2019 And Nigeria’s Brand Of Democracy

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

At last, in just above 48 hours from now, Nigerians will throng polling units across the country to vote in this year’s Presidential and National Assembly elections. Preparations by political parties in the past four years will surely climax, as the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), and the opposition parties led by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) will expectedly play their various aces.
Even in the heat of passion, and at the peak of proceedings, well-meaning Nigerians, no doubt, would clamour for that peculiar Nigeria’s version of democracy, one that would for once make deliberate effort to lessen the pain of governance on the people, beginning from considerations of how to make available the constituents of the condiments of their pot of soup from the onset of ascendance to power by a government.
Not the type that continuously calls for endless sacrifice on the part of the masters-turned-servants, while the servants-turned-masters grow robust in the name of doing everything good for the people, but actually doing it for themselves and their cronies alone, and with no scruples.  
Between the APC’s proposed “Next Level” and PDP’s “Let’s Make Nigeria Work Again”, pundits currently seem to be torn between considerations for what all of it would mean to the grossly impoverished majority of Nigerians, who have borne the brunt of the hunger in the land, next only to the one experienced during the Nigerian Civil War.
Benefit of hindsight has taught many a Nigerian that the only time they are remembered by their supposed servants is at such periods of election: this is the only time some have the privilege of being identified with, or asked their problems, which is never solved. At points when there is a semblance of the problems being solved, the hypes that accompany it draw more attention.
As it is now, just as those who jostle for power sharpen their antics to unleash on the people come Saturday, the recipients of these antics are high in their expectations of what kind of democracy the “Next Level” and “Let’s Make Nigeria Work Again” would come with, among other things.
Is it going to be yet another higher level of Nigerianised American form of democracy, which is a function of the exigencies of the moment, one that can be christened in local parlance as ”fall for me, I fall for you”? Or one in the fold of the more progressive Chinese democracy, which first takes into cognizance the direct and immediate effect of policies on the populace by whose reaction it is guided?
The Economist of August 2016 captures the two major types of modern democracies thus: “the Chinese political system characterised by meritocracy, gradual reduction in corruption levels, focus on economic development and stability, including predictable transition of power, international relations based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, is a much more realistic and a better fit for Africa than (dysfunctional) western democracies”.
The word of the famous late French philosopher, Joseph-Marie de Maistre, ”every nation gets the government it deserves” has been widely quoted at crucial moments when democracy is the topic. And, at such points, the argument to the affirmative has not always been easy to accept especially in the developing climes like Nigeria.
The reason is that unlike the developed Western world, where democracy is relatively hinged on the Rule of Law and Separation of Powers, in Nigeria, for instance, these phenomena virtually merely exist on paper, and governance is more by what the one in power decides is right for everybody.
This is what has been widely seen as the cause of systemic failure in Nigeria’s democracy since inception at various stages from the Second Republic till date, even as the country is richly blessed with resources capable of placing the country as a contender for a First World status.
As Nigerians go out to vote for who to be their next President on Saturday, the question that should prick their minds is whether Nigeria truly deserves the kind of democracy it has now, the kind that has such weak institutions that is dysfunctional, malfunctioned, or non-functional?
It is tempting to say yes, because of that old American question: “If you don’t like the leaders you have, why don’t you get off your butt and elect someone else?”
The truth is that it may be easy to do so over there in the United States of America, where their democratic institutions are functional. But it’s an entirely different kettle of fish in Nigeria, where such democratic structures are given mere lip service.
Writing on the topic “The failures of Nigerian democracy”, Moses Acholonu once described the scenario in Nigeria’s democracy thus: “There’s an assumption that despite multiple deprivations, Nigerians can take solace in the knowledge that they have democracy. But the kind of democracy practised by Abuja has delivered neither improved standards of living nor abstract benefits such as press freedom or human rights, instead providing the perfect cover for massive corruption. It is not what Nigerians signed up for in 1999; if we do not act urgently, it will consume us all”.
So, what are those weak institutions that require immediate stamina to have the strength to turn the country around for a better democracy? Ironically, such weak democratic institutions begin in the internal affairs of political parties. In practice, only political parties with little to reckon with practice a semblance of internal democracy. By the time they graduate into strong forces, Godfatherism takes over.
Those that view themselves as having more stakes in the party directly or indirectly impose their will on the rest of the members. This is what has unfortunately played out in the current crises arising from APC primaries in parts of the country.
According to a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy Development (CDD), Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, “Virtually all parties have very little respect for internal democracy; that is to say that they do not conduct their internal affairs based on the principles enunciated in their constitutions and rules.
“More so, party officials and candidates for elections are not elected in accordance with the rules of the game and party conventions become occasions in which governors and godfathers simply impose candidates,’’ he said.
The situation had made the political parties not to have the belief, values and practice that would contribute to building democracy in the country. It is this practice that has also been extended to the outer political space.
The result is that the lack of internal party democracy weakens internal coherence of political parties and creates a situation in which the Judiciary has become the arbiter of who the candidates are, rather than delegates that should ordinarily decide who should represent them. It is the same thing in the country’s body polity.
Those who are privileged to occupy positions of trust turn around to use authorities and powers so given to them to put aside the Rule of Law and Separation of Powers: everything must suddenly turn around them, and they would take exception to any attempt to draw their attention to the implications of their actions or inactions.
In the 2019 elections, beginning with Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections, and that of March 2, when the Gubernatorial and State Assembly elections will take place, Nigerians have the opportunity to either change the tide of what they consider to be a famine and clueless era of the last three years plus, or sit at home and hope for things to playout whatever way to their favour.
One major certainty is that in a democratic set up it is expected that the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary should not only respect one another, they should team-up and work within the confines of the constitution to promote the country’s image and take it to greater heights.
They are also expected to check each other’s excesses, for a lasting and sustainable democracy. Unfortunately these objectives are largely defeated in Nigeria. Those at the helm of affairs at Local, State and national levels are rather busy amassing unholy money in preparation for re- election and sundry self-aggrandizements.
If there’s one thing Nigeria needs at this moment, it is for us to get a system that will actually be fair and accurately communicate the will of the people. It’s only then that if the elected representatives turn out different from why we elected them, we will be able to blame the voters. Until this happens, we can’t blame the voters if their will doesn’t even control the results.
This is what Nigerians must bear in mind on Saturday.

Soibi Max-Alalibo