Wednesday, 31st May 2023

Hope in our democratic future

By Anthony Akinola
15 November 2018   |   3:09 am
The people of the relatively stable democratic nations of the world would find it rather difficult to understand why democracy should be causing so much pain in our nation. Even when they had a horrible history of their own, not a few will find it difficult to rationalise the essence of incessant communal strife, corruption,…

[FILE PHOTO] People of the relatively stable democratic nations of the world would find it rather difficult to understand why democracy should be causing so much pain in our nation.

The people of the relatively stable democratic nations of the world would find it rather difficult to understand why democracy should be causing so much pain in our nation.

Even when they had a horrible history of their own, not a few will find it difficult to rationalise the essence of incessant communal strife, corruption, election rigging, unprincipled change of political loyalties, thuggery and assassinations, among numerous societal ills.

Those of them with a very good knowledge of history will however appreciate that what they now take for granted in their enviably peaceful nations hardly comes on a platter of gold.  

The United States of America, a preeminent democratic nation, gained its independence from Britain in 1776. 

However, the Americans had to fight a system which made them pay tax without being represented in parliament. 

“No taxation without representation” was the memorable slogan of their war and their declaration which must guide democracy anywhere in the world is the assertion that “all men and women are created equal”. 

The determination to give effect to that important declaration would later lead constitutional pioneers to prohibit the American citizen from bearing a title of nobility. 

The now problematic gun culture – the right of the American citizen to have a gun- was also intended to achieve that end.

However, America is still democratising because the assertion of equality of all men and women excluded blacks for a great part of the nation’s history. 

The history of acceptance of blacks as equal to whites, as a matter of law, is only about fifty years old, coming into effect with the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s, while real acceptance of equality is still evolving. 

However, things are looking good because things have changed considerably and opposition to the revisionist tendencies of Donald Trump and his likes cuts across racial divides.

Neither can Great Britain, another historic democratic nation, claim to have perfected its democracy. 

The nature and extent of privileges enjoyed by the Monarchy is an on-going debate. 

The history of democracy in Britain has been a history of the ordinary citizen challenging the Crown and the so-called royal prerogative. 

It is also a history of organised challenge to the assumptions of the aristocracy. 

The British Monarchy is now a mere constitutional one – courtesy of the revolt led by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century – while many other European countries including France, Germany and Russia, got rid of theirs in violent revolutions. 

Be that as it may, democracy and its institutions crept in gradually. The right to vote did not come to many on a platter of gold. Requirements of property and education meant many were excluded from the democratic process. 

Voting rights did not come to women until quite recently. We may now refer to some societies as civilised not least because their citizens readily comply to rules and regulations but such civility did not come about easily. 

In Britain, for instance, there was once a time when a relatively minor offence attracted severe punishment. 

Convicts were ex-communicated and distant Australia became more or less Britain’s prison for such convicts.

The universal definition of democracy is that provided by the great Abraham Lincoln as “the government of the people, for the people, and by the people”. 

However, democracy is not just an approach to political governance but a culture which touches on every facet of human life. Democracy does not end with elections, it is about how we relate to family, friends, and others.

The major problem of democracy in some societies is that it is a new value system in competition with already established structure which are at best contradictory. 

The authoritarian feudal structures of some societies derive their authenticity from tradition and religion. 

Until the contradictions of state and society have been resolved, our democracy will be a mere imitation of what obtains somewhere else.

In Nigeria, for instance, the traditional system co-exists with the modern democratic system. There is nothing like the King or Queen of Nigeria but traditional rulers exist as heads of cities, towns and villages. 

The British approached political governance in Nigeria through a system of indirect rule, making use of the Chiefs. 

The politician seeking political power wants to be in the good books of the traditional ruler and some might want to parade a title of some sort in order to ingratiate their relationship with tradition. 

Traditional rulers are among the most affluent in Nigerian society; those in big cities receive multiple salaries from local government councils in their areas of jurisdiction.

The traditional institution might have, at a time, been assumed to be the exclusive preserve of truly-traditional individuals-not any more, many retired professionals now scramble for traditional titles in the various communities.

The electoral democracy into which we were introduced has been characterised by failure. The rigging culture has become our electoral culture.

The typical African leader does not believe in leaving office voluntarily or in being defeated in the process of re-election. 

If the Constitution stipulates two terms, the typical African leader interprets it to mean a minimum of two terms in office. Most African constitutions change with the change of leadership.

The United States of America has been governed by one constitution since 1787, while Britain is not even guided by a written one; the typical African leader believes the Constitution could be changed at every conceivable opportunity, to suit their whims and caprices.

Is there a future for democracy in Africa?  One likes to be optimistic and therefore say there is. One’s optimism derives from the belief that education can play a big part in the future of democracy in our continent. 

Most of the current crop of African leaders (or rulers) belong to the first generation of educated men and women in their respective families, while the percentage of the truly-educated ones in society is generally low. 

True democracy belongs to the future when a more assertive, refined and rational citizenry dominates the political space. 

With successive generations of educated men and women the outlook on life will be a lot different from what it currently is. 

A country like Britain can boast of more than a thousand years of education; the University of Oxford is more than 900 years old while Nigeria’s oldest university, the University of Ibadan is only 70 this year. 

The point one is trying to make here is that ours is still a very young nation compared to many others.

Future economic outlook will also bolster democracy. A leadership that believes in the future of society must engage in industrialisation and diversification of the economy, creating job opportunities for an ever- growing population.

The current generation knows no other route to wealth and fame other than politics but that would change when economic opportunities widen.

Those who dabble in politics should be imbued with a spirit of public service, rather than that of stomach infrastructure or self-aggrandisement. 

When corrupt politicians retire to nowhere other than prison, those who seek wealth by any means will know it cannot be at the expense of the public.

The Press and Judiciary in Nigeria are quite capable of doing a better job and the people themselves must feel democratic for democracy to be the culture they so much crave.