Updated: March 1, 2021
A Nigerian governor from the small state of Ekiti on Wednesday called on his countrymen to stop being “spectators or complainers” and start taking part in governance by holding their leaders accountable.
“We must banish the idea that governance is something performed by a team of gifted performers or strong men, while the rest of the citizens are spectators or complainers,” Governor Kayode Fayemi, who some say in the United States is being positioned to replace President Muhammadu Buhari said.
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Mr. Buhari is in his second and last term and it’s expected that power would return to the Southwestern part of the country where Fayemi and other top Nigerian politicians come from, including the All Progressives Congress leader Bola Tinubu, current Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former Governor of Lagos State Babatunde Fashola and former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly Adeyemi Ikuforiji.
Fayemi, who accompanied President Buhari to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September and the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi last October, before returning to the United States this week for a lecture with former Chairman of the Nigerian Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega and others, is said to being privately prepped for Mr. Buhari’s job.
“The current phase of the struggle is therefore not just about maintaining the sanctity of the ballot but also holding those elected accountable and stimulating civic engagement in the public realm, in a way that democratizes ownership and improve the quality of life of our people,” Fayemi said.
The Nigerian Governor made his perspectives known in remarks he delivered at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Washington DC, United States.
He also made a case for a fundamental restructuring of the country as a way of correcting the inherent flaws in the polity.
Governor Fayemi’s lecture “Twenty Years of Democracy in Nigeria: Successes and Challenges” was part of an event meant to see how to “deepen democratic governance in Nigeria”.
“What we established in 1999 is the right to choose our leaders via the ballot. But democracy is more than just the ability to choose one’s leaders,” he reflected.
“As Larry Diamond argues in his latest book, ’Ill Winds’, it means ‘strong protection for basic liberties, such as freedom of the press, association, assembly, belief and religion; the fair treatment of racial and cultural minorities; a robust rule of law; in which all citizens are equal under the law and no one is above it; an independent judiciary to uphold that principle, trust-worthy law enforcement institutions to check the potential for high government officials to behave corruptly; and a lively civil society made up of independent associations, social movements…’
He added: “But there is a fundamental truth to the saying that politics is too important to be left to politicians. It is about redefining politics itself, transforming it from a rarefied craft reserved for a select few professional politicians, to the protocols and relationships that undergird personal, communal and social wellbeing. In other words, politics is the management of human relationships, interactions and aspirations in the service of the common good. It is not something mysterious that only ‘politicians’ do; it is how citizens operate. Politics is a civic responsibility. It is how we engage with each other. The pursuit of good governance means that politicians can no longer be left to their own devices.
“Seen in this light, the mutual estrangement of government and civil society will end. The civil society will continue to express the communal instinct to regulate power but the chronic antagonism that poisons relations between the state and civil society will be replaced by mutual respect and positive tension. Civic engagement means that the state can access a much larger pool of wisdom and knowledge made available by a new rapport with civil society. In return, participatory governance will become much more practicable across all levels of governance.
“Before we arrive at that new rapport between the state and society, we must work hard to address a lingering threat, a carry over from the days of military rule. The biggest challenge facing us as democrats is to rebuild trust between the state and society. The relationship between both spheres is often needlessly adversarial owing to a lack of trust. Simply put, Nigerians do not trust their governments and this has made it difficult, indeed in some cases, impossible, to build mass citizen movements for a fuller democratic engagement.”
According to Dr Fayemi “residual distrust of power” feeds apathy, disinterest and cynical disengagement.
“The people distrust their governments but not enough to actively check them and avert excesses of power. Rather, they distrust them so much that they desert the state and many simply do not care enough about the public realm. This indifference is dangerous for democracy. Democratic institutions cannot survive or be strengthened in a climate of antipathy nor can politicians long retain their legitimacy under such circumstances. If the price of a free society is eternal vigilance, then apathy will carry a severe penalty for our republic,” he said.
The Ekiti State Governor said looking back on two decades of democratisation in Nigeria, “it is instructive to note that only civic movements mobilised in the context of larger patriotic interests can overwhelm the forces of impunity. It is the discipline of civic engagement that will keep at bay those who wish to turn back the hands of the clock and return us to the dark days of totalitarian rule. The struggle we are engaged in is dedicated to making this democracy truly a government of the people, for the people and by the people, and by so doing honour the memory of all those who paid the supreme sacrifice pursuant of our common aspirations for the good society”.Ambassador Johnnie Carson of the USIP and Gen Agwai led the discussion session after the Governor’s presentation
In attendance were Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom; former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Martin LutherAgwai; former INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega and a member of House of Representatives, Hon Aishatu Dukku; as well as officials of the US Department of State, scholars and members of the civil society.