Let me start by apologising for my absence at this forum last September when I had committed myself to coming. That I have this opportunity to be here today speaks volumes for your capacity and indeed willingness to forgive others’ trespasses. It is an important step on the tortuous climb of the ladder of life to come to that rung of that ladder when you begin to sense the blessings that flow from Giving rather than the dehydrating impact of Taking. I deliberately use the two words, Giving and Taking, because they fully illustrate what we are into when we discuss democracy as a system chosen by human beings to organise relationships in the environments in which they find themselves.
From the few occasions I have been here, I have not just been impressed, but excited by the seriousness with which issues tabled for discussion have been addressed. That seriousness has been reflected in the, let me use the expression, depth and width and height of the research which had enriched those who came. I doubt that anyone who has attended these seminars would deny that they were better off after the sessions. It is because of the widening of the horizon of recognitions that I touch on this fact of Giving and Taking in our discussion today on Sustaining the Nation’s Democracy.
We are billed to look at four perspectives:
- a) The Challenge of Sustainable Democracy;
- b) Religious Integration for Sustainable Democracy;
- c) Empowering the Citizenry to Sustain Democracy; and
- d) Spirituality and the Realisation of the Goals of Democracy
We do not have to strain to discover the line linking all the four perspectives. It is people. It is not animals that we have in mind when we look at the serious issues to do with the organisation of human beings. Even more, it is human beings that discuss and choose the system of government they believe will best regulate their affairs. Reference to Nation in the theme makes it clear that we are not here to push theories across and leave them hanging. We must show how they affect the nation, this country, and how its democracy can best be sustained.
The Nation we have in mind is the Nigerian Nation. We are not going to be distracted by the argument whether we are just a geographical expression. Though it is true that since amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates in 1914 we have not made serious attempts to integrate the people, we remain an undisputed integrated space. In four short years from now, we will be 100 years as integrated space. What story can we tell about what we have done to bring the people together in one nation that is propelled and driven consciously in the direction of one destiny?
We now number about 150 million, 60 per cent of them living in rural areas where the practice of democracy is impossible because of the overbearing influence of the local chiefs. Votes take place in their homes if and when electoral materials reach them! Spread over an area that has resources that have been ignored because there is oil money from the Niger Delta to be shared among top heavy political structures, we have a country where people are more at home sharing a cake they are not committed to taking part in baking. So they take, but are unwilling to give.
These people under reference , these 150 million Nigerians, are not a homogeneous group. There are more than 250 nationality groups, Each nationality group has its own way of manifesting life in the environment of their sojourn. But there have been battles by the major groups to control other groups. This is more of taking than giving and we must show how we can entrench a system that grows the populace; bearing in mind that there is no way there can be that growth we speak of unless those doing the growing have themselves been grown. Their growing, their being grown reflects what they say, what they do, even what they think. From these routes of manifesting life on this plane, you know the giver and the taker; you know who serves and who wants to be served.
The good news is that on this plane of existence, we come across the good, the bad and the ugly, and do then have the rare opportunity of learning the gains of giving and the losses arising from taking.
We can also, if we seek aright, be blessed with identifying where on this ladder of life, people are ripe for, which then should advise what they opt for as a system of government that should regulate their affairs.
People are like crops, products of the soil. Are we still not proving everyday that we are stuck to the soil, as sons and daughters of the soil, the omo niles? With this fixation in a world where residence has replaced place of birth, and services you are able to render in the community in which you live determine what you are asked to do, how ready are we to practise democracy as the government of the people, for the people and by the people? Would we be killing ourselves in Plateau State if we had grown above that level where we recognise that in looking at the ground, protecting the soil you claim is yours but which you met where you find yourself, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to shift our gaze upwards, through knowledge of what nature gives and how nature itself organises its affairs in predictable order that changes not.
Because of the type of democracy we have chosen, we have pounced on ethnicity, religion and other differences to access the huge returns from politics which is the most lucrative business in this country. And this in spite of the clear constitutional provision that no one should be discriminated against on the grounds of religion, sex, place of origin et al; and in spite of the clear hope reflected in the old national anthem that though we may differ in tribe and tongue, we should strive to stand as brothers.
With the more that 250 nationality groups with a total of 97,000 communities, what is your rating in assessing them as givers or takers? As people seeking enlightenment, we know that it is true to say that it is better to give than to take, and that the only thing which is yours is what you have given, and which will bear fruit for your reaping. This is the law and it can never change.
So how much democracy can there be when less than 18,000 public officers spend more than half of the recurrent vote nationwide on their emoluments which they packaged for themselves, without a thought for what others who sustain the economy are given as upkeep for themselves and their families? How do we secure the welfare and security of the citizens which is the main purpose of government, if we seek our own security and welfare first?
With the resources we have fast depleting, how can we sustain a democracy that is a drain pipe? We already have 36 weak states as federating units in an arrangement in which the motto is sharing, that is taking, and there is hardly any programme that can be adequately funded to provide the basic needs of the people we are supposed to cater for.
Ladies and Gentlemen, a forum of this nature looks at more than the surface of an issue, and it is as well that the different perspectives will be addressed. But I feel very strongly about what can be done to pull the Nigerian from the depths of the taker to the height where the meaning is clear that it is better to give than to take.
I wish us well in this segment of your enlightenment programmes and pray that we all leave here better enriched than we were when we came. I thank you for your attention.
Being Chairman’s remarks at the seminar on Sustaining the Nation’s Democracy organised by the Rosicrucian Order AMORC at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Ikeja, Lagos on Saturday May 8, 2010
PRINCE TONY MOMOH, Former Minister of Information & Culture