Democracy and money politics

By Professor Hope O. Eghagha

The initiators of democracy in 5th Greece never envisaged a situation in which only the wealthy or super-rich would become representatives of the people, whether in the legislative or executive arm of government. Its original meaning – rule of the people – is quite instructive in this regard. For, it is in the sense that aristocrats would no longer rule over the people that democracy was born. To be sure, aristocrats were the money and propertied people, who dominated the economic and political lives of society, virtually dictating the private and public lives of citizens. It is true that with time, the nuances and practice of democracy have been redefined and adapted to prevailing circumstances. And so, we have such spurious, fanciful terms and notions as ‘autocratic democracy’, ‘liberal democracy’, ‘consensus democracy’ and ‘supermajority’. Ali Mazrui warned that ‘it is suicidal in any democracy for a majority without economic power to hand over political power to a minority with economic power! Which is the current scenario in Nigeria. And the nation is paying for it.

The last special conventions orchestrated by All Peoples’ Congress (APC) and Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) in Abuja brought to the fore the power of money at the heart of politics and politicking in Nigeria. There was a time in our history when the political rulers in Nigeria managed to pretend about public morality, pretending to respect the naira, pretended about fighting corruption, pretended about setting the right standards, pretended about inclusive politics, and pretended about their image in the eyes of the people. But that era has gone with the wind of time. In Abuja during the conventions, although the event was beamed for the whole world to see, it was mainly to entertain the people and give the illusion of transparency. Everyone knew that the dirty things had taken place off-camera.

In a most blatant and imprudent manner, the future rulers of the country brazenly passed a vote of no confidence on sociopolitical ethics and the value of the naira in relation to the American dollar. Apart from the scandalously high price tag on the Nomination or Expression of Interest Forms, there was a battle by aspirants to pay the highest bribes to the delegates who are charged with producing the flag bearers of the Parties. In this regard, the future ‘rulers’ showed disdain for public opinion and the image of brigands which the conventions flashed or etched in the minds of the hapless citizenry. As usual, there is acquiescence on the part of the people who will vote for or against the envisaged representatives in 2023.

Man’s ingenuity in crafting new political frameworks has been his life and of course his death. Speaking broadly, we could speak of ‘parliamentary democracy’ and ‘presidential democracy’. Ingeniously, man learnt how to elect five or ten persons into a cult-like group who in turn dished out instructions to the common people as a form of democracy. The society also created ‘godfathers’ who pulled the strings behind the scenes and dictated the persons who were qualified to be in parliament or occupy the executive seat of government.

There is a fundamental contradiction between democracy as a form of government and the power of money in the emergence of persons as representatives. Men and women with deep pockets but with little popularity among citizens or a questionable source of wealth have become the major nominees. This goes beyond bellyaching. There is the pervasive narrative that these men will bully their way through the power of money. What is your price tag, the flag bearers seem to ask the country? What can we do, the people seem to say? As for the Peter Obi Movement which is Even in advanced democracies, a poor man cannot represent the people. Expressed differently, a poor man can only represent the people if he can raise funds to finance electioneering. In some jurisdictions, there are legal prescriptions on how to raise such funds.

If democracy as currently practised was very successful, the notion of people power would not have developed. People Power! This is a ‘political term denoting the populist driving force of any social movement which invokes the authority of grassroots opinion and willpower, usually in opposition to that of conventionally organized corporate or political forces. In principle and practice, democracy ought to be about the power of the people to elect their representatives. But it came to be that certain subterranean forces grabbed power and dictated willy-nilly the nature and practice of politics, as we saw in the Arab world which led to the historical Arab Spring in 2010; that led to the END SARS uprising in Nigeria in 2017. People’s power takes over when the people are frustrated with the type of democracy and the personalities/actors who pull the strings of politics in a country. Nigeria has reached that point. What seems to have withheld those forces from taking over is the façade of ethnic and religious diversity in the two big regions that form Nigeria. For those who know, it is a veneer. The fate of the oppressed, suffering man in the south is the same as that of the ordinary man in the north. The difference is in how they react to state oppression and exploitation in the short run. Ultimately, suffering will unite the northern and the southern youths to take back their country. It is only a question of time.

As the nation prepares for the 2023 general elections, angered by money politics and the politics of official exclusion, the youths have started a movement around Peter Obi. How successful this will be we are no prophets to know. There is anger in the land. Northern youths are angry. Southern youths are angry. Some people in the south believe that the Presidency of the incumbent President has favoured the north more in terms of access to the good life. Nothing can be further from the truth. Things are generally bad in the country. The odious display of money politics in Abuja during the Conventions is a breaking point for us all. Sadly, it happened under the watch of the unsmiling General who campaigned on an anti-corruption mantra. This signals the end of hope that mainstream politics can resolve the deep contradictions of the Nigerian state. So, the big question arises: NIGERIA, WHAT MUST BE DONE TO SAVE US FROM MONEY POLITICS?

*Professor Hope O. Eghagha teaches at the Department of English, University of Lagos, Akoka*

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