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Wike homily at Chatham House

It was the sagely Mahatma Gandhi who once said: What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy? Gandhi was alluding to the sanctity of preservation and development as the twin end-points of leadership. Governance of a nation, any nation, under whatever guise or colouration must seek to preserve human life, engender development and offer hope to the people through the props of equity, justice and fairness. These are the defining totems of good governance and any government that offers such is a good government.

Where there is a good government people need not die and be orphaned needlessly; where there is good governance, people need not be homeless or be mindlessly massacred in organized pogrom; where there is good governance, a marauding clan of blood-thirsty herdsmen cannot overrun a community in one chilly night of mass murder and the government looks away from the killing field of unarmed children, men and women.

A government is not defined by its system, it is defined by its impact and effect on the people. Whether it is called democracy, unitary or socialism, such government should be measured on the basis of development based on equity, fairness to all and its ability to preserve the lives and property of the people.

Any government that cannot guarantee liberty and fairness to all, that cannot protect the lives and property of the people, that trades in deceit and constricts the political space is not worthy of its badge. This is the point Gandhi and other great statesmen of old had consistently made. Their position is that you do not hide under the mask of democracy to commit evil against the people.

This school of thought may have informed the recent allocution of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, more commonly called Chatham House.

Speaking on the topic: Defining Development for Rivers State and Steps to Sustainable Implementation, the governor drew global attention to the fault lines in Nigeria democracy. Using Rivers State as a template, he pointed to the gaping holes in the nation’s democratic fabric. Needless to say that some of these fault lines were deliberately created by those who pull the levers of power from the centre. The balkanization of Nigeria, deliberate or otherwise, has created a hostile air of suspicion among the various groups that make up the bigger entity.

Painfully, this cruel principle of balkanization has become more profound under democracy. The net effect is that things are beginning to fall apart in a nation that represents the hope of the black race. Some call it threat to national unity, for some it is threat to the sovereignty of the nation but whatever name it is called, they all draw attention to landmines and danger bumps that dog our democratic path. The symptoms of such national malaise are the agitations and unrelenting stirrings for self-rule by those who feel no longer welcome in the super structure.

When the President Muhammadu Buhari government was inserted into the national power equation, many had hope that it would at least address the fault lines and help patch up the many cracks on the walls of the nation’s unity; but alas, it got worse. It must be stated that Buhari and his government did not create the strictures that strain the socio-political space. But it also bears restating that the Buhari government aggravated the cracks in a manner that jeopardises the sustenance of whatever is left of the ideals of democracy in the country. In simple language, democracy is imperiled. There are many actions, words and inactions of the government that threaten our fragile democracy. For instance, when a President comes to office with a mindset that some persons voted more for me than others and that the fruits of democracy should be shared along the pattern of voting, there is a problem; when the very rich and powerful central government concentrates federal projects in one part of the country rather than distribute them equitably, there is a problem and a threat to democracy.

It goes without saying that Nigeria has never been more fractious than now. The vitriolic speeches and campaigns that heralded the 2015 elections, the vicious deployment of state security apparatchik to sway and swing votes, the open show of partisanship by otherwise independent bodies from the moment the 2015 elections were won and lost till this day makes one wonder if the labours of our heroes past have not come to zilch. Again, you wonder, where is the national fervour that drove a young Nnamdi Azikiwe to sacrifice his comfort just to rally young men of his time to fight for the Independence of Nigeria. You wonder, where is the spirit of nationalism that made Azikiwe to say it did not matter to him who leads the nation a northerner, southerner, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Ijaw etc that what mattered and what was his utmost mission was the independence of the nation. Today, hate speech is thick in the air especially among the elite and its odious stench has spread far and wide to the underclass.

Wike put it more poignantly when he said: There is need for the international community to save the country and its democracy from imminent collapse by putting sufficient pressures on the federal government to uphold the rule of law, guarantee the integrity of the electoral system and do socio-economic justice to all segments of the Nigerian society.

The politicisation and active involvement of key national institutions, such as the Independent National Electoral Commission and the police in the rigging of the re-run elections in Rivers State was not only an affront to democracy, such acts constitute a serious invitation to chaos with destructive consequences of unknown dimensions.

As an integral part of the country, Rivers State is entitled to development support from the federal government through the direct provision of projects and programmes in the state. This is even more so considering the state€™s enormous contributions to the national revenue bowl. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the federal government continues to neglect and marginalise the state in the provision of development projects.

For instance, the federal government has not undertaken any new development project in the state for the last two decades. Even the existing ones, such as the Port Harcourt international airport, the two seaports and the East – west highway have severely degenerated without attention for years. These are important economic projects that needed to function maximally to drive the socio-economic development of the state, yet the federal government continues to turn a blind eyes to them with impunity.

The preceding narratives paint the picture most vividly. The existence of the Union called Nigeria as one indivisible entity is under threat. There is clear and present danger caused and created by the ruling elite. National institutions which ought to eschew the finest grades of impartiality and independence, namely the police, INEC, EFCC, DSS among others have turned themselves into cheap tools for harassment and victimization at the behest of the central potentates. Brutally armed herdsmen have killed in thousands without let, this also threatens democracy and national cohesion. If we do not take action against these anomalies, we are inviting anarchy on democracy and worse still, on the land. That is the fear of Wike. No responsible government should dismiss such fear because it is real.

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