Discipline and Accountability under Democratic Leadership
By Muhammadu Buhari
Text of an address by General Muhammadu Buhari at the Student Democratic Forum Lecture at Abdullahi Smith Lecture Theatre, Ahmadu Bello University Main Campus Samaru, Zaria Saturday, July 20th, 2002 at 10.00 a.m.
1.It is with great pleasure that I stand before you today. I would
first of all, like to thank members of the Students’ Democratic Forum for
inviting me to talk on Discipline and Accountability under Democratic
importance of this topic for present day Nigeria cannot be overemphasized.
Indeed so important are the two, i.e. democracy and accountability, meaning,
unless they are there, democracy will not be able to deliver any of its expected
dividends.The topic coheres well enough and most appropriate
for us today. Accountability, so to speak, is a form of self-discipline,
and, while it is possible to be accountable without democracy, it is impossible
to be democratic without accountability. I therefore understand from the
topic of my talk that you want me to tell you what makes democracy tick.
we talk of democratic leadership we usually mean representative, responsible
government i.e. a government freely elected by the people and is truly responsible
to them. Let’s agree at the outset that, whatever the ideology in question,
we recognize democracy as perhaps the best, form of government today, provided
we agree on a definition of what democracy truly means.As
Reinhold Niebuhr rightly observed “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy
possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
4.The democratic system itself is in reality
a culture, i.e. a culture of elections, rights, obligations, checks and balances.
Like all cultures, it requires believing in, nurturing, tending and participation.
The most prominent aspect of democratic governance is the development
of a democratic civil culture that sets out, and itself obeys, the rules
and practices that characterizes the ability of a people to govern themselves
according to constitutional provisions. In short subjecting everything to
the rule of law.
In theory, which we must translate into practice, the democracy
that Nigeria needs is one that is founded on periodic, free and fair elections;
and in it, the majority rules while the rights of the minority, are respected
and guaranteed by law. It should be anchored on the independence of the judiciary,
freedom of faith, expression, association and aspirations.All
these must be based on the principle of the rule of law, due process and the
equality of all persons before the law.
functioning of this democracy must be based on the concept of the demarcation
of powers, with adequate checks and balances to guard against the arbitrary
exercise of power and ensure accountability in governance. And here we might
as well paraphrase Reinhold; and, for our purposes, say:
“Man’s capacity for accountability makes democracy possible but
man’s inclination to corruption and lack of accountability makes democracy
unnecessary.” Essentially, therefore, democracy is about making the leadership
accountable to the people and the people themselves disciplined.
is an understatement to say that there has been a clear lack of accountability
in the conduct of public affairs in this country. The public service, as the
executive agency of the government of the day at various levels thus, federal,
state and local levels, wields enormous powers, where the government of the
day allows it to function within the normal guidelines and regulations laid.
Nowadays, this power is wielded with much arbitrariness and abuse
of procedure. In the democracy Nigerians are asked to practice and which
we are being told is the one being practiced; the public is entitled to know
what policies, activities and development projects are approved by the appropriate
agency. In addition, the people must have access to the estimates made for
public expenditure in order to ensure that expenditures of public funds are
limited by approved estimates.
Even when all these transactions have been carried out lawfully,
the public is entitled to demand that they must be properly kept in the appropriate
books of accounts and independently audited and accounted for.
Weather this is being done in the very democracy we are practising
today; is a big question that I will like to leave the answer to the public.
7.As I observed on a different occasion,
the last time the annual financial account of the Federal Government were
prepared and submitted for audit was, I understand, in 1980.And at the 1984 conference of Auditors-General of the Federation
and State’s Directors of Audit, it was revealed, to the astonishment of no
one, that eleven states last submitted their annual accounts for audit in
1967! During the tenure of our government 1984-85 we instituted a programme
to update audited accounts and publish them. But, as usual, this was soon
forgotten away by the Nigerian penchant for lack of implementation and follow-up.
There must to be consistency in policy planning and clarity in
stating policy objectives so that we always know what we are doing and why.
This can only be done if we have a purposeful public service in place. No
doubt, recent events have badly dented the service, but this situation is
not irreparable or irreversible.
For our democracy to succeed and the regime of accountability
to prevail, Nigeria’s public service must rediscover itself. It must find
its way back to the pre-1966 Golden Age.
the lack of accountability has, for instance, helped to create wide distortions
of income distribution throughout the society.
And because little is being done to the culprits, this has also
fueled the scramble for appointments, especially to executive positions,
which, because of the same lack of accountability, enable their occupants
to do as they please.
The mad rushes for the presidency, and the unending clamour for
its rotation among the zones, derive directly from the rich pickings which
lack of accountability confers on it. This is a very serious matter, which
ought to be remedied.
But more serious are going to be some of the longer-term after-effects
on the younger generation that did not know that at one time a system of
accountability existed in this land. But simply knowing this without doing
anything about it is unlikely to help our nation. The prosperity that embezzlement
and other fraudulent practices conferred, especially in the recent past,
is a direct result of this failure to investigate and punish.
In general, corruption and every aspect of lack of accountability benefits from the fact that ours is a nation that doesn’t ask the right questions. But in some instances, there is no need to ask questions because the evidence talks louder than words.
However, whether questions are asked or not, we all know that
in no distance past many public officers controlling votes, awarding contracts
or belonging to task forces enforcing any kind of law became lords unto themselves.
They did as they pleased, generated revenues for themselves and
their families, and they competed with each other in erecting mansions and
indulging in conspicuous consumption – with money largely derived from public
sources.And many still do.
9.Moral absolutes that used to be the pegs on which our society’s values were anchored had, by design and default, been abandoned, so totally that one could, with justification, wonder whether it would ever prove possible to revive public morality. Neither the hold of religious precepts, nor the sanction of public shame, nor yet the eyes of society, or the fear of the penalties nor even secular civic pride or the plain responsibility of being just human would make people behave according to the rules and follow laid down procedure.
The fact remains that we will not overcome these manifold problems
by mere act of democratizing. Of course democracy is not an end in itself.
It is only a means to an end, which for us is good, representative,
responsible governance and its other dividends. Certainly not the type of
dividends our ears are daily fed with today.
And if Nigerians want to fully realize the gains of democracy
which I believe they do; people must be ready to play according to the rules,
and pay the price required. They must be their own watchdogs and guard against
the many forces that look capable of subverting the system.
“That people naturally prefer freedom to oppression can indeed
be taken for granted,” said Chester Finn, Jr., “but that is not the same
as saying that democratic political systems can be expected to create and
maintain themselves over time. On the contrary, the idea of democracy is
durable, but its practice is precarious.”
10.In Nigeria it is not just voter-apathy that threatens democracy and responsible governance. It is what, for want of a better term, I call system-apathy. At one extreme end people are impatient – they don’t have sufficient patience to play according to the rules of the system; while at the other extreme end, they are too patient (docile is the word) to accept any determined corrupt money-bag to produce election result he wants in any constituency in the country today.
So much so that this docility has turned corrupt public officers
into statesmen. We should all be worried enough to want to do something about
The first antidote against such subversion is to ensure that elections
are free and fair, and representative of the popular will. But that is not
enough to deliver the goods. The leader elected must have what it takes and
have vision for the polity and be a person of integrity. The leader must
be able to communicate and have a proper sense of history; but, above all,
he must be ready to lead by example.
In addition, what our country needs in its leader now is astuteness
in crisis leadership and courageous enough to confront corruption head on.
second antidote is to have effective checks and balances to curb arbitrariness
and any creeping despotism in the leader. These checks, which ought to emanate
from several different sources, must be patriotic and strong enough to deter
the most determined dictator. Firstly, there must be a return to the party
supremacy and discipline of the first and second republics. The leader elected
must be loyal to his party and its programmes; and be respectful to its by-laws.
This is very important since the electorate normally elects on the strength
of party programmes; and without this type of respect for party supremacy
the leader becomes an unguided missile let loose among the people.
Secondly, the legislature and the judiciary must provide the constitutional
checks and balances required. When this is missing, especially in the instances
where the people’s elected representatives pursue goals other than the public
good, the leader simply becomes a constitutionally elected dictator, and
the people’s watchdogs become cheerleaders as the republic is raped.
Thirdly, the media must provide the most immediate, open check
on the excesses of the leadership. As watchdogs of the people, the media,
relying on the peoples right to know, report on the successes or failures
of leadership. The media must continue to inform and educate and be an alert
watchdog over government and society’s powerful institutions.
The media of this millenium must be able to operate beyond religio-ethnic
and regional lines. They must cross over to addressing issues rather than
sentiments. The press must be agents of unity and understanding. Sensational
captions and stories may obviously attract buyers of newspapers which is
good business, but the consequence of that may produce environment with no
one to purchase subsequent editions. In plain language our media must be
patriotic enough to reduce areas that are likely to produce crises in society.
Benjamin Franklin once said, given the choice between government
without newspapers or newspapers without government; he would, without hesitation,
choose the latter.I would too, but they must be newspapers
that told the truth and tried to reduce crises in the polity.
Holding aloft a standard of independence, fairness, and objectivity
and drawing on the strength of its tremendous resources, the media is best
suited to expose the truth behind all claims made by leadership and hold
officials accountable for their actions or inactions. Journalists must wield
this power of the media, which has often been seen as even greater than that
of the other two Estates, with a great sense of responsibility by journalists.
all these checks, counter checks and balances in place, it remains for the
leadership to give the right direction so that democracy may sprout, grow
and sustain itself.And here I know of no better or
more functional definition of democracy than the one given by Seymour Lipset.
“ Democracy in a complete society may be defined as political system which supplies regular constitutional opportunities for changing the governing officials, and a social mechanism which permits the largest possible part of the population to influence major decisions by choosing among contenders of political office.” End of quote. And I would like to assure that democracy can’t do more than what this definition made for you.
It only gives you the power to change leaders when they fail.
It cannot guarantee a successful government. The success is largely determined
by the quality of the leadership.
A leader, according to one of the American presidents, “is one
who has the emotional, mental and physical strength to withstand the pressures
and tensions, and then, at the critical moment, to make a choice and to act
decisively; the men who fail are those who are so overcome by doubts that
they either crack under the strain or flee.” But here at home, even if one
is overcome by doubts and plagued by failure, all he wants to do istazarce.
13.Tazarce and other subversive maneuvers can hardly take us anywhere; it
will only take us backward.And unless we change our
way - of sit-tight leadership and chequebook politics – we shall never know
democracy in this land. Within the last three years, for instance, we cannot
in all honesty, be said to have tried our best to lay down the foundations
of a stable democratic polity or the ground for good governance. What we
observe in this country is not the responsible exercise of power, but an
intoxication of the leadership by it.
Democracy gave us a chance, but we fail to grab it to take corrective action.Instead we went on the path of punitive action in full blast.No wonder we lost the way; and this, in turn, led us to the path of self - deceit.
We were promised better days ahead; yet we only saw days that
are worse. We were promised light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel
only got longer – and we are still enveloped by its darkness.We were promised an end to corruption, but we only witnessed
its ascendance and triumphant coming of age. We were made to listen to endless
lamentations on the deterioration of public education system, and we were
promised its revitalization; but we only witnessed its near total collapse,
with burial arrangement already made with talk of privatisation of our universities.
We were promised enhanced security for lives and property but the police itself
went on strike.
The promises were endless and the failures countless, but these
are celebrated by the leadership as successes. They said they had made a
difference, though few indeed believed them.
It was clear that we were slowly moving towards the situation
that says, “Never believe anything until it is officially denied.” And in
a situation where the leadership was trying not to be accountable you may
suspect everything until it is officially confirmed.
14.But democracy is
not about the accountability of the leader alone. It is about building a
system that guarantees not only rights but also imposes obligations on all
those who are in it. It is part of the responsibility of every one of us
to speak out when things go wrong. But the silence coming from our campuses
is deafening. And for want of a proper description, a very bad omen.
Isn’t there a greater responsibility and clear obligation on the
well informed?Every one of us is a shepherd and, sooner
or later, the auditor will come round to count the sheep. Time was when there
was this robust debate on campus, not just on the salaries and allowances
of teachers, but actuated by a genuine desire to improve the objective conditions
of the people. But unknown to us outside, and perhaps even to you inside,
the campus has long ago given up its true tradition.
There is today the absence of involvement by intellectuals in the everyday affairs of society. Gone were the days the likes of Dr. Bala Usman, whose struggle, almost single-handedly, established a tradition of dissent on this campus in the 1970’s.What in the world happened to that tradition?
And whatever one may say about the ideology that provided the
basis for his struggle, there is little doubt that campuses across the country
are today all the poorer for the lack of it. You must therefore wake up before
it is too late. Or is the teacher waiting to be taught?
ago one of your class had prodded you. “ You are all the same, you intellectuals;
everything is cracking and collapsing, the guns are on the point of going
off, and you stand there claiming the right to be convinced. If only you could
see with your own eyes, you will understand that time presses,” Jean-Paul
And as time draws to a close, there are only two choices facing
our academics – involvement or escapism, fulfillment or betrayal. There is
no third choice. Today you can’t sit on the fence because the fence, uprooted
by people’s anguish and resignation, is no longer there for you to sit on.
No doubt, our campuses had seen better days. Perhaps time for
the turn around has not yet dawned for this nation that prefers building
stadium than funding universities. A nation that loves identity cards more
than improving agriculture. You shouldn’t make matters worse by betraying
your own trusts. Leadership at all levels has to, as it were, renew its contract
with its constituency.
Your constituency is people; your political party is intellect;
and your ideology is whatever intellect dictates – the fearless pursuit of
the goals of humanism.But today I see neither fearlessness
nor pursuit after any worthwhile goals. I hope I am wrong.
Where are the informed voices of Academics and students in the
reported cases of high expenditure outside approved budgetary allocations?
Where were these voices when the unilateral increment of petroleum products was made? Where are these voices when we have started seeing the return of the untidy interim court injunctions? Where are these voices when the very foundation of democracy is being subverted? I am referring to the registration of only 3 political parties out of more than 20 applications.
Yet among those denied registration were NCP, MDJ and PRP the
last two who even under the military were given provisional registrations,
in spite of having council chairmen and councilors, four years after; someone
is telling us that they are yet to qualify for registration. Looking at the
profile of these parties, I tend to believe that they belong to the masses
– and I guess this in the very constituency of the academics. Is the academics
endorsing the system that allow only the money bags to form political parties?
At the risk
of being accused for campaigning in the university, I make bold to challenge
you to come out loud and clear to lead the way.
You should all
return to your constituencies and enlighten your parents, brothers and sisters
to play their civic duties first by registering, then voting, and above all
ensuring that the true winners are the ones declared. Otherwise posterity
will not forgive you for allowing selfish people to tinker with the rule
of the game.
Permit me to
recall, what I said about leadership in my Arewa House lecture in 1998. I
quote: “The aspiring leadership must be able to inspire loyalty in the followership
and imbue it with the desire and willingness to follow and be law abiding.
It must set the example for people to follow.And
though it has often been said that people get the leadership they deserve,
it is even truer today to say that the leadership gets the followership appropriate
to it – the one it begets and nurtures.And, painful
as it may be, we must accept that no corrupt and unaccountable leadership
can beget a responsible, disciplined community. The leader must be the embodiment
of the people’s aspirations and be competent, upright, of positive disposition,
able and willing to take bold, painful, unpopular decisions and be able to
meet unpleasant situations with tact and equanimity, as and when required.
The leadership must symbolize the qualities of sacrifice, integrity, patriotism,
competence, vision and acceptance of the spirit and burdens of democracy.
The leader and his group need not only to be good leaders in the
partisan political game, or in running the country; but they must also be
good losers, who will respect the voice of the people when it speaks.” Again
must be able to guarantee peace for the land and prosperity for the individuals
within it. It should be clear that at all times and in all places the issue
that is absolutely non-negotiable, is the question of law and order. To many,
it has become quite desperate as they leave home everyday in fear for their
lives with armed robbers, secret cult gangs and assassins on the prowl. For
the majority life is indeed brutish and short.”And
even now, for many, under our so-called democracy, nothing has really changed.
goes on unabated; and people see no reason to attempt to be disciplined.Perhaps when you consider all this you may begin to appreciate
efforts of past leaders of this country who struggled to instill discipline
and accountability under a non-democratic setting.It
was a difficult, almost impossible, task.And it is
a task that we must carry on within order to save the present and preserve
the future of our great country.
And we can best
do this within a pluralistic, democratic Federal Republic of Nigeria. Which
is what we must now create and nurture.
And we must
keep in mind that the price for the ability to do this is careful vigilance.
be born with an appetite for personal freedom but they are not born with
knowledge about the social and political arrangements that make freedom possible
over time for their children,” Chester Finn. Jr. said. “ Such things must
be acquired. They must be learned.” But that is not all.
“Democracies,” he said, “ flourished when they are tended by citizens
willing to use their hard won freedom to participate in the life of their
society – adding their voice to the public debate, electing representatives
who are held for their actions, and accepting the need for tolerance and
compromise in public life.”
We can only do this by internalising the culture of democracy.
As democrats in Nigeria we must learn to eschew rigging, indiscipline, and
other corrupt electoral practices in order to avoid the perennial crisis
of succession that always threatens our polity. Our elections must be free
and fair; our practice of democracy must be by negotiation and reading mutually
acceptable compromise; our leadership must always be held accountable by
the people and their representatives, and the followership must be disciplined
watchdogs for the democratic process.And this is the
only way out.
Thank you very much.