Former American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, sometime ago on a visit to Nigeria advised African leaders to build “strong institutions” rather than build “strong personalities”. Clinton was referring to many imperial presidents she saw in Africa who see themselves as all and all,  and as the embodiment of their individual countries.

Africa had had very powerful men in government, men who towered over and above their individual countries. When such men sneezed, the entire continent would begin to shiver. These were men like Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, General Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Emperor Jean Bedel Bokosa of Central African Republic, General Gnassingba Eyedima of Togo, Master Sergeant Samuel Doe of liberia, Colonel  Matthew Kerekeou of Benin Republic, Colonel Muommer Gadhafi of Libya. etc. These were  men whose words were law,  who had everything at their beck and call. This was the era of military dictatorship.

With time, however, people began to feel uncomfortable with these military men in politics. They began to resist their autocratic rule and to embark  on demonstrations here and there,  agitating for the disengagement of the military from politics and the enthronement of democratic government answerable to the people. This was the era of pro-democracy movements across the African continent. 

When the agitation became so intense, and the military men in government could no longer bear the heat, they decided to step down. However as they put off their khaki, some of them decided to put on agbada, joined political parties and got themselves elected as civilian president. But they could not conform to democratic norms. 

Nigeria, for instance, is said to be under  democratic governance, yet, the Nigerian President is a very powerful person, much more powerful than any institution in the land.  He ignores court orders and spurns decisions of the National Assembly. He is the imperial commander of the political party that brought him to power,  changing its leadership at will.

Thus, what we have in Nigeria as our own democracy is the government of the strong and the powerful. Both the President and the governors are very powerful people. They are more powerful than any institution in the country. When they talk, nobody dares open his or her mouth. They have immunity. They can do anything they like  and get away. Nobody can challenge them either openly or in court. Former acting national chairman of the All Peoples Congress (APC), Chief Bisi Akande, called it “military democracy”

In South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who was elected President of that county in 2009 had faced significant legal challenges before and during his presidency. In 2005, Zuma, who married up to six wives and had about twenty children. was charged with rape, but he went to court and successfully defended himself and was acquitted.

But more significantly, as President of South Africa, Zuma was dragged to court over allegations of racketeering and corruption. 

At first, the National Prosecuting Council (NPC) dropped the charge, citing political interference. This decision was however successfully challenged by the opposition and case was again returned to the NPC for reconsideration. 

Even though Zuma had consistently pleaded innocence of the allegations, but following growing pressures on him to resign as President of South Africa, which culminated in his recall by the African National Congress (ANC), the party that sponsored him to office, as well as the possibility of facing a motion of no confidence in parliament, he was forced to resign “with immediate” effect on February 14, 2018.

In Nigeria,  who will ever raise a voice against the President or the Governor even when there are clear evidence of misdemeanors against them? Not only that they have immunity but also because the security agents will hunt you down. 

But in South Africa, the President was dragged to court on allegations of racketeering and corruption and he went to court to defend himself. South Africans themselves did not hide their faces for fear of government reprisals. They all joined the fray asking Zuma to resign.

Who will dare this in Nigeria? Which court in Nigeria will ever entertain such “frivolous allegation”? 

Even some presidential aides who were openly accused of financial impropriety  never deemedvit necessary to answer the charges and clear their names. Again, which political party in Nigeria will ever have the courage or audacity to attempt to recall a whole President of the country who himself “owns” such political party? 

South Africa has shown the way. While in Nigeria the President is bigger than the institution, in South Africa the institution is bigger than the President. As someone had jokingly remarked,  what we have in Nigeria is civilian-military regime, and not democracy. 

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