John Locke’s view on government, some lessons to learn as elections approach in Nigeria

By Ene Gift Linus
Democracy on paper is not enough. Free, fair, and violence-free elections are crucial for the protection and deepening of representative democracy in any country. It is shameful and inhuman when political candidates use their own citizens as pawn to pave the way for their political ambitions. Unfortunately, electoral violence has been a continuous problem in Nigerian politics since she became a federation in 1963. Usually, the violence and killings occur either before the election (electoral campaign) or after the election.

File photo: Nigerians

The First Republic (1963-1966) collapsed due to the widespread violence unleashed by politicians in the disputed 19665 general election that led to the first military coup of January 15, 196. During the Second Republic (1979), the country returned to civil rule, but not long before some politicians again, resorted to electoral violence especially during the August 1983 general election where political observers said that, Akin Omoboriowo versus Governor Adekunle Ajasin saga in the old Ondo State allegedly involved in electoral fraud in the state led to three days of severe killings and arson, resulting in military takeover on December 31, 1983.

Third Republic Constitution

The constitution of the Third Republic was drafted in 1989 as General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida  (IBB) (the  military head of state), promised to end military rule by 1990. He allowed for elections of civilian governors for each state, taking office in  January 1992, followed by the presidential election. When the presidential elections were finally held in June 1993, confusion arose over the election saying that, only around 30% of the registered electorate actually voted. The initial results from the elections indicted that Chief Moshood Abiola had won the majority of votes in 19 states and he declared himself president. The results were annulled by the ruling National Defence and Security Council, and Mr Babangida himself said that ‘the polls had been marred by widespread irregularities’ so he established an Interim National Government, and then declared that the transition to civilian rule could not be completed by August 1993. He resigned and was replaced by Chief Shonekan. Mr Shonekan resigned after some months and General Sani Abacha, the vice-president, assumed power. Sani Abacha immidiately dissolved all existing organs of state and installed his own regime.

Towards the Fourth Republic, a new Constitution was to be formally adopted in October 1998. In May 1999, General Abubakar announced that the “era of coups” is over and once more there was transition to a civilian rule. Since then, Nigeria has had five successive general elections (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015) but with each of them recording high electoral violence.

According to Nigerian Watch, between June 2006 and May 2014, there were about 915 cases of election violence resulting in about 3934 deaths. The North central recorded about 1463 deats, 911 deaths in the North-West, 644 deaths in the South-South, 319 and 386 deaths in the North-East and South-West respectively.

Based on this fact, I argue that, the violence that occurs in Nigerian electoral campaigns, election period and post-election result is linked to the use of the ‘divide and rule policy’ by Nigerian political leaders and political candidates towards exploiting the people, turning them against each other and creating violence and disaster just to get what they want. This suggests simply that there is a problem with the system and something needs to be done about it. The killing must stop because Nigerian lives matters. In fact, reading through the history of Nigerian electoral violence and the record of the killings makes one wonder, is Nigerian representative and liberal democracy worth the name or can we do better?   To answer this question, we should explore John Locke’s writings that lay the foundation to today’s representative and liberal democracy.

John Locke was an English philosopher and he was among the most famous philosophers and political theorists of the 17th  century. In most of his works, he opposed authoritarianism and absolute monarchy. In his essay concerning human understanding he argued that, ’knowledge and identity comes from accumulated experience’ because at birth, the human mind was a blank slate (Tabular Rasa). Everything that the human mind knows and does is learned from perception, interpretation and experience (empiricism). ‘Ideas cannot be said to be in the mind until one is conscious of it’. This means that, whatever content people are feed with determines their perception and here, it is easier for political leaders through the media and propaganda can influence the mindset of people and if proper education is not acquired to liberate the people, the people could easily sell their safety for a little amount of money or promises given to them by the political leaders to engage in violence or killing and they won’t hesitate. Unfortunately, some youths are the ones mobilized by the politicians to perpetuate the electoral violence. Many of these young Nigerians are educated and unemployed. The school system appears not good enough to imbibe in them the spirit of patriotism, and many of those who are uneducated amongst them were probably unable to afford education.

Nigerian government needs to educate the people. Build more schools, infrastructures and hospitals. Nigerian government needs to regulate the educational system especially private schools. They need to do a check and balances on the tuition fees for most of the private schools especially the schools own by churches which are the most expensive whereby even the church members may not afford to send their kids to the church schools that they might have contributed to its foundation.

In ‘Two Treatises of Government’, Locke argued that, all humans are born free and equal yet people need a sense of order so government was formed through a social contract mainly for the protection of life and properties. He emphasized that there should be a ‘constitution to limit exercise of power by the state in order to avoid abuse of power because individual rights must be protected. So Nigeria became a representative democracy and as S14 (2) (b) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1999 reads, ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of govern’ but does that even mean that Nigeria is standing by this promise?

A violent free election

A violent free election will boost patriotism among Nigerians and in a diverse country like Nigeria; a violent free election would give the people a sense of unity. The more the political candidates tear the people down with the idea divide and rule policy, the more it gets difficult to achieve ‘unity in diversity’ rather, it will be ‘we against them’ mentality where everyone for themselves meaning that, people would rather fight for their ethnic groups, for their religion or for their region. We should look at the long term effect of pitting one group against the other because in the end, we might achieve our aim to be in power but such action will always endanger the stability of Nigerian democracy and the perception and interpretation of people and also the rise of identity politics. My hope is that, Nigeria would set a good example of what is like to be a good representational democracy with a free, fair, and violence-free election for the world to see the true beauty of the country in its glory. It will resonate well around the value we place on human lives, and fit in squarely the popular saying that “Nigerian Lives Matters”.

*Ene Gift Linus, a Nigerian Masters Degree student at the Department of of Political Science and International Relations at the Instanbul Aydin University, Turkey.


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