Moses Ebe Ochonu takes issues with Abaka's points on democracy:

Let me join the bandwagon of dissatisfaction with Dr. Abaka's commentary on democracy's uselessness to the African poor. But mine is a more charitable and sympathetic disagreement with Dr. Abaka's thesis. While I do not agree that democracy is useless to the hungry or the poor, I have a sympathetic understanding of the thesis because I happen to have reflected
deeply on how and why that perception persists in much of Africa today.

In my opinion, the idea that democracy must somehow be either be a health-creation/distribution exercise or lose its relevance stems from a pervasive belief in democracy not as an abstract and institutional catalyst but as an instrumental and reified practice that must prove its relevance by solving Africans' material problems. No political contemporary African phraseology captures this thinking more vividly than the popular Nigeria phrase: "dividends of democracy."
Please see below a piece that I wrote for Nigeria's Thisday Newspaper in 2001 (November 26, 2001) critiquing the idea of dividends of democracy. Elsewhere, I have described as dangerous the idea being peddled by Nigerian politicians in the Obasanjo government that democracy is supposed to produce (or has produced) tangible material dividends for Nigerians.
This perception of how democracy should operate on the continent unduly valorizes a practice that is more of a catalyst than a producer of economic wellbeing, and makes the indirect and tenuous correlation between democratic governance (represented by constitutional
practices, rule of law, equality under the law, electoral choice, and a strong and independent
judiciary) and poverty alleviation a direct and causal one.

This is the source of the massive ameliorative and transformative expectations being invested in
multiparty democratic civilian government all over the continent. It is also the source of the disturbing disillusionment and disappointment with the outcomes and result of multi-party democracy on the continent's disillusionment that sometimes morph into vocal and hushed calls for military intervention. Some have even gone so far as to express a preference for what they
believe to be the stability (even if not progress) of military or one-party dictatorships to the 'chaos' and seeming stagnancy of democratic orders.

The equation of political democracy with a democratization of wealth, access, economic
opportunity, and resources the crux of Dr. Abaka's thesis is a lofty, even if untenable, proposition. The intention behind it is honorable and humane, but like many lofty ideas it has had the effect of generating disillusionment and disappointment with democracy than it has made the practitioners of African democracy the 'democratic' leader is more sensitive to the economic
needs of their constituencies. Africa cannot afford massive disillusionment with democratic governance. But if something is not done this is what we may get. My recipe for dealing with this conundrum is not to uphold Dr. Abaka's thesis and (re)invest or burden democracy with poverty alleviation aims and expectations  this has never been a direct function of democratic practice. Rather, we must urgently reinterpret democracy to our people as a family of ideas and practices that, over a long time, could create the enabling environment for the germination of
accountability, transparency, rule of law, and effective and responsible governance all of which are catalysts for wealth creation and distribution. In our pro-democracy advocacy and in our attempt to sell democracy on the continent it may be tempting to try to construct a substantive and quantitative demarcation between democracy and autocracy in Africa by suggesting that democracy will improve the economic lives of people in ways that autocracies do not, but
we must resist this temptation and tell our people the brutal truth that democracy in an of itself cannot bring economic relief and that most of democracy's benefits are intangible.

Thisday, 11/26/01

By Moses Ochonu

The latest political politico-linguistic contraption to assault our national consciousness is the phrase "dividends of democracy." This is the latest but assuredly not the last in the long line of empty political constructs to burst upon our political arena. Where and how this phrase originated is unclear. A friend and college mate of mine, a
journalist, recently interviewed Prof. Jerry Gana, the
current Information Minister. My friend gave me a
glimpse into the workings of this minister's mind and
gave me a foretaste of what to expect (the interview
is now published). Jerry Gana has been in every
government since his days at MAMSER. He is a
perfectionist in the art of political survival. But he
is not the subject of this essay. I have brought him
up to hazard an answer to the puzzle as to how and
where the nebulous phrase in question originated.

One of the things that my friend told me was that Gana is so self assured, so confident in what he does as chief government propagandist that he brooks no dissent. He is so eager to shoot down alternative perceptions of Obasanjo's government that he hardly
stops to consider the reception that his cliches get
in the minds of Nigerians. The public, Gana believes,
must been made to understand how much better life has
become under this government. Hence his national media
tour, which, as advertised, was meant to showcase the
"dividends of democracy." How insensitive can we
Nigerians be that we have yet to see the monumental
development that democracy has brought to us? How
blind can we be that we have missed the transformation
wrought on our country by this extraordinary set of
individuals? In fact, how could we be so unfeeling as
to sometimes label the Obasanjo government a lame duck
when it is the exact opposite? This crass indifference
on the part of Nigerians underscores the importance of
Gana's tour. How generous the Information Minister has
been with his time and energy, never giving up on us
and persisting in his effort to teach us the ways of
democracy, its workings and its immense benefits. We
fought for democracy and now that it is here we do not
appreciate it. Gana wants to reawaken the acute
appreciation we used to have for democracy. The media
tour is therefore not frivolous, as some shallow
commentators have alleged; it is one of the most
important things to happen to our country in recent
times. But for Gana, how would we know that local
government chairmen, state governors, and other "stake
holders" in this "democracy" have built roads,
hospitals, bridges, and schools in their domains? But
for this ingenious programme of national awareness,
how would we assess our elected officials, our
democracy? In fact how would we appreciate the
"dividends of democracy"? All hail the Professor!

The foregoing is why I think this notorious phrase originated from the fertile mind of our Professor minister. Now that we are done with origins, let us turn for a moment to how the phrase has infested our political discourse. One can no longer watch the NTA
network news (watched, lest we forget, by 30 million
Nigerians every night!) without the phrase being
mentioned in connection with some story at least once
in the bulletin. It used to be that the journalist
would quote some government official as saying the
phrase; now it is the government media's favorite
phrase. Even the socalled independent media have
caught on, albeit with some trepidation and while
maintaining some critical distance. When a politician
distributes bags of salt or fertilizer to peasants in
his constituency sowing the seed for future support
the items are the peasants' dividends of democracy. A
young man who recently got a job with a government
agency was said to have reaped his own dividend of
democracy. A humorist recently described the birth of
a baby as its parents' dividend of democracy. All good
developments in private and official circles are
dividends of democracy but no one has come up with a
phrase to describe the many adversities and
disappointments that Nigerians encounter daily. Should
we call them the waste products of democracy? I
suppose my own dividend of democracy would be the fact
that I am able to leave my house in peace and go to a
public internet cafe to send this essay to Nigeria
world. After all, when Gana and his troop of media
observers visited Kaduna State, my abode, recently on
the media tour, he announced glibly that in the case
of Kaduna State, a state with a peculiar history of
ethno-religious conflict, peace the uneasy peace that
we Kaduna residents now enjoy ought to be counted as
one of the dividends of democracy. Everyone concurred.
So, this essay is a documentary testimony of my own
dividend of democracy. It gets even more absurd.
Recently, a governor told some hapless villagers
during a tour that his mere presence in their midst
was their dividend of democracy, as though his
presence translated automatically into improvements in
the lives of the villagers. The Oputa Commission,
which has been as entertaining as it has been
dramatic, is of course one of the remarkable dividends
of democracy. No other theatre has provided more comic
relief, more drama, and more opportunity for catharsis
for a nation that was traumatized and brutalized by
the military leaders of our immediate past. I wonder
why Gana is yet to make political capital of this

The first assumption that undergirds the idea of dividends of democracy is that democracy is a thing in itself, a thing that can be bestowed on or achieved by
a country, a state of being. It is none of these. It
is not a thing in itself. It is not one thing, one
idea; it is a cluster of things, of many ideas. The
reification of and overemphasis on democracy as a
producer of "dividends" emanates from a wrong
understanding of the concept. It is often thought that
democracy is a state of being instead of a state of
becoming; that one can be said to have arrived at
democracy; that one is either on the democratic train
or out of it. These are claimmaking assumptions.
Democracy is a construct, a framing device that is
supposed to conjure up a wide range of ideas,
structures, and attitudes. Without these, democracy is
an empty concept. In fact democracy is only a
conceptual shelter for all sorts of political,
judicial, legislative, ethical, and attitudinal ideas.
For what would democracy be without the rule of law,
the independence of the judiciary, accountability and
transparency, separation of powers, respect for and
awareness about human rights, to mention but a few.
Those who understand democracy to mean elections and
the emplacement of political structures -legislatures,
executive power apparatuses, etc will continue to make
the logical but erroneous assumption that one can
measure democracy by assessing the activities of these
bodies or by showcasing their achievements or lack
thereof. These folks will continue to advertise any
activity or "achievement" of governors, Council
chairmen, and other officials, no matter how
fortuitous, as dividends of democracy.

The foregoing brings us to the second assumption which sustains the idea of dividends of democracy, which is that democracy-or transitional democracy, which is
what we really have in Nigeria is supposed to produce
dividends and solve problems. Inherent in this
thinking is a portrayal of the idea of democracy as a
solution in itself, which unfortunately it is not.
Democracy, rather, is supposed to create suitable
environments for private and corporate persons to
fulfill themselves economically and socially and to
express their fundamental human rights. To expect
"democracy" to suddenly produce miraculous solutions
to our country's problems is to kill the individual
spirit, to undermine enterprise, and to create
dependencies that only a big government ( which is an
anachronism), a patriarchal and patrimonial state, can
support. Individual Nigerians should be told to take
advantage of the relatively liberal atmosphere
provided by our transitional democratic government to
improve their personal and group economies. They
should not be told that democracy would create jobs,
build houses and roads, and guarantee power supply for
them. That is not going to happen, at least not
everywhere. Job creation, to start with, is not a
function of the government. The private sector ought
to be empowered through appropriate legislation and
government policy to do that. The present nonmilitary
political atmosphere can facilitate that, but no more.
And if elected governments are building more roads,
schools, and hospitals than their military
predecessors, it is not that democracy has suddenly
made political office holders more altruistic. It is
because the electorate could and might exercise their
voting rights against a nonperforming official. It is
therefore not democracy, however defined, that has
brought about the so-called dividends of democracy,
few as they are, contrary to Gana's exaggerations. It
is the people, their new found power and awareness.

The folly in the empty declarations about socalled dividends of democracy is illustrated by the lack of distinction between democracy-the full realization of the ideas, institutions, and attitudes discussed earlier and political liberalization. The latter is
what we have, and while it could facilitate and
sustain reforms and change, it will not automatically
transform our society. There has to be the political
will to promote the family of ideas and practices that
we associate with democratic growth. Further,
Nigerians must evolve the right attitudes to help
bring about the realization of these ideas, while
being alert to the responsibilities and opportunities
that the new liberalism offers. There is no such thing
as the dividend of democracy as democracy is not a set
of self-propelling, selffulfilling ideas. Even Jerry
Gana ought to know this.