Whither The Dividends of Democracy?

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Universally, democracy is defined as government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a representative, participatory and consultative government. It is about due process, rule of law and respect for the fundamental human rights. It is about transparency, accountability and good governance.
Democracy recognizes and respects human dignity and freedom, such as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of movement and freedom of association. It is about service and not leadership. It is about welfare and well-being of the people. It is about provision of social amenities such as pipe borne water, electricity supply, healthcare, education, housing, employment, food, transportation, good roads, job creation, security, and so on. All these are the fruits of democracy, commonly known as the dividends of democracy.
Dividends of democracy are also enjoyed when the masses to who democracy assigns huge responsibility of electing their representatives in the three tiers of government are given fair treatment by the government. But it is painful that after 10 years of experimenting and experiencing the democratic governance in Nigeria, we are yet to see the much needed dividends of democracy. We have no portable drinking water. We still make do with untreated bore hole water and yet, every year, huge amount of money is budgeted for water.
Electricity is in short supply in the country. Steady supply of electricity would have been a source of joy to small scale entrepreneurs whose businesses such as tailoring, barbing, dry cleaning, hair dressing, selling of minerals and pure water depend on it. But it is painful that electricity supply has not improved for the past 10 years despite billions of dollars budgeted for it by government on yearly basis.
Nigeria has not fared better in the area of education. Some years ago, Nigerian slogan was education for all by the year 2000. Now year 2000 has come and gone, education for all is not yet in sight. We still have thousands of children who cannot find their ways to school for one reason or the other. School fees at all levels of education are expensive, and in some cases, unaffordable. And what is more, teachers and lecturers are not receiving better treatment from government in terms of salaries and working conditions. Indeed, our education system is in a mess.
Our healthcare system is in comatose. Many hospitals have no drugs and modern equipments. Despite the efforts of NAFDAC, fake drugs from India and other countries still find their way into the country. As a result of these, many Nigerians travel abroad for medical attention.
Despite abundant human resources, vast lands and billions of naira generated from oil, Nigerian leaders have refused to invest in agriculture. This has increased the prices of food stuff and general cost of living in Nigeria, with thousand of youths roaming about the streets for lack of nothing to engage in. In fact, unemployment in the country has become the biggest problem of Nigerian youths and challenge to the federal government. Millions of Nigerian youths who graduated from various universities and other higher institutions every year are without jobs. Inability to ensure jobs and indeed reasonable paid jobs has lured many into various crimes.
It is the same sad story in the area of transportation. Rail transportation used to be cheap in those days. It is the cheapest means of transportation for the common man. But today, rail transportation is completely dead. Billions of naira earmarked for its rehabilitation with Chinese firm as a contractor has developed wings. This situation is exacerbated by the deplorable condition of roads in Nigeria, particularly those in the eastern part of the country. Anybody who passes through our roads would weep for Nigerians who ply these roads on daily basis. The question is: What happened to the trillions of naira that Olusegun Obasanjo’s government budgeted for this sector? Down the drain as usual?
So, where are the dividends of democracy? Unfortunately, what we have as dividends of democracy in Nigeria are political thuggery, violence, militancy in the Niger Delta, public harassment and extortion, election rigging, embezzlement of public funds etc.
It is against this backdrop that I call on President Umar Musa Yar’Adua to pursue his seven-point agenda with much vigour so that by the time he would be leaving office, he would be able to boast of good legacies.
As for Rivers State, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is making an appreciable and commendable in-roads, especially in the areas of roads network, education, healthcare, transportation, environmental sanitation, urban renewal and beautification. We only hope he would not be derailed by political consideration.
Ogbuehi, a journalist and human rights activist, wrote in from Port Harcourt.