By Tonnie Iredia
Two repressive systems of old which heightened the advent of ‘Democracy’ in many societies were a) Monarchy, which was premised on the ‘Divine Rights of Kings’ and b) Colonialism by which imperialists exploited conquered territories.
It was thus with ample ease that freedom from oppression – the sermon of democracy facilitated its adoption in virtually all parts of the world. The popularity of democracy has however been adversely affected by a dimension whereby people claim to be democrats just to attain power only to enthrone a regime which erodes freedom thereby creating an authoritarian democracy.
Just like many African nationalists who joined the struggle for independence from colonial rule, Nigerian politicians only want to replace those in the ruling class, none is genuinely interested in attributes such as accountability and free speech.
As a result, it is difficult to find any African country, where political dissent is not remotely criminalized. Accordingly, a slogan such as ‘democracy is a game of numbers’ is now one of the popular features of democratic governance in the continent. It does not matter whether the numbers are real or cooked.
For a country to be recognized as a democracy, it has to consummate the processes and procedures for democratic governance. Nigeria for instance cannot be said to be a democratic country because her governance process has from independence in 1960 been largely fake.
It is true that she has managed to conduct elections since 1999 but it is not every form of election that democracy accepts. An election in a democratic society is a process which guarantees fairness and credibility. Countries which organize incredible and sham elections such as the ones we see in Nigeria merely ridicule themselves before the international community.
Quite often when other countries disparage many Nigerians, we argue that they ought to know that every nation has its bad eggs and that there are decent Nigerians. We conveniently forget that our bastardized democratic process, has left an indelible signpost to the world at large that ours is an unserious political entity.
People who relish the manipulation of election figures can manipulate anything hence getting visas just to visit any part of the western world is deliberately made tedious because no one is believed to be honest in our system. Many people who are allegedly elected into political offices never won any election.
Yet, they make so much noise about democracy being a game of numbers, when they and the rest of us know that the said numbers are nebulous making a mockery of democracy’s priceless element of majority rule. When it all started long ago, analysts had hoped that there would be improvements in due course that can bail us out of the dilemma.
Recent events have painfully confirmed that we have become entrenched in an unsophisticated political culture from which we are making no effort to depart. Secondly, even if the numbers are genuine, we are still not a democracy because all that matters in our clime is the so called viewpoint of the majority. In a responsive democracy, majority rule coexists with the protection of minority rights.
Kwara State is probably the most recent example of a state; whose House of Assembly knows only the game of numbers without recourse to minority rights. Although our courts have consistently declared that legislators have no powers to suspend one of their members, the undemocratic practice subsists unabated.
Two weeks ago, the Kwara Assembly suspended indefinitely Jimoh Agboola, the only member of the opposition in the 24-member state legislature. His offence was that he made comments deemed to be critical of Governor AbdulRazaq-led administration. Agboola reportedly criticised the governor during a radio programme for sidelining his constituency from developmental projects.
The case raises several issues. First, if Agboola criticised the governor, it meant he exercised his constitutional right of freedom of expression which cannot amount to an offence. Second, by speaking out on behalf of his constituents, Agboola played the exact role for which he was elected.
Third, as the only minority member of the House, the legislator lived up to the expectations of the democratic right which allows a minority to have a say. Even if Agboola’s supposed criticism of the governor bothered on defamation, it is not a House of Assembly that is legally empowered to determine the offence let alone to punish it with indefinite suspension.
Again, the alleged critical comments were not made against the House, yet the legislators adopted an undemocratic approach to demonstrate their material loyalty to their governor/emperor. All that the legislators should have done was to use their majority to overwhelmingly controvert the criticism and if possible to move a motion of implicit confidence on the governor.
But they are among Nigeria’s pseudo democrats who believe that democracy is only a game of numbers that must be intolerant of any dissenting opinion. Someone must tell the Kwara legislators that no law gives them the power to punish a constituency by depriving it of the right to be represented.
What appeared to have angered the Kwara lawmakers was the decision of the minority legislator to call on his constituents to stage a protest against the authorities for marginalizing them. Interestingly, this again is not an offence as peaceful protests are allowed in a democracy.
Consequently, the majority cannot wipe out political opposition in Nigeria on the grounds that democracy is a game of numbers. The Kwara legislators are patently wrong in their decision to punish Agboola for speaking out and for having the courage to mobilize his constituents to protest against what is not in their interest. Agboola did no wrong.
But then, in what can be called modern Nigeria, such vestiges of authoritarianism are still in place in many of our institutions. In order to be able to rig elections, Nigerian politicians have mobilized their legislators to whimsically usurp the power to determine how elections should hold in Nigeria from the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC which is the only body authorized by the constitution to do so.
As one of the legislators opined a few days ago, they have done it and only God can change it. Such a declaration by mortals confirms the lack of awareness that democracy is expected to be anchored on the rule of law where everything is done according to the due process of law. There are many things calling for change in Nigeria. One of them is to stop those who deliberately truncate the political growth of the country.
Here, we need an electoral body that can enthrone a process based on best practices for rational recruitment of leaders who can bring genuine development to our shores. We need a legislature of people of integrity whose presiding officers must not be hard of hearing.
To attain this, hearing aid devices can be provided just to be sure they do not hear the opposite of what their members say. We want an end to the justice delivery system which could credit some candidates during election petitions with more votes than the number of accredited voters at an election.
We need a new police force that would not continue to insist that they can exercise the right to ban street protests in Nigeria notwithstanding the abrogation of the unconstitutional Public Order Act of 1979 upon which they relied in the dark days of Nigeria to make the country an undemocratic landscape. These changes must precede the talk about democracy as a game of numbers.