Corporate America And Democracy: A Lesson For Nigerians

By Ikenga Chronicles January 12, 2021

— Kennedy Emetulu

For those of us from places they call the “Third World,” what is happening today in America generally should be a teachable moment. Of course, it depends on what you are learning and whether you really are taking away the right lessons. Sometimes, what you choose to learn depends on your partisan outlook, but it shouldn’t be. For instance, I’ve heard people say things like, oh, American politics is as corrupt as any in the Third World, so no one should listen to America’s preachments about corruption. They are doing so because they buy the Trumpian narrative that the election was stolen from him when this is not true. I’ve heard some say Trump has exposed the underbelly of democracy by taking apart supposedly longstanding American democratic institutions for four years, yet the opposite is true because what Trump’s actions has really showed is how resilient institutions in a true democracy are.

Well, whatever your opinion of Trump or American politics, we must all start from appreciating that democracy is the only form of government we all need, no matter where we live. What matters is the content of our democratic practice, its characteristics. As I have always said on these pages and elsewhere, what makes a good or bad democratic environment are the characteristics of the democracy practiced and accepted in that environment. It therefore follows that you can have proper democracies and those pretending to be and are therefore only so in name. But, at all times, the job of prodemocracy forces everywhere is to push to increase the democratic quotient at every level of public decision-making. Those of you who’ve followed my debate with Pa Ikhide Ikheloa and all those who are always railing against what they thinks is “western democracy” in Nigeria would know my view in all this.

Now, below is a link to certain events going on in and around America at the moment. In this case, we are talking corporate America’s response to Trump’s attempted coup against democracy. Note that he is notionally one of them, the first businessman-billionaire to be president, the first who never held any public office before coming to the White House. They have backed him from the beginning and throughout his presidency and he has favoured them with policies in every regard, even to the detriment of ordinary Americans. So, what happened?

Why are they falling out with him now? Well, Trump overreached. Trump calculated that Mammon would always win against democracy, but corporate America understands better. They know there are values bigger than money. They know that losing money now to defend, stabilize and sustain the larger social system making it possible for them to make this money is a wiser investment than looking the other way and raking in the money now only to be sent crashing down later by social and political forces they have ignored or opposed in their greed.

Basically, they’ve chosen to defend democracy over greed.

Okay, I know that the easiest reaction to their actions is one of cynicism. I mean, when we see corporations playing the game of false equivalences or some saying they are only stopping donations for now or when we know those who have acted can actually do more while many more are yet to do or say anything, we feel a little unconvinced. Also, when we know that there is no big national election in the horizon before 2022 by which time Trump may not even be a factor anymore and by which time a lot of those claiming to act now would have returned to the status quo, the case for cynicism seems stronger. I get all that, but it should not be how to judge this present corporate intervention because the significance is more telling.

Leaders of corporate America know that social balance can only be sustained by politics that is answerable to the people. They know they have an advantage with their money and capacity to support campaigns and install political leaders, but they also know that they too must answer to patrons and customers who are citizens who live and work in the same society. They have also learnt from history. Fascism in the thirties and forties was backed by corporate power and where did Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito lead the world? Should they look the other way while Trump peddles racialist and supremacist politics and policies? Well, they did for a while until Black Lives Matter nudged their consciences with their protests. Should they look the other way while Trump attempts to aggressively steal an election he has lost? Well, they did to an extent until Trump roused his Deplorables to attack the Capitol.

The first obvious lesson we must take away is that though our democracy is still nascent by the standards of America and the West, yet whether it grows, survives and becomes something to serve our purpose would depend on how much investments we make in its institutions and in people’s activism. We have watched as Buhari and his goons destroyed the independence of the judiciary and appointed a highly unqualified person as the Chief Justice of the Federation. On the other hand, we watched how Trump trumpeted his appointment of three Supreme Court Justices and thought they would save him electorally because he appointed them. Yet, what happened? All those he appointed and those who were there before, despite the charged partisan atmosphere, unitedly stood by the rule of law because that’s their oath. When Trump toyed with the idea of introducing martial law to seize back the election, what happened? Military leaders came out openly to say that they answer to no monarch or any man, but to the Constitution of the United States. In all this, Americans exercised their First Amendment rights to protest and cry against the racial injustice still prevalent in their land headlined by police killings of Black people. When Black Lives Matter took to the streets, we did not see only Black people out there, they were joined by White people who were becoming conscientized about the problem despite them enjoying white privilege. Why, because these are citizens who understand that for America to create a better union, rights and privileges based on the colour code must have no place in the system. In Nigeria, we are still tooting our ethnic horns and playing exclusivist ethnic politics for national capture. For more than 60 years, we’ve been at it.

A few months ago, we witnessed the gunning down of young people singing the National Anthem while hoisting the Nigerian flag because they were protesting police brutality. No accountability. Corporate Nigeria remains as silent as the graveyard and in many cases they became complicit. Contractors still grubbing from the trough still have their mouths full and ‘national leaders’ enabling the government still have their bank accounts heaving healthily. The nation is ravaged by insecurity occasioned by Boko Haram terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery and ritual killings, but our government just scratches its head and wrings its hands with uniformed and ununiformed officials in charge of vital operations sleeping on duty with their bellies full. We, the people have been cowed into silence only to occasionally offer up anodyne prayers of: “Na God go save us” and “May Nigeria succeed” as though national success depends on mere wishful thinking.

If we have to take one lesson away from what is happening in America, it is for us to recognize that we are all the arteries of progress or retrogression in our society. Whether you are the ordinary citizen or the corporate citizen, whether you are the big politician or the small one, whether you are a civil servant or a private sector employee, your one and only stance should be country over party, country over support for one politician or the other, country over personal gain, country over silly religious dogmas and beliefs that divide people and country over ethnic interests. It has to be true, viable democracy over every other type of government proposed by those who want to compromise freedom.

To build and sustain a proper democracy, most citizens must work to make themselves the critical number that should set the national agenda. We must understand how every sector works to sustain the institutions of democracy and know how to organize and when to hit the streets to make the case for the people when necessary. We cannot afford to just be spectators today because what is happening in America right now will have huge reverberations all over the world for the next couple of decades or more. A post-Trump world would get people energize all over the world because of the forces already unleashed, and we must find our place in all that for the good of our country. More than three-quarters of our population are still thirty five years and below, so the power is still in our hands. Oh, of course, I know there is still a lot of confusion out there, but people should start talking with and to each other, talk across ethnic and religious lines, recognize no barriers. When we talk and ask questions, answers will come, the way will be clear.

Please, note that this note is not a comprehensive analysis because it is programmed only as a word enough for the wise. If you are a corporate leader who really loves Nigeria, start thinking and if you are an ordinary Nigerian who really loves Nigeria, start thinking. Time is ticking….

God bless Nigeria!

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