Giving democracy a bad name


The classical definition of democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The word democracy imports notions of very good things about governance. These include free and fair elections, the rule of law and its due process, human rights and fundamental freedoms, allocation and management of public resources for the benefit of all, non-discrimination, gender equality and inclusiveness. Nigeria returned to civil rule, which is supposed to be democratic, in 1999. This discourse reviews the journey so far within the context of the key attributes of democracy. It raises the poser; whether our leaders are actually running a democracy, dictatorship in civil dress, etc. Are we blackmailing or abusing the concept of democracy?

The constitution, which is the fundamental law of the land, provides a good anchor and starting point. It states in S.1(2) that: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any persons or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.” This provision is reinforced by S.14 (2) (a) of the same constitution which states that: “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom the government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority.” Have we kept faith in these provisions to anchor our claim of being a democracy? These sections are the foundation for free, fair and credible elections as the basis for electing leadership from the local council, governorship to the presidency. How then can someone or a group of persons take control of Nigeria or any part in a way and manner not in accordance with the constitution?

The most blatant subversion of this provision will be the announcement of a military coup. Beyond military interventions, when a person or group of persons manipulate elections or subvert the electoral process either as individuals, members of a political party, election umpires, security agencies, etc., such persons and groups of persons are acting with the intent of taking control of Nigeria – at the presidential level, at the governorship level, and a local government council at the councillorship election level, in a way and manner not recognised by the constitution. When the perpetrators eventually succeed in manipulating elections as has been the case so many times since 1999, they have succeeded in violating this fundamental tenet of the constitution and democracy. This is the situation when the votes do not count and impostors occupy positions not based on the mandate and vote of the people. When election becomes a physical, economic and emotional war and the vilest emerges in a race to the bottom, that cannot be the definition of democracy.

In the decade leading up to 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule, many notable Nigerians were in the trenches fighting for the restoration of democracy. Many of the discerning members of this class are in shock and cannot recognise the product of their efforts in its current form and shape. Twenty-three years after 1999, we are still recording logistics disasters in election materials arriving at the polling units by mid-day in an election that was supposed to start by 8 am; principal officers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, including professors and lawyers, abandon the law and talk from both sides of their mouth while thugs have a field day. Senor lawyers line up to defend the indefensible rapes of democracy. To compound matters, the members of the judiciary who have the constitutional mandate of resolving disputes between citizens, also between individuals and government, advertently or inadvertently endorse these manipulations of the electoral process. Legitimacy to a bankrupt process that subverts the very constitution on which it is anchored cannot be conferred by a judicial pronouncement which denies self-evident facts under formal rules of evidence. Citizens who were brutalised by political thugs, denied their right to vote, whose votes were not counted, or who listened to key INEC officials make categorical statements about election procedure which they reversed after failing in the discharge of their duties can only feel a sense of bewilderment and contempt for such a system. The citizens gasp for breath and hope in the electoral process as a legitimate means of change of government is dissolved in the air. Essentially manipulated elections produce the same democratic rape as a military coup and any pretence to democracy in these circumstances is a lie from the pit of hell.

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Before 1999, we heard of the stories of looting of the treasury through the grapevine since freedom of speech was under massive attack by the soldiers of fortune. Some of these stories were validated by the return of Abacha’s loot so many years after his death. Under military rule, there was a hierarchy of approved and authorised thieves who were the only persons permitted under the jurisprudence of the times to steal. The list included the head of state and members of the Supreme Military Council at the federal level while the state list included the military administrator. The list could be expanded to ministers and commissioners and other authorised thieves under a controlled environment. To stem this trend, the constitution proclaimed the security and welfare of the people as the primary purpose of government. It expected the resources to be invested for the benefit of all and without discrimination. But under a purported democracy, the looting has quadrupled and become extremely brazen. The looting of public resources has been democratised in the sense that unlike military rule when there was a smaller controlled list of permissible thieves, the list has expanded and ballooned to all comers, from the councillor, state legislator, federal legislator, chairman of council, governors, president and their appointees. It is now a feast for the expanded list and their cronies.

Military rule was essentially an affair of a clique of men who held everyone to ransom through the barrel of the gun. Since 1999, what has been the sex disaggregation of our leadership purportedly emerging through the ballot box? Nothing fundamental has changed. At best, there is mere tokenism thrown at women and other marginalised groups.

Nigeria’s experience with democracy has given the term a very bad name and reputation. We have indulged in all that democracy is not about. The ruling class in Nigeria needs to rethink its idea of elections, rule of law, due process, popular sovereignty and leadership. The people have been short-changed and taken for a ride. The emerging governments over the years cannot in good faith claim to be by the people, of the people, and for the people.


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