DEMOCRACY, POLITICAL TRANSITION AND THE CHALLENGE OF LEADERSHIP IN AFRICA – A PAPER PRESENTED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, MR UDOM EMMANUEL, GOVERNOR, AKWA IBOM STATE AT THE LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER CONFERENCE, ABUJA, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2016
I am extremely delighted to be here today for this epochal event. Let me thank The Chairman and Publisher of LEADERSHIP newspaper – Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah and his team of dedicated professionals for putting together this hugely important event.
Distinguished Nigerians and friends, I bring you the warm greetings and profound regards of the good people and government of Akwa Ibom State.
Since LEADERSHIP newspaper made its debut on the newsstand, it has shown itself through the talents it has attracted, that it’s abiding and uncompromising goal rests with projecting issues that deepen and sustain our national unity and cohesion; that our continued existence as one indivisible, inviolable entity is not negotiable. That though there may be challenges in our match to building a strong and verily nation, together, in one accord, we shall get there.
Your flagship publication and other titles within the fold have sharpened the edges of our national discourse elevating in the process the layers of our engagement and challenge us to rise to the faith of our greatness while eschewing divisive tendencies that over the years have sought to create a national of “we” against the “others”. I salute you all for remaining true to your calling and seeing the sunny side of our nation as opposed to the constant drib-drib of doom and gloom some pundits have characterised March to nation-building as presenting.
I am requested to give a keynote address for this conference on the theme: Democracy, Political Transition and the Challenge of Leadership in Africa, which I think is very apt; given the challenges we currently face as a country in particular and as a country in particular and as a continent in general. I am further enthralled to engage in this interaction which I believe will generate good ideas and thoughts that will help set our country on the bath of greatness.
I was taught in the Leadership School at Harvard University that the role of a keynote speaker is to set the tone for discussion, energise and inspire the audience for a very productive engagement. AS a good student, I intend to do just that.
Democracy, the system of government where the will of the people trumps all other considerations or the art of politics which Herold Laswell, the famed American political scientist described as a system of government where the motivating impulse is “who gets what, when and how” has been a work in progress in Africa and in Nigeria in particular. While there were democratic waves that helped deepen democratic traditions and values across the global spectrum longitudinally, African experience at democratization has been severely challenged.
In his seminal work “The Third Wave: Democratisation in the Late Twentieth Century,” the late Harvard University political scientist – Samuel Huntington, analysed the different democratic waves beginning from the late 19th Century, where agitations for democratic rights such as the suffragists movement led by Susan B. Anthony led to the granting of voting rights to women in the United States of America in 1920. This particular wave ebbed in 1922, with the rise of totalitarianism in Italy led by Benito Mussolini.
As strong men rose to political prominence and human rights fell under the jackboots of dictators, countries across Europe, Asia, and Latin America began to romanticize the rule of the Generalissimo. Democracy no longer held the allure and attractiveness it once had enjoyed, and the political space got introduced to such new-fangled phrases as the concept of cultural and political relativity. It must be stated however, that the resilience of democratic forces was, absolutely not in doubt.
Then came the second and third wave. Though Huntington celebrate the ascendance of democratic forces over dictatorship in many climes, he expressed his disappointment in the rise of military dictatorship in Africa. There is no doubt that Huntington’s dark view of the Africa and its capacity to embrace democracy was spot on.
AS the democratic forces swept across the globe, aided by globalization where transparency and adherence to the doctrine of human rights and democratic principles were conditions for engagements, countries where military dictatorship and the rule of the strong man had been the norm, began the gradual process of transition to democracy. From Ghana to the once war-torn Liberia, Benin, Togo and others, it has been a new narrative that democracy had indeed come to stay in Africa.
In 1922, Ghana long ruled by a military Head of State, Flight Lieutenant John Jerry Rawlings transitioned from military fatigue to civilian attire. From 1992, till the present, Ghana has been a prime example of a democracy that has consolidated. In 2000 President Rawlings ruling party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) lost a razor thin victory to the opposition party – New Patriotic Party (NPP) led by John Kuffor and in a move that confounded political pundits and helped set a narrative on Africa’s political culture; the ruling party – the NDC’s candidate, the late John Atta Mills accepted defeat and promised to cooperate with the victorious NPP.
It was a golden moment in African democracy and established a new narrative that democracy had indeed come to stay in Africa, and that manipulation of electoral process through unbridled rigging, or the application of zero-sum game had no place in the new Africa democracy. That rich and commendable culture where the wishes of the people determined the course of governance has continued in Ghana, and saw the ruling party again yielding power through democratic process to an opposition party, in 2012 with the election of John Mahama of the opposition NDC as President.
From war torn Liberia, to Benin Republic, to Togo, the ferment of democracy has continued to expand, unleashing in the process the supremacy of the people over the instruments of coercion and the rule of the bayonet.
The wind of democracy had its biggest effect in Africa’s most populous nation and its economic engine room – Nigeria in 1999. Nigeria’s march down the boulevard of democracy has been in fits and starts from its independence in 1060 to 1999. Four previous attempts at introducing government based on the rule of law and democratic principles, suffered huge reversals, due mainly to lack of elite concensus on the workability of democracy.
However, from 1999 to the present, Nigerian democracy has withstood all internal fissures, its culture has been internalized by Nigerians and a process of consolidation achieved. Professor Huntington had posited that if elections took place in two cycles and the process was seen to have been transparent and free, then a consolidation may have taken place. If the Huntingtonian model were to be applied, Nigerian democracy has not only consolidated but is growing and deepening in a profound manner.
After 16 years of uninterrupted dominance at both the national and regional levels, the Peoples Democratic Party, my dear party, was defeated in the March 28, 2015 presidential elections. The margin of defeat was not extraordinary and most people had expected the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan to use the instrument of power at his disposal to influence the outcome of the election or challenge the outcome in the law court.
In a moment that stands out as the crowning glory of our democracy, then President Goodluck Jonathan, putting the interest of the nation above his personal or group interest conceded defeat to the current President Muhammadu Buhari, then of the opposition and now ruling party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) even before the final figures were tallied. The world stood still as what was once thought to be an impossible development manifested its beautiful colours before us. May we please all rise up and give President Jonathan a standing ovation for this rare feat.
Our democracy has definitely come to stay and we should all be very proud, but there are still lots of job to be done. There are challenges that come with leadership and we should keep our eye on the ball. Some of the challenges I have seen in our body politic and indeed the whole of the Continent Africa can be grouped along the following lines: deep sense of apathy and isolation, cleavage in our polity, identity politics, and security and sectarian challenges.
As our democracy consolidates, there is the need to constantly engage the people on what government is doing to address their issues and problems within the polity. An engaged electorate is an informed electorate and this will eliminate apathy and a feeling of isolation. As our nation is going through economic challenging times, a narrative that is as hopeful as it is reassuring should be developed and pushed aggressively. We should give our people the reason to be hopeful. That was what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the American President during the Great Depression did, when he rallied the American people who were broken and forlorn and had consequently began to distrust the very foundational principles and values of the American Creed and gave them a reason to believe and be hopeful. Through a very popular radio program he called “Fire Side Chats” which he personally hosted, Americans were reassured by the soothing voice of their President telling them tough times will not last for ever.
Ours is a deeply cleavage society where the main allegiance and interest is first is to our ethnic blocs over the larger national interest. We must do all we can, not to promote identity politics, but rather promote those tendencies that unify us as a people of common destiny and growth. We have seen the destructive side of this kind of politics in several African countries – a major case in point being the civil war that is currently raving Africa’s newest Republic – South Sudan, where the nation has been unable to come together after decades of struggle to have a country of their own. We fought a 30-month Civil War in our country because of our inability to reassure our people that our diversity is a strength rather than weakness.
Sectarian and security challenges have threatened the very foundation of a number of countries in Africa, and this problem is deeply existential. Here in Nigeria, the activities of Boko Haram have ravaged the North Eastern part of our country and disrupted economic and human capital development of the area. The Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) are agitating for a separate state based on perceived marginalization. In my region of the country, the South South, several group have emerged – the prominent being The Avengers, and they have taken their frustrations out on oil installation, blowing them up with a view to weakening the economic strength of the country.
Our nation is at a crossroad, even as we mark the 56th anniversary of her independence. We are challenged by daunting economic and political problems, which are surmountable, but we must all collectively resolve to work together. I often tell our people that what we have is all we need to get to our desired destination.
What then should and can be done to change the negatives about our country? We must develop a national narrative – in the mould of the American Exceptionalism. Every American is socialized into believing that their nation is the most exceptional country on earth which God specially created to lead the rest of the world.
We can develop this national narrative and put teeth and resources to promote, project and distil all that is great and endearing about our country. It can be done, it should be done, because we are an exceptional people and the Nigerian spirit will continue to rise and soar.
In Akwa Ibom, we have engendered this new attitudinal and moral rebirth. We have all arisen to greatness through our Dakkada Philosophy. We have imbued in our people the spirit of enterprise, of the abiding faith in their capacity to be all that God had destined them to be, and that government alone cannot be the only way to achieving self-actualisation, and they have all internalized this new narrative.
As a pragmatic step, we have identified three gateways to global development, namely road, air and water. And today, we are developing all of them simultaneously. To reduce unemployment and enhance our human capital, we have revolutionized our agriculture, through cocoa production, coconut plantation and refineries, in addition to youth skills development programmes. We must collectively decide to banish hunger from among our people. Any nation that cannot feed its citizens is headed for disaster. This is where I align my thoughts with Mr. President that we must engage in agricultural revolution. Collectively, we must decide to replace the SUVs on our roads with tractors. On this wise, I charge Nigerians from all walks of life to engage in farming on whatever scale possible. Our school curriculum must make agriculture a compulsory subject at the basic and secondary levels.
Distinguished audience, I want to urge us as a nation to try to build institutions that will outlive generations and deepen our democracy further. Strong institutions and not strong people are the foundations on which nations rise to greatness. May I end by paying tribute to Africa and particularly Nigerian leaders, who fought for the enthronement and sustenance of the waves of democratic governance across the Continent. Let us all emulate their good examples and learn from their mistakes. Let us collectively give our support and prayers to our leaders who bear the responsibility of making decision and choices on our behalf.
I charge you all to participate and make your sincere contributions at this conference, irrespective of your political leanings, economic considerations, ethnic belongings or religious persuasions because, the success of our country is our collective success and we must be emotionally invested in its success.
Thank you for listening,
God bless you all. God bless Nigeria.