In our expression of our preferences, we have settled for democracy as a form of government that allows for mass participation.
The Okwadike at 80 Symposium presents us with another opportunity to dialogue on the journey we consciously embarked upon, called democracy, for our own good. Political philosophers of both ancient, medieval and contemporary times agree that man opts for government in order to create social order and control through laws and regulations. Governments exist, therefore, so as to establish organization, and provide parameters for societal behaviour and control while also defending people from aggression, which could be internal or external. Like Karl Marx espoused, property ownership is a huge source of social conflict which makes government a necessity. Outside these, what we probably would have is a state of nature where we live like savages with brutish, nasty and short lives as argued by Hobbes. By agreeing to form a government, man surrenders his will to a group of persons whom he entrusts with the capacity to make policies and decisions that will work for his own good. This way, man is free to pursue other interests that will make him happy and ensure his well-being. Classically, government evolved as people discovered the need for protection which is easier when people stay together.
Over time, however, government responsibilities have evolved. They have also expanded to include economic planning and development. They have also come to include the provision of social services that enables man to enhance living. It is out of this expanding responsibility that we begin to have ideologies of differentiation of forms of government. That explains reasons behind what we have today as capitalism, welfarism, liberalism and all the ideologies that were developed to expand knowledge of what exactly government should be.
In our expression of our preferences, we have settled for democracy as a form of government that allows for mass participation. However, our form of democracy is federalist. This is different from other forms in which democracy is expressed. Other nation states adopt the form of democracy that best suits them. In our expression, we agreed to a presidential federalist democracy which supposes that we have a central government structure with semi-autonomous states. In other climes, parliamentary democracy is practised. Some also elect to go with an infusion of monarchy and parliamentary democracy. However, what is most important is that whatever form of democracy that is in practice observes the basic tenets which include holding period elections, guaranteeing freedom of the people to hold plural opinions, associate freely, settle where they desire, pursue their business interests freely and also to express their faith without molestation. This is what makes the difference between a democracy and autocracy or dictatorship. I guess the fact that democracy offers the people the freedom to periodically chose their leaders and also, be free to pursue their interests and associate freely, is why many nation states prefer it.
However, there have been opinions also to the effect that democracy is the worst form of government to the effect that it allows for mob rule through majority vote. Some scholars have argued that the dictum of majority vote makes mob rule possible as the majority could be a bunch of irredeemable mongrels. Though views in this regard are not popular, I still recall the famous Winstonian thought that “democracy is the worse form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried”.
In appreciating the beauty that democracy offers, one may have to look back at Nigeria and see the differences. For 16 years, beginning in December 1983, this country was managed by the military. Many have argued that the military government has never been the best. I agree. During these 16 years, there was suppression of rights, indiscriminate imprisonment of opposing voices, violation of human rights and other infractions against the people. This happened because the military did not see itself as accountable to the people. It was accountable only to itself but most especially, to the ruling group. This accounted for one of several reasons military officers contested to outdo themselves in planning coups.
Usurpation of government by military rule comes with one significant thing: suspension of the constitution. The implication of this is that rules, law and order were at the discretion of the military ruler. What he said was law became law as he had no parliament to work with. In such circumstance, the people live at the whims of the military ruler who is often the most senior military officer and as such, cannot be questioned by his juniors.
Despite these, there has been a long-standing debate as to which pushes the frontiers of development better. There is no doubt that military regimes created states, a development which has remained almost impossible in a federal democracy like ours. This, I think, was made possible because of the command and control style of the military where actions are sometimes taken without minding the outcomes. Be that as it may, our national experience is one which says the military created states and “with immediate effect” decreed certain developments into being. However, I believe that democracy expands the frontiers of development such that both individuals and societies can develop using available resources in a more impactful and peaceful manner.
Taking Abuja, our federal capital, in context, one observes that though the military created it, and with military fiat relocated the seat of government, it also took military failures to derail it with abuse of the master plan which a civil democracy corrected using laws that passed the scrutiny of the people. It is debatable if the relocation of the Federal Capital to Abuja from Lagos would have been better handled by a civil administration. Similarly, is it possible that some of the infractions that occurred, like the forceful ejection of the original inhabitants of the territory, would have occurred in a democracy in the same way and manner the military managed it? Whatever our views on these are, the preponderance of opinion suggests that development thrives better under a democracy because of the creation of the legal basis, through the parliament, for such developments.
This paper is, however, not a comparison between military and democratic rule. I have drawn from the above to show why democracy, which entails periodic elections and thus change of administrators, plurality of opinions, freedom to develop at one’s own pace etc., is preferable. Weiner, A. (2008), in The Invisible Constitution of Politics: Contested Norms and International Encounters, writes that the “literature on democratic ethics primarily focuses upon key components such as universal suffrage, free speech, legal equality, constitutional checks, political equality in practice, freedom of representation and enhanced participation”. This essentially summarizes democracy.
That essential ingredient called participation is what really makes the difference. It further says that the absence of such democratic tenets like universal suffrage, free speech, legal equality, constitutional checks, political equality in practice, freedom of representation and enhanced participation removes from democracy what it should be. For if democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865), then, the people must participate to drive their own development using legal guarantees established by the parliament and protected by the government.
I believe this was what Okwadike attempted to do in Anambra state between January 1992 and November 1993 when he was elected by the people of Anambra and empowered to lead the charge and use governmental tools to put in place infrastructures that they need to drive their own development. I have no doubt that Anambra state would have been better had Okwadike executed the mandate without interruption. I say this because, with hindsight, we see the trajectory of development discourse that Okwadike has pursued.
Excerpts of a paper presented by Dr. Okonkwo, the Chairman of The Dome Entertainment and Hospitality Center, Abuja, at the 80th Birthday Colloquium of Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former Governor of Anambra State, in Abuja