Once again, I am compelled to discuss democracy, its basic concepts, the mind set necessary for its success and its advantages. This topic is even made more necessary by the approach of the 2019 general election season or cycle. Democracy is clearly the best form of government that man has ever developed or invented so far. It is considered the best simply because it has built in checks and balances as such it can curb dictatorial tendencies whenever such appear.
The true democrat is one who respects the supremacy of the people’s will! The true democrat is the one who understands that democracy is not just about wielding power but wielding it in such a way that the human rights of the citizenry is sacrosanct! In a democracy, the rule of law is a grundnorm or foundation of all behaviour and all political activity. In our own case, the amended 1999 constitution is the guide, the guard and the arbiter. Nobody who discards the constitution, can claim to be truly democratic. Since no Christian can do without the Bible, and since no Muslim can do without the Koran, so also can there be no democracy outside of the constitution! Because of the constitution, democracy is defined as the rule of law as against aristocracies and dictatorships which are both described as the rule of whim!
Democracy is considered beautiful and ideal because, it enables participation of all and sundry through the principle of universal suffrage. Every adult is empowered by law to participate directly in the selection of those who will govern the country. This is why it is only in a democratic system that the vote is expected to be free, fair and reflective of the will of the people! Once a voting process is tainted, then the will of the people is abridged and some people then gain office without being so nominated and promoted by citizens’ popular opinion. Such persons are not democratically elected. Indeed, such mandate is stolen and negates the very essence of democracy!
Putting it succinctly, any government that emerges through a manipulated vote process is undemocratic! Such a government cannot therefore be said to represent the will or the interest of the people. Traces of such unelected people can be found by the conduct of imposed office holders many of who behave dictatorially, knowing that they did sneak into public office without the approval of the voter. Again, democracy is undermined by the inability of the voter to make informed choices. In a properly functioning democracy, voters are supposed to choose candidates who represent values or ideologies. Here of course, there is no such thing. Our politics and our politicians have no ideologies. There are usually little or no ideological differences between one party and another!
People are voted for either by monetary inducement or in view of ethnic affinity. This is the reason why clearly corrupt individuals still manage to win elections despite being under trial, some have even won elections from their prison cells! This is so because electors in Nigeria fail to interrogate issues properly. When the voter is incapable of making informed choices, he will invariable make wrong choices and this is the reason why those in power hardly ever consider the needs of the populace whilst in office. They know that when the chips are down, a few naira notes will see them into office again.
This is the very reason why there are limits to campaign finance and campaign funding. Unfortunately, both Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have been unable to stop or even reduce the billions that are spent on the election by the various parties and gladiators. When money plays the major role in elections, elections change from democratic choice to markets where vote buying and selling freely occur! Compounding the case of our country is the spectre of extreme poverty which makes the voter all the more vulnerable to cash and other forms of inducement. Indeed, it has become rather a norm that voters expect to be settled for voting. It has reached a point that even the very best candidate will not win an election unless he or she is ready to play the money game.
Someone has argued that the very reason why the populace sell their votes is the fact that politicians never ever deliver on previous promises made. It is argued that voters had voted in the past on the allure of integrity and hope only to find that the politicians had simply disappeared after winning, without ever fulfilling any pre-election promise. Can we then blame the voter if he or she demands payment beforehand?
As said above, democracy is the best form of government because it ensures that many more heads are in office simultaneously! Democracy also ensures a periodic renewal of mandate unlike a dictatorship or an aristocracy. The renewal of mandate is made necessary as a way of ensuring that office holders are accountable to the citizenry. Ideally and theoretically, an underperforming elected official is shown the way out when he comes for mandate renewal, but not when vote buying is the norm like in Nigeria.
This vote buying and INEC connivance is the very reason why in Nigeria and in most of Africa too, it is very difficult to unseat an incumbent! The incumbents have the most cash for elections. They also have the most efficient and effective networks within the security networks and even at INEC. All these they deploy to their own advantage, thus weakening democracy by thwarting the will of the electorate! A will which is supposedly supreme in democratic system!
Democracy is not just about occupying offices, democracy is indeed the process through which the offices are filled! Democracy is the attitude with which the government in power approaches the opposition! It is undemocratic to harass or intimidate the opposition. It is undemocratic to hush up contrary views. It is undemocratic to deify any office holder to the point of making such a person feel that he is not accountable to the people. Once that is the case, democracy loses its flavour and becomes a dictatorship! While our democracy is yet in evolution, this column joins the ranks of Nigerians who demand for a free, fair, peaceful elections devoid of violence and intimidation in 2019!