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Goodluck with the democratic pretense

Nigeria’s democracy deficit

Let’s get one thing out of the way.  Nigeria is not a “democracy”.  Let’s stop deceiving ourselves.

Ever since the end of military rule in 1999, the notion that Nigeria is a “democracy” has benefitted from endless repetition.  We keep hearing stuff like “our nascent democracy”, “democracy dividends”, “we are the biggest democracy in Africa” and so on.

We are surely something – perhaps a “democrazy”, or a “demonstration of craze”, but certainly not a “democracy”.  Unless we want to strip the word of its meaning.

There are certain critical tests required to establish your “democratic” credentials.  Abraham Lincoln provided in his Gettysburg address what I would call the “baseline” for measuring whether a government is democratic – that government should be of the people, by the people, for the people.

Our governments are made up of Nigerians.  So they are “of the people”  However, for a government to be ‘by the people’ requires the active participation of all eligible citizens in decision-making – not just in choosing representatives at elections, even if they are free and fair, which they are not in Nigeria. Nigerian governments, despite wearing the cloak of democracy ignore the people until their votes are required.

This marginalisation succeeds through the effective promotion of ignorance – or mass production of ignorance as historian Mark Curtis called it. The mass production of ignorance is championed through the media and most of what passes for mainstream education. A wise man once said that a well-informed electorate is integral for a functioning democracy. An informed electorate would not only demand active participation in the political process, they would remain vigilant and fight to prevent the erosion of those rights – because another smart man said: “where evil men rule, the rule of law will not protect those who sleep”.  If you need to distribute “stomach infrastructure” in the form of bags of rice to be elected, the hungry electorate is not in a position to make informed choices or ensure elected officers are accountable.

So on the basis of the ignorance of an overwhelming majority, the fact that most of the population is disenfranchised and disenchanted from the political process, with almost the entire population ignored until voting time, it is clear that Nigeria is not a “democracy”.

Additionally, to satisfy that basic democratic test of being ‘by the people’ requires every eligible citizen to be qualified for any office in the land. In theory they should be, but in reality they are not. Instead we have a plutocracy – government in which only the rich bother to apply. Where you need to raise billions of Naira to run for office you have a system that is ‘democratic’ only by name.

The infusion of money into the system is the killer blow that guarantees it fails the last basic test of democracy – is it a government ‘for the people’? When rich sponsors and ‘godfathers’ splurge millions to get you into office, they expect to be paid back with interest. Their interests will invariably clash with the interests of ‘the people’ – who you are theoretically meant to be representing. The reality is that the interests of the sponsors and godfathers would always come first because money rules in our politricks. The “golden rule” is that he who has the gold makes the rules.

The more wealth is concentrated among a very small segment of society, the less democratic the society gets. This is because the richer the select few become, the more powerful they get and the more they make sure policies and steps are implemented to protect their wealth and to deny access to that wealth for the rest of society. This is how you end up with a false choice of two candidates like Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, representing more of the same.  As the wealth of the powerful has grown, so has their control over our government, and the less “democratic” our governments have become.

The truest test of a government’s democratic credentials (if it is for the people) is whether it guarantees for all its citizens their fundamental human rights. The appropriate measures here are the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Nigerian Constitution.

The Universal Declaration states that:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The Nigerian Constitution states that:

the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

It goes on that government should ensure:

  • that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.
  • all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment;
  • there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons

Our governments can not possibly be “for the people” when the majority of Nigerians are lacking these basic rights.

Nigeria’s “democracy” scam has been pulled off because many Nigerians have been fooled into believing the holding of elections means we are “democratic”.

The Chartist movement in 1800s England, who laid the foundations for Western liberal “democracy”, said that the vote had little meaning if people’s lives did not improve. There is little evidence that the lives of the majority of Nigerians have improved since 1999.  So our so-called “democracy” is devoid of meaning and is nothing but a sham.


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