In my last column on the above topic, I had canvassed the view that Nigeria needs to reset her template in terms of the franchise system it operates. In that piece, Thursday, January 14, 2021, “Rethinking the absolute franchise system in Nigeria,” I was and am still of the opinion that the power to exercise franchise must not be an unqualified one. In essence, it must not be a free rein without any measurable parameter towards entitlement. In reaction to the contention, so many queries were raised, the most pertinent of which is that it is an undemocratic practice to deprive any citizen of his or her voting right. As an addendum to that, why would the poor and vulnerable be the object of such reform? It is in response to the foregoing that I feel compelled to present this piece. Our takeoff point is: what is democracy? Democracy, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, is simply the government of the people by the people and for the people.
This, in my view, does not translate to all the people directly participating in choosing their leaders all the time. It is simply the power to determine who the leaders should be, rather than the power to steer the affairs of the state, that is being alluded to. In other words, it does not imply that all the people in the society must actively participate in the choice of leadership or the art of governance. This power to decide who will pilot the affairs of the state can, therefore, be exercised through some other people, nominated or elected. This is described as representative democracy, and accommodates the use of electoral college. Beyond this power to determine the people’s representatives in government, lessening of inequalities is a desirable goal in any democracy, as rightly captured by Frederick Schaffer in his work, Political Concepts and the Study of Democracy: The Case of Demokaraasi in Senegal. Be that as it may, it is instructive to note that oligarchy is often seen as the converse of democracy, the former being rulership by the few. The importance of this distinction shall be seen in the latter part of this discussion. In order to answer the queries raised above, it is important to spell out the essence of democracy as a system of government. From my perspective and the observation of the people, in this wise, Nigerians, all that matters to Nigerians most, like citizens of other countries, is good governance, this being the essence. The expectation of the people is the promotion of their welfare and the provision of security for their life and property. Nigerians are not so much bothered about the system of government in place.
All that Nigerians care about is the guarantee of comfort for them. They want sound education, good health facilities culminating in sound medical care, good road networks, efficient inter-modal system of transportation, employment and empowerment, provision of affordable electricity, etcetera. Buttressing this thought was my friend, N. Udombana, when he opined in his paper, Constitutional Restructuring and Fiscal Federalism, “Nigerians may not agree on such high-sounding philosophical and political theories as existentialism, metaphysics, idealism, rationalism, nationalism, or pragmatism, but Nigerians everywhere agree on, and desire, good governance, peace, stability, prosperity, freedom, justice and equity.”
In fact, from my interaction with many Nigerians, they really don’t care who the leaders are, once all amenities that will guarantee their safety and comfort are provided. Where democracy is unable to achieve this objective, it becomes a menace to the people as in the case of the country. Therefore, any means of attainment of the objective, would, in my view, be embraced by majority of Nigerians, except their oppressors. Nigeria, prior to and since Independence, has supposedly been practicing democracy, barring the intermittent periods of military interventions in the governance of the country. Since 1954, it cannot, in my view, be said that the system of democracy adopted for the country has yielded any remarkable fruit in terms of dividends.
In my column over a year ago, September 12, 2019, “Nigeria: How did we get here? (Part 2) https://www.sunnewsonline.com/nigeria-how-did-we-get-here-2”, I contended that a study of the developments in the country, particularly in terms of infrastructure, will appear to unveil greater contribution of military rulers than civilians. This view is still shared by so many Nigerians. The advocates of this position assert that the economic fortunes of an average Nigerian was much better during that era. This is aside the infrastructural leaps made during the period. They are also quick to point out that the so-called democracy has always put the nation on the precipice of a failed economy. Just recently, that democracy poses a challenge to the development of the nation was alluded to by President Buhari when he lamented the several constraints under the democratic system militating against speedy development of the country and the fight against corruption.
So as not to lose focus of the paper, let me remind us again that what was advocated in Part 1 of this writeup is simply a modification of the model of democracy Nigeria currently practices. Not even so much as per the heart of it, but just the limb, which is the entitlement to vote. As argued, people need to know why they are voting and the competence of the person they are voting. Where this knowledge is lacking in a voter, such cannot be better than a person of unsound mind that cannot vote ordinarily. The contention, therefore, that there is a need for the abridgment of the entitlement to vote is not out of place and not undemocratic. Our argument posits that, as at present, the exercise of franchise in an uninformed manner endangers, not only the concerned electorate, but the nation at large. As Socrates rightly captured it, “only those who had thought about issues rationally and deeply should be let near a vote”. Hence, the urgent need for the reform of the voting entitlement. That there is nothing unusual about this invitation is justified by the fact that different countries of the world have their own versions of democracy, suitable to their development.
This much I have charitably demonstrated in the first part of this piece. For example, in Singapore, there is no limit to tenure of political office holders unlike in Nigeria; only three leaders ran Singapore between 1959 and 2021, a period of 62 years with Lee Kuan Yew serving for almost 32 years. Undoubtedly, the model has been working for the country in terms of the development it has brought into existence. The fact that “The Economist graded Singapore 6.32 per cent under democratic index notwithstanding, the GDP per capita growth between 1960 and 2018 was 1562 per cent compared with a country like United Kingdom with a democratic index of 8.52 per cent and 211 per cent growth rate. While the following countries were ranked as flawed democracies by The Economist index: Thailand 6.32, China 2.26, Brazil 6.86, their GDP (real) per capital growth rate are 1014 per cent, 3931 per cent, 222 per cent which shows booming economy. The above statistics, therefore, show no serious correlation between democracy and the economy, which is basically the essence of governance. United Arab Emirates is another testimony to this assertion.
The country is one of the most prosperous and fast developing countries of the world, yet it does not run on democracy. All that the above demonstrates further is the reality that democracy does not automatically lead to good governance. Despite the underpinnings of good governance theoretically engrained in democracy, it is not in all cases that it yields to good governance. What is more important, therefore, is that, any system adopted by a country must be capable of producing good leaders that can enable good governance for the nation. Thus, it can be safely concluded that it is not in all world democracies that you witness good governance, even with the aid of magnifying glasses. A peep into the state of affairs in countries like Bulgaria, Greece, most African and Latin American countries like Bolivia, Argentina, Columbia and Venezuela will attest to this fact. Beyond the above justification for departure from conventional form of democracy as in universal suffrage in Nigeria, and as argued earlier, there are as many variables of democracy as there are countries purportedly practising democracy. The American version is not the same as the British. The British form is not identical with the Chinese form, just as the Singaporean model does not equate to that of Australia or Canada. For example, in China, there operates only a single political party in the country through which succession to leadership of the country takes place. Whoever, for example, that is the Secretary General of the said party automatically steps in as the president of the country in any election year. I am sure, as reflected in my last column, that you are aware that the American variant is dissimilar to the Nigerian practice, so also is the system of democracy in Great Britain.
All these go to show that the success or otherwise of a country does not depend on a particular brand of democracy, and a country needs not wholesomely copy the model of another country for her success. Furthermore, although democracy may appear to be the best form of government, it is not without its flaws.
In Socrates view, this so-called “birthright democracy” is susceptible to demagoguery.
In addition, there exist several other forms or systems of government capable, and oftentimes, engendering good governance outside democracy. Examples abound in autocracy, oligarchy, monarchy, totalitarianism, aristocracy, etc. We have monarchy in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and a host of other Arabian countries, and still the countries are progressing. The military is still in charge in Thailand and there is still substantial progress. Now, in Nigeria, the present version was bequeathed largely to us by the colonial masters and, despite the fact that it is not aiding the country in the achievement of her developmental objectives, the nation still sticks to it as if she would be caned if she tinkers with it. It is suspected that it is the psyche of the nation that has been bastardised by the imperial masters that is still haunting the country. Otherwise, how else does one explain the insistence on and continuation with a model that has not proven to be effective and efficient in the delivery of good governance for the country? The country has experimented with the model for over six decades with no remarkable progress made. Is it not time that the country revisited the model, not necessarily in the manner being canvassed here, but in a way that will facilitate progress for the nation and her people? The summation of all that I have said above is that the system of government does not matter much to an average Nigerian once he is guaranteed a worthwhile living. This is only possible where there is good governance, which is achievable in any system of government than the conventional democracy the country is running. As Socrates again noted, “…easily people seeking election could exploit our desire for easy answers, by appealing to the primordial sentiments.”
Hence, all that matters is how the society is steered. I stand by my call for the abridgment of voting right, as canvassed in the first part of this piece.