1.It is with great pleasure that I stand before you today. I would first of all, like to thank members of the Students’ Democratic Forum for inviting me to talk on Discipline and Accountability under Democratic Leadership.
2.The importance of this topic for present day Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Indeed so important are the two, i.e. democracy and accountability, meaning, unless they are there, democracy will not be able to deliver any of its expected dividends.The topic coheres well enough and most appropriate for us today. Accountability, so to speak, is a form of self-discipline, and, while it is possible to be accountable without democracy, it is impossible to be democratic without accountability. I therefore understand from the topic of my talk that you want me to tell you what makes democracy tick.
3.When we talk of democratic leadership we usually mean representative, responsible government i.e. a government freely elected by the people and is truly responsible to them. Let’s agree at the outset that, whatever the ideology in question, we recognize democracy as perhaps the best, form of government today, provided we agree on a definition of what democracy truly means.As Reinhold Niebuhr rightly observed “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
4.The democratic system itself is in reality a culture, i.e. a culture of elections, rights, obligations, checks and balances. Like all cultures, it requires believing in, nurturing, tending and participation.
The most prominent aspect of democratic governance is the development of a democratic civil culture that sets out, and itself obeys, the rules and practices that characterizes the ability of a people to govern themselves according to constitutional provisions. In short subjecting everything to the rule of law.
In theory, which we must translate into practice, the democracy that Nigeria needs is one that is founded on periodic, free and fair elections; and in it, the majority rules while the rights of the minority, are respected and guaranteed by law. It should be anchored on the independence of the judiciary, freedom of faith, expression, association and aspirations.All these must be based on the principle of the rule of law, due process and the equality of all persons before the law.
5.The functioning of this democracy must be based on the concept of the demarcation of powers, with adequate checks and balances to guard against the arbitrary exercise of power and ensure accountability in governance. And here we might as well paraphrase Reinhold; and, for our purposes, say:
“Man’s capacity for accountability makes democracy possible but man’s inclination to corruption and lack of accountability makes democracy unnecessary.” Essentially, therefore, democracy is about making the leadership accountable to the people and the people themselves disciplined.
6.It is an understatement to say that there has been a clear lack of accountability in the conduct of public affairs in this country. The public service, as the executive agency of the government of the day at various levels thus, federal, state and local levels, wields enormous powers, where the government of the day allows it to function within the normal guidelines and regulations laid.
Nowadays, this power is wielded with much arbitrariness and abuse of procedure. In the democracy Nigerians are asked to practice and which we are being told is the one being practiced; the public is entitled to know what policies, activities and development projects are approved by the appropriate agency. In addition, the people must have access to the estimates made for public expenditure in order to ensure that expenditures of public funds are limited by approved estimates.
Even when all these transactions have been carried out lawfully, the public is entitled to demand that they must be properly kept in the appropriate books of accounts and independently audited and accounted for.
Weather this is being done in the very democracy we are practising today; is a big question that I will like to leave the answer to the public.
7.As I observed on a different occasion, the last time the annual financial account of the Federal Government were prepared and submitted for audit was, I understand, in 1980.And at the 1984 conference of Auditors-General of the Federation and State’s Directors of Audit, it was revealed, to the astonishment of no one, that eleven states last submitted their annual accounts for audit in 1967! During the tenure of our government 1984-85 we instituted a programme to update audited accounts and publish them. But, as usual, this was soon forgotten away by the Nigerian penchant for lack of implementation and follow-up.
There must to be consistency in policy planning and clarity in stating policy objectives so that we always know what we are doing and why. This can only be done if we have a purposeful public service in place. No doubt, recent events have badly dented the service, but this situation is not irreparable or irreversible.
For our democracy to succeed and the regime of accountability to prevail, Nigeria’s public service must rediscover itself. It must find its way back to the pre-1966 Golden Age.
8.Today the lack of accountability has, for instance, helped to create wide distortions of income distribution throughout the society.
And because little is being done to the culprits, this has also fueled the scramble for appointments, especially to executive positions, which, because of the same lack of accountability, enable their occupants to do as they please.
The mad rushes for the presidency, and the unending clamour for its rotation among the zones, derive directly from the rich pickings which lack of accountability confers on it. This is a very serious matter, which ought to be remedied.
But more serious are going to be some of the longer-term after-effects on the younger generation that did not know that at one time a system of accountability existed in this land. But simply knowing this without doing anything about it is unlikely to help our nation. The prosperity that embezzlement and other fraudulent practices conferred, especially in the recent past, is a direct result of this failure to investigate and punish.
In general, corruption and every aspect of lack of accountability benefits from the fact that ours is a nation that doesn’t ask the right questions. But in some instances, there is no need to ask questions because the evidence talks louder than words.
However, whether questions are asked or not, we all know that in no distance past many public officers controlling votes, awarding contracts or belonging to task forces enforcing any kind of law became lords unto themselves.
They did as they pleased, generated revenues for themselves and their families, and they competed with each other in erecting mansions and indulging in conspicuous consumption – with money largely derived from public sources.And many still do.
9.Moral absolutes that used to be the pegs on which our society’s values were anchored had, by design and default, been abandoned, so totally that one could, with justification, wonder whether it would ever prove possible to revive public morality. Neither the hold of religious precepts, nor the sanction of public shame, nor yet the eyes of society, or the fear of the penalties nor even secular civic pride or the plain responsibility of being just human would make people behave according to the rules and follow laid down procedure.
The fact remains that we will not overcome these manifold problems by mere act of democratizing. Of course democracy is not an end in itself.
It is only a means to an end, which for us is good, representative, responsible governance and its other dividends. Certainly not the type of dividends our ears are daily fed with today.
And if Nigerians want to fully realize the gains of democracy which I believe they do; people must be ready to play according to the rules, and pay the price required. They must be their own watchdogs and guard against the many forces that look capable of subverting the system.
“That people naturally prefer freedom to oppression can indeed be taken for granted,” said Chester Finn, Jr., “but that is not the same as saying that democratic political systems can be expected to create and maintain themselves over time. On the contrary, the idea of democracy is durable, but its practice is precarious.”
10.In Nigeria it is not just voter-apathy that threatens democracy and responsible governance. It is what, for want of a better term, I call system-apathy. At one extreme end people are impatient – they don’t have sufficient patience to play according to the rules of the system; while at the other extreme end, they are too patient (docile is the word) to accept any determined corrupt money-bag to produce election result he wants in any constituency in the country today.
So much so that this docility has turned corrupt public officers into statesmen. We should all be worried enough to want to do something about it.
The first antidote against such subversion is to ensure that elections are free and fair, and representative of the popular will. But that is not enough to deliver the goods. The leader elected must have what it takes and have vision for the polity and be a person of integrity. The leader must be able to communicate and have a proper sense of history; but, above all, he must be ready to lead by example.
In addition, what our country needs in its leader now is astuteness in crisis leadership and courageous enough to confront corruption head on.
11.The second antidote is to have effective checks and balances to curb arbitrariness and any creeping despotism in the leader. These checks, which ought to emanate from several different sources, must be patriotic and strong enough to deter the most determined dictator. Firstly, there must be a return to the party supremacy and discipline of the first and second republics. The leader elected must be loyal to his party and its programmes; and be respectful to its by-laws. This is very important since the electorate normally elects on the strength of party programmes; and without this type of respect for party supremacy the leader becomes an unguided missile let loose among the people.
Secondly, the legislature and the judiciary must provide the constitutional checks and balances required. When this is missing, especially in the instances where the people’s elected representatives pursue goals other than the public good, the leader simply becomes a constitutionally elected dictator, and the people’s watchdogs become cheerleaders as the republic is raped.
Thirdly, the media must provide the most immediate, open check on the excesses of the leadership. As watchdogs of the people, the media, relying on the peoples right to know, report on the successes or failures of leadership. The media must continue to inform and educate and be an alert watchdog over government and society’s powerful institutions.
The media of this millenium must be able to operate beyond religio-ethnic and regional lines. They must cross over to addressing issues rather than sentiments. The press must be agents of unity and understanding. Sensational captions and stories may obviously attract buyers of newspapers which is good business, but the consequence of that may produce environment with no one to purchase subsequent editions. In plain language our media must be patriotic enough to reduce areas that are likely to produce crises in society.
Benjamin Franklin once said, given the choice between government without newspapers or newspapers without government; he would, without hesitation, choose the latter.I would too, but they must be newspapers that told the truth and tried to reduce crises in the polity.
Holding aloft a standard of independence, fairness, and objectivity and drawing on the strength of its tremendous resources, the media is best suited to expose the truth behind all claims made by leadership and hold officials accountable for their actions or inactions. Journalists must wield this power of the media, which has often been seen as even greater than that of the other two Estates, with a great sense of responsibility by journalists.
12.With all these checks, counter checks and balances in place, it remains for the leadership to give the right direction so that democracy may sprout, grow and sustain itself.And here I know of no better or more functional definition of democracy than the one given by Seymour Lipset. I quote:
“ Democracy in a complete society may be defined as political system which supplies regular constitutional opportunities for changing the governing officials, and a social mechanism which permits the largest possible part of the population to influence major decisions by choosing among contenders of political office.” End of quote. And I would like to assure that democracy can’t do more than what this definition made for you.
It only gives you the power to change leaders when they fail. It cannot guarantee a successful government. The success is largely determined by the quality of the leadership.
A leader, according to one of the American presidents, “is one who has the emotional, mental and physical strength to withstand the pressures and tensions, and then, at the critical moment, to make a choice and to act decisively; the men who fail are those who are so overcome by doubts that they either crack under the strain or flee.” But here at home, even if one is overcome by doubts and plagued by failure, all he wants to do istazarce.
13.Tazarce and other subversive maneuvers can hardly take us anywhere; it will only take us backward.And unless we change our way - of sit-tight leadership and chequebook politics – we shall never know democracy in this land. Within the last three years, for instance, we cannot in all honesty, be said to have tried our best to lay down the foundations of a stable democratic polity or the ground for good governance. What we observe in this country is not the responsible exercise of power, but an intoxication of the leadership by it.
Democracy gave us a chance, but we fail to grab it to take corrective action.Instead we went on the path of punitive action in full blast.No wonder we lost the way; and this, in turn, led us to the path of self - deceit.
We were promised better days ahead; yet we only saw days that are worse. We were promised light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel only got longer – and we are still enveloped by its darkness.We were promised an end to corruption, but we only witnessed its ascendance and triumphant coming of age. We were made to listen to endless lamentations on the deterioration of public education system, and we were promised its revitalization; but we only witnessed its near total collapse, with burial arrangement already made with talk of privatisation of our universities. We were promised enhanced security for lives and property but the police itself went on strike.
The promises were endless and the failures countless, but these are celebrated by the leadership as successes. They said they had made a difference, though few indeed believed them.
It was clear that we were slowly moving towards the situation that says, “Never believe anything until it is officially denied.” And in a situation where the leadership was trying not to be accountable you may suspect everything until it is officially confirmed.
14.But democracy is not about the accountability of the leader alone. It is about building a system that guarantees not only rights but also imposes obligations on all those who are in it. It is part of the responsibility of every one of us to speak out when things go wrong. But the silence coming from our campuses is deafening. And for want of a proper description, a very bad omen.
Isn’t there a greater responsibility and clear obligation on the well informed?Every one of us is a shepherd and, sooner or later, the auditor will come round to count the sheep. Time was when there was this robust debate on campus, not just on the salaries and allowances of teachers, but actuated by a genuine desire to improve the objective conditions of the people. But unknown to us outside, and perhaps even to you inside, the campus has long ago given up its true tradition.
There is today the absence of involvement by intellectuals in the everyday affairs of society. Gone were the days the likes of Dr. Bala Usman, whose struggle, almost single-handedly, established a tradition of dissent on this campus in the 1970’s.What in the world happened to that tradition?
And whatever one may say about the ideology that provided the basis for his struggle, there is little doubt that campuses across the country are today all the poorer for the lack of it. You must therefore wake up before it is too late. Or is the teacher waiting to be taught?
15.Long ago one of your class had prodded you. “ You are all the same, you intellectuals; everything is cracking and collapsing, the guns are on the point of going off, and you stand there claiming the right to be convinced. If only you could see with your own eyes, you will understand that time presses,” Jean-Paul Satre said.
And as time draws to a close, there are only two choices facing our academics – involvement or escapism, fulfillment or betrayal. There is no third choice. Today you can’t sit on the fence because the fence, uprooted by people’s anguish and resignation, is no longer there for you to sit on.
No doubt, our campuses had seen better days. Perhaps time for the turn around has not yet dawned for this nation that prefers building stadium than funding universities. A nation that loves identity cards more than improving agriculture. You shouldn’t make matters worse by betraying your own trusts. Leadership at all levels has to, as it were, renew its contract with its constituency.
Your constituency is people; your political party is intellect; and your ideology is whatever intellect dictates – the fearless pursuit of the goals of humanism.But today I see neither fearlessness nor pursuit after any worthwhile goals. I hope I am wrong.
Where are the informed voices of Academics and students in the reported cases of high expenditure outside approved budgetary allocations?
Where were these voices when the unilateral increment of petroleum products was made? Where are these voices when we have started seeing the return of the untidy interim court injunctions? Where are these voices when the very foundation of democracy is being subverted? I am referring to the registration of only 3 political parties out of more than 20 applications.
Yet among those denied registration were NCP, MDJ and PRP the last two who even under the military were given provisional registrations, in spite of having council chairmen and councilors, four years after; someone is telling us that they are yet to qualify for registration. Looking at the profile of these parties, I tend to believe that they belong to the masses – and I guess this in the very constituency of the academics. Is the academics endorsing the system that allow only the money bags to form political parties?
At the risk of being accused for campaigning in the university, I make bold to challenge you to come out loud and clear to lead the way.
You should all return to your constituencies and enlighten your parents, brothers and sisters to play their civic duties first by registering, then voting, and above all ensuring that the true winners are the ones declared. Otherwise posterity will not forgive you for allowing selfish people to tinker with the rule of the game.
Permit me to recall, what I said about leadership in my Arewa House lecture in 1998. I quote: “The aspiring leadership must be able to inspire loyalty in the followership and imbue it with the desire and willingness to follow and be law abiding.
It must set the example for people to follow.And though it has often been said that people get the leadership they deserve, it is even truer today to say that the leadership gets the followership appropriate to it – the one it begets and nurtures.And, painful as it may be, we must accept that no corrupt and unaccountable leadership can beget a responsible, disciplined community. The leader must be the embodiment of the people’s aspirations and be competent, upright, of positive disposition, able and willing to take bold, painful, unpopular decisions and be able to meet unpleasant situations with tact and equanimity, as and when required. The leadership must symbolize the qualities of sacrifice, integrity, patriotism, competence, vision and acceptance of the spirit and burdens of democracy.
The leader and his group need not only to be good leaders in the partisan political game, or in running the country; but they must also be good losers, who will respect the voice of the people when it speaks.” Again I quote:
“The leadership must be able to guarantee peace for the land and prosperity for the individuals within it. It should be clear that at all times and in all places the issue that is absolutely non-negotiable, is the question of law and order. To many, it has become quite desperate as they leave home everyday in fear for their lives with armed robbers, secret cult gangs and assassins on the prowl. For the majority life is indeed brutish and short.”And even now, for many, under our so-called democracy, nothing has really changed.
The thievery goes on unabated; and people see no reason to attempt to be disciplined.Perhaps when you consider all this you may begin to appreciate efforts of past leaders of this country who struggled to instill discipline and accountability under a non-democratic setting.It was a difficult, almost impossible, task.And it is a task that we must carry on within order to save the present and preserve the future of our great country.
And we can best do this within a pluralistic, democratic Federal Republic of Nigeria. Which is what we must now create and nurture.
And we must keep in mind that the price for the ability to do this is careful vigilance.
“People may be born with an appetite for personal freedom but they are not born with knowledge about the social and political arrangements that make freedom possible over time for their children,” Chester Finn. Jr. said. “ Such things must be acquired. They must be learned.” But that is not all.
“Democracies,” he said, “ flourished when they are tended by citizens willing to use their hard won freedom to participate in the life of their society – adding their voice to the public debate, electing representatives who are held for their actions, and accepting the need for tolerance and compromise in public life.”
We can only do this by internalising the culture of democracy. As democrats in Nigeria we must learn to eschew rigging, indiscipline, and other corrupt electoral practices in order to avoid the perennial crisis of succession that always threatens our polity. Our elections must be free and fair; our practice of democracy must be by negotiation and reading mutually acceptable compromise; our leadership must always be held accountable by the people and their representatives, and the followership must be disciplined watchdogs for the democratic process.And this is the only way out.
Thank you very much.