IS NIGERIA A DEMOCRACY OR A PLUTOGARCHY?
t this juncture of the civilian political experiment in the Fourth Republic, it is appropriate to determine or find out whether Nigeria is a democracy or a plutogarchy. This exercise is necessary since Nigerians are increasingly at a loss to define with clarity the kind of political system that is being foisted on them by the ruling political elite. The reason is that the manner in which national resources are being distributed to the population seems unfair. A large proportion of the resources are lopsidedly rewarded to a tiny segment of the population (about 1 or 2%) while a majority of Nigerians end up with little or nothing. This makes them to scratch their heads in bewilderment. Due to the confusing signals, it is difficult to describe the political system. As a result, some Nigerians believe that the current civilian political system is a democracy, some believe that it is an oligarchy, a segment of the population believe that it is a plutocracy while others have no opinion because they are fed up due to suffering.
Due to the nature of the subject matter, it is necessary to define some political terms that relate to governmental systems. As such, democracy can simply be defined as a government of the people by the people and for the people or a government based on a majority rule. Aristocracy is defined here as a governmental system in which the nobility or the best few rules in the public interest. Oligarchy Is a governmental system in which a small group or clique of individuals rules the state. Plutocracy is a governmental system in which the wealthiest elite rule with a particular focus on their self-interest Thus, in a plutocracy, the self-interest of the ruling elite is the driving force for being in government.
In closely examining the manner in which Nigeria has been ruled since May 1999, it is arguable that the political system is not a democracy, although it purports to be so. It is also possible to say that it is not an aristocracy since the political elites do not behave nobly in a responsible, transparent and accountable manner and neither do they rule with the interest of the people. On the other hand, it appears that the political system is typified by a combination of characteristics borrowed from oligarchy and plutocracy. Therefore, it is inferable that the current political system is a plutogarchy. Plutogarchy is a coinage derived from the merging of plutocracy and oligarchy. Nigeria is a plutogarchy for the following reasons:
- Nigeria is ruled by a very tiny group of ambitious individuals who believe that they have a mandate to exercise political power over the country in perpetuity. Only those who are chosen by members of a tiny political cartel are allowed to assume public office. Anyone who is not initiated or invited by the cartel can rarely assume public office. This makes the system oligarchic
- The members of the political cartel are highly self-centered and care very little about the Nigerian people.
- They believe that they have an inalienable right to convert public resources into their private ownership. Anyone who is not willing to or does not feel comfortable misappropriating public funds into private ownership would find it exceedingly difficult to hold public office in the current system. This makes the system plutocratic.
- They do not believe in democracy but hide under the banner of democracy in order to justify their political existence and gain international recognition.
- Some members of the political cartel are willing to eliminate anyone who stands in their way.
- Generally, the political elite that rules seems to be accountable to the clique that dominates the country politically rather than the citizens.
- Decisions about who supposed to occupy which political office is determined by the clique and not by the Nigerian people through transparent elections.
- Operating as a clique, loyalty is more preferable than competency in determining appointments into high public offices.
Actions of the Political Elite
Due to these factors, it is not surprising that the ruling elite, since 1999, have engaged in the following actions or inactions:
- Political candidates are chosen and imposed on the people through a highly manipulated electoral system. Only those Nigerians who have political connections to the powerful members of the political clique that are supposedly elected and appointed into public offices. The powerful members of the political clique serve as godfathers and godmothers and are responsible for recruiting individuals into elected and appointed public offices.
- Those recruited, groomed and initiated into the political clique must pay back through the transfer of public funds into private financial schemes and contracts designed to enrich the godfathers and godmothers. This is why the system is very corrupting.
- The godfathers and godmothers are above the law and are untouchable. This means that they can engage in any criminal activity and get away with it. In short, they are more powerful than the state, hence, the Nigerian state is powerless to arrest or prosecute them when they violate the law. This is why the law enforcement agencies and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are almost toothless in prosecuting powerful individuals who loot public funds or engage in other serious criminal offences.
- The political parties seem to operate like mere window-dressing front organizations designed to camouflage the inner workings of the politico-economic clique that actually run the country.
- Due to the cliquish nature of the political system, the same individuals are recycled repeatedly to serve in high positions in government even though some of them have very questionable characters. The reason is that only members of the political clique have the permission to serve. By repeatedly appointing and reappointing the same individuals, other Nigerians are prevented from serving and gaining the necessary experience for future leadership. Thus, the future leadership of the country is sacrificed through recycling.
- Due to the cliquish nature of the leadership, personal loyalty counts more than job performance. This means that only those officials who demonstrate an undying loyalty and devotion to their political bosses hold positions for any length of time. Loyalty is demonstrated through the following ways:
- Being supportive of the political boss at all times, regardless of whether the boss is incompetent or not.
- Attending all activities associated with the boss, including funerals, weddings, birthday celebrations, and welcoming of the boss or his wife from overseas trips. This is why when an individual who is connected to one of the powerful members of the clique dies, almost every member of the political clique, including former heads of state, are expected to attend. These "high and mighty" individuals do not realize that it is a serious national security risk to have so many important members of the political class gather in one venue because of a wedding or a funeral or a welcoming for a member of the group. It is strategically and tactically unwise to have former heads of state, heads of the military and police services and high government officials gather in one spot for any reason because an enemy state can use such an opportunity to liquidate the leadership of a country in one strike.
- Not rendering a professional opinion if the opinion is likely to counteract that of the boss. In the current Nigerian political system, professionalism and performance are not marketable commodities but loyalty is.
- Praise-singing the "noble accomplishments" of the boss even though the boss is an abject failure. The "personnel assistants" and "special advisers" cannot waver in any manner in praise-singing the noble deeds of their bosses or they forfeit their jobs.
- Not running for office or competing against the boss in any form or manner. Such an attempt can lead to immediate dismissal from the political clique
- Making sure that only a tiny proportion of the population gains from the national resources. This is achieved through an unwillingness to create and or invest in programs that directly benefit the Nigerian masses. The following clearly show that the ruling elite is not eager to serve the Nigerian people:
- Nigeria has a population of about 160 million people and the population continue to grow, yet, major medical facilities have not been built by neither the federal nor states governments to serve the citizens. Likewise, there is no modern medical facility that can accommodate thousands of people. Cities like Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Enugu, Abuja, need at least four major up-to-date medical facilities to effectively offer medical services to the citizens. It is amazing that a city like Miami, Florida, USA, with a population of three and a half million people has more than six major public and private hospitals with up-to-date equipments and a city like Lagos with more than nine million people barely has any major up-to-date medical complex capable of handling series of medical problems. Specialized medical care is a rarity in Nigeria. This is why people who need specialized medical care are required or compelled to go overseas, instead of being treated in Nigeria. It is as if Nigeria is not a country but a wretched rural outpost of a fourth world country.
- Due to lack of investment on modern health care system, the same hospitals that have been in existence in the past fifty to sixty years continue to serve as the major medical centers in various cities of the country.
- Many public medical facilities have inadequate medical technologies and drugs. This forces many Nigerians to rely on fake drugs that are very harmful.
- Nigeria is one of the countries in the world where in order to get an effective medical treatment, it is necessary to fly overseas. Since most Nigerians cannot fly overseas, they are condemned to perpetually risk their lives in the dilapidated and underequipped medical centers in the country. On the other hand, members of the political and business elite fly overseas for their medical needs. They go to Germany, Britain, US, France, Dubai, South Africa and Dubai for their medical needs and allow the rest of the population to suffer in Nigeria. It is a very cruel political system that condemns millions of Nigerians to their fate. In Nigeria, people continue to die from ailments that are easily curable in other parts of the world.
- Due to the oligarchic and plutocratic nature of the political system, there is no desire to improve the educational system. In fact, instead of improving the system, effort is made to strangulate it by looting funds allocated for academic and infrastructural enhancement. Some of the funds looted from the public educational sector are used to build private primary and secondary schools and universities. Thus, after helping to destroy the Nigerian educational system, the plutogarchs send their children to universities in Ghana and other parts of the world. They want their children to receive the best education that money can buy but they do not want other Nigerians to enjoy the same privilege.
- Due to the cliquish and self-centered nature of the political system, cities and urban development projects are carried out without including water and sewage management systems in their development and modernization plans. This is why in Nigeria, obtaining a clean drinking water is a major challenge, even in the twenty-first century. Daily, Nigerians roam the streets to buy water or stand on long lines to fetch water from a few public water pipelines. Likewise, individuals are expected to build their own sewage systems.
- A country like Nigeria with a population of about 160 million people needs a mass- transit public transportation system. Yet, there is no desire by the political elite to invest in a user-friendly public transportation system. In cities like Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Warri, Benin, Maiduguri, Enugu, Onitsha, Calabar, Jos, and so forth, it is always a challenge to get into the buses, whether public or private. Nigerians always have to scramble in order to get to their destinations.
- For more than forty years, Nigerian military and political leaders have not been able to implement a workable and reliable energy system. The reason is that most of the funds allocated for energy enhancement are pilfered by the public officials responsible for executing the projects.
- While the ruling elite have not been eager to invest in public programs that benefit the Nigerian masses, they have been very eager to invest in programs that enhance their financial, political and psychological self-worth. They invest in their self interest in the following ways:
- Most of the wealth accumulated through embezzlement of public funds is invested overseas. This is why the Nigerian economy cannot take off in a manner that is capable of leading to the industrialization and modernization of the country. Nigeria cannot play its strategic economic role very well because it has a stunted economy.
- The members of the political and business clique tend to play catch up with each other, in terms of investing in certain parts of the world. When one group invests in one country, others play catch up by investing in that country too. This is why there was a time it was fashionable to invest in London. From London, they moved to the United States. From the United States, they moved to South Africa, From South Africa, they moved to the Middle East, particularly Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Now, India is the place to invest. Thus, they always go elsewhere to invest and are not too eager to invest in Nigeria. The reason could be that since a substantial part of their wealth is obtained through the public purse, they are afraid that if they invest generously in Nigeria, the investments could be seized by the state, in the event of a sudden change of government. Due to this line of thinking, they prefer to invest outside the country.
- The members of the political and business elite enjoy announcing to fellow Nigerians that they have just returned from a business trip to China or South Korea or India or South Africa or Dubai. The announcements are always intended to elevate their self-worth and social status in society.
- They also enjoy announcing to those Nigerians who cannot afford to travel overseas for medical treatment that they have just returned from Germany, France, Britain, India, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi for medical check up and treatment. The announcements are again intended to demonstrate their high social status in Nigeria since only those who are financially well-off can afford to go overseas for medical treatment.
- Having looted massively, built castles, purchased some of the most luxurious and expensive cars; now, they are into purchasing private planes. As a result, they are now scrambling to own private planes. It is predictable that after the private plane rush is over, they would opt for owning private yachts. It is also predictable that after the rush for private yachts is over, the "high and mighty" might scramble to buy their way into space.
- It is very obvious that the Nigerian political and business elite do not know what to do with the oil wealth, so, they squander it recklessly.
- They talk about national security all the time but are actually responsible for causing national insecurity by their actions and inactions.
- The members of the National Assembly are always demanding higher salaries for themselves despite the fact that they are already being paid generously compared to the rest of the population for doing little or nothing.
Based on the discussion above, it is obvious that Nigeria is not a democracy. If it were a democracy, the political and business elites would have built or invested in modern hospitals that are comparable to those in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and South Africa in Nigeria. If the current political system is democratic, effort would have been made to meet some of the conditions of the social contract by providing some of the essential services that the citizens need to live a decent life. Likewise, the ruling elite would have improved the educational system and provide a decent public transportation system in the country. Voting alone is not sufficient to render a political system democratic. In a democracy, openness and accessibility of the citizens to the system, as well as the distribution of the national resources are very important.
As a result of the fact that the system is not democratic, it is the plutocrats and the oligarchs that benefit gargantuanly from the state while the rest of the Nigerian population waits endlessly in political purgatory, praying to be rescued from the devouring tentacles of the powers that be. Apparently, the system could be described as a government of the plutogarchs, for the plutogarchs and for the plutogarchs.
President Goodluck Jonathan, as suggested by Prophet/Pastor Olusegun Emmanuel Olumegbon and other well-wishers, must act very quickly to come up with a program that directly benefits the Nigerian people before his term expires. He can focus his attention on enhancing the energy sector or building first class hospitals in various zones of the country or improve the educational system across the board. He can also declare an uncompromising war on corruption and fight it with all his presidential power to save the country. He should not forget that the region (Niger Delta) that lays the golden egg is highly polluted and needs a major environmental cleaning up.