Chief Anthony Enahoro fought for democracy in NigeriaChief Anthony Enahoro: Fought for democracy in Nigeria
By Philip Ilenbarenemen
As we celebrate “Democracy Day” in Nigeria on 29 May 2013, do the people know that it is democracy day? I don’t think so. How would they know it is democracy day when most of them see their votes routinely become worthless every time they bother to vote at elections and each day the daily newspapers confront them with pictures of people they never voted for, as their representative? How would they know it is democracy day when their still voices of reason is not heard and justice is but a mirage – the issue of sovereignty belonging to the people is an idea that Nigeria’s rulers say we are yet to mature enough as a nation to enjoy?
The free online dictionary defines democracy as “Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives”. It goes on to explain that democracy is “The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community”. Furthermore, it says “democracy is a form of government in which sovereign power resides in the people and is exercised by them or by officers they elect to represent them.”
I believe the Nigerian political elites - the political parties and those at the helms of state power do not believe in the democratic ideal. They don’t dream of a Nigeria where democracy will reign supreme. They can speak all they want about democracy but they don’t believe in it. Our national experience confirms this and our national mood says it loud and clear that we are tired of the situation.
The growing cynicism of Nigerians towards their government is frightening to say the least. Their cynicism stems from the monumental disappointment in the leadership in every facet of governance in the country. Without exception, in every State of Nigeria and at the Federal Government level, the people’s hope lies trampled and limp on the ground. Democracy as an idea can only live where hope abounds.
It cannot be true that the biggest dream for a disturbing number of Nigerians today is to make money regardless of how the money is made – by hook or crook, no matter. But that is what you see everywhere you go in this potentially great country, Nigeria. No democracy survives without a sense of community, compromise, fair play and faith – faith in a national ideal. In Nigeria, all of these are absent. It’s now all about me, me and me – me, myself and I. It is about how to get power and use it to steal money for self. This also because, the leadership has proven that it cannot be trusted. It takes from the system and put nothing back; only to abandon the people at last.
The battle cry of the African Democratic League led by Professor Wole Soyinka, in whose cadre I served as President in the UK, in those heady days of the pro-democracy struggle against the Military government is, “only by the consent of the governed”. For us nothing short of the consent of the governed would do for Nigerians. And so we took a stand to dare and resist the arbitrary and obnoxious decrees that gave life to the military juntas and bring back the alternative, a democratic government in Nigeria.
Over two hundred and ten years earlier - in 1776, a group of Americans had made a declaration for their independence thus: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed..."
It is therefore a truism to say that the most fundamental concept of democracy is the idea that government exists to secure the rights of the people and must be based on the consent of the governed. Even though this ideal is today considered an indisputable maxim of democracy, Nigerians are yet to experience it in its true form albeit, elections are conducted with billions of taxpayers’ money only for a cabal to seat behind the scene to release their own list of people selected not elected into the various electable offices throughout the country with different political parties rigging most “according to their resources” – apologies to late General Sani Abacha - in the areas they are strongest.
When late Papa Anthony Eromonsele Enahoro - Nigeria’s foremost anti-colonial and pro-democracy activist and then Chairman of NADECO in his speech to mark the end of the NADECO Forum’s Democracy week on June 12 1996 at the Kensington Town Hall in London called us to come “once More onto the breach…” it was for Nigerians to stand up and be counted in the defence of democracy in their country. Papa Enahoro paid the price for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria – right from before his moving the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953 at the Federal Parliament right to the day he died; he lived and died fighting for true democracy in Nigeria. Papa Enahoro is no longer with us but his cry for true democracy can still be heard across the land – Nigerians are still yenning for a democratic new dawn even though we are supposed to be enjoying “democracy” in Nigeria today. People are still routinely denied justice.
The real question that should be on the lips of every Nigerian irrespective of their political parties should be, when will Article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures;” happen for us in our country?
Well, the significance of democracy day can only be felt if we the people join together to demand it, insist on our vote and our choices at elections and hold and insist that our elected leaders be accountable to us whether it be in the political parties, the governments at the Local Government, State or Federal levels.
Thus as we celebrate Democracy Day, let us remember that our cynicism is killing the nation and we are technically the enemies of Nigeria for our inability to stand up for truth, liberty and democracy. Nigeria can still be a great democracy but we the people must take our stewardship seriously. We must work seriously to carry out our basic civic duties and confront the unyielding aggressors in our midst – the political leadership. We must jettison our disillusionment and disappointment and hold them account to us. We must not fail - for if we fail, we are the losers and posterity will not forgive us.
* Philip Ilenbarenemen is the Secretary-General V.I.S.T.A International; and Member, Board of Governors, Leaders Society Nigeria, (LSN)