commemoration of the day on May 29. What do you think was accountable for this?
Both days hold their significance for Nigerians, but for different reasons, as such they either elicit animosity or excitement. However, most Nigerian see May 29 as a day foisted on the Nigerian people by the military; that rather than affirming democracy, it meant the funeral of democracy. Some have even argued that Nigeria was in a hurry to have something done, to rewrite the history of democracy and hence they wanted to turn a new leaf in authoritarian rule and that happened on May 29. On the other hand, June 12 was a watershed in Nigeria’s political history. June 12,1993 was the date Nigeria was on the brink of transiting from military rule characterised by oppression, intimidation and dictatorship to electoral democracy. Unfortunately, the military junta derailed the transition programme and truncated our hopes and expectations by annulling the election that was adjudged by the international community as the fairest and freest in the annals of our democratic history. So you can see that June 12 has historical and political contents than May 29. To that extent, I think the current administration has done a lot by recognising June 12 as Nigeria’s democracy day and for other presidential recognitions accorded the symbol and winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola.
You sponsored the June 12 bill to give the date a legal backing as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. What informed that?
It didn’t just happen by chance. I have always been part of the June 12 struggle and I see it as a duty imposed on me by posterity, otherwise the future generation would not forgive me if I had not done so considering my role in the June 12 movement. Nonetheless, permit me to quickly appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari for declaring that Democracy Day would henceforth be marked on June 12 in honour of Chief MKO Abiola. According to the President and I agree with him, June 12, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in their millions, expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful election since our independence. The fact that the then military government did not uphold the outcome of that election does not remove anything from the democratic credentials of that process. June 12 will now replace May 29 as a national public holiday in celebration of Nigeria’s Democracy Day. However, for the President’s declaration to become legal and binding, it would require a legislative action which would require an amendment to the Public Holiday Act. Many people had thought that the President’s declaration alone was sufficient, but we had to amend the law in order to prevent mischief makers from changing the policy in future. And as I said, no one in the 8th Assembly had that responsibility than me.
Twenty one years after the transition to civil rule in Nigeria, would you say that the masses have fared well?
I would say that ordinary Nigerians are unhappy, disenchanted with and disappointed by the political class. This is because everywhere the masses turn to, they find failure or defeat. The promises of the struggles of independence have been betrayed by the political class whether in military uniform or in civilian attire. The promises of the struggle for June 12 have been betrayed; the promises of the struggle of antimilitarism have also been betrayed. The electoral promises of the political class to the people have been betrayed. The civil servants have betrayed the people; the private sector operators have betrayed the masses. It is a galore of betrayal, nationwide. Undergirding this betrayal is greed and corruption. The cost of corruption in Nigeria is socially and economically heavy and burdensome. Poverty and crime, unemployed and underdevelopment are some of its social consequences.
What do you think is responsible for this parlous state?
The answer is simple: we are paying the price of bad governance and the culture of impunity in Nigeria. Nobody cares about the public interest; everyone is so inward looking and individualistic that we are losing the meaning and essence of patriotism. But where will all this take us? Failure rate at WAEC is over 80 per cent, failure rate in JAMB is over 70 per cent; unemployment rate is almost 50 million, the EFCC cannot conclude the prosecution of most of the corrupt politicians due to the inherent weakness of Nigeria’s criminal justice system and the corruption in the judiciary. The Police have largely been unable to curtail the security challenges; there was even a time when an Inspector-General of Police was charged with corruption and unaccountable Police funds. Many state Governors left office richer than their states. Everywhere we turn we find ignorance, poverty and disease. Infrastructures have collapsed; the notion of the public good has disappeared and our value system is in comatose. Those who took over power in 1999 failed to properly order our priorities; instead, they embraced political corruption and failed to put the country on the part of development. They were hardly keen about how to get the country out of poverty as many of their actions plunged the nation further into poverty and want. All they were concerned with was poverty management as if the management of poverty is the catalyst or recipe for economic growth. I believe the situation would have been different if those who fought for our return to democracy were given the opportunity to run the country.
Why do you think so?
I believe that those who were beneficiaries of power on May 29, 1999 were not those who struggled for it, hence they did not even know, neither did they appreciate the meaning of democracy having been mere opportunistic beneficiaries of the struggle for democracy. Second and more fundamentally, many of those who took over power on May 29, 1999 were anti-M.K.O. Abiola, to the extent that they in one way or another worked to undermine the June 12 struggle and its national Agenda. Since then, our role as a developing country is now being re-conceptualised as that of perpetual or permanent dependence. Several other countries of the world whose take-off point was the same as Nigeria’s have made marked improvement on the development template-Brazil, Malaysian, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and so on. What is worse about Nigeria is that we have not only witnessed reversal but worse still; we have witnessed a decline and negative development. Most of our key industries are shut down, the private sector has weak absorptive capacity and there is a process of de-industrialisation taking place. The privatisation of enterprises by Bureau of Public Enterprises under former President Obasanjo has not made such enterprises efficient neither has it made them to have an impressive absorptive capacity. That puts the country in a dire situation of social and economic emergency.
How do you think we can get out of this situation?
There is need for concrete and progressive policies that will lift people out of poverty, create jobs, provide efficient infrastructure and ensure decent livelihood to the people. This is what the current administration is striving to achieve; they are trying to create a linkage between the financial, manufacturing and agricultural sectors and the small scale enterprises. While oil money is in the air, it gives us a delusional sense of growth, while indeed, there is no real manufacturing taking place. Indeed there has been negative growth in the economy due to weak impact on development and minimal effect on toiling Nigerians. The private sector performance continues to be experiencing doldrums and inertia with poor inflow of foreign direct investment occasioned by negative international perception and poor infrastructure.
What is your view about the cost of running our democracy and political accountability?
The cost of running our democracy is too high, relative to other countries such as Britain or even the United States of America. There is a retinue of hangers on and parasites who feast on the political system. We must hold our leaders accountable; we must demand good governance and justice. We must demand inclusive and participatory government, but to do this we must also be responsible ourselves, we must meet our civic responsibility, pay tax and abide by the law. There are many good laws, rules and procedures in Nigeria but they are upheld in the breach. The culture of impunity is so repugnant and appalling. Everybody blames it on long years of military rule. But this is a self- defeating assertion because the military had left the turf over two decades ago; yet we have not changed in our values. For how long shall we continue to be prisoners of the “military-caused it” mentality?
Who is to blame for this?
All of us are to share in this blame, from the lowest to the highest placed person. Every society gets the government it deserves. We must fix our electoral process, fix our schools and hospitals; we must fix our roads, our banks and our governance. To do this successfully we must fix our homes, fix our mindset, our value system and mentality, we must fix our churches and mosques that have also been part of the problem rather than the solution. Everything has to be fixed; our behavior and attitude have to be fixed or reoriented. Nobody should therefore exempt his or herself from the Nigerian crises. We all share in it through our actions and inactions. That is why we must now all return to the drawing board and be honest enough to admit our guilt and seek a new methodology of political work. June 12 affords us the opportunity of rethinking, for sober reflection on what is good for our people, the future of our children and the unborn. We should not be thinking now, about ourselves but generations yet unborn. That is how great nations are built, that is what statesmen do for their people. Our leaders must know that it is better for them to immortalize themselves rather than get themselves into money racketeering, corruption and bad governance. They should strive to do things that will outlive them, they should try to create a legacy of service for others to emulate. They should initiate strong policies and build strong institutions. They should know, and indeed they do know but do not care, that a good name is far more superior and enduring than a notorious one that many current have. How we are judged by history should be more important to us than how we are judged by praise-singers, bootlickers and sycophants. Finally, it is the people that make history, not individuals; hence Nigerians must crave for the government they want and struggle for it. People must make demands on their leaders and insist that governance must be inclusive and participatory.
Source: Opera News