By Abiodun KOMOLAFE
Talking seriously, Democracy as a concept was alien to Africa, and by implication, Nigeria. Largely, right from inception, democratic norms and values were never assimilated and internalised by Africans. At best, its definition and perception were conveniently based on assumptions. So, it meant different things to different people who thought differently! Needless to repeat that there was no conscious effort on the part of the elite leadership – partially or deliberately – to teach the people its real meaning because it was antithetical to the process of maladministration that had gained currency in the land.
We need not forget that, where democracy thrives, Colonialism cannot stand. In other words, it wouldn’t have been in the best interest of the political leadership at the time to dig its own grave! So, the few people who were educated, but who might not have studied Political Science, only had a vague understanding of what the concept was; and the best interpretation they gave to it was that it’s the ‘rule of the mob’; that it allowed for ‘everybody to come in.’ Unfortunately, the basic principles of democracy having respect for the Rule of Law, for example, was missing. So, it’s because education as a vital component of democratic practice was missing when the concept was introduced that it has been giving Nigerians a bloody nose. That’s why, up till tomorrow, even when Nigerians define Democracy correctly, they practise it wrongly!
The other aspect is the intermingling of the interpretation of Politics with Democracy. For all we care, they are two different concepts. Whereas Politics stands apart, Democracy is a political paradigm. That’s why other paradigms like Theocracy, Autocracy and Dictatorship exist. So, irrespective of the modalities, the content analysis of Democracy stands out! In Politics, anything goes! In a Democracy, there’s nothing like that! Whereas godfatherism thrives in Politics, there’s nothing like that in a Democracy. It has to be the rule of the majority; and it has to be processed!
Whereas there can be an alliance, or a re-alliance, even the management of conflicts in Politics, in a Democracy, issues are sorted, formally, through the rule of the majority; and, once the majority uphold or take a stand on an issue, other sides of the ballot will have to kowtow, because that’s the rule! They can only wait for the next opportunity to push their agenda. The interesting part of Democracy is that one can continue to push one’s agenda fifty times without success, until one has the majority by one’s side. Still, one must be law-abiding! Sad that all these are not applicable in Nigeria! In our fated clime, people make attempts to change the rules, even the Constitution overnight. So, how can that be a Democracy?
As things stand in Nigeria, Democracy does not mean the same thing between the North and the South. In the North, it is seen as being opposed to the survival of Feudalism. So, the Sultanate and the Emirates still frown at people revolting and ensure that their people are kept in perpetual order, even if they are suffering. In the Southern part of the country, education has played a very big role in ensuring that the people know their rights. They are also exposed to how they can challenge the authorities, or seek redress in a court of competent jurisdiction whenever their rights are infringed upon; and they are encouraged to do so! In Lagos State, for example, there is Office of the Public Defender (OPD), established on June 24, 2000, where those who cannot afford the services of lawyers can go at no cost; which makes it dangerous for anybody to infringe on the law with impunity. Of a fact, that has not only deepened Democracy but also encouraged true mass participation. After all, true participation is when, indeed, one can effectively participate, not just by words of mouth!
The nature of Democracy is also a function of its birth, or introduction into the Nigerian society. In other words, it is the society that creates the operational modalities for any paradigm. In the Greek city states where it was invented, it was the love for the masses to have a say in how they were (being) governed that led to Democracy! As a matter of fact, it was a rebellious paradigm; rebellious because it came to correct, checkmate and free the people from Dictatorship, Monarchy and allied concepts. That’s why the ‘Rule of the Majority’ has continued to have many enemies. Even the Church, as it stands today, cannot compel its faithful to vote for XYZ candidates, simply because they (the faithful) have their distinct individual minds and abilities to take specific decisions.
Let’s talk about Nigeria where the son of a farmer – a man from nowhere but with brilliant ideas – is aspiring to become, say, a Senator. For God’s sake, how will he go about it? For such a person to pursue his life ambition, he must first have to go and steal some money and make sure that he belongs to certain socially-recognised groups or a specialised class of people. Otherwise, he had better stay in his father’s hut and be planting yam and cassava for local consumption. If he is fortunate enough to come across grasscutters, let him learn their language with a view to sharing his ‘brilliant ideas’ with them and never dare enter Nigeria’s dirty political waters.
Democracy is also infused with our sociocultural beliefs. For instance, a man who doesn’t have a wife is deemed to be an irresponsible person. As such, he cannot be ‘a responsible statesman.’ Likewise, a woman who doesn’t have a husband is considered a loose woman. In the eye of our sociocultural values, anybody can come in and sleep with her whenever her body craves sexual satisfaction. In our fated democracy, such a person, considered deficient in the management of her home, will not only be seen as very bad for the society but also repudiate some of the cultural norms of that society. Again, consider a governor who hides under simplistic excuses to deny a certain class of public servants their legitimate salaries! Isn’t he overreaching in abuse of power? By so doing, isn’t he creating a pool of potential public servant thieves in government whenever the opportunity beckons?
The nature of Democracy in Nigeria is mix-multitude. It is also multidimensional and sometimes, issue-specific. In other words, Democracy in our clime does not have standardised applications. Otherwise, what’s democratic in Oyo will be an expression of democratic practice in Sokoto; and Democracy in Borno State will also take the shape and size of the democratic practice in Osun. Herein lies another kicker: since society is constantly under the motion of evolution, political practitioners cannot but tantalize Nigerians with ridiculous interpretations of the ‘Rule of the Majority’ while feeding fat on the wealth of the nation.
Lastly, with statements like ‘awa la wa n’be’ (we are in charge); ‘ijoba wa ni’ (it’s our government); and ‘a o gbe e sile mo’ (we are no longer relinquishing power), Democracy becomes a tool towards licentious political behaviour with serious implications. This stain on the authenticity of the ethics of Democracy is tantamount to doing the unacceptable in an acceptable environment. Without a shred of doubt, this is a strategic imperative we have to deal with before the shop closes.
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Nigeria!
*Komolafe wrote in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State, Nigeria ([email protected])