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The madness of democracy in Nigeria


Nigeria’s flag

Democracy is meant to be a government of the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

The real question to ask does democracy exist in Nigeria. If the answer is yes, then what kind of democracy do we have? What yardstick should be used in evaluating whether our country is democratic or not?

The pillars of democracy include sovereignty of the people, government based upon consent of the governed, majority rule, minority rights, guarantee of basic human rights, free and fair elections, equality before the law, due process of law, constitutional limits on government, social, economic and political pluralism, values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise.

The Sovereignty of the people. In Nigeria today, the voice of the people is not being reflected in the choices of our elected officials. Instead of asking how a policy might help Nigerians, officials ask how it would win them the next elections – how it would enrich campaign donors and party godfathers and how much it would generate for the election war chest. This permanent campaign culture is a costly drawback of the kind of American style democracy that was forced on us. The difference is that America’s robust economy can absorb the cost; Nigeria’s cannot.

Guarantee of basic human rights and freedom of the press, the right to free political choice, and the right to make deliberative input in governance have all been denied Nigerians in one form or the other under this democracy. You want names? Jones Abiri, Ibraheem Zakzaky, Sambo Dasuki, all the victims of SARS…
In broad terms, our elections don’t even come close to being free and fair. Candidates are imposed. Remember the show of shame during the Lagos APC primaries when some people, on camera, made it quite clear that anyone who was going to vote for Akin Ambode was not welcome in that polling unit. For the majority of Nigerians, such ‘elections’ are their reality.

There is no equality before the law in this democracy. There are legions of examples where public officials who have committed offences are treated differently, either because they belong to the ruling party, or because they are ‘traditional rulers’, or because they have people who can beg for them. It is a stretch to ask me for examples since my name is not Ganduje.

The rule of law is blatantly disregarded. Under this democracy, court orders are disobeyed by the government when they don’t agree with the orders and enforced when such orders are favourable to them. An example is the continuous detention of Sambo Dasuki, former NSA, despite numerous courts granting him bail, but same government ran to the courts to stop the NLC’s planned strike. Well, the NLC clearly had learned a thing or two as they made it clear that they wouldn’t obey the courts. I was a bit miffed that an agreement was reached, as I’d have loved to see what the police would do if the NLC had disobeyed and gone ahead with the strike.
In a democracy, you need to build and strengthen independent, democratic institutions. This is presently lacking in Nigeria. I hate that we tend to refer to the Americans, but there is a glaring example from them. Just imagine for a second that Robert Muller was Nigerian, and tasked to investigate Buhari for possible collusion with a foreign power, would the investigation ever have started? All you need to do is go to Wikileaks and see so many examples of our government officials openly colluding with foreign powers. But then, all animals are equal…

The rule of law was blatantly disrespected when the houses of judges were attacked and raided in the early hours as a result of alleged corruption charges without court orders. Judges are disciplined and corruption charges investigated by the National Judicial Commission (NJC) and if found guilty are recommended for dismissal. This process was disregarded by this government.

Under our current ‘democratic’ practice, public officials steal legally. They just have to underwrite what they steal as a licit item in the budget bill. This can be done in a few choreographed, taxpayer-funded committee sittings and a hurried process of debate-less approval. Political office holders can even steal in anticipation, carefully documenting future thefts and including them as budgetary earmarks or exculpatory footnotes in legislation. It’s all legal – and perfectly within the procedural norms of our ‘democracy.’ Where the law did not exist to legitimise the theft, our legislators have enacted or been goaded by executive carrots and sticks into enacting one-off bills to authorise acts of pillage deemed in the pecuniary interest of legislators and their executive partners. We’ve had state assemblies awarding stupendous severance perks worth tens of millions of naira annually governors for life! And it’s all legal and within the rules of our ‘democracy.’
So, how do we address this democratic madness in Nigeria? Please tell me if you have an answer.

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