Dividends of Democracy

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The dividends of democracy are simply the benefits enjoyed by the masses who voted for the government in power.

Newton Jibunoh

In today’s article, I am hoping to pass across a message that will encourage my fellow Nigerians to ponder over the state of our democracy. At the end of this article, I am hoping you will agree with me when I say we need to evaluate the democratic agreement we have made with our political leaders.

A few days ago, a governor made a speech assuring the people of his state that his administration would continue in its efforts to develop the state and deliver “the dividends of democracy to all.” This phrase got me thinking about what was implied as against what most often happens.

I would like to assume that many of us have come across the word ‘dividend’ on many occasions, and
the definition of that word as used in business terms is “a payment made by a corporation to its shareholders as a distribution of profit.” A democracy is a government elected by the people and is obligated to govern with the interest of the masses at heart. Therefore, the dividends of democracy are simply the benefits enjoyed by the masses who voted for the government in power.

If we drew parallels between Nigeria and a company listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, we would be able to see how terrible the payout on our investments in the country is.

The last thing a smart businessman would do is invest money in a business that rarely pays dividends, has a terrible balance sheet, records capital losses year after year and, finally, shows no room or clear plans for growth. If a company like this already exists, the board of directors would usually come together to discuss how to turn things around so that the shareholders could benefit from their investments or the shareholders would move to replace the members of the board who have proven incompetent at running a successful company.

If an entrepreneur is a person who habitually creates and innovates to build something of recognised value around perceived opportunities, how would we define a political entrepreneur? She/he must be one who understands and uses the opportunity to create and innovate something of value for himself/herself with capital raised by the masses.

Election year draws nearer and, when we go to the polls, we need to remember that we are investing in a government that would either return a favorable dividend to us or not. We should not settle for the little gifts and payouts during the campaigns because, as shareholders of this country, we deserve to reap the full benefits of our democracy.

In their usual fashion, politicians will be seen making grand gestures in the communities six months before the elections. Why do they do this? Is it because they have tunnel vision and can only see what benefits them, or is it because they believe the little gifts and handouts are the dividends of democracy the masses should expect from them?

Inequality in the country is at an all-time high. Our middle class is evaporating and a lot of people are one major illness or financial burden away from poverty. Alas, the dividends of democracy are not equally shared.

You would be forgiven if you, like me, had once thought to describe the “dividends of democracy” as the presence of good roads, potable water supply, accessible and affordable education, affordable quality healthcare, constant power supply, high employment rates, good transport system, affordable housing, and favorable economy for trade and investment, just to mention a few.

Forgiven for being highly mistaken as, for politicians, power is the greatest dividend and numerous other benefits accompany that power. Foreign trips, flashy cars, extravagant lifestyles are just some of the benefits waiting for a politician and those who have invested in them when they win elections.
The majority shareholders with their ‘perceived measly votes’ are left with bad roads, weak infrastructure, poor electricity, bad governance, etc.

This is why it baffles me that some people still don’t vote. You matter more than you think in the landscape of Nigerian democracy. Every great successful revolution was won primarily by perseverance. It is unwise to sit back and lament that one’s vote doesn’t count in the hope that someday that will change miraculously without having to raise a finger. Your greatest weapon as a citizen is your vote and that should be wielded with valour and strength. We are a nation of hardworking, ambitious people that can often be found almost anywhere in the world involved in one business or the other and doing well. Nigerians are known in colloquial lingua as ‘hustlers,’ yet in the one thing that is probably most important most of us choose to be unlike what we are known for.

In the last election, only about 67,000,000 people were registered to vote. Out of this number, only 43.65 per cent came out to vote. The amount of people who voted was not up to 20 percent of our entire population. If we keep sitting out the election process, it would be difficult for us to witness the change that we seek. I believe it is easier to inflate figures than it is to deflate them so let us stop making things easy for those who wish to ‘pad’ our votes in their favour.

Ozumba Mbadiwe coined the term “men of timbre and caliber” and became famously known by that in
one of his many colourful speeches at the House of Representatives, where he was a member as a former Minister of Lands, Minister of Trade and Commerce and Minister of Aviation. Perhaps, at that time, he meant it as a way to describe men who were steady and of strong character like the timber, I am still trying to understand what the “caliber” connotes but in all, we have come to accept it as the norm when describing politicians during campaign rallies and other ego-fanning functions. Somehow, I feel Mbadiwe would be appalled at its current use.

It should not be a matter of debate that a democratic government is one that exists primarily to protect, provide basic goods and services and increase the quality of life of every member of the society it serves. It should not, but as we have come to see, this is many times not the case for our “men of timber and caliber.” So, next time one of our dear politicians uses the phrase “dividends of democracy,” can he be so kind as to explain what he truly means so we are not disappointed or confused when the outcome does not align with our expectations?

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