By Mohammed Adamu
I closed last week observing a fundamental contradiction between democracy’s apparent non-achieving credentials and society’s legitimate dividend demands, a reality which tends to make the democratic process seems drudgy and agonising; so that often non- democratic –even if autocratic-systems elsewhere continue to appear appealing as long as they are reasonably provident.
It thus becomes necessary to debunk the mythical healing powers of democracy, or indeed, its muc-vaunted reputation as the veritable ‘elixir’ for the many sicknesses of society; especially in Nigeria where either ‘people’ do not know that they should, or are not prepared to be, the system’s jealous custodians and guards.
Candidly speaking, democracy here appears to be doomed to perpetual non-providence as long as certain societal variables remain constant.
And, many such variables indeed, appear even more transfixed than the Rock of Gibraltar! Our democracy’s non-provident reputation is in spite of Jean Rousseau’s and John Locke’s ingenious — even if purely doctrinaire —Separation of Power Device, (which itself was thought to be democracy’s eternal staying power because it shared power between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary).
By so doing it was naively thought that the possibility had been eliminated of ‘power’ uniting absolutely in a one-man ‘sovereign’ who could wield it arbitrarily and in a manner inconsistent with the attainment of the public-good.
Little was it known that this ‘power’ could find almost absolute expression in the law-making arm, the Legislature’ -and that over time inevitably when discovered, the legislature using it selfishly could become that dictatorial modern-day ‘Institutional Sovereign’ by functioning arbitrarily and conducting itself in despotic, arrogant manner!
Which was what David Ingram said in his book Law: Key Concepts In Philosophy. That: “The American founders believed that a constitution that placed unlimited power in a legislative majority will inevitably result in tyranny, instability and lawlessness.”
Sooner or later, there is always the inherent danger that a legislature will come to the full realisation of the extent of its legislative powers — its capacity to liberate or to enslave, to make or to unmake. But there are safeguards. What keeps American democracy going, for example, is the ever-revolving socio-political paradox of citizens’ mistrust of their governments on the one hand and governments’ fear of
citizens’ mistrust on the other!
Plus there are in existence, non-democratic –mostly security-institutions that have consolidated, over a long period, the requisite state power to prevent anyone (including the President) and every ‘body’ (not excluding Congress and the Judiciary), from doing or allowing to be done, any action that might imperil America or endanger the way she makes her living. When President Clinton paid a hundred dollars for a haircut, the whole American public was enraged.
Americans said he was corrupting the system. And, in fact, the citizen anger became worse when he pleaded it was from his personal income: ‘Shut the F..k-Up, Bill! You are the President of the United States! You do not have the luxury of personal choice of conduct if we the citizens believe that conduct is socially
un-exemplary! You wait till you return to Little Rock, Arkansas!’
Genuine democracy is never attained only on the altar of a strong and vibrant checks and balances between the three Arms of government nor by the good intentions, alone, of a strong, patriot-President; nor yet by the pen power, alone, of an uncompromising media-intelligentsia; but most importantly by the ‘people’ themselves participating, monitoring, guarding and whenever necessary, ready to swing!
Already on the National Assembly’s self-serving plans to legislate member’s autocratic takeover of political parties, David Mark and his N20million-a-month-minus-oversight-jeun-jeun legislators, are telling Nigerians to ‘Go to hell! And, we all appear either unconcerned or, those we care, nonetheless helpless! Dictatorship of the legislature which Lincoln had long forewarned as the worst form of dictatorship is finally overwhelming the Nigerian polity.
And, now we are virtually in the conundrum of a systemic gridlock. Those who naturally should solve society’s problems via the instrument of legislation are themselves the problem! Herein lies democracy’s drawbacks: creating a systemic Monster without a tractable self-revealing Achilles heel! How did this happen in our own case?
Essentially the law-making role of the legislature in Nigeria, its powers (over the Executive): of oversight, of authorisation of spending and of removal of the President, combine to place the legislature as first among three equals for the reason that even in the mutually interdependent checks and balances relationship, the legislature alone is the ultimate check of the other checkers.
In fact, the right of the legislature to equally initiate bills and its power to override presidential veto and thus, in defiance of the President, make to become law, any un-assented (i. e. vetoed) bill, constitute proof enough of the absoluteness of its law-making authority and evidence of the practical fallacy of the claim of indispensability of the President in the chain and process of law making — all of which again combine to disprove the oft-repeated assertion that the President is the legislature’s sole agenda-setter and the continuing initiator of legislative subject-matter. He has never been!
To be continued.