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Bimbo Manuel

Chapters: Democracy? Take It, Damn It (1)


My family runs a democracy. Yes. We do not need to have serious issues to resolve before we sit down together to talk. Even the ones that are away come home and we all discuss, check welfare, ask questions and irrespective of age or responsibility, everyone is allowed a voice and they speak in strong voices. They are allowed to interrogate my actions as the head of the home, they voice displeasure; we resolve differences and agree on the family’s short, medium and long term plans. We ask the kids about their own plans and everyone is allowed to offer counsel. We fight, we settle. Everyone has a one vote when we need to decide on a consensus. We progress together. That, is our democracy.

However, from running that domestic democracy, I have come to understand that the definition of democracy as the government of the people, by the people, for the people is probably the most asinine and simplistic you will get anywhere of such a complex and utterly important matter. Democracy is beyond some of ‘the people’ electing one of themselves on behalf of everyone. It is the reason America elected Donald J. Trump and ended up in a mess; it is the reason Nigeria never left infancy. It is the tyranny of the noisy few.

Governance itself suggests the incident of a few taking upon themselves the responsibility of organizing and running society on behalf of the rest and the description of whatever method they choose – autocracy or parliamentary democracy – is of little consequence so long as they deliver on pledges and the aspirations of the people are met. In ascribing to themselves that responsibility of leadership, those at the top have also accepted the self-imposed job of adopting the dreams of the people. It is the dream of the people that selected them into power, unless they forcefully impose themselves on the will of the people as you find in a military dictatorship. It is in those dreams that democratic representation resides – a presumed adoption of the dreams of the larger number that almost instantly throws into irrelevance, the aspirations of the fewer components of the electorate. It is not a phenomenon peculiar to Nigeria. Even America, the bastion of democracy, struggles with it as we speak. They elected Trump who, under the guise of democracy, rules like a king because of the noise of those who elected him.

To ensure true representative democracy, those who did not agree with the choice of the larger number must therefore learn to arise to join hands with those who got their wish to keep the elected on their toes and compel those who cannot stand the heat to get out of the people’s kitchen.

In this regard like Nigeria, America struggles. The larger and noisier number insist that DJT must stay in power, no matter the wrongdoing he engages in, no matter how he goes against the age-long values of the founding fathers and American society. They must all learn to live with him.

Even his impeachment is as contentious as his election but at least, the few are standing up to insist on accountability. Whether or not the dice rolls in their favor, someone is challenging the system and the power of numbers.

Democracy therefore is not measured just by free, fair and peaceful election as the West has made us learn till we all are able to rhetorically regurgitate the entire definition. It is, indeed, the daily life of the people before and after an election. It is the constant review, formulation and enforcement of laws and policies, attendance to social and physical development and a general consideration for the dynamism of the regularly changing needs of the people.

Democracy as a system, has its roots in one person expressing an interest to represent the people, convinced enough of the power of his/her vision of life for the people and the ability to actualize that dream; it is the open road ahead of such a person that allows him/her to aspire and be expectant of a system that does not discriminate against him/her; democracy is the rigors that those he/she will represent put him/her through before carefully selecting him/her before being convinced that their representative will work in their favor, strive to attain the dreams he/she sold to them; representative governance is the undeniable right of the electorate to dream and expect those who put themselves forward to deliver those aspirations.

It is not democratic to disappoint them, to say one thing in campaign and do something else in office, even when you find that the realities of office compel it. That is why the terms of engagement allow you to resign, be recalled, be impeached and/or indicted. If you put yourself forward in representative governance, you are not allowed excuses and you cannot expect second chances if you fail, if the system is truly fair. Others must be allowed to put themselves forward, or it is not democratic.

Ultimately, in a proper democracy, it is the tyranny of the people over leadership, a weapon and power they must wield with caution but be ready to deploy with telling effect to protect themselves against dictatorship and artificial royalty. That power does not and should not wait for election cycles but should prepare each politician to think and act as if the following week in an election.

In any true democracy, the power of the people should be a constant and ominous god over all, a benevolent overhang perpetually reminding the politician of repercussions and rejection. The egress of any elected official should depend exclusively on the opinion of the people, not the imposition of any political party, godfather or group of influential persons A party or godfather’s estimation of an individual should not be enough for any mass of people to succumb to a political bandwagon behavior.

The people therefore guarantee their own power, not only to freely choose but to control the actions of those who are so elected on their own behalf. So, though a majority may have elected a leader, it becomes the responsibility of the whole to assert themselves in ensuring that the elected indeed represents the whole.

However, in Nigeria, the culture of the resentment of the choice of the majority has usually bred apathy and many times, resistance resulting in violent crimes and electoral fraud to force change or express displeasure. Rather than arising, staying vigilant and speaking up in an organized manner to ensure that a leader delivers on his promise not to his base alone but to the whole, people withdraw, sulk, complain and wait for the next electoral cycle. In that time, society collapses from poor, inept, vindictive, despotic governance relying on nepotism to perpetuate itself.

To perform optimally, leadership must be held to account, the elected must be constantly reminded of their pledge to the people, the transience and vulnerability of their position. The Constitution demands that responsibility and provides for it.

In our warped democracy and federalism, we tend to gaze with unwavering fixation on the office of the President of the Republic. We seem too politically uneducated or too easily forget that in the sort of democracy we operate, even as perverted as it is, there are still a lot of checks and balances and separation of powers among the three arms of government all dominated by the great power that resides with the people, the ‘one ring that controls all the other rings’, through the assumed independence of the Judiciary. That, is the power of democracy.

Sadly, the same Judiciary has proven to be the ace of an overbearing Executive where it succeeds in usurping the powers of the Bench and the great Betrayer of the people’s will. Even the great America suffers the same fate whenever it nominates persons to the Supreme Court.

We know, even in the greatest democracies that, no one willingly gives up or restrains from the use or abuse of power. The borders of the law are constantly tested. The people must use their own power, to the same extent and beyond that the elected has shown propensity to ruthlessly use theirs. We must learn to first understand that even as there has been a clear reluctance to amend the military constitution that gives all power to the center, the local government councillor is of greater importance to the man on the street than the local government chairman and the chairman is far more important than the state assembly member; the governor is of far greater importance in service delivery to the people than the president of the federation.

It will therefore be of greater political intelligence and effect to hold the ward councillor responsible for what happens in the neighborhood than cursing the governor for the more basic system failures of poor drainage, environmental hygiene and power sector workers’ misdemeanors. It should ordinarily be the job of the councillor to ensure that the neighborhood that elected him enjoys the beneficial effects of governance..

If we apply logic to the assessment of democracy, Nigeria can find practical parallels between current events in the United States and our country.

But that is for another day, let us meet here again…


Manuel, a Nollywood star, writes from Lagos

About Ademola Aderele

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