DEMOCRACY has no better alternative because it guarantees freedom of speech and the exercise of choice through debate and argumentation. In the particular case of the Obama victory, American system of democracy ensures a brutal, albeit expensive, but workable way of power succession based on the calculated will of the people. This is an enthronement of the will of the people and the love of country rather than a myopic sense of leadership by ascription, entitlement, grandstanding, and opportunistic self-righteousness, that ultimately silences intellect and creativity, and culminates in irrational, provincial thinking in solving corporate and national challenges. Obama inherited a damaged economy and a politically divided country, which he doggedly worked to assuage, even in the face of stiff opposition and ill-will. Because of his race, his opponents used subtle prejudicial posturing to discredit his achievements and laid rhetorical claim to supremacy in the field of governance, power appropriation, economic strategizing, and the philosophical roadmap that America must take. They were dated.
Alas, the young and sophisticated Obama is astute in political strategizing than his opponents and is a better reader of the contemporary political, economic, and philosophical pulse of America. More importantly, the American electorate is smarter and less forgetting and forgiving of any person, group, or political party whose actions or inactions threaten the American dream or presume that such dream is the preserve of a handful rich white men. Reality is that America is becoming Browner and her politics can no longer be that of coalition through assimilation, but through diversity. By a short future time, the non-Whites in America will become the majority. So, America’s future will witness the likes of Obama! An American is an American, period, regardless of race, pedigree, and religion. As America’s younger and diversified populations are becoming less race-conscious and pragmatically embrace equality for all, the true experiment in democracy lies in country’s future. This will be a country where anyone from anywhere (as long as he or she meets the residency and citizenship requirements) can aspire to any office or any height in any field.
Obama knew that the “ruling class” in America had turned the structure of the country to one that favoured them for years at the expense of the middle class that built and continues to build the country. The American capitalism and, by extension the American democracy, can only survive with a vibrant and educated middle class that was fast diminishing when Obama took office in 2008. Hence, he favoured tax cuts for the middle class, investment in education, and a smarter and tighter regulation of Wall Street that was taking undue economic advantage of the middle class. He also ensured that government-backed retirement programmes and social entitlements, including healthcare (which constitute the safety net of the majority of Americans) were shored up, rather than being left to the “market forces manipulation,” which the other party favoured and which would enrich Wall Street and their allies. Former president Bush cut taxes to the rich, slim percentage of the country, in the trickledown tradition of Reaganomics, which had resulted in the economic downturn of the country, because the rich, rather than invest their surplus money in America, shipped factories overseas in search of cheaper labour and less stringent regulations. Jobs for Americans diminished and the economy slowed. Obama became the rescuer of the people.
The real lesson is that democracy is a numbers game. As such, Obama appealed to the young and organized them into a movement; he appealed to the retirees, labour unions, intellectuals, and women. He invested and cultivated the Latino population, which is the fastest growing minority population in the country (Almost 15 per cent). In other words, Obama’s appeal is egalitarian while the other party relied on the old permutation of the rich enticing the middle class and the poor to work hard in order to become like them. Michigan auto workers knew that Obama was on their side when he bailed out the auto industry and brought Detroit back from the brink of collapse. So much for the argument that the role of government should be minimized. The Obama campaign’s slogan in the 2008 election was “Yes, we can” and “Change we can believe in.” For 2012 it was “Forward!” This cast Romney and his party as belonging to the past (old white establishment) and the new Democratic party as the contemporary party of the coalition of futuristic Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Indians, etc. That in the face of defeat, the Republicans are now thinking of re-engineering and creating an inclusive and diverse appeal, suggests that the Obama strategy is futuristic.
Come to think of it, Obama understands something else: That a restive middleclass does not bode well for political and economic stability. There must not be an American Spring, Summer, or Winter akin to that of the Arabs. A stable and productive American middle class is the security of the American super rich. This lesson was lost on the GOP in this last election with their elitist posture and disguised Puritanism.
The arrow of time is always pointing forward, but the pronouncements and actions and realities in the Nigerian polity suggest that we may not learn much from the Obama phenomenon. Instead of forming coalitions for our collective survival, we are busy separating and tearing down our peoples, ambitions, and our doom. If Nigeria should become a failed state, we all will suffer from and for it. While it is easier to fracture, it may be impossible to build any of the splinters into a meaningful, workable entity. A bloated Nigerian federal government is not the Obama idea of a meaningful government role in the affairs of a people. The idea is that of a federal government that would ensure that a major artery to the nation such as the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is at least four lanes each way, well lit, and allows for ease and secure movement of people, goods, and services. If such a deplorable road should exist in a rural town such as the one I live in Middletown, Delaware, so much noise would have been made about it that all of those in power would have lost their positions in the last Tuesday election—that is, from the mayor to the representatives and the governor! The successful lawsuits that would have resulted from lost lives, businesses, and legal punitive damages would have rendered the government bankrupt. This metaphor should inform you the reader that I find it difficult to see if Nigeria can begin to see itself in comparison to the US. So, the problem is not the country, but the cognitive complexity or lack thereof of the people. Politically, economically, and philosophically, we are simpletons! We turn out graduates in droves and do not pretend to have jobs for them; we exhort imbecility without qualms; and we have a penchant for stealing money without creating wealth. The Nigerian elite is philosophically bankrupt in that they are ignorantly arrogant about life. Little do they realize that the purpose of wealth is in commonwealth and not ‘my wealth’ and they brazenly are consumptive without realizing that those who envy them in the Nigerian environment do so out of ignorance and perhaps out of hopelessness. When they come overseas to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, they are looked upon as buffoons even in their private jets! Just one question from the host or onlooker would throw them off completely: What is the per capital income of your country and what is her unemployment rate? I would like to do an analysis of the Nigerian condition and suggest ways forward in this article, but that has been done by many intelligent and forward looking Nigerians. As Wole Soyinka once said and I paraphrase him here: You can cry yourself hoarse in Nigeria and no one would pretend to even hear you!
A meaningful meeting of the constituents of Nigeria to forge a way forward is necessary to know that we have not disobeyed the laws of physics and the universe by betraying the arrow of time that always points forward. So, to sum the lessons of the Obama victory for governments in Africa, I shudder to say that the Africans will learn nothing from it than engage in empty boast that one of their sons is the President of the United States. On the other hand, Obama’s call to the middle class to become politicized and ‘conscientized’ will fall to the ground because they do not exist—the middle-class has been battered out of existence in Nigeria! The appeal to the intellect and reason through argumentation will be met with parroted “yes we can,” meaning “who are you to talk to us to change and assure us that we can? Well, uh, what do you have for us? You know that nothing goes for nothing here, don’t you? We need kola, men!”
Nigeria is rich and should be at par at least with South Korea, but for the simpletons that have usurped and sucked her nectar dry. The Nigerian populace is young and energetic, but has been raped to unconsciousness. The Nigerian young have hope, but for how long will they be denied. Hope delayed is indeed hope denied. Somebody please show me a ray of hope somewhere in Nigeria so I may latch on to it. It must exist, I know.
Prof. Awodiya is of Suffolk County Community College, Long Island, New York.
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