Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, DL, FRS, a British statesman, soldier and writer who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, during the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955, once said that “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Unarguably, Churchill’s disposition on the subject of democracy cannot be faulted.
Democracy is the government in which the supreme power is held by the people and used by them directly or indirectly through representation. Democracy is literally ruled by the people. The term is derived from the Greek dēmokratia, which was coined from dēmos (“people”) and Kratos (“rule”) in the middle of the 5th century BCE to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens. Likewise, democracy aims to protect the best interests of the people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, religion or political opinion.
Instructively, democracy is based on freedom and equality between all people. It’s often described as the ‘rule of the majority’, as important decisions are based on the votes of the people and the most popular opinions among voters. Everyone gets the chance to vote on the outcome of a decision. An example is the 2016 Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom.
Under a representative democracy, people vote to elect officials to make decisions to reflect the wishes of the people, such as the Nigerian national assembly, States’ houses of Assembly, US Congress and the UK Parliament.
Interestingly, in democracies, the democratic decline is caused by the state-led weakening of institutions that sustain the democratic system, such as the peaceful transition of power or free and fair elections. Although these political elements are assumed to lead to the onset of backsliding, the violation of individual rights that underpin democracy, especially freedom of expression, questions the health, efficiency and sustainability of democratic systems over time.
Furthermore, it has been clearly established that during national crises, such as we are currently experiencing in our beloved country Nigeria, there are unique risks of democratic backsliding. It can occur when leaders impose autocratic rules during states of emergency that are either disproportionate to the severity of the crisis or remain in place after the situation has improved. After twenty-three years of electoral democracy in our beloved country Nigeria, it is obvious that we need proper evaluation and genuine introspection.
In contrast, autocracy is a system of government in which absolute power over a state is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are neither subject to external legal restraints nor to regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of coup d’état or other forms of rebellion). Sadly, so many African countries have been victims of autocracy in recent past as a result of poor leadership and bad governance.
Flowing from the above and mindful of the events since the early 1990s, there have been significant transformations in political systems in many African countries. These institutional changes have resulted in, for example, the demise of the racially based apartheid system in the Republic of South Africa and the introduction of a non-racial democracy. Many civilian and military dictatorships have fallen, paving the way for the establishment of rule-of-law-based governance systems characterized by constitutionalism and constitutional government, including reforms such as term limits.
Nevertheless, many of these countries still struggle to deepen and institutionalize democracy and deal effectively and fully with government impunity, particularly that which is associated with the abuse of executive power and the violation of human right. Notably, Nigeria and some African Presidents have previously attempted tenor elongation and continuously compounded by impunity. While presidents in some countries such as Kenya, Liberia, and Ghana, have abided by their countries’ two-term limit, others have used legislatures subservient to the president to change their constitutions to allow them stay in power beyond those two terms, and, in some cases, indefinitely. In addition, these and other recent institutional changes have created conditions that make it very difficult for the opposition to participate competitively in elections and governance.
In conclusion, permit me to suggest a number of issues that must be properly address as we approach the weekend of ‘decision’ in a few days. First, I ask whether or not our democracy is advancing or regressing. Furthermore, would the result of the primaries reflect the need to choose a president that can adequately tackle the challenges bedeviling our beloved country Nigeria, namely, issues of killings; banditry, kidnappings, insurgency, 33.5% unemployment rate, separatist agitations and general bad economic situation.
I make the observation that it would be a weekend of the mother of all battles as the two major political parties sets in motion the process of electing their respective flag bearers. Will this process lead to the maintenance of the status quo and continue to reinforce failure as is said in the military? As a nation destined for greatness we need to begin to question the past and present malfeasance which includes squandering of riches and plundering of our resources. Would a nation that earned over 400 Billion dollars from just one source and does not have much to show for it, other than “audio infrastructure” remain the same hands? This is a clarion call and a call to duty.
ARISE ‘O COMPATRIOTS.
Richard Odusanya is a Social Reform Crusader and the convener of AFRICA COVENANT RESCUE INITIATIVE ACRI.