One of our innate desires as humans is to seek comfort wherever we may find it. Being comfortable is our motivation for why we do most things. We work to afford things that’ll make us comfortable, comfort is a key consideration when searching for a partner (business or social), and we seek relief from pain sometimes going to extreme measure such as taking drugs (hard) to get comfort. We seek comfort even for pride or ego’s sake. We exercise for comfort, drink alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for comfort, socialise or engage in other relaxation activities for comfort. We also seek comfort at societal level. It is why we want justice and equity to right wrongs, real or perceived. In general, we find comfort satisfying.
This innate desire for comfort is also central to decisions made in politics, economics or enterprise. We reward businesses that help us maximise our comfort utility by continuing to patronize such businesses. When we’re truly satisfied we also help such businesses, mostly altruistically, through a marketing phenomenon known as ‘word of mouth’. In contrast, we tend to punish businesses with unsatisfactory products or services by taking our custom elsewhere or through the same word of mouth spread our dissatisfaction (e.g. Arik Air). It is why customer satisfaction is a critical success factor for any business that hopes to do well and why businesses often operate on the mantra that the customer is always right. Further, and in democratic politics, we generally reward politicians or political parties that make our lives (more) comfortable with votes and keep them in office whilst punishing those that make our lives miserable by voting them out of office. Well, the last part of the previous sentence is how democratic politics should work. In Nigeria, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least at societal level.
This phenomenon is most observable at sub-federal level as it is difficult to ascertain why citizens have kept voting for the same politician or party given the failure of governance since our return to democracy. For example, in Ogun State, why was Gbenga Daniel rewarded with two terms of office? Did he or his party really improve the lives of the citizens of the state? Take Osun State and Governor Aregbesola as another example, has he improved the comfort level of the residents of the state? The economic stats doesn’t (and certainly his financial management) suggest he has, yet people turned out in droves for him and rewarded him with two terms of office. Or Benue State where Governors Akume and Suswam were rewarded with two full terms with little to show as reward for the citizens of the state. This continued reward of politicians where there is elevated doubt about their impact on the comfort levels of their citizens seems quite irrational to me and goes against what should be the natural and logical reaction of citizens to unsatisfactory governance. In the case of Osun, for example, what would have been rational is that even if APC apologists in the state can’t quite bring themselves to voting for other parties, abstaining from voting all together should have been their rational reaction. Commendation, however, should go to the residents of Lagos, they’ve consistently voted for the party that has improved their comfort levels, resisting the urge to change in 2015 even though familiarity and the shadow of the Jagaban proved almost too tempting to switch parties. Even if the resources of Lagos don’t quite match the outcome of governance, progress of Lagos over the years relative to other states can’t be denied.
So the question is why have we continued to struggle to react rationally to the failure of governance? The simplistic answer, though with a measure of truth, is ethnicity. In the years immediately following independence, persons from the North ruled Nigeria. This neither made the North’s development catch up with the South West’s pre-independence level of development nor make it keep pace with the rate at which the East developed. This trend of the tribe of the occupier of the Presidency (or its pre-1999 equivalent) having no developmental impact on his indigent region has continued to this day. That one’s tribesman is occupying the Presidency hasn’t in our history translated into tribal or ethnic socio-economic development. Voting along ethnic lines has been an irrational reaction to continued reward of politicians and political parties.
The more complex reason I believe is that our democracy is still largely non-participatory. By non-participatory I mean that at the onset of the 4th republic, elections were easy to rig so the will of the people was not always reflected in the outcome of elections. Whilst it has become harder to rig, and whilst one could argue that the last presidential election reflected the will of the people, the elections in general were still fraught with irregularities, voter intimidation and election rigging. The most fundamental reason though, in my opinion, is that the Constitution of the Federal Republic on which the foundation of our democracy is based is almost fatally flawed. The present Constitution, like past rigged elections, doesn’t reflect the will of the people. It certainly wasn’t drafted by the people or their representative. The document was designed by the military and a few privileged Nigerians, to become binding on all Nigerians. For example, the document as currently designed implies that Nigerians can’t be trusted to govern themselves in the manner they deem fit within each federating unit. Although the Republic is referred to as “Federal”, none of the federating units willingly gave up the rights and powers to the federal government. Rather, majority of the powers as contained in the “exclusive legislative list” were taken by the federal government through military might with the military allocating whatever weakened right or power they wanted to the State and Local governments. Democracy should be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. By definition, the people should collectively determine which of their inalienable human rights they want to give up to their government. The power of the government, in form and substance, at any level must devolve from its citizens. The citizens must be able to take back or amend such powers whenever they deem fit. Since our return to democracy and it’s been 16 years, there has been no attempt to fix the flaw in our Constitution and worse the citizens have been unable to compel their representatives in the legislature to review the Constitution to reflect their will on how they want to be organized as a society politically and economically. Basically, we have a political inclusion problem.
One of the things that we could do to improve the political inclusion, participation and the exercise of our civic duties is to separate the general election cycle of the various levels of government, specifically the executive and legislative ones. I advocate that the general election for the executive arm be separated by at least two years from that of the legislature, at all levels of government. As our democracy is still very much based on party politics, this separation could potentially help focus the minds of the legislators on their oversight responsibility of the executive as any underperformance of the executive in the two years preceding the legislative elections would impact the legislators whose party control the executive. Legislators will not only need to participate in policy formation, but will need to closely monitor policy implementation as well as any deviation from initial estimated impact. The memory of citizens will also be short which would potentially require more than stomach infrastructure to persuade them to append their vote for a particular candidate or party. Further, this separation should enable citizens to track government performance against election manifesto better. If politicians expect increased scrutiny of their election manifesto and delivery, they’ll be persuaded to only promise what they can deliver or better not change tack when they get into office.
This last paragraph of course assumes that we will begin to punish politicians for bad governance delivery as we punish businesses when we’re an unsatisfied customer.