Is democracy only skin-deep?

October 6, 2014by Tope Fasua0

We are meant to write in this forum about how the Nigerian youth, especially, can make informed decisions about the upcoming 2015 elections; how they should ensure they vote the right people; how they should try and understand the meaning and import of democracy. But sometimes, one gets depressed and feels it’s rather pointless. Will anything ever change? Well, I don’t want to discourage those who know more than me and are imbued with a lot of confidence in democracy. Mine is merely to stir up our thoughts and try to stretch the argument. Is our problem as a people as cut-and-dried as getting the right people to be in leadership positions through the ballot?

Has the ballot ever worked anywhere in Nigeria, and will it? Do we have the required mental capabilities and presence of mind to circumvent our immediate challenges of finance, logistics and the general drudge of living life, to be able as a majority, to take informed decisions about who we want as leaders at the different echelons of society? And if we acknowledge that indeed there is a great challenge, how can we then position ourselves to achieve the aims of democracy, factoring in these issues on hand? I will explain shortly.

Meanwhile, one gets a bit laid-back commenting about upcoming elections because at the federal level, it seems like a fait accompli. Or is it? Anyone living in Nigeria now will know that the place is in a lockdown especially if you are in Abuja and many of the PDP-controlled capital cities. The president may not have declared his intentions, but whoever thought he could have demurred had another thing coming. President Jonathan? Say he is not running again? Forget it! A little knowledge of psychology will tell us that he certainly will. And not only that, I can tell all and sundry that by 2018, the same groups begging him to contest next year, and more, will be begging him to stay on, for life. Put your money where your mouth is. Let us enter a wager.

So it’s rather dangerous to call for change when we have never had a more aggressive terrain; where we’ve never been more divided, and of course where information flow has never been more seamless, thanks to social media and the Internet. No wise person will be openly calling for change now, except you are on the payroll of the opposition. If Nigerians want the status quo, let them have it. There is also so much money behind the current campaigns, which is a natural advantage incumbents have in Nigeria – access to the treasury, plus every businessman must identify with the powers-that-be, or risk losing everything. Add to that the fact that the opposition has not let us into their plans. The APC has a number of powerful guys, but because of who we are as Nigerians, all of those who have as yet indicated interest in the big job, may not be able to cause enough tsunamic power to shift the incumbent.

To shift an incumbent in our land, especially one backed by many aggressive supporters, you need something out of the ordinary. What made me wary back in the day is the wanton exploitation of religious and tribal divides. The water had since been muddied, and even after this era, I don’t know how we would get rid of the dregs, seeds and indeed fruits of division that have been sown in the last four years. A lot of ill-advised statements were made, which should not have been, especially if a ruling party purports to love the country it presently rules. I had an idea once that the only thing that can cause such a shift is to get an Igbo man – Rochas Okorocha – as president, and a strong Yoruba man – Babatunde Fashola – as his vice president. Rochas is widely popular and influential especially through his philanthropic gestures. Fashola has the discipline and professionalism. But see me, I’m talking tribes! The truth is that we cannot as yet shake off the tribal and religious colouration of our politics. Any political party should have that in mind to win elections. One hopes this anomaly remains at the federal level, but it never does, as politicians are ready to deploy whatever weapon they can get to win political positions at any and every level of government.

Still it would have been refreshing for the opposition to “zone” the presidency to an enterprising east of the Niger, which usually claims to be marginalised, but which my own analysis and evidence tell me, is currently the most privileged part of Nigeria, where the people understand the power of capital and have acquired much of it. That combo though, if it ever comes up, will give the incumbent some sleepless nights because Rochas is a great orator and philanthropist. And Fashola has a great reputation and acumen that will “deliver” the entire south-west.

But “no be my mouth dem go hear say teacher mama die”. I didn’t say this o. It was just a nightmare I heard from somewhere sah! By every means, we must all join the single party in the country for now, and hope change will come another time. Or am I being pessimistic?


There is so much money, I hear, behind those calling for a maintenance of status quo and no one in his right mind would want to face up to such privileged people. It seems that we Nigerians can be divided into two broad groups; those privileged to be close to power and to be benefiting from the status quo, and those at the fringes who are barely scraping a living these days. There are way too many campaign adverts by the incumbent on TV already – and indeed everywhere you turn – than for anyone to try and argue that the nation has not been totally transformed. It’s more like “if you are not transformed, you must be moving with the wrong crowd”. So it’s either you “transform”, or shut up!

I don’t think that is my concern for today though. I am more concerned about how democracy is only skin-deep in Nigeria. I have expressed suspicion about democracy in the past. My last article here was about the “tyranny of the majority” – a major flaw of democracy – combined with our newly formed vocabulary, “stomach infrastructure”. The president himself mentioned “stomach infrastructure”, thrice in his Benin rally recently. It may be a phenomenon that has come to stay in our polity.


Democracy is only skin-deep in Nigeria. It is never about the issues. The ruling party may still win elections even if based on issues. We have things we can point to as achievements in the last few years but I believe we could have done a whole lot better. I believe our bars are too low in Nigeria. But what we see is a scenario where these achievements are played up sometimes in distasteful manners. I think there is a certain immaturity or lack of grace around those who are running the present massive campaign; a factor which saw them borrowing the #bringbackourgirls hashtag and later dropping it after an international outcry. The populace can be made to look beyond the many gaffes of government, the many challenges – the bombings, the kidnappings, the inequality (which the president and coordinating minister themselves have agonised about) – but when you run a campaign comparing the president to Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Obama, Gandhi, you are merely pushing hubris. Humility pays, and if the president is as humble as those around him say he is, they should ensure this shows up in the campaign too.

For now, skin-deep is it. Elections will be fought and won by name-calling and finger-pointing. The opposition is reactive for now. They haven’t even tried to define the terrain that they wish to run on. They haven’t defined the issues we need to be debating – I agree that Atiku is doing his best though, but Nigerians may truly be a bit tired and wary of his oft-repeated messages. We heard him in 2007 and 2011 didn’t we? I am saying that Nigerians do not have either the sophistication to focus on the core issues, or the cold-bloodedness to refuse to be swayed by politicians who always try to appeal to their primitive – and overriding – tendencies. Democracy was not meant to be an easy system of government to practise. Even abroad, in the countries from which we imported it, it is still not easy to properly practise. Some even say it is an illusion.


Let us forget the presidency for a moment. What are the issues that will influence votes at the state and local government levels? How sound are they? Have they ever been sound? If they were, would we still be at this spot today, talking of the same bread and butter, sorry, garri and ewedu issues? Yet for our own good, we should find a way to develop that cold-heartedness that democracy requires. If it is a time for change, it should be a time for change. And we must be able to adjudge, without emotional involvement, whether those who purport to represent change are truly agents of change. It’s a great challenge, which if not overcome, will even set us in reverse gear as a people.

The skin-deep nature of our democracy must be what our artistes, comedians, and entertainers have now realised which is making them rush into politics. I will expound on this in a follow-up to this article. Who cares what anyone knows? A beautiful face, well-shaped body and years on Nollywood (the staple of salon girls and many Nigerian homes), or the now-lucrative comedy circuit pioneered by my oga, Ali Baba, is all that is required to win a vote. It is even more ironic that a lot of them are angling to become ‘representatives’ of their people, a role that should have been the first to be reformed out of existence in the just-concluded national conference.

by Tope Fasua

Tope Kolade Fasua is a Nigerian ex-banker, entrepreneur, economist and writer with 28 years of work, business and policy analysis experience. He is the founder and CEO of Global Analytics Consulting Limited, an international consulting firm with its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, and footprints in the United Kingdom, USA and United Arab Emirates. Fasua has authored numerous columns on newspapers and six books. He currently keeps regular columns on policy analysis issues with Premium Times and Daily Trust newspapers.

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