THE KILLINGS CONTINUE. IN market places and in places of worship.  And we were brutally reminded of this on April 24.  On that day, I was getting ready to leave Rome to return to Nigeria after a week-long meeting when news came that two priests, Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, with their parishioners were murdered during morning Mass in Mbalom, Benue State.  Nigerians, who expected concrete action from government were disappointed because the killings did not stop  campaigns  for  2019.  Do Nigerian lives  matter  to our leaders? Many have been asking.

Statesmen don't just plan to win elections.  They plan to lead.  They envision what it is to run the affairs of nations for the good of their citizens. They present their vision to the electorate, and allow the electorate to freely choose who will lead. Sadly, that is not what goes on in our country. But we must resolve to change the narrative in 2019.  And the time to implement that resolution is now.

As we approach the 2019 elections, politicians in the two major parties and in different parties and movements are busy.  But they hardly conduct themselves the way of genuine democrats.  Although without democracy we cannot have peace, and without peace, we cannot have prosperity, there is a glaring lack of internal democracy in the parties.  This is very dangerous for our nation.  On our part, let us obtain our voters' cards.  Yes, there are hurdles to scale before you get them.  And the history of past elections in Nigeria discourages us.  How are we sure the outcome of the election will reflect the will of the people?  How are we sure the process will not be tampered with?  These are genuine concerns.  But, just as you go to school to get good education and obtain a certificate, even when you are not sure you will get a job, possession of your voter's card is the beginning of wisdom.

Politicians simply use the electorate and each other, when an election season approaches, to win party nominations and to win at the polls. On the campaign trail they make beautiful promises and share rice and cooking oil and naira notes.  As soon as they get into office, it is payback time.  The payment most often takes the form of pilfering with the riches of the land and rewarding party men and women with "juicy appointments", even when they are incompetent.  So we end up with public officials whose loyalty is not to the nation but to their political sponsors and benefactors, with a government that does not serve the people.

This is what we are beginning to see in the build-up to the 2019 elections: while killings continue in the states of the Middle Belt, used and dumped allies are being remembered and wooed; new deals are being cut, and new alliances are being forged; broken political bridges are being repaired, and reconciliation committees are being formed.   But, in our government of the elite for the elite and by the elite, the motive is not to serve the Nigerian.  It is to get elected or re-elected.

Different parties will present candidates that leave the voter with no choice.  No one is sure of what they stand for.  Even when they claim to stand for something, on getting into office, promise spoken becomes promise broken.  In the absence of internal democracy in our nation's political parties, there is no level playing ground for those who seek party nominations.  The repercussions are not only felt within the parties, the electoral process is itself negatively affected, and, in the savagery and revenge that follows each election, warring politicians and their militias impose a regime of insecurity on the nation.

With the benefit of hindsight, Nigerians can now see that the two bouts of military rule this country experienced from 1966-79 and from 1983-99 did her no good.  The Nigerian psyche became militarized when young men in military uniforms, in ages twenties and thirties, through needless bloodshed, halted the evolution of democratic culture in Nigeria by instituting a culture of might is right in successive lawless military regimes.  Whoever succeeded in shooting his way into the corridors of power became head of state.  How can we ever forget that military intervention led us into a needless war in which innocent people on both sides lost their lives?

Half a century later, the young soldiers of those days have become septuagenarian and octogenarian politicians, the kings and kingmakers of today, without showing any remorse for the brutality they visited on us when they usurped power wearing military uniforms.  They now preside over the killing fields that Nigeria has become.  Like they did as military rulers, they still posture as infallible warlords.  Irrespective of their past and present misdemeanor, we must concede to them the right to be politically involved, the right to make their voices heard.  But they have no right to monopolize the discourse on how this country is run, no  right  to nurse any sense of entitlement to leadership. 

The sad reality of Nigeria is yesterday's warlords have refused to quit the stage.  Careful observers of Nigeria's political history can attest that this country is still in their firm grips, in the hands of the younger officers they mentored, and the civilian politicians with whom they relate by way of a utilitarian friendship.  These civilian politicians are used, and allow themselves to be used, to add to the electoral value of anointed candidates of kingmakers, only to be dumped after the election.  It is an indication that we are playing politics without principle. 

By the conduct, postures and utterances of these kings and kingmakers, they have impeded the growth of democracy in our land.  Under their watch, this country has broken down completely.  That is why heightened insecurity stares us in the face.  They manage to install themselves and their allies in government every electoral season because what happens within the parties and at the polls is the selection, not election of public office holders.  That is why an outgoing governor can boast that he will give his state a successor.  In other words, he is confident that the votes of the people will not count.  What counts is the "benevolent imposition" of public office holders by godfathers. 

The genocidal bloodshed we are currently seeing  is not helping us as a nation.  Now is the time to advise ourselves to break from this unhelpful past.  Nigerians need to unite their voices in persuading them and their civilian friends to allow a truly democratic culture to emerge.    In a truly democratic polity, you do not need to manipulate the process.  Even if you run for office and  you  are  not elected, you have not lost, because your fundamental rights as a citizen are protected.            

For the sake of our nation, let us, in 2019, practice true democracy, not an oligarchy of kings and kingmakers.  For the sake of our nation, let us, as a people, insist on internal democracy within the parties, on a nationally-televised debate among contenders for various offices, especially the presidency, and let us insist on a credible electoral process. Such will be for the  good  of our children and our children's children..

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