Democracy in Nigeria has been characterized by election rigging, rotation of the same set of candidates for various electoral positions and subversion of the rule of law. Thuggery, god-fatherism, imposition of candidates by political parties, internal party rivalry and general apathy by voters are other features.
Political parties have been an important aspect of Nigerian government both before and after independence was achieved from the British in 1960. Parties allow for political competition to take place, for the citizenry to find people who represent their ideas and interests in government, and for the introduction of new leaders and perspectives into Nigerian life. Many Nigerians do not understand the political party system because there are so many options and their platforms are unclear to the public. This remains an issue in Nigeria because it marginalizes those who are uneducated or uninvolved in government. Also, there seems to be a tendency for people in Nigeria to support parties based on ethnic of religious divisions, particularly along the Muslim-Christian line of division.
Other observers have traced the challenge of democracy to the eagerness of the minority political elites in Nigeria to exploit cultural differences to further their political agenda. To these scholars, the Nigerian elite often trumpets religion, for example, to discredit opponents and win elections.
In my view democracy can work to the benefit of Nigeria. Ordinary people should demand that ways are created for them to participate in decisions that affect them, regardless of their ethnic or religious identity. This should be the case in spite of the intervening centrifugal forces of ethnic pluralism and cultural diversity.
“Among the youths currently in the limelight in Nigeria today, which one of them would you seriously think could be handed over the position of the senate president?” grassroots activist Geoffrey Noriode, from Warri in Delta State, asked DW in an interview.
As Nigeria approaches its 2023 general elections, the country needs to vote for the 21st-century think-tanks that can provide opportunities for progressive growth and whose core values would be focused on how to lift the bulk of the nation’s populace out of the “peculiar mess” of poverty, corruption and insecurity.
Gani Fawehinmi, a Lagos attorney and opposition leader, is welcomed by demonstrators during a pro-democracy rally on Friday, June 12, 1998, in Lagos, Nigeria. Gani Fawehinmi, a Lagos attorney and opposition leader, is welcomed by demonstrators during a pro-democracy rally on Friday, June 12, 1998, in Lagos, Nigeria.Image: AP Photo
Nigerian politicians are often very wealthy.
But, we all know that that is not completely true. If Nigerian politicians are abrasively corrupt, then the CRNs are sophisticatedly corrupt. While some of them (the CRNs) climbed the social ladder precisely because of their economic dalliance with the government, others benefited from economic policies of privatization and monopolization. While some were initiated into affluence under the influence of leftover colonial privileges, others rose to economic eminence through the compromised Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) of the 1980s and the shady deals of the oil boom era. Also, many CRNs collaborate with predatory multinational companies in the plundering of Nigeria’s resources. Today, if you ask any progressive economist, they will tell you that it is the CRNs who benefit mostly from Nigeria’s rising economic inequality. Many CRNs benefit from dubious tax waivers, they slave-drive their workers, and are often more concerned about the maintenance of their elite position than ameliorating the poverty that ravages the country. More importantly, the CRNs seem to have successfully diverted attention from themselves as one of the main problems of Nigeria. I should add that many ordinary Nigerians seem to be oblivious of the complicity of the CRNs in the perpetuation of a systematic unequal distribution of wealth in the country. In fact, judging from most of the social media responses to the aforementioned billionaire’s ice cream trip to Italy, I am convinced that even working-class Nigerians have been propagandized into embracing the logic of neoliberalism and industry. Nigerians are the most hardworking people I know, but unfortunately for many, their annual income is never commensurate with their labor. According to the 2019 World Poverty Survey over 91 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty. Although one might be tempted to dismiss these (sometimes) problematic Western surveys, as a Nigerian myself, I have seen poverty up-close and I can safely conclude that it is currently an epidemic in the country.
Infrastructural trade off: One major issue about Nigeria’s money politics is its tendency to be a breeding ground for the embezzlement of public funds. This is because the more a politician spends, the more he or she is likely to see a leadership position as an avenue to amass the wealth he has spent over time.
One major issue with money politics as regards Nigeria is the fact that money politics as a means of funding political activities and participation has now turned to a case of the highest bidder, where only people who can spend are considered the best candidate(s). The capacity to deliver quality governance is now being determined by how much a candidate can spend on an election.
Many economic experts are of the opinion that one of the major reasons why Nigeria continues to find itself within the cycle of debt trap, inequality and poverty is because of how the country continues to run an expensive system of government where the success of a political party largely lies on its ability to settle those believed to be the political cabals.
One thing about politics is that it cannot be treated in isolation from economic realities because political factors always affect economic development. This position therefore makes it more important to reveal how Nigeria’s political system, which is largely driven by money, will affect the nation’s economy, especially at a time like this.
Why would a country with the largest economy in Africa have such a staggering number of the have-nots? Yes, the politicians (who sometimes—but not always—double as the CRNs) siphon our resources, but that is not the whole story. The five richest Nigerians, whose combined wealth is more than the GDP of many countries, are not politicians—at least not openly. In that regard, it is pertinent to indicate that this essay is not about wealth-shaming, it is about the moral essence of individual wealth accumulation in a country plagued by poverty. In other words, the CRNs do not need to feel guilty about their “hard-earned” money but they need to develop a moral obligation that may contribute to the alleviation of poverty and economic inequality in Nigeria. They must have empathy for the less privileged and develop a sense of responsibility towards giving back to the country that made them. They must become conscientious and stop thinking that Nigeria owes them when, in actual fact, they owe Nigeria.
For some of Nigeria’s political parties, each presidential aspirant was reported to have paid the delegates nothing less than $10,000 while some delegates were even paid double. This is apart from the huge sum of money that will be paid to obtain the presidential form.