Surely, given the state of the nation today, it would appear perverse to be exercised by the 2023 elections. So weighty are the problems that we grapple with and so fluid their composition that many worry that there may not be a country in two years time. Today, as a people, we confront our worst identity crisis since the end of the civil war. Amid a pandemic of increasingly gratuitous violence, just about every sub-national group appears minded to test the notion of self-determination, up to and including secession; and on the way to a possible unilateral declaration of independence, the incentive to demonise others has never appeared more persuasive.
The state, on the other hand, is in a death struggle with the biggest challenge to its competence ever. Both as manager of scarce resources and as allocator of values within the domestic economy, the federal republic has never appeared more bereft of nous and authority than it currently looks. So macabre is the current state of play that official responses to an increasingly brazen potpourri of belligerent non-state actors bent on levying war against the state segue from craven beseeching directed at dissuading the militants from borderline irresponsible war mongering that only further fans the embers.
Yet, remaining a democracy must be the biggest of our many near-term challenges. In part, this is because this might be all that is left for us to anchor the nation and state on after the crises in the social and economic spheres might have exhausted themselves. At a further remove, strengthening our democratic credentials might very easily help point out the path to national restoration. Nonetheless, the strongest case for focussing on the next major bus stop in our electoral cycle is the therapeutic effect on a diverse society from holding regular (in our case, four-yearly) polls in which the people have a more than theoretical chance of turfing out governments perceived as bad.
On this reckoning, the 2023 elections matters in a way in which no election in the country’s history has mattered. From our current vantage, the hope is that it will somehow lend a veneer of normalcy to the present chaos. Anything that eases the current abysmal security situation will be a boon for our beleaguered people. Doubly so if it then makes serious contemplation of the problems with the economy possible. But the next general elections matter even more than this.
For a democracy is much more than the cadence of the ballot. Even the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) held regular elections; as does China, today. What this ballot does is try to validate the conversations that the people have had in the inter-poll period. A democracy, on the other hand, gives space for these preferences to be ventilated. This is one reason why social activists obsess over the freedoms without which meaningful thought is impossible. And why there has been so much hand-wringing over the government’s recent attempt to restrict domestic access to Twitter, a microblogging and social networking platform.
That it has turned out to be anything but, however, indicts the atmosphere in which domestic debate takes place. If the civil war unearthed cracks in our body polity, we have spent the years since, frantically trying to paper over those fissures. Unfortunately nearly all the taboos with the assistance of which much of these dirt was swept under the carpet have been progressively breached over the last five years.
2023 then invites us to properly interrogate these taboos. To admit, for instance, that we might not yet be a nation. That our system and practice of governance up to this point has reinforced the tendency for constituent parts to want to dissociate themselves from an increasingly dysfunctional centre. If we must reappraise just about every dimension of our lived experiences from first principles, then the economy is not a bad place to start.
The nanny state may support the illusion of a powerful central government. But it has held back the diverse creative potential locked up in the country. As we seek to restructure our government such that the Federal Government should have a subsidiary function, carrying out only those responsibilities which cannot be performed at a more local level, we should concede that with respect the production and consumption of economic, if not social values, all tiers of government should have subsidiary roles, carrying out only those responsibilities – education, healthcare, policing, judiciary, defence, etc. – that the market may fail at.
We may have to choose a new cadre of politicians, though, to succeed at any of these. The current crop are self-evidently past their “best before” dates.
Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.