The Life Or Death Of Nigerian Democracy

A former parliamentary secretary of state in the German ministry of foreign Affairs and an erstwhile Commissioner of the European Commission Ralf Dahrendorf wrote that “the life and death of democracy is an unusual and extraordinary magnum opus by a notable scholar and author. It is unusual in tracing the history not just of ideas but democratic institutions, and extraordinary in its range…”

This German scholar cum politician was previewing a book by an Australian professor of politics, Professor John Keane titled “The Life and Death of Democracy” which he authored and the United States of America's version was published in 2009.

Like most notable thinkers who have only but laudable thumbs up for the form of government known as democracy which Abraham Lincoln defined as the government of the people by the people and for the people, the University of Westminster Professor of politics in this scholarly book eulogized the concept of democracy thus: “The mould of cruel servitude can be shattered, as happened 2,600 years ago, when Greeks living on the South-Eastern fringes of Europe laid claim to an invention that now ranks in historical importance with the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine and the cloning of stem cells.”

For this professor of politics at the University of Westminster, democracy was “born of resistance to tyranny, their (Greek's) claimed invention at first caused no great stir. Few spotted its novelty. Some condemned it for bringing chaos into the world. Nobody predicted its universal appeal. It seemed simply to be part of the great cycle of human affairs- yet one more example of power struggles among foes.”

This erudite scholar also expounded in his book that in a democracy those who exercise power should be prevented from bullying others, threatening them with violence, pushing and pulling them into different shapes, as if they are mere clay in the hands of the potters or as (as Aristotle like to say) “ they are mere pawn on the chess board”.

His words: "the prickliness of democracies towards elected and unelected representatives is encouraged by the fact that democracy thrives on separations. In monitory democracies, for instance, everything seems disconnected: civil society from government, representatives from those whom they represent, executives from legislatures, majorities from minorities, civil power from military and police power, parties from voters, experts from laypeople, consumers from producers, journalists from audiences, the young from the old, workers from capitalists, lawyers from clients, doctors from patients".

Both government and civil society are internally fragmented in democracy, so says the University teacher of politics. These multiple, criss-crossing separations are necessary conditions of citizens’ equal freedom from concentration of power.

Democracies he says, try hard to take the sting out of imperiousness. They resist the call for social unity and political concord. Those who wield power are reminded constantly of their (potential) powerlessness. They are kept permanently on their toes by the push-pull dynamics set in train by differences. (The and Death of Democracy, John Keane).

Last month a certain man who teaches criminology at the Zaria Kaduna State based Ahmadu Bello University went overboard and sounded like a peasant farmer with no former education when he told the Nigerian media that he is opposed to the notion of rule of law that would regard alleged offenders as being innocent in the eye of the law. He was angered by the fact that alleged thieves of humongous public fund are being granted bails by the Federal High Court's in Nigeria. This man was supported by someone who is identified in the media as a Lagos based constitutional lawyer who also frowned at this idea of fair hearing for those former government officials accused of heist of security votes. Shortly after, the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami was quoted as literally bullying high court judges that the executive arm of government will catch up with them and jail them if they fraternize with suspected thieves of public fund. These statements are unconstitutional because section 36 (5) of the constitution recognize that suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty not in the court of public opinion but in the competent courts of law.

The title of this piece therefore is derived from the book with the same name by Professor John Keane, the Australian-born united kingdom based writer and researcher and this is to remind the current administration in Nigeria at all levels that since what we profess to practice is democracy they don’t have the leeway to tinker with principles of this novel way of administering the various governmental structures.

Those elected and inaugurated to govern Nigeria for Nigerians are constitutionally obliged to play by the rules of the game and must never be allowed to deviate to the practice of tyranny which is absolutely antithetical to the underlying principles of democracy anchored on the respect for rule of law, respect for the fundamental human rights of all and sundry and institutional building for good governance. Besides, the constitution provides for clear separation of powers by all the three layers of political administration to avoid fusing absolute power into the hands of a single ruler.

The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) embodies some of the essential elements/provisions that must be complied with totally by all authorities and persons to guarantee smooth implementation of good governance and there are critical safeguards against arbitrariness on the side of the Head of State.

Section 14(1) provides as follows: “the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.”

It therefore follows that those holding political offices must be careful not to fall into the temptation of dictatorship and tyranny. The Nigerian constitution recognize tenure limitations for elected President and governors and this is to remind them that political power is transient and that the ordinary people who put them into offices democratically must as of necessity be given the opportunity to vote in their choice citizens as political offices at intervals. Political party holding political offices do this at the discretion of the voters who owns the Sovereignty of Nigeria. The saying g that 'no condition is permanent ' or the other saying amongst soldiers that 'soldier go, soldier come but barrack remains' typifies the temporary nature of political offices whose occupant get their legitimacy and authority from the people of Nigeria.

The best way to guarantee the life of Nigerian democracy is for officials of government to resist the urge to undermine constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law. Those urging president Buhari to disregard these time tested and honoured constitutional principles at the alter of opportunistic chase/pursuit and persecution of perceived political opponents in the guise of anti-graft war are only misleading the administration and inevitably if the president disregards the constitutional provisions that guarantees separation of powers it therefore follows that the demise of democracy becomes imminent.

In going about carrying out the fight against all corrupt practices, those heading the respective agencies of law enforcement such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission must be immune from executive interferences and the only way to ensure that this happens and the anti-graft mechanisms are seen as completely non-partisan is for the National Assembly to make legislative safeguards against all executive interference so the wheel of democracy is allowed to run constitutionally. The National Assembly owe the people tge duty to make good laws that would guarantee respect for the sanctity of rule of law and respect for the human rights of all Nigerians.

Both the former and current presidents had in their respective handing over and taking over speeches on May 28th and 29th of last year accepted the indubitable fact that democracy can only survive when the key players play by the rules of the game.

Erstwhile president in his speech stated thus; "My Administration has emphasized giving a free hand to our Anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). We preferred that they mature into strong institutions instead of being the images, the hammer and the anvil of a strong man. We must encourage them to abide by the rule of law and due process instead of resorting to dramatic or illegal actions orchestrated for cheap applause.”

The current president also on May 29th, 2015 inaugural ceremony addressed the importance of separation of powers but seems to have misunderstood the real import of SEPARATION OF POWERS between the the three arms of government namely the Judiciary, the legislature and the Executive but he spoke about the separation of powers in terms of the tiers of administrative structures such as Federal, State and local council.

Muhammadu Buhari has stated thus: "Elsewhere, relations between Abuja and the States have to be clarified if we are to serve the country better. Constitutionally there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers of government but that should not mean the Federal Government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments. Not least the operations of the Local Government Joint Account. While the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of its operations it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked. As far as the constitution allows me I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.”

However there is a considerable atmosphere of mutual suspicions that the current government has embarked on scotch earth large scale witch-hunt of political opponents in the guise of prosecuting key government officials of the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party of corruption relating to the operations of the office of the National Security Adviser to the then President Colonel Sambo Dasuki.

Even before letting the accused persons have their days in court of law as prescribed by the constitution, key government officials including President Muhammadu Buhari have demonized all those arrested as thieves and the media has made caricature of these accused persons and the propaganda circulating is that the last ruling national party was made up of thieves.

This is wholly untrue because majority of those who are the core members of the current party in power at the center known as All Progressives Congress were for many years leading members of the party which they now seek to demonize and unfortunately the anti graft agencies have joined the bandwagon of singing the anti- PDP chorus so much so that many independent observers are worried that Nigeria is sliding towards dictatorship. All lovers of democracy must join hands to stop the drift from democracy to autocracy in Nigeria and we must give justice to all irrespective of political or Ethno Religious affiliations. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) stated rightly thus:" if justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers".

Nigerians have a choice: to choose between the death or life of democracy. For me and my family we have chosen the LIFE OF NIGERIAN DEMOCRACY.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @ , , .

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Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko