Barrister Wahab Shittu, a legal practitioner and human rights activist spoke with Gbubemi God’s Covenant Snr, on democratic tenets in Nigeria. Excerpts;
Its 16 years of democracy, can we say Nigeria’s democracy has come of age?
If we consider democracy as a journey and not a destination, we will then be able to arrive at a conclusion that our democracy is evolving; it has not yet matured. Our democracy can only be said to have matured if we can re-emphasise ‘cash-and-carry’ democracy wherein we resort to monitising of the process.
Again, we would be matured if we also stop democracy of anointing, in which case, candidates are selected and imposed by certain political godfathers before they can be elected. The political class should allow the sovereignty of the people to prevail in the political process.
Yet again we would be matured if we are able to stop what I call: ‘kill and go’, democracy in which case most of the political actors rely on thuggery and assassinations and some other deployment of violence in the electioneering process in order to win election.
But inspite of all these inadequacies, because I believe our democracy largely rely on some types of conspiracy, we should return sovereignty back to the people; let our elections reflect the popular will and let people see democracy as a vehicle to promote goals of development, enhance living standards and also changing some human right of the citizens.
But as a country, we are on the journey; I wouldn’t want this process to be truncated because the worst form of democracy is still better than the most benevolent military regime, so democracy is still the option.
How can we nurture our democracy so we can arrive at the destination of maturity?
We should all participate; embrace the process and not ‘siddon-look’. We should make our leaders accountable to the electorate. We should monitor the process; we should deepen democracy by strengthening democratic institutions; we should gather democratic institutions to respect the tenets of democracy.
What are these tenets?
Respect for constitutionalism; respect for the rule of law; respect for due process; free fair and credible electoral process; respect for fundamental rights of citizens; transparency and accountability; zero tolerance for corruption and above all, good governance. These are all the fundamentals of the democratic tradition.
If we follow these guidelines strictly, it will forestall the possibility of rule by force or rule by sharing, then we can gradually discern that we are arriving at that destination. For now, we are still on the journey with all the pitfalls and implications, but with resolve and equity, political will and good leadership, I am certain we will get where we are going.
President Buhari’s inheritance in the presidency include contentions – from corruption, dismal economy and failed oil and Naira, insurgency, MASOP, Fulani herdsmen and now, the return of the Niger Delta militias: what hope has PMB and Nigerians in general?
The challenges are no doubt herculean. I think the starting point is for us to recognise that a lot of decay and rot have taken place in the system and the present leadership is trying its best to minimise this decay and may be repair this decay, and this cannot be done overnight.
The first thing we must recognise therefore is that there is some decay in the economic space; in fact, everywhere. This is the best opportunity for us to be able to bounce back to the path of growth and development because we have a president that is anti-corrupt. We have a president who has a high moral standing both locally and internationally. Even when David Cameron described Nigeria as fantastically corrupt, they reserved a place of praise and appreciation for our President on the strength of his moral authority.
We also know that we have that orientation in the presidency, with people who are not corrupt, who will not steal and who are prepared to lead from the front. We are not saying that they are the messiah, but at least they will give us the necessary foundation. It would have been very bad if, inspite of this decay, we still have a leadership that is corrupt, but the saving grace is that we now have a leadership with a high moral standing. So what is necessary is for us to be patient with this administration, not forgetting that this country is gifted in the sense of natural and human resources.
We should first of all, take steps to recover most of these loots of our former wealth that are stashed away in some foreign countries, and our president is doing a lot in that area. And we should also be able to institute a regime of consequences for criminal misconduct, including corruption, so that people will know that when they steal money that belongs to you and I, they won’t get away.
Again Nigerians must reinvest faith in the process and in their leadership and they need cooperation in favour of government policy. So all we need to do now is not to leave governance in the hands of the ruling elite alone; all of us must be engaged in the process, we must not ‘siddon-look’; we must collaborate with government both at local, state, community and federal levels to ensure that we monitor the political actors, so that the greatness and potential that are inherent in this country are fully realised.