Democracy or mental siege

Central to democracy is individual freedom. Unfortunately, a mental siege has been imposed on Nigerians making a mockery of their individual freedom. If, for instance, you are an APC man in Rivers State and you grant an interview saying Nyesom Wike, the PDP governor of Rivers State is “trying” (their word for performance), forget about your appointment with Rotimi Ameachi. Also, if you are a PDP man in Kaduna State and you say that Nasiru El-Rufa’i is “trying”, as the governor of Kaduna State, you have lost your membership of the PDP. This happens even within the same party. If you are a member of the Kwankwasiyya movement in Kano and you say that Abdullahi Ganduje, governor of the state is “trying”, you have lost your investments in Kwankwasiyya.

The mental siege is not restricted to speech, it has been extended to the fundamental freedom of association. If you are a member of the APC in Jigawa State and you are seen in the house of Sule Lamido of the PDP, forget about whatever you may have kept in the APC office. They will not allow a traitor like you to go back to their office. If you are a PDP member in Gombe State and you are seen in the same car with Danjuma Goje of the APC, your membership card of the PDP has expired and is not renewable. 

Ironically, in America, a country we have chosen as a model, people assert their individual freedom by opposing the candidate of their party. Many Republicans worked against Donald Trump openly in the last presidential election and they were not sanctioned. But in Nigeria such people will be dismissed from the party for what uninformed party officials call anti-party activity. Dr Bala Usman was so annoyed with this mental siege that he burst out, in a reply to a question; “you see, what we are worried about is to say that look you belong to Balarabe Musa. I don’t belong to Balarabe Musa. We share common ideas and common strategies. If they don’t work then we don’t work. I mean this is not about loyalty to a person. I don’t buy it. I have not been loyal politically to any person as a person. But we share common ideas and when the ideas of direction are disagreeing we part. What is the big deal” (Weekly Trust October 15-21 1991, page 10). If you find this statement too radical, you maybe a victim of mental siege, at the verge of begging the British to come back and re-colonise us.      

Democracy is an intellectual concept with defining characteristics. It is always an ongoing project. The courts in advanced democracies keep interpreting policies and decisions of government to make sure that they comply with the values of a democratic society. Surely, democracy has its limitations, but what is the alternative in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria?

There is hardly any literature where democracy is defined in relation to infrastructure; important as infrastructure is. This explains why Nigerians refer to infrastructural development as  “DIVIDENDS”, not ELEMENTS, of democracy. Virtually all philosophers defined democracy in relation to liberty, justice and equality. The philosopher who said, hunger with liberty is better than bread in slavery, is not stupid.

Whatever their weaknesses, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt succeeded in the infrastructural development of their countries. Did that make them democrats? No, because infrastructure is not a fundamental concept in the definition of democracy. It will be interesting to engage in philosophical discussion on democracy. But this is not the right place to do it, to carry all readers along. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defined democracy as “fair and equal treatment of everyone in an organization, and their right to take part in making decisions”.

The beauty of the above definition is that it projects democracy as a culture, not just a system of government which is normally associated with a bogus definition of government of the people, by the people for the people. Which government is by the spirits, not the people?

The central theoretical assumption of democracy is that people are equal and reasonable enough to make choices. The emphasis is on justice, liberty and equality. These concepts are considered the foundation of democratic civilization which guarantees human progress in innovation, education, economic advancement and equal opportunities.

Democracy guarantees peace because the right of people to grow by making mistakes and learning from their mistakes is not only recognized but also enforced. For instance, election is nothing but the right of people to choose, including the right to make wrong choice.

An average human being will always want to have his or her ways. Even in advanced democracies, their leaders would have insisted on their ways always, if not for the strong institutions that will not allow them. But will such institutions survive the tramping of Trump?

The cultural aspect is also there. An average African is groomed into dictatorship right from childhood in feudal societies. In non-feudal societies, it could be gerontocracy where the elders decide, not because they know the contemporary issues better than the young, but because they are older.

There is also the gender issue. Do the views of women matter. In some cases. But in most cases we are told not to mind them. What of education. Does knowledge matter in opinions, or, ignorance is tolerated.

The fundamental issue is that democracy is a project, an ongoing one for that matter. It is also like a flower whose beauty is enhanced with fertilizer and water. Deliberate efforts must be made to DEMOCRATISE our culture as a basis for a democratic government. We also need to democratize our laws, constitution, and political institutions especially political parties. 

As a knowledge-based political system, democracy will take time to be entrenched in Nigeria, a country with high rate of illiteracy. Many people do not know their rights and the rights of others. Let me give you an example. In 1982, I travelled in a commercial vehicle to Kano with an expatriate who was flying out of the country. The driver stopped about three places on the road just to greet some people he knew. The expatriate was annoyed and told me to tell the driver in Hausa that if he missed his 11am flight he was going to sue him. When I told the driver, he immediately parked the vehicle, raging with anger and said I should tell the expatriate that “He is stupid. Is it the vehicle of his father?” (Ka tambayeshi, dan ubanshi motar ta ubanshi ce). He insisted in returning the money paid by the expatriate, for him to get out of the vehicle, in a thick forest. 

The other issue that must be addressed to facilitate democratization in Nigeria is poverty. It has been an obstacle in Nigeria as it is in all African countries, as observed by a Ugandan: “Democracy in Uganda is being strangled in its prime by the endemic poverty endured by Uganda’s population. Elections in our country are characterized by bribery and manipulation of the electorate who are desperately in need of extra money. As a result you can become politician only if you are a big spender. To win elections you have to have so many old timers on the political scene – they are the ones with financial might to play the game. During the last parliamentary election, the slogan “No money, No vote” was chanted by the electorate, who saw their chance to make some easy money from the politicians. A lot of money did indeed change hands and big spenders won their way to power. Representatives are therefore elected not on merit but on their financial power. Democracy in a poverty – stricken nation is like a seedling struggling to grow amid thorns and weeds – it withers and dies”. (Focus on Africa magazine, January-March, 1997 p.71)



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