UGUMANIM BASSEY OBO
Department Of Political Science,
University Of Calabar,
As a mode of managing and organizing the affairs of men, democracy has become the beautiful bride with •which every society wants to be identified. This article seeks to demonstrate that democracy, if properly and correctly conceived, underscores a system of governance in which those who govern not only derive their mandate and legitimacy from the people, but also manage the affairs of the society strictly in a manner that is dictated and informed by the overall interests of the majority of the masses. Moreover, this paper contends that in Nigeria, the meaning of democracy has been completely distorted and misrepresented, and that members of the ruling class in Nigeria tend to believe that democracy is synonymous only with the conduct of elections – no matter how fraudulent the exercise may be. We try to bring the latter view into sharper relief by drawing attention to the fact that the various administrations that emerged during the few years that Nigeria is said to have practised democracy only served the selfish interests of the few public office holders and their friends and relatives.
…. the politicians, whether in Agbada or in Khakhi, continue to assure the Nigerian public that what has been happening in …[forty-three] years of our existence as an independent nation is development.
Of course, for those who have been the beneficiaries of the exploitative arrangements, there has been material advancement. For in a country where 98% of the population are unable to feed three times daily, there are those who spend weekends in London, New York or Zurich. In a country where pipe-borne water is a luxury for 90% of the population, there are those who fly their private jets to buy spring water in London!
-Aaron T. Gana (1987:7).
Professor Gana’s view succinctly captufes4he situation in Africa’s most populous country under the various regimes (military or civilian), which it has had more than four decades after the termination of British colonial rule. What can be gleaned from this argument is that Nigeria is a country of excruciating paradoxes. Here is a society that has been magnanimously blessed by Nature with an almost inexhaustible pool of resources (both human and material); here is a society that has among its population some of thepoorest and most impoverished of the earth’s inhabitants. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that in this same society, one could find, in Fanonian terms, the “most wretched of the wretched”.
In this essay, a case is made to accentuate the contention that without a single exception, the various administrations, which Nigeria has had since independence-by-settlement was attained in 1960 have run the affairs of this country to serve only the egoistic interests of members of the ruling class. We also argue that the Nigerian Commonwealth has been confiscated and expropriated by a few people, thereby relegating the majority of Nigerians to the ignoble and denigrating status of a conquered people.
This position is developed and reinforced by drawing attention to the fact that even under the so-called-democratic arrangements in Nigeria, the noble and populist notions of good governance and people’s welfare are culpably jettisoned. The point is also made that under the current neocolonial and people – unfriendly bourgeois “democracy”, government business is tailored to serve the interests of a few people in positions of authority and their friends, families and cronies. There is no doubt that the on – going misleading and sycophantic declarations by government apologists and mouthpieces on “dividends of democracy”, “beauty of democracy”, “ nascent democracy”, “moving Nigeria forward”, “not derailing democracy in Nigeria”, “gains of continuity in office”, and other forms of phrase – mongering, to borrow Jitendra Mohan’s (1968:390) terms, are attempts by these opportunistic and self-serving sophists to misrepresent, misconceptualize, and behead democracy in Nigeria. To reinforce our view that democracy as practised in Nigeria has not served the interests of the majority of the people, we shall try to briefly draw attention to the character of the Nigerian State. We posit that the Nigerian state is not only capitalist b it neocolonial, and that since it not only serves but is dominated by a few rich and privileged members ‘of the bourgeois class, any government that emerges from it would necessarily serve only the powerful and privileged in the society.
II.DEMOCRACY: A CONCEPTUAL AND THEORETICAL OVERVIEW
Democracy is an alluring concept with which every ruler wants to be identified. It is the “cheer-word” and the “in-thing,” which has become as pervasive as ever, threateningly competing with the very air that we breathe (Agi, 1992:98). Attempting to provide a universally acceptable definition of democracy can prove to be a herculean task. Democracy, according to Afrifa Gitonga (in Oyadare, 1994:202), is a “hurrah word”, an umbrella concept used to refer to and designate a multitude of diverse and varied socio -political systems or realities. Little wonder that Benard Crick (in Okoye, 2001:2) avers that democracy “is perhaps the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs”.
Generally, democracy is a way of life that involves freedom to make choices about what one does, where he lives, and how he uses his earnings; the operation of institutions -the home, the church, local, state and federal government; the right of justified property ownership; social justice and fairness; the absence of social and class barriers; equality of opportunity; and the solution of common problems through the exercise of the free-will of the people. Relying on the liberal (orthodox) theoretical tradition, Ozoemenam Mbachu(1994:12) surmises that at a more theoretical level of definition, democracy can be regarded as a political system in which the eligible people (electorate) in any country participate actively not only .in determining the kind of people that govern them, but also actually participate actively in shaping the policy direction of the government.
In an endeavour to be part of the definitional discourse; on democracy, Ahmed Aminu Yusuf (1994:112-113) also spells out what he sees as some of the tenets of this system of governance. According to him, democracy is not about the policies an activities of government, even though these may directly affect it; democracy is not just the existence of a civilian government (as opposed to military government) even though the supremacy of civilian governmental authority over the armed forces is one of its basic features; democracy is not just the existence of multiparty politics^ even though it is one of its major tenets; and it is not just the ritual holding of elections, for elections can be , scientifically rigged and the people, for one reason or the other, can refuse to vote during elections. Yet, elections allow for the orderly transfer or maintenance of political power, legitimize a government and stabilize a political system. As far as Yusuf is concerned,
democracy is first and foremost about people. It is about the relationship of those who lead and those who are led, those who govern and those who exercise political power and those who are the subjects of this power. Democracy posits and insists that power springs from and, therefore, belongs to the people. Hence, those who exercise political power should use it in the interests of the people or at least, the majority…
It can be deduced from the preceding view that Yusuf is averse to the “ritualistic” conception of democracy merely as the routine conduct of elections. Rather, he agrees, as we do in this paper, that democracy emphasizes not only the central role of the people as the source of the legitimacy of those who govern, but also the fact that public policies and programmes, must be targeted at the needs and overall welfare of the majority of the people.
According to Alaba Ogunsanwo, for many latter day converts of the notion, democrat connotes periodic elections to change leaders in any society or country. For others, it connotes the automatic free opportunity to participate in the periodic election of the leaders of a society or country; whether the leaders get changed in the process is a factor of the subjective conditions in which democracy operates in such society. For Ogunsanwo, democracy involves a whole series of processes and cultural values which relate to the selection of leaders at all levels of society, the behaviour of groups and individuals vis-à-vis those who hold different views on issues under consideration as well as the use of power by those the selection process has placed in decision making positions. To him, it also includes the existence of the rule of law, which relates to the equal treatment of all before the law and the curbing of the excessive power of those in control of affairs all levels of society (Ogunsanwo, 1994:138-139).
However, Ogunsanwo does not seem to be, perturbed by the fact that the material condition of a people can immeasurably affect the extent of their participation in the “selection of leaders at all-levels of society”. Moreover, in a neocolonial socio-formation like Nigeria, which is characterized by all forms of deep-rooted capitalist inequalities, is it really possible for us to have “the existence of the rule of law” and “the equal treatment of all before the law”?
Writing from the radical ideological perspective, Sina Kawonise (1989, Section III:4-5) argues that since the economic power of the bourgeoisie forms the bedrock of their hegemony in democratic-bourgeois republics, ensuring the dominance of the lowest and largest class, or the regime of equality and social justice which all types of democracy lay claim to, will involve, first and foremost, the democratization of the economic substructure of the society. According to Kawonise, it is obvious that democracy is not only a political category but a term extending to the socio-economic realm of the society, and in the last analysis, it consists in involving the people in taking part actively and freely in discussions and decisions affecting their general welfare. And the most basic aspect of the general welfare of the people, in the words of Kawdnise,
is the material production and reproduction of their life. Consequently, any attempt at democratization, in the fullest sense of the term, must have as its point of departure, the egalitarianism of the processes of material production, distribution and consumption. This given, the political dimension of democracy will necessarily follow.
On his part, Akpa Ekpo (1989, section XI: 47), paradigmatic framework, has attempted a materialist interpretation of democracy. He contends that democracy which means the rule of the majority over the minority, the equality of all citizens, their rights and freedoms must be located within a particular social formation. To Ekpo, democracy connotes a form of state and a form of the organization of societies political and economic life, and it must be understood historically as society moves from one mode of production to another. According to him, democracy must be dissected and its qualitativeness highlighted from one social formation to another. Consequently, democracy under slavery is different from that under feudalism, and democracy under capitalism cannot be the same as democracy under socialism. Indeed, in Ekpo’s words, a higher form of social formation represents sine qua non a higher form of democracy.
There is no gain saying the fact that democracy was popularized by the Greeks in their quest for an ideal or appropriate mode of managing the affairs of the society. In a funeral oration, which he delivered after the defeat of Sparta at the Battle of Thermoplae, Pericles captured the philosophical basis of democracy. As he put it,
the constitution by which we live does not emulate the enactments of our neighbours. It is an example to others rather than an imitation of them. It is called democracy because power does not rest with the few, but with the many, and in law, as it touches individuals, all are equal, while in regard to the public estimation in which each man is held in any field, his advancement depends not [on] mere rotation, but rather on his true worth; nor does poverty dim his reputation or prevent him from assisting the state, if he has the capacity. Liberty marks both our public politics and the feelings which touch our daily life together. We do not resent a neighbour’s pursuit of pleasure, nor cast on him the burden of ill will, which does no injury but gives pains to witness. Our private converse is untroubled, our life in the state free from illegality, owing mainly to respect for the authority of the magistrates of the day, and of the laws, especially laws laid down to help the wronged, and those unwritten laws whose neglect brings acknowledged discredit (in Mbachu, 1994:13).
As can be deduced from the foregoing definitions of democracy, it is obvious that it is a form of government which derives its mandate and legitimacy from, and owes its existence to, the people, and which has the satisfaction of the needs of the masses as its raison d’etre. But what is meant by “the people”? Eskor Toyo (2000:155) informs us that the Greeks distinguished between monarchs, dictators, aristocrats or the elite, the rich, and the people, and that the more precise English translation of what the Greeks meant by “the people” is the English term ” the common people” or “the working people.” According to him, “the people” are distinguished from predators on them, the privileged or the powerful. Moreover, the Greeks, who gave currency to the concept of democracy actually knew about classes and analyzed their roles in government and society. They equally differentiated the people from the ruling classes or groups, distinguished from the people by status and privilege. Professor Toyo also highlights the significance of “the people” in some of the epochs in the historical evolution of human society. In the feudal society, “the people” are the peasants and others, distinct from the privileged and dominant feudal aristocracy. In the capitalist society, the “people” are wage workers, peasants, artisans, petty traders and others that are not rich and do not share in the capital power and other privileges of capitalist society, whether money – required or not.
In his exposition on the concept of democracy, Toyo clearly accepts the definition offered by the Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, which regards it as: “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people collectively, and is administered by them or by officers appointed by them, the common people; a state of society characterized by recognition of equality of rights and privileges: political, social or legal equality”. He also examines the key elements of this definition, and since his analysis can immeasurably enrich and reinforce our argument, it is reproduced at length:
Let us note supreme power and the vesting of power in the people collectively. For the people to have supreme power, it is not enough to hold elections. The question of whose interests the armed forces serve is crucial to the issue of power. Besides, today we know that not only political power exists but also economic power and the power of information. Education and the mass media are powerful means of domination or manipulation. Let us also note the common people. As we have seen, democracy is class-recognizing term, and the term “the people” refers to “the common people” as distinguished from kings, aristocrats, the rich, or the privileged in general. Let us note equality. The equality of rights and privileges (political, social and legal) among citizens is crucial for the true definition of democracy. We must also note further that the term “social” embraces the economic and cultural aspects of society. To have a genuine democracy there must be first and foremost a real equality of citizenship. A country having a few multi-millionaires dictating in the end the choices the government makes while millions of citizens are poor or even unemployed cannot be a democracy (Toyo 2000: 155 – 156).
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE NIGERIAN STATE AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR DEMOCRACY: A BRIEF NOTE
Our argument in this article is that the notion of democracy as a form of managing the affairs of human society mainly in the overall interests of the hoi polloi (or, at least a majority of them) has been debased in Nigeria. We also posit that the nature and character of a state affect the kind of democracy that can be practised in that system. But since an elaborate analysis of the phenomena of state and state-formation is beyond the purview of this essay, a few remarks on the character of the Nigerian State and its consequences for the emergence of “true” democracy in Nigeria would suffice.
One’s understanding of the concept of the state could be enriched if its key elements or properties are identified. This has been done by Ralph Miliband (in Ekeh, 1985:9) thus:
These are the institutions – the government, the administration,
the military and the police, the judicial branch, sub-central
government and parliamentary assemblies – which make up the
state”, and whose interrelationship shapes the form of the state
system. It is these institutions in which state power is wielded in its different manifestations by the people who occupy the leading positions in each of these institutions – presidents, prime ministers and their ministerial colleagues, high civil servants and the state administrators, top military men, judges of the higher courts, some at least of the leading members of parliamentary assemblies – and, along way behind, particularly in unitary states, the political and administrative leaders of subcentral units of the state. These are the people who constitute what may be described as the state elite.
While liberal scholars argue that the state emerged as an unbiased umpire with theresponsibility of regulating the affairs of the society for the interests of all, radicals and adherents of Marxism-Leninism posit that the state is an instrument of oppression in the hands of the bourgeoisie. To the latter group, the state is a manifestation of class antagonism, and it represents the rule or domination of one class against another. In this sense, the state does not reflect a consensus of opinions (Ekpo, 1989, Section XI: 48).
Frederich Engels’ thesis on the state represents this position. In his words,
the state is therefore by no means a power imposed on society from without – rather it is a product of society at a particular stage of development, it is the admission that this society has involved itself in insoluble self-contradictions and is cleft into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to exorcise. But in order that these antagonisms, classes with conflicting interests, shall not consume themselves in a fruitless struggle, a power, apparently standing above society, has become necessary to moderate and keep it within the bounds of “order”; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it and increasingly alienating itself from it is the state (in Ekeh,1985:5).
The Nigerian state is capitalist and neocolonial; it has long been integrated into the global capitalist system as a supplier of raw materials, and it is characterized by an overbearing presence of multinational companies as the-key economic actors. The ruling class in Nigeria remains essentially a comprador class, which serves as intermediary or commission agents for multinationals. Thus, the state is not only ‘dependent but also peripheralized, and it is politically and economically controlled by a few rich Nigerians in collaboration with foreign interests (Ekpo, 1989:50-51).
Deriving from its capitalist nature, the Nigerian state is essentially an exploitative socio-material order, and any form of representative governance constituted in it is basically an exploitative and irrational type of democracy (Omelle, 1989, Section IV: 18).Indeed, the Nigerian state is and has always been an exploitative state. For the bulk of Nigerians, it is either an irrelevant or hostile coercive force. As a capitalist state, it has not succeeded very much in furthering the penetration of capitalism and appears to have rather limited interest in doing so. In both pre-colonial and post-colonial Nigeria, the state has been distinguished by its failure to further to any marked degree, the development of productive forces. In colonial times the political class was interested in the extraction and repatriation of surplus and not in development or even in making a coherent economy. In post-colonial Nigeria the political class has been mainly occupied in maintaining their political domination and in accumulation (Ihonvbere and Ekekwe, in Omelle, 1989:18-19).
The foregoing explains the failure of genuine democratic governance in Nigeria. Democracy in Nigeria has only served the philistinic interests of those who control and dominate the Nigerian state: the bourgeoisie. As Ekpo (1989:47) has reminded us, “democracy under capitalism is not genuine. It is the rule over the majority instead of the rule over the majority.”
IV. DEMOCRACY IN PRACTICE: THE NIGERIAN EXPERIENCE
In Nigeria, democracy is taken to be synonymous with regimes or administrations which are headed by civilian politicians but whether or not the affairs of the state are managed solely to further the interests of members of a self-seeking cabal is unimportant. Against the background of this distorted view of democracy, it is often said that since 1960, Nigeria has practised democracy for about fourteen years. Thus, it is said that Nigeria has had the First, Second, Third (aborted) and now the Fourth Republic.
Following the collapse of the British colonial administration in 1960, Nigerians thought that the declaration which the petit-bourgeois leaders of the independence movement had made during the heydays of the struggle against colonial domination -namely, that political independence was being sought not only as a fundamental and inalienable right of the people but also as an avenue for ensuring better life and well-being for the people – would be upheld.
Armed with independence from direct British rule, Nigerians expected the Tafawa Balewa – led “democracy” to translate their hopes and aspirations into improved standard of living, genuine freedom, and an overall development and progress of the Nigerian society. But alas! Hardly had the British imperialists departed and their indigenous .collaborators (led by Balewa, Azikiwe, Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello) inherited the colonial apparatuses of the state when it became crystal clear to the Nigerian people that democracy and independence were sought by the so-called nationalists in order for the latter to appropriate those privileges of. government which were hitherto enjoyed by the British colonialists. It soon became clear that independence and democracy meant – to the Nigerian petit-bourgeois rulers – an opportunity for self-aggrandizement for a few, privileged members of the society.
Under the Balewa – led administration, the exploitation of the Nigerian people and the plundering of the country’s resources continued as they had happened under colonialism. The only difference now was that those who presided over this exploitative enterprise of profligacy and prebendalism were fellow Nigerians. The people were aghast as they helplessly watched the operators of the Nigerian neocolonial state squander the resources of the nation, dashing in the process, the people’s hopes for a better future.
Describing how the Nigerian people were fleeced by the politicians of that era, Wole Soyinka (1994:322) captures the situation in the Western region in the following manner:
The proceeds of robbery were flaunted before an increasingly impoverished populace: American cars of ever-increasing lengths and vulgar opulence, with kaleidoscopic fins and wings-wings on which the masses declared that their wealth had taken off. They watched the social exhibitationism of the politicians, their wives and families; saw mansions of extravagant dimensions spring up in the midst of hovels, often forcibly demolished, the land acquired by fiat; marveled at the patterns of insatiable, public consumption among the privileged few. The West watched its wealth, its basic resources, even its mean of productivity mortgaged to Indian merchants, Greeks and Lebanese. And orgies became a way of life at the top, social parties at the slightest excuse, parties that had no end and no beginning, simply flowing into one another in seas of champagne…
The incredible fanfare which greeted the birth-of the Second Republic was a
reminder of the hullabaloo, which characterized the handing over of the baton of
exploitation by the British Colonizers to their indigenous lackeys in 1960. The
understanding of the notion of democracy by members of the ruling class was unchanged.
As far as the politicians of the Second Republic – most of whom were key actors in the
show of shame of the First Republic – were concerned, democracy still meant government
for the privileged, their friends, and their families. The policies and programmes of the
Shagari -led regime only succeeded in reinforcing the embourgoisment of members of the
ruling class and the deepening of the mendicancy of majority of the people. In a short but
brilliant account of what he identifies as the fundamental problem of Nigeria, Chinua
Achebe (1983:22) posits, inter alia that:
…when it comes to grabbing, we, the elite of Nigeria, hardly
ever consider our numerical .insignificance in-relation to the share of the national loot which we lay claim to or possess already…Dangerous as the denial of merit in the nation’s system of choosing and rewarding- its hierarchy of public servants can be, the real explosive potential of social injustice in Nigeria does not reside in the narrow jostling among the elite but in the gargantuan disparity of privilege they have created between their tiny class and the multitudes of ordinary Nigerians.
In spite of the noise and propaganda by government’s spokespersons on this
“achievements” of democracy during General Obasanjo’s second coming even a casual
“observer of events and happening in Nigeria since May 1999 would agree: that for the
political office holders of the Fourth Republic, it is business as usual. In concordance with
conventional practice, when the Obasanjo-led administration assumed office, promises and
pledges were made to Nigerians. The people were told that official corruption,
infrastructural decay, poverty, inflation, insecurity, unemployment, etc would be seriously
But almost one year into the second term of this administration, many people -even if they were hopeful in 1999 – now know that the politicians of the Fourth Republic (most of whom were key and influential actors during the disastrous and calamitous years of military despotism and misrule) are poor students of history. In spite of the huge financial resources claimed to have been expended on the overall administration of the country and the provision and/or rehabilitation of amenities, the socio-economic and political situation in the country has deteriorated almost irredeemably. While political office holders are falling over one another in their scramble for public resources, infrastructures are completely neglected, inflation is galloping, civil servants and pensioners are owed their entitlements for several months, unemployment has almost reached unmanageable levels, poverty remains a menace people must face, and the fear of hired assassins has become the beginning of wisdom.
The World Bank Atlas 2001 reported that we live in a world where 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day, 10 million children under the age of five die each year mostly from preventable diseases, and 113 million primary school age children do not attend school. In its ranking of 207 economies based on Gross National Income, it places Nigeria on the 194thposition, being ahead of only Niger, Yemen Republic, Zambia, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Burundi, Malawi, Congo Republic, Tanzania and Sierra Leone (Okoye, 2001:7). Another recent estimate by the World Bank indicates that over 45% of Nigeria’s population live below the poverty line while two third of this group are extremely poor. The same body indicates that poverty in the country will rise by two third and almost half the population will be below the poverty line by the year 2006 (Yusuf, 2000:198). In fact, the situation may be said to be gloomier. It is reported that twenty-two years ago, 28.1% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line. In 1996, the figure of the poor had jumped to 65.6%. Now, Nigeria is classified among the world’s poorest nations, with junk credit rating, and with its army of the poor, which is now said to be 85% of the population (Efo, 2002:21).
Members of the government of the Fourth Republic (at the local government, State, and Federal levels) have clearly demonstrated that public resources are meant to be enjoyed by those who occupy political offices, as well as their friends and associates. This is shown in the disproportionate and undeserved allowances and entitlements, which they have awarded themselves. To these pillagers and indigenous colonizers, public offices are meant to serve the selfish and personal ends of those who occupy them. For instance, shortly after they were inaugurated in 1999, members of the National Assembly legislated for themselves N3.5 million for each Senator and N2.5 million for each House of representative member, as furniture allowance. Much against the grain of the general state of poverty in the country, the legislators said, in very clear terms that they were in Abuja to make a fortune for themselves. Chuba Okadigbo once said that as a Senator, he was neither in Abuja to live in “cockroach hotels” nor “spread poverty” (Awowede, 2002:22). Since then, the legislators have made good their ambition to live the good life, approving new cars for themselves on a yearly basis and stupendous allowances while working the minimum. In the year 2000, the National Assembly budget was a mouthful: £41 .33 billion for travelling. On the whole, some W22 billion was to go into running the federal legislature. By the following year, the legislators were already graduating into pseudo-ministers and contractors, legislating constituency projects of
N500 million for each member (Awowede, 2002:22). The situation in the “new” National Assembly of post-May, 2003 cannot be said to have changed for the better. Nigeria is still regarded as one of the most corrupt countries on earth. Indeed, as Niyi Osundare (2002:8) has observed,
… public accountability has never been a priority in Nigeria. In spite of the brave letters of the Constitution and the expensive noises of the anti-corruption crusade, the Nigerian’s notion of public morality is variable and elastic … In the Nigeria of today, nothing pays like corruption. It is an industry far more productive, more enriching than any other. Cutting comers is the fastest way to win the race. Accountability is the disease of those still stupid enough to insist on a clear difference between wrong and right. The country knows how to laugh at such people. And what’s more, corruption is the Nigerian public servant’s tonic.
It is painful – but instructive-to note that in a report released in October, 2003 by Transparency International (TI), Nigeria was ranked as the second most corrupt country on earth. This is in spite of the brouhaha about the so-called anti-corruption crusade of the Obasanjo – led “democratic” government.
There is no doubt that the consequences of Nigeria’s pseudo-democracy on the masses have been devastating. More than four years after the return of the civilian politicians, g|o4 drinking water remains scarce; the roads are deplorable; hospitals and civics (where they exist) are yawning for drugs and facilities; the educational system has completely collapsed; NEPA remains a national embarrassment; the economy is comatose; and public utilities are being shared among a few privileged friends of the government (in the name of privatization). Members of the political class know that they have failed the Nigerian people. As Femi Okurounmu, a Senator in the Fourth Republic acknowledges,
…the important thing is that the political class has disappointed the people. The state in which Nigeria is today and the way our politicians are carrying on the way they act leaves so much to be desired. That is why people are saying the president should spend only one term. They have good reasons. The people are hungry. You may say, it is undemocratic. But the alternative is to have chaos and fracas. We don’t have people who are democrats at the helm of affairs. If those in power are democrats and are willing to rule and govern as democrats, then the economy will not be in such a parlous state and there will be no reasons to ask anybody to stay for one term. The hope of our people was very High and justified when this government came in. Today, the hopes are dashed and people are still suffering… (in Elesho, 2002:51).
The point has been made that democracy is an attractive concept with which every ruler wants to be associated. This explains why the various tyrants and megalomaniacs (and their supporters) who have at various times imposed themselves on Nigeria sometimes claim to be democrats! When the ancient Greek thinkers and philosophers popularized it, democracy was taken to mean a mode of governance in which those that ruled derived the mandate, to do so only from the people. It was also a political system in which government business was managed and directed mainly to meet the needs and ensure the overall satisfaction of the majority of the people. Indeed, it was a system in which the wishes of the people were inviolable.
In Nigeria, democracy has a different meaning. Once elections are conducted in Nigeria, there is democracy – whether the elections were thoroughly rigged, or whether the majority of the people were excluded due to lack of resources to participate, is inconsequential. Our experience in the few years that this perverted democracy has been practised has shown that it has been a game in which only the few rich and privileged members of the society can participate. The regimes that emerged from these exercises have only served the interest of this microscopic segment of the society. For example, before the last fraudulent electoral exercise, any Nigerian who wished to contest for the office of the President of the country on the platform of the “People’s Democratic Party,” (POP) was required to buy the party nomination form at the cost of
N45 million naira! If the Nigerian wanted to vie for a seat in the Senate or House of Representatives under the same party, he was expected to pay a nomination fee of N1. Million naira or N1.5 Million naira respectively!! How many Nigerians could afford this?
In Nigeria, democracy does not mean that the government is responsible to the people; rather, it means that the majority of the people must respect and obey the few privileged persons who occupy public offices. But as J. A. A. Ayoade (1998:3) has reminded us,
government is contrived by the people as an agency of the state. The people are, therefore, anterior and superior to the government because, it is their creation. Strictly speaking, the government is the tenant of the people and the people have the power to review, renew or determine that tenancy. A government that overpowers the people is an aberration.
It can be easily deduced that there is no denying the fact that all the regimes that have claimed to be democracies in Nigeria have all been anti-people, and their impact on the Nigerian society and its people has been negative and destructive. Indeed, it can be safely concluded that the performances of all the so-called democratic regimes in Nigeria -as far as their impact on the lives and wellbeing of the majority of the masses is concerned – have been completely lugubrious. As an alternative, this paper posits that there can only be a genuine democracy in Nigeria if there is a radical and far-reaching transformation of the Nigerian socio-formation with its productive forces transformed and the corresponding relations of production eliminating the exploitation of one class by the other. As NuhuYaqub (2000:35) has argued, the maintenance of the contemporary political economy of the Nigerian State in the presence of administrative decentralization would not transform Nigeria into a democratic state, neither would it guarantee transparency and public accountability. It is only the elimination of exploitation of man by man and the creation of an egalitarian society that can facilitate respect for democratic process, transparency and accountability in the Nigerian society.
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