People & Money

Think Nigerian Democracy is Expensive? Try Autocracy

Objective observers  would most likely judge the Buhari administration as a failure on account of the impact it has had on both Nigerian democracy and the Nigerian economy after 8 years. But this should never be an argument that Nigeria should try non-democratic forms of government which have had far more grievous outcomes in Nigeria and Africa. Dictatorship can never be the solution to our political problems. 

There are two (admittedly connected) ways of appraising the Buhari government eight years in office. The first, and the easiest route, is to interrogate the incumbent government’s performance against the pledges it made at the hustings, when its measure of the frustration of the electorate with the inertia that had come to define the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, suggested that it might get away with promising just about anything to the people if only they would vote into office.

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There were strong reasons to believe then that it would not take a genius to fix the sundry problems besetting the economy, once the idiot premium the markets were asking for to compensate for the incumbent government’s cluelessness was removed. If nothing else, the fundamentals of the economy were strong. And especially on the domestic security challenges that had the Jonathan administration flailing, who better to face up to this than an ex-military leader who in his previous incarnation had decisively squelched the Maitatsine cult?

The second metric against which the current federal government may be assessed is on the evidence of its net impact on the country’s outcomes subsequent to its taking office. Politically, and socially, the seams of the country have never been this threadbare. A worsening security situation, as non-state actors shape a growing share of the domestic narrative yanks at threads across several of the country’s seams. As if this were not hurdle enough, a clannish presidency has driven an even faster unravelling of the fabric of the state. As an economy, the country is a joke ― riven between control by an increasingly inept public bureaucracy, and the susceptibility to flights of fantasy of key public functionaries.

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Any how you address the facts, Buhari administration does not come out well on any measure. Still, it is not aberrant on this gauge. Eight years ago, for instance, the popular sentiment was that having trawled the bottom of a deep ravine, it would be hard for any government to underperform Goodluck Jonathan’s.

Short-lived stellar episodes aside, successive Nigerian governments have found ways to consistently lower the bar of achievement. So atrocious has this process become, that while in office our governments’ leading lights invite us to remember their underachievement, informing us with relish how we will yearn for them long after they have left office. Preparing for general elections next year, no truth is more sobering than that the slate of candidates for elective offices, especially that for the president, has never been this shoddy nor shady.

Running all this against the challenges that confront us as a country, invariably, people whose job it is to think through these matters have questioned our preferred political organisation. Maintaining the three arms of the state at the three tiers of government is increasingly thought to be too expensive, especially given the poor finances of the state. Besides, the politicking that representative democracy calls for in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state means that the time-to-market for critical decisions are too long.

Is this sufficient argument for a dictatorship? On the positive side, an Alexander III of Macedon would cut to the quick of our litany of problems. On paper, a dictatorship focused on correcting our ills would be cheaper and have faster response functions. But much of the appeal of the “philosopher king” is mythic – fables from a time when Oracles set tasks like untying the Gordian Knot to help deserving communities winnow leaders.

Also Read: Food insecurity and our public policy responses

Nearly always authoritarian rule leaves little room for dissent. Prisons overflow. Exile becomes the only form of expressing different views. All part of a process that eventually fuses the state and its paramount ruler. Cue in 80-year old Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s 43-year presidency of Equatorial Guinea. Even we entertained the construct of a benign dictator entertained, the question remains, “How do we choose one such”? And when a malign one sits on us, “How do we remove him or her (they are rarely female, though)”?

In Africa, these are not academic questions. We have run the gamut of would-be-dictators (Joseph Rao Kony, Foday Saybana Sankoh, etc.) and actual dictatorships (Idi Amin Dada Oumee, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Sani Abacha, etc.). Our leaders may have failed to learn from these experiences. But their failure ought to strengthen our resolve to have representative and accountable governments.

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