Nigeria: The trial of democracy

Without a doubt, Nigeria’s democracy has been on trial since 1999 and the populace are the inevitable victims of that trial.

Promise Adiele

Ngugi Wa’ Thiongo’s The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, co authored with Micere Githae Mugo recreates the psychological and physical dimensions of trial as a subliminal torture in an oppressive regime. The historical substratum of the play derives from Kenya’s harrowing experience under British hegemonic rule which gave birth to the Mau Mau movement led by Dedan Kimathi.

READ ALSO: Kenya, Britain sign agreement on repatriation of stolen wealth

The play dramatizes Kimathi’s heroic resistance against British forces of domination, his arrest in 1956 and subsequent lopsided trial under an inimical, imperialist judicial system. It also seeks to correct the erroneous impression by Western historical authors that Dedan Kimathi was a mentally deranged person who repudiated civilization and indoctrinated Kenyans against imperialist rule.

Through a condensed dramatic narrative, the playwrights imaginatively reconstruct Kimathi’s physical trial at the law courts and his psychological trial in his detention cell. Although the British imperial forces enacted a topsy-turvy trial mechanism in their bid to convict Kimathi, they were also setting themselves up for scrutiny and trial before the whole world.

The above commentary using The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, in some ways relates to the kind of trial which democracy in Nigeria is currently enmeshed. Going forward, let us relax ethno-religious and sectional grip on democracy, let us free our minds from bias and prejudice in order to have an objective perception of our democratic experience. Political jingoists and fanatics, social media war veterans and attack dogs should please look away from here. I am addressing only enlightened minds free from warped ideas.

Without a doubt, Nigeria’s democracy has been on trial since 1999 and the populace are the inevitable victims of that trial. In a democratic atmosphere, the polity is expected to be free and equitable. The people who are the instrumentality through which democracy is achieved are expected to enjoy a measure of dividends and the egalitarian distribution of the commonwealth. Within the defined precincts of democracy also, structures that promote misrule and social misery are expected to be abolished. In that way, every price paid by the people to enthrone democracy, including blood and materials are deemed to be justified.

Regrettably, democracy in Nigeria today, like Dedan Kimathi in pre-colonial Kenya is unjustly on trial. Human beings go through trial, countries go through trial, corporate bodies go through trial and even nature goes through trial. But it becomes reprehensible when trial is unjustly inflicted, it becomes unjustifiable when democracy is placed on trial with certified confidence that a docile populace will only endure and align without raising a voice in protest.

With the next general election in 2019 some months away, politicians in Nigeria have collectively put democracy in a very precarious position. The APC as the party in power is more complicit in perverting democracy through various acts of infractions which are inconsistent with the flourishing of democracy. Under the APC-led administration, democracy weeps on daily basis as it continues to stand on trial due to a number of reasons.

There is a general outcry all over the country against the government’s perceived selective fight against corruption. This is so because corruption is regrettably circumscribed to financial embezzlement. Forgery, nepotism, bribery and all forms of impunity do not count as corruption as far as the APC-led government is concerned and in this, democracy weeps on trial.

Recently, it was reported in the media that a civil servant, who worked at the Office of the Auditor General of Nigeria was convicted by an Abuja High Court in July and sentenced to two years in prison without an option of fine for forging the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) certificate. In his ruling, the judge, Yusuf Halilu, submitted that the convict would have risen to the position of the Auditor General of Nigeria with a forged certificate if the forgery had not been detected.

Indeed, it grates on ones sense of equity and fair play to imagine that while a citizen of Nigeria is investigated and subsequently jailed for forgery, Nigeria’s finance minister under the APC led administration, Kemi Adeosun is yet to respond or even forced to respond to allegations of forging her NYSC exemption certificate. It is apparent that the law is selective, while forgery is viewed as corruption for a set of Nigerians, it is certainly not corruption for another set of Nigerians, and thus democracy is brutalized on trial.

While addressing distinguished members of the Nigerian Bar Association during their 58th annual conference, President Muhammadu Buhari submitted that “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest”. It is not known in any part of the world, unless under military dictatorship where the nation’s interest supersede the Rule of Law.

READ ALSO: Buhari’s elevation of ‘national interest’ above rule of law unheard of

According to Lord A.V Dicey, who graciously propounded the principle of the rule of law, the law is supreme over all considerations except during emergency situations. But to our president and the APC led government, the law must bow at the altar of the nation’s inordinate interests. By this presidential submission, rule of law is viciously turned on its head and democracy continues to be desecrated while standing on trial.

The two leading political parties in Nigeria, APC and PDP recently pushed a dagger in the heart of democracy when they released the price of their nomination forms. Never in the history of Nigeria has these forms been bastardized by placing huge monetary tags on them. Although the prices of PDP forms are high, APC, the party in power, hanged the prices of their forms in the sky. By so doing, the forms are totally removed from the reach of the ordinary aspirant who may have genuine intentions to aspire to a political position.

To encourage youths to get involved in politics and in another breath, ensuring that they are unable to access political offices reveals an underlying chicanery. How can youths who are minded to participate in the political process of their country afford such huge sums of money to procure forms? Real democracy will recoil and flinch at such mutilation of its buoyant tentacles.

Is it possible that the APC fixed the price of the forms without President Buhari’s knowledge? Is it also possible that President Buhari does not have the power to influence a downward revision of the prices of the forms? Nigerians are indeed no fools no matter how difficult the trial of democracy may become.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s democracy in danger, Edwin Clark warns

Like Dedan Kimathi, while democracy is undergoing physical trial, the people who are the real democratic architects are undergoing psychological trial but with courage and resilience. The government of the day, which is the direct beneficiary of democracy, is undergoing more trial in the translucent court of global opinion.


Adiele, Department of English University of Lagos.

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