“Democracy is when the indigent, and not men of property are rulers”—Aristotle.
The confession by a former deputy senate president to election malpractices once again brings to fore the never ending debate on the propriety of democracy in this clime, its suitability, and most importantly, our dubious claim to the entrenchment of democratic practices in Nigeria. Often, curious elements have pondered on the underlying reasons behind the worldwide acceptance of suffrage as a form of modern-day governance, a stark rebuke to religious, feudal and other systems whose beneficiaries derive legitimacy from everyone except the people.
Undoubtedly, nothing pricks the consciousness of the world to action than the cry of persons under the shackles of authoritarianism. Since the beginning of the 20th century, nothing has perhaps become as popular as claims to democratic ways. Wars have been fought, empires ruined, leaders toppled all in the quest to remove the world from what protagonists call the stranglehold of savage governments. In this democratic crusade, you’re either a democrat or tyrant, a middle ground exists only in the figment of one’s imagination.
It was the wholesome embrace of this narrative that got Libya into being bombed back to the Stone Age, the turning of Iraq into a vast rubble, the chemical weaponization of Fallujah under the pretext of a war on terror, and to the dismay of our collective humanity, the making of Syria into a battleground by competing forces perpetually locked in a fight for world dominance and influence at best, and at worse, the enslavement of the rest of the world via a lethal combination of tank and technology! Neither good living conditions nor dignified existence under an ‘authoritarian’ regime can stand in the way when the ship of democracy docks. Clothed within the yoke of human rights, failure to embrace suffrage thus becomes synonymous to denying your fellow man what Ronald Reagan calls “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But on the flip side, protagonists become mute, look the other way and call for order when democracy becomes a vehicle to further the perpetuation of neo-colonialism and the advancement of a plaint, subservient and perverted economic agenda. Africa has been unarguably been the most victim in this regard. Although not exclusive to representative governments, the potential of democracy to—at least on paper—accord legitimacy to leaders strictly on the basis of people’s choices ought to shrink the vast disparity that is wont to exist between theory and practice. For events in not a few African nations whose embrace of suffrage has further led to a surge of misfits in the leadership space reckons with the theory-practice argument of Benito Mussolini who views democracy as being beautiful in theory but fallacious in practice.
Democracy is an overrated system of government. It talks down on other failed governance experiments while downplaying its complicity in the fact that under it, the world still remains unsafe, unkind, and worse of it, transmogrified into a jungle. It hides beneath the power of the thumb to give people a sense of ownership while in actual fact does very little to reinforce the convictions of its beneficiaries to the existential realities of the masses. Like Christianity and Islam, it is the legacy of some faraway people foisted upon the world in a garb of cherubic perfection. With the demystification of political actors, nay democracy, Africa will have to sit and ponder on the best way to refine her governance system to purge the leadership space of characters who, paraphrasing Fanon, wear democratic skins, autocratic masks.
In the end, sages may have to explain how the world came to be coaxed into accepting hook, line and sinker a system of government that arguably trumps others in its easiness at accommodating within the leadership fold, mostly irresponsible and unpatriotic elements whose persistent fight against dictatorship for an enthronement of democratic principles lies solely in the weakness of democracy to accord both the sane and insane, the wise and foolish, the honest and criminal the same opportunity to become faces of the nation.
This is the contradiction democracy revels in, for the same thing that makes it most appealing equally gives it away as a faulty system especially in nations perpetually in need of bread and breathe. The Nigerian state alludes to this fact. With swathe of miseducated populace embracing a perverse way of spiritualism coupled with our inability to conduce our individual energies to forging alliances across tongues and cultures, the nation-state is taken hostage by a leadership populated by conscienceless characters whom Adam Smith, reminiscing about the old capitalists said “neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind.”
Mantu’s drool is a testament to the acute indiscipline that is characteristic of members of the political class, one that causes them to hold the masses in total contempt, wallowing in octopodus niceties to fawn when votes are needed only to shut their sensibilities to the rights and wellbeing of the people. Mantu had the guts to insult the intelligence of Nigerians because he knows too well that, as the revered lawyer, Femi Falana said, “the country is run on the basis of official impunity.”
Before Mantu was a litany of precedents of willing confessions to electoral heist and hooliganism. Godswill Akpabio, the arrogant senator once boasted to having singlehandedly replaced a democratically elected official for another in his party’s primary election. How about the #EkitiGate expose by Sahara Reporters wherein ‘democrats’ were heard perfecting how state institutions and resources were to be deployed to truncate the tenets of representative democracy?
This is not a blanket demonization of democracy. My intervention here is to lay bare its vivid demystification; for it could be inferred—going by the easiness it is being deployed against the people—that Nigerians may have to engage the system in the hope of bending it to suit their world, wishes and aspirations. The Americans did it with the Electoral College, an idea that could be said to be in total conflict with democracy. Nigerian should take cue. The present system that makes it impossible to have role models in government stands as a rebuke to our proud civilization.
The words of George Bernard Shaw of democracy being a system of appointing the corrupt few by the incompetent many makes a case for what the Afrobeat icon, Fela Anikulapo-kuti called demonstration of craze. Nigerians must start taking charge of their democracy.
We’ve got to #TakeItBack.
Modiu can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org