Law & Human Rights

June 19, 2009

Deepening the democratic values in Nigeria

By Ikeazor Akaraiwe

Democracy is an English word with its root in the Greek word “Demokratra” meaning “popular rule” itself coined from the words “Demo”  meaning “people” and “Kratos” meaning “Rule” or “Strength”.

Democracy has many definitions but I think we are fairly well-agreed when we borrow the well-worn definition first popularized by the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln in his famous Speech at Gettysburg as Government of the People, for the People and by the People.

A credible electoral system.
A fundamental underpinning of democracy is an electoral system which respects the choices made by the people. President Yar’Adua struck the right chord when he recognised early in his administration the need for electoral reform and set up this committee headed by Justice Lawal Uwais.

However, to every one’s surprise, the laudable report of the committee has been tinkered with in a fundamental respect by government leading to serious doubts about the sincerity of government about electoral reform.

The Ekiti example (a) The court-ordered rerun into 63 wards in Ekiti State; (b) the massive violence which greeted the rerun in spite of the presence of about 10,000 security officials; (c) the resignation of the resident electoral commissioner due to pressures upon her to do the wrong thing; (c) The Police declaration of the said electoral commissioner as “wanted”. A crime to resign an appointment?;

(d) Her consequential withdrawal of resignation; (e) the collation of election results at the police station contrary to law because of fear of breakdown of law & order in spite of 10000 security personnel as aforesaid; (f) the surprising 18,000 votes cast in Ido-Osi Local Government which suggested that since the voters registration exercise in 2006 no registered voter in Ido-Osi had relocated or died. It was 15000 of these 18000 Ido-Osi votes in Ido-Osi that gave ‘victory’ to Mr. Segun Oni of the PDP & it was the addition of these votes that initially offended the resident electoral commissioner’s “Christian faith & conscience”;

There is no question that total overhaul of an electoral system whose executive chairman is appointed by a President of the Federal Republic who is also the head of one of the political parties jostling for power is sine qua non for deepening democratic values in this beleaguered nation;

(iii) The NBA has called for and continues to reiterate its call for the findings of the Justice Muhammed Lawal Uwais-led team as it relates to appointment of the Chairman of INEC to be adopted at the very least if government is indeed sincere about electoral reform;

(iv) It is most embarrassing that Ghana and South Africa have been able to get elections right but Nigeria continues to stumble like a drunken man, fulfilling the ‘big-for-nothing’ tag Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana placed on her 50 odd years ago; (v) It is thus no surprise to anyone that President & Mrs. Obama’s maiden visit to Africa is not to Nigeria the so-called giant of Africa but to Ghana which the U.S. government described as one of “our most trusted partners in sub-Saharan Africa”1

(vi) Inasmuch as a visit by a U.S. President does not necessarily confer greatness upon a nation, we will be deceiving ourselves if we do not see that the world is observant of the failure of democratic values in this country, exemplified by the rape on democracy in the 2007 elections of which the recent Ekiti State rerun is but a sundry example.

Fearless, consistent & independent judiciary:-
The judiciary must be credited with playing a yeoman’s role in preserving democratic values in Nigeria and there is no doubt that a fearless, consistent and independent judiciary is also sine qua non for deepening democratic values. Fearlessness is a fundamental essential. Timorousness in the face of executive lawlessness will not do. Consistence is an unshakeable necessity.

Lack of consistency in court judgements will shake the faith of the common man in the courts and give rise to allegations of corruption. In this regard, the outright contradictions in judgements of the Court of Appeal over electoral cases in the last two years should give cause for concern, not-to-mention being suggestive at the very least of administrative failure in that very important court.

A system must be put in place to ensure that justices of the court of appeal are acquainted with judgements of their brother judges in other jurisdictions.