Tweaking Nigeria’s democracy to deliver more for the people (II) - By: Tope Fasua | Dailytrust

Tweaking Nigeria’s democracy to deliver more for the people (II)

President Muhammadu Buhari

I know it’s possible to also get people to sacrifice for their nation in a democracy and opposition politics could be fierce to get sitting governments to strive for perfection. But that is very difficult to achieve and takes a long period and consistency which are unattainable luxuries for us. Also, we haven’t been lucky to see any sustained period of superlative growth and productivity. We need a push. We need a leap. We need action and not endless talk. We need to focus on individual responsibility to self and country, and not wire our people to only demand for rights. Indeed, rights will never be available in adequate quantity if a people don’t do the right things at some point that creates and guarantees an organised society and a multiplicity of rights. There are no rights in the jungle, and the results of our present engagements have made something close to a jungle out of our country. In short, the better a country or society is the more rights are available to its people. I think it is the responsibility that people sow first, before reaping rights.

Are there anything called TRUE DEMOCRACY or TRUE FEDERALISM?  Everything is rooted in history. Federalism can only be as ‘true’ as the Americans imagined it to be – because it is their federalism we seek to copy. That’s why I said we keep looking into textbooks. But if we look into history we will see that it took a long time for even the role model federalist Americans to get to this flawed situation where our friend Donald Trump almost overturned everything some weeks back. Indeed, between the ‘Federalists’; John Jay, James Madison and Alex Hamilton and the Nationalists like Thomas Jefferson they could not agree on what Federalism meant or is supposed to achieve.  Jefferson and friends believed federalism should guarantee stronger states or component regions. Jay, Madison, Hamilton and friends (who are known as the Federalists), believed that the federal government should be strong in order to ensure unity.  Till today in the USA there is no consensus on what federalism should mean; a weak centre or a strong centre.  And I see that Nigerians continue to commit grave errors even in the face of hard evidence. This is the wrong impression that in the model country (USA) the federal government gives nothing to the states but receives from them. No way! Different federal governments have always given ‘Block Grants’ or ‘Categorical Grants’ to the states in the USA. Also, there are 3,006 counties (Local Governments) in the USA so what is this idea about subsuming LGAs under States to the extent that level of government which is closest to the people is strangled out of existence?  What is a federating unit? Can it be composed of two or more levels? Certainly. The peculiarity of the USA was that the colonies were the ones who came together from the ground up (through an undemocratic process) to form a country in rebellion to Britain, France and Spain. The colonies later became states and there were criteria to be achieved before new states could be created especially in terms of population, as America grew. History is very important. Many things evolved through trial and error. Nigerian states are not federating units in the same sense as the old colonies of USA. Our states are artificial creations – usually of the Nigerian military.  So, if we want to do the right thing, only ethnic nationalities could be federating units here… and we must set criteria to ensure we identify what constitutes an ‘ethnic nationality’ and recognise those that qualify without abbreviating anybody’s rights.

I equally wager there is nothing like a true democracy except what you read in textbooks… some idyllic situation that nobody practices. In the 1930s up to 70s, and probably to date there are places in the US where people are offered cigarettes at polling booths to vote particular candidates. In the UK especially in heavily Bengali areas and some of the very poor boroughs till today, rigging is the order of the day.

So, there are basically no perfect elective democracies anywhere but what mitigates the situation in those countries we admire, is that they have ensured that their people have food to eat, education and a reasonable life, and over time, desperate poverty has been banished. This done, the people can begin to ask intelligent questions of their politicians – an important requirement of a working democracy.

This is what Socrates believed about democracy as written in his discourse with Adeimantus circa 380 BC:

If you were heading out on a journey by sea, asks Socrates, who would you ideally want deciding who was in charge of the vessel? Just anyone or people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring? The latter of course, says Adeimantus, so why then, responds Socrates, do we keep thinking that any old person should be fit to judge who should be a ruler of a country?

Socrates also believed that a desperate person cannot make the right decisions in a democracy. He likened it to a scenario where someone needs bitter pills to get well, but most people despise the doctor that administers such bitter pills and will choose to befriend someone who allows them access to all the things that will kill them. He describes the good medical doctor (good leader) in the mind of a patient (voter);

“Look, this person (the medical doctor) here has worked many evils on you. He hurts you, gives you bitter potions and tells you not to eat and drink whatever you like. He’ll never serve you feasts of many and varied pleasant things like I will” Socrates asks rhetorically: “Do you think the doctor would be able to reply effectively? The true answer – ‘I cause you trouble, and go against your desires in order to help you’ would cause an uproar among the voters, don’t you think”

Plato adds to Socrates’ concern that uneducated people may not be able to choose a captain because they don’t know what it takes to run a ship.  Like Socrates, he likened leaders to ship captains.  Hear him;

…the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds, and all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control the ship…[the electorate] think that it’s quite impossible to acquire the professional skill needed for such control and that there’s no such thing as the art of navigation.

Plato, therefore, believed that philosophers should rule – philosopher kings. A true philosopher, being someone that is in love with knowledge and the search for true reality. Plato digs in further, by touching on how democracy usually pans out:

“An excessive desire for liberty at the expense of everything else is what undermines democracy and leads to the demand for tyranny”

In other words, democracy often comes full circle, giving way to tyranny because people spend all their democratic time grabbing rights rather than performing responsibility.  They often are obsessed with the allure of an illusionary liberty and end up losing everything, then they demand for tyranny. This reminds me of Nigeria over the years since independence.

In the final analysis, I am not calling for an abrogation of our democracy, by perhaps a tweak – beyond what the textbooks say.  I am also saying that we are not doing well by not doing everything to focus on making the lives of our people better so that they can understand democracy more, and make better decisions. In short, the focus should be on improved standards of living of our people, taking tens of millions out of desperate poverty and illiteracy.