Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.
INTERRROGATING A SHALLOW DEMOCRACY
" A troubling policy trend under the Buhari administration is the slowness in decision making. Damages are often done before redemption is sought. For example, the naira was already exchanging for 520 to the dollar before the Central Bank eased the strangle hold on access to the dollar. The reasonable question to ask is why did the CBN wait for so long before considering another policy alternative?" Dipo Kolawole, former Vice Chancellor, Ekiti State University at the recent Nigerian Political Science Association, South West Zone Annual Conference.
Considering the frequent lamentations about the retreat into silence and troubling anonymity of our Political Scientists, it is good news that a fortnight ago, the Nigerian Political Science Association, South West Zone held an Inaugural Conference at the Obafemi Awolowo University. Readers of this column will recall my complaint ,two years ago, on these very pages entitled 'Elections :Where are our political scientists?' (The Punch 20th March 2015.)
I am glad to report that the musings were followed by an anguished discussion among political scientists, nation wide, which in turn led to the rebirth of the hitherto comatose Association at Keffi,Nasarawa State, at the end of 2015. One of the happy features of the bounce back, is the decision to allow zonal or regional associations to flourish, as is the practice in the United States. This, then is the backdrop to the gathering of eminent political scientists across the South West at Ife, on 8th and 9th of March 2017.It was a celebration of best and the brightest, as well as a pointer to, as one of the Special Guest remarked, the beauty of restructuring large federations. For, the South West segment of the association is numerically and qualitatively the most illustrious, consisting of several academics that can be described as "who is who in Nigerian Political Science".
In his welcome address, the President of the Association, Prof. Sat Obiyan, explained that the choice of topic, namely "Democracy, Nation Building and National Development" was dictated by the shallowness of Nigerian Democracy as evidenced by the fact that political parties are in disarray and " Public trust in the political parties is increasingly eroding, there are serious concerns about the electoral process, intense intergroup tension and heightened insecurity, while the economy is in dire straits". That is another way of saying that the country is at a cross road, a point which comes out clearly in a biting Keynote Address read by a well known political scientist and former Vice Chancellor of Ekiti State University Prof. Dipo Kolawole, who is quoted at the beginning of this write up. Kolawole examines intently the status of our democratic journey and raises fundamental questions. For example, he used the term undemocratic democracy to describe a situation where leaders tend to be unresponsive to opinions which do not advance their positions.Even worse, he finds fault with Buhari's anti corruption reforms, arguing that it is oblivious of the fact that in our country "corruption is not regime determined. It depends on which administration is opening up the canker worm of another administration".
This of course, is the familiar complain that the anti corruption war, noble as it is in intention has been unable to transcend the confines of party politics, targeting mainly the opposition. It should be noted that even in the advanced democracy of the United States, more republicans than democrats get prosecuted for corruption under governments led by the Democratic Party and vice versa. However, you are unlikely to find blatant one sideness in anti corruption and you even find cases where the Federal Bureau of Investigation has put sitting Presidents on the spot. To resolve this issue, there is a journey to be made in the direction of institution building and for these institutions to enjoy relative independence.As Kolawole put it "What permanent, enduring, durable and self sustaining mechanism has been or is being put in place to ensure that the war on corruption is not just one regime effective?" Indeed to extend the argument, we might say that the war on corruption has yet to be made effective outside of President Mohammadu Buhari and one or two others in government Regarding Boko Haram, Kolawole maintains that while Buhari deserves kudos for beating back the insurgency, it should go beyond that to offer "a policy imperative to delimit the probable reemergence of Boko Haram, or any other insurgency. In other words, how is the nation being moved from the continuum of conflict to a template of development through effective restructuring of architecture for conflict management?" If we unpack this formulation, it will lead us to various calls that have been made across the nation for the reinvention of our federalism to make it less centralized, more people based and more effective. For now however, this appears to be a waiting game as there is no evidence in sight that this administration is thinking along such lines.
Arresting too are the remarks made by the Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. He made the point that political scientists as custodians of intellectual callings centred around governance, ought to speak out more on the national condition, and do that from the point of view of expertise and policy analysis. Imaginably, to put Aregbesola's point differently, there is no reason why scholars cannot move from the Presidency of the Nigerian Political Science Association to the Presidency of Nigeria, as it happened in several democracies, including the United States where Woodrow Wilson held at different times the positions of the Presidency of the American Political Science Association and that of the United States. That is another way of saying that Political Scientists as philosophers have a duty not only to theorise and build elegant models but to rule, administer and make policies at the highest levels of government. In this connection, it is heart warming to recall that Prof.Atahiru Jega, a political Scientist and a former Vice Chancellor Of Bayero University, Kano, did the political science community and the nation proud by successfully conducting free and fair elections in a transition period full of uncertainties and booby traps. Aregbesola made the point too that for Nigeria to overcome its current difficulty, it must imbibe a culture of productivity rather than the current consumptive orientation in which a handful of Nigerians dominate the structures of power and of consumption without a productive base.
After the stimulating interventions of the opening ceremony, the Conference broke into several concurrent sections during which specialized topics on various aspects of governance were discussed and critiqued. Presentations were made on the economy, on religion and nation building, on social media and citizen journalism, on the election management body and how to rev up its performance, the national question, political parties among other topical issues. Predictably, the papers range in quality from the brilliant through the mediocre to those that are merely rehashed classroom notes. However, several insightful presentations made the occasion rewarding. For the Association to both survive and regain vibrancy, it must publish journals of high quality as well as increase its visibility on the policy making and civil society fronts. All told, a good beginning has been made, the challenge is to sustain the impetus.