How Nigerian Politics Changed Overtime.

THE CHALLENGES OF DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA by Olutosin Ogunmola

Being a contribution to the paper on the challenges in modern democracies: towards a national democratic philosophy for Nigeria

Definition & Description

Modern democracies practically refer to democracies in the developing countries as against the old democracies of the European States and the United States of America.

Democracy anywhere is however premised on the institution of government of the people by the people. To counter the excesses of other forms of government, democracy was developed with the intention that when all is involved, the interest of all is protected. Democracy, therefore, is expected to yield the greatest good for the greatest number of the people. To achieve this, democracy is fundamentally designed to be representative and deliberative.

The core principles of democracy are participation, tolerance of difference and dissent, rule of law, human rights and liberties, free press, separation of powers, transparency in governance etc, etc. A look at countries like Botswana, Mauritius and South-Africa that have remained democratic since gaining independence show a well-intentioned, clear-eyed visionary leadership that have tenaciously upheld these principles.

The challenges of democracy in Nigeria

As in several other African countries, the challenge with democracy stems from the clear absence of the fundamental elements of democracy, which in turn has denied us the intended purposes of democracy in the development of the different sectors of the economy.

Democracy is ideally built upon the Constitution of the people, one that is non-existent in the case of Nigeria. We rather have a Constitution imposed on the people. Therefore, instead of answering the question if Nigerian democracy was designed to succeed or fail, I will rather aver that it is a democracy without a design. What is here practiced as democracy is what Robert Rotberg refers to as the ‘sheer rawness of democracy’.

We are in a democracy where civilian ingenuities have been perfected to continue to disenfranchise a far greater number of people, jettisoning the core principle of participation and continuing the enthronement of governments that are against the will of the people as in the colonial and military eras. It is a democracy where executive privilege and parliamentary impunity always successfully parade itself against the will of the people. The supposed representative of the people arrogantly go about determining for the people what should be Constitution amendment without any referendum of their constituents to that effect.

Further to this, there’s the challenge of executive powers and politics eroding the independence of the Judiciary and the autonomy of the Legislature. It’s a democracy in which there’s too much concentration of powers in the executive and excessive public-sector patronage. This has led to the psychological trap of those in government confusing themselves with the state – in some way thinking of themselves as embodying and being the state. This has caused corruption to thrive at very alarming rates and development stunted at unbelievable depths.

We are in a democracy where the supposed representatives of the people have continued to deny the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill thereby compromising transparency and free press to some degree.

The cause & effect of these challenges

The challenges of democracy in Nigeria, like most African countries, have their root in foundation of the country. As T. Obadina once reflected, the failure of democracy and economic development in Africa is due in large part to the scramble for wealth by predator elites who have dominated politics since independence and see the state as a source of personal wealth accumulation. We have continued to have a ruling class that is grossly disinclined to ideas and the life of serious reflection.

Military intervention in governance has further added more woes to the plight of democratic governance in Nigeria. Not only did it adversely affect the legislative component of government, it also brought the people, the electorate, down to a revoltingly unacceptable level of acquiescence to the undemocratic actions of their rulers. That’s why even now, some of the electorates would carry placards and demonstrate in favour of rulers who, apparently, are doing nothing for their good. Also, the lack of sophistication and independence by the press is not helping matters. There can be no meaningful representation to elevate the fundamental principles of checks and balances when we have a passive civil society and a weak press.

And as rightly averred earlier that this democracy has no plan other than one to serve the interest of the select few who want to continue to have their way at the expense of the collective will and interest of the people; with so much power concentrated in the executive, there are no strong institutions to curtail excesses.

Feasible ways of successfully tackling the challenges

The first essential way is for the civil society organizations to work more on the psychology of the electorates so as to get them stand up from their passivity and correctly exercise their power of the ballot. No human right can be as fundamental as the right to choose who represents one in a democratic government, which the electorate in Nigeria has continued to be denied. This is the time to consolidate efforts towards ensuring that the will of the people prevails at the polls. It is only when there is electoral justice that we can have the right people in government to deliver good governance and have democracy operated in accordance with its basic tenets.

The votes must be counted and the votes must count. Civil Society Organizations must create awareness and educate the people. The people must overcome fear and stand for their right. They must register as voters. They must scrutinize the contestants based on antecedents and capacity to now deliver. They must come out and vote on Election Day. And they must guard their votes to ensure what they voted matches the results that are declared. It is when we have a broad-based participation that democracy begins to take form and can then be truly representative and deliberative with the elected people answerable to the people.

Further to this, our democracy must be built on Institutions and not personalities. There’s the need to build strong and independent institutions as watchdogs. It is also the genuine representatives of the people elected in the manner described above that can legislate on such independent institutions, subjecting their own selfish interest to the collective good of the country.

There must also be a Constitution of the people. Away from the charade of non-representative Constitution amendment, the people must clamour for a bottom-up amendment process from the newly elected leaders they must have chosen at the polls. The Constitution would review the powers concentrated in the Executive and address salient issues regarding the composition of the country.

Conclusion

Democracy, like any other form of government, can only work when there are the right people to work it. It is not much of the model but the will to either make it work or not. And to have the right people at the helms of affairs, the electorate, including the Press, must take responsibility for broad-based participation.

Democracy must then, through the leaders elected by popular participation, be erected on the Constitution of the people and strong & independent Institutions.

Olutosin Ogunmola is currently the National Coordinator of the National Youth Network on Nigeria Elections (NYNNE), a coalition of over 100 youth NGOs and youth-led community organizations, which is championing effective youth participation in the electoral process by combating apathy in the educated youth and vulnerability to electoral violence in the uneducated youth.

Comments

  1. priscilla jack says:

    we can have good leaders when we have people that will have the interest of the people and not selfish interest.

  2. Orjichukwu Emmanuel says:

    The present face of africas uproar against selfish leaders is the beat from the matured hearts of the younger generations. Lets do more!

  3. Itodo Nnenna says:

    I believe Ngeria will be better if age is considered before electing a leader

  4. REVD EXCELLENCE EZEKIEL HARUNA says:

    Democracy in it’s nature is a design that embraces and carry all in the society along, that is the govenance of , for and by the people.Ours is a crippled, selfish and stargering system designed for a few mediocres and their ungodly ambition. we need people with the heart of circumsition to pilot and pioneir what we have in other to transform it to match what is globally acceptable for democracy.

  5. Tosin Coker says:

    We approach the Polls with caution not because we are afraid but with guided thoughts about the future of our dear country.

    So much noise from the politicians and their sympathizers but my dear Nigerians kindly listen to to the man that speaks to the inner value of your heart.

    Don’t vote what is happening now, Vote what will happen in the next four years and afterwards of our political life under a new president/Governor.

    Truly we have come of age let us make wise decisions today.

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