STATE OF THE NATION (2): The Democracy Question, by Faith Berewa

I have said it before; military was not the problem of Nigeria”. This was a friend speaking some 5 years back. He knew I am an avowed democrat with a strong aversion to military rule. A firm advocate in the rule of law.

A believer that nations thrive when the people are allowed to freely choose their leaders ruling on their behalf for the good of all. He knew my take that military rule is an aberration.I also knew the point he was driving at, being from an African country where there has been coups and counter coups, return to civilian constitutional rule and the promise it held in many sub-Saharan countries has mostly been a mirage.

After decades of instability in a number of African countries through military intervention, bright spots began springing up. Nigeria was the biggest price of all. The most populous country in the continent with huge oil and gas reserves returning to democratic rule, shedding its pariah status, wielding power and influence on the world stage, raising hope and optimism that a country drained by successive military regimes was on a path to freedom, dignity, the rule of law, equal opportunity for all, irrespective of social status, religious affiliation, and tribe and tongue.

Africa has been a hotbed of coups and counter coups since the military incursion into political life in Egypt in 1952. From data compiled by American Researchers Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne, of 492 attempted or successful coups carried out around the world since 1950, Africa has seen 220, the most of any region, with 109 of them successful.

(voa)Recent military takeovers in the continent… Guinea, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Gabon, Niger, and the reaction of the citizenry to such interventions underscores public discontent for political leaders. Citizens are questioning the relevance of democratic governance if in our parlance, does not “deliver dividends of democracy”. if it does not fulfil the yearnings and aspirations of the people.

What is democracy without food security, productive jobs for teeming youths, infrastructural development, security? These are questions citizens are asking the political establishment, more so in Nigeria where almost a quarter of a century of constitutional democratic rule has seen the people poorer, infrastructural deficit wider, insecurity worsening, unacceptable levels of unemployment, middle class eroding, with citizens barely surviving.

Is democracy the only form of government needed for societal flourishing? Why are some countries flourishing without being “democratic?” China is the greatest example of a prospering society developing without the toga of democracy. China lifted 800 million people out of poverty in about four decades.

According to a World Bank Report, “…the success of China’s economic development and the associated reduction of poverty benefited from effective governance…” What about the middle east countries? And the prosperous nation of Singapore where a single party has ruled for over 6 decades?

Its democratic index is 48 percent according to Freedom House, the oldest American organization devoted to the support and defence of democracy around the world. When the United States President hosted an International Summit for Democracy in December 2021, Singapore was not invited. Not considered democratic enough.

A fundamental aspect of democratic rule is the freedom/liberty it offers citizens to utilise opportunities created by institutions and leadership to exhibit and thrive in chosen areas of endeavours thereby contributing to the flourishing of society.

As I stated in an article published in Sahel Standard May 29th 2020, much of what we call politics is actually about what people do to get society organised, functional and productive for individual and societal flourishing, and democratic rule has been adjudged the best system to achieve this.

While democracy itself has been divergent in practice, it can rightly be said that it has produced the best human settlements in terms of peace, stability, liberty, freedom, justice, human development and technological advances that has enhanced human existence on earth.

It was this dream of a democracy to lead us into national prosperity and individual flourishing that inspired the struggle for our return to democratic rule in most of Africa, when military dictatorship reigned. Nigeria’s return to constitutional democracy in 1999 was therefore a fulfilment of a dream and the beginning of a journey that was expected to not only take us from the tyranny of military dictatorship, but also help organise the country to become functional, cohesive and productive for national prosperity and individual flourishing.

Our return to democracy was such an optimistic vision that we actually believed that the country was finally on her path to fulfilling her destiny of greatness and taking her place in the comity of nations. But what has happened? Nothing more than this… disdain for public virtue by our leaders.

The danger of democracy is that it places resources in the hands of a few. When they lack virtue the people famish. Sadly, that has been Nigeria’s lot. “When governments esteem virtue, the nation flourishes. When they disdain virtue, the nation crumbles.” John Adams As I was writing this piece, my teenaged son asked if military rule was that bad.

That is what happens when history is cancelled from our schools. My reply? Yes, it was bad, really bad. “How bad?” he asked. I started declaring the anomaly that was military rule:It was unconstitutional, repressive, a small group of men in military uniform exercised power and control through the barred of the gun, ruling by fiat through decrees, they could do and undo to the detriment of a whole nation. Citizens’ rights were trampled upon, corruption thrived, the press was gagged.

One of the greatest harm was the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential elections by the military cabal that pierced a dagger at the soul of the nation. When I finished blasting military rule, he asked again, “is civilian rule better?” It was more of a statement than a question.

This conversation is taking place in schools, homes, offices, even pages of our newspapers. It is unfortunate the relevance of democratic rule is being debated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *