Opinion: An option of true democracy or a trajectory in double jeopardy

Adama Ekene


Since late, it happens that our new understanding of a blessed day is any day the sun sets without the sad news of some bunch of innocent and defenceless men and women having to meet their end in a most tragic and gruesome way in the hands of violent extremists or 'unknown gunmen'. Not that this sort of news is new, but the frequency with which they now occur seem to have tripled.

Just two days ago, it was the news of a village in the North Eastern part of the country raided by terrorists who killed men, maimed women and abducted the rest of the women and the children after setting houses and places of worship burning to their best. And last night, it was the news of some army who were ambushed by the same Boko Harram terrorists who made sure not a single soldier was left breathing on the spot. Only this afternoon, it is the news of four farmers in the North Central who were attacked in their farms by herdsmen and slaughtered as though they were some cows.

The pain from these sad occurrences deepens as one realizes that much of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes still walk about free and certainly plotting their next attack thereby making it seem as though our military are doing nothing or lack the willingness to do anything when in fact they are giving all their bests-- including their lives. The pain deepens even the more when it is remembered that sometime ago under the same circumstances, billions of Naira were budgeted for vital arms and ammunition for our military but was cornered to private accounts.

From another angle, it is the story of some struggling lecturers who have not been paid a penny of their salaries for months and had to resort to industrial action but are now faced with the dilemma of either having to compulsorily resume work without the slightest idea of when they will be paid or the assurance that they will not be owed thereafter and worst of all without the umbrella of the association under which the industrial action was embarked because the association has been indefinitely outlawed, or have their desks cleared in termination of their employment, if they would not so resume.
In any or both of the above choices, the plight and grievances of the lecturers will not be registered or remedied partly because the judiciary too has been on indefinite strike over the same issue of lack of payment of their salaries.

In all of these events, the affected citizens as well as concerned and well meaning Nigerians are expected to accept those man made misfortunes as their fate, and do nothing about them because any form of civil disobedience or protest will only begat more bloodshed and chaos.

(The thoughts and troubles of a painter in his attempt to paint a Democratic Nigeria)

The inestimable desire to live and be free from harm and subjugation is universal, inborn and therefore as old as man. Through the ages, starting with story of Cain and Abel in the Christian Bible through the state of nature, it is evident what monster and cannibal man was and would have continued to be to his fellow man if allowed to live in absolute freedom. Not only will such freedom portend the insecurity of life and denial of other basic rights, it will also suggest that there definitely will be no place for deserving restitution or relief for victims as well as potential victims. Under such conditions, life could not but truly be nasty, short and brutish.

Accordingly, recognising that the desire to live and be free can be inordinate for some souls like Cain, and forced by the will to live, man in his wisdom decided to dwell together as society and further relinquished or ceded most of their individual powers to a force instituted by them. This force or the government, is empowered to make and enforce laws with the aim of achieving it's primary purpose-- the security of lives and the rights of its people.

Even with the above arrangement, it became clear overtime that setting up a government and submitting to its power, without more, was not enough. As a matter of fact, time revealed that even the government can be as callous as the individuals like cain, and thereby posed as threats to the lives and liberties it was instituted to safeguard.

To better advance the lot of man, amendments were made to the original arrangement so that the government too is bound by it's own laws and the people allowed to take part in the government and the running of their affairs. Consequently, in a more organized manner in the Greek City State around 500 Century BC, the people could be seen actively participating in their government through the institution of 'the Assembly'.

Remarkably, the two modern day events which held out the doctrine of democracy and showed the world the power inherent in the will of the people are the American Revolution and the French Revolution. In America, the revolution was against the exploitation by colonial authority following the introduction of new and unpopular taxes while denying the people representation in Parliament and some class of rights enjoyed by other British subjects. Similarly, in France, the revolution was occasioned by a widespread discontentment with the French monarchical and feudal systems and also the economic policies of King Louis XVI.

For Nigeria as colony under the British Crown, agitation for inclusiveness in her governance started in 1919 which later resulted in the Hugh Clifford Constitution of 1922 and with subsequent unabated agitations over the years came improvements on successive constitutions up until 1954 to better provide for inclusiveness. Most significantly, in 1953, the idea of self-government which would later materialize in 1960 and fully in 1963 was initiated by Sir Anthony Enahoro. However, this trial in self government was truncated by decades of intermittent military rule but subsequently the country reverted to democracy in 1999.

In a way, the residue problem of governance today are those societies which purport to be democracies but without a single element of democracy. Accordingly, Karl Popper defined democracy in contrast to dictatorship or tyranny, thereby focusing on the opportunities for the people to control their leaders and to oust them without the need for a revolution. To this end, Larry Diamond the American political scientist posits that democracy consists of four key elements, namely: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair election; the active participation of the people as citizens in politics and civil life; protection of the human rights of all citizens, and a rule of law in which laws and procedures applies equally to all citizens.

With the above in mind, it will be fair to say that Nigeria as a nation is one of the societies that purport to be a democracy but without a single element of democracy as postulated by Larry. For this reason, the succeeding paragraphs of this article will lean towards analysing one after another the elements of democracy according to Larry, how they do not obtain in Nigeria and the need for them to so obtain.

The fist element of democracy according to Larry Diamond is a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair election. Justice Uwaise led Electoral Reform Committee stressed this point when it observed that "free and fair elections are the corner stone of every democracy and the primary mechanism for exercising the principle of sovereignty of the people and are therefore crucial requirement for good governance in any democracy". Accordingly, 'free and fair election' could be said to mean an election whose conduct is free of electoral irregularities such as violence, bribery, vote rigging, underage voting, etc, and whose outcome genuinely reflect the will of the people.

Democracy begins with a peacefully elected government and for this reason, any nation that is truly serious with its democracy, must first start by getting it right with its election and electoral processes. This is so because being the entry point, only a free and fair election will guarantee the emergence of a government whose authority will unarguably derive from the will of the people and who will eventually ensure the observance of the remaining three elements of democracy. Often times, especially from our experiences, when a leader is not so elected by the people through a free and fair election, he feels and most times acts in a way that shows unaccountably to institutions and to the people and the people in such instance will usually loose the foothold to demand for such accountability.


The general conduct of elections in Nigeria since her military rule has been questionable for obvious reasons. The Human Rights Watch in her 2007 Article noted that the polls in 1999 and 2003 were characterized by widespread violence, intimidation, bribery, corruption and vote rigging. Even the 2007 general election which produced the widely loved but short lived president Yar'adua was a subject of criticisms by the National Democratic Institute, the European Union and the United States Department of State, who were institutions that monitored the election. Disappointed with the conduct of the election that brought him to power, President Yaradua commissioned the Electoral Reform Committee and tasked the committee to work towards improving the conduct of elections in the country. Fair enough, the 2011 general election was adjudged by the United States' Department of State to have been successful and a substantial improvement over the 2007 election, although not without vote rigging and fraud. Regional and international election observers were in agreement that the 2015 general elections were generally peaceful and transparent. However, the opinions of regional and international election observers about the 2019 general electioms appeares to be inconsistent. While the African Union aligned with Electoral Commission that the elections were largely peaceful, Freedom House, a United States based organization faulted the conduct, saying that they were marred by irregularities and intimidation; an opinion which validated circulating footages and photographs which showed the elections to have been truly marred by violence, ballot box snatching, vote buying and other forms of irregularities.

Our government's approach should be 'the most pressing things first'. Accordingly, it has now become expedient more than ever, especially considering the uneasy peace that follows every general election in Nigeria and the tension already mounting over the 2023 election that the Federal Government should in the interest of democracy, peace and unity of country devise a lasting and near watertight solutions to our country's numerous electoral problems. The people's power to elect their leader under an effective and reliable electoral system is their ultimate remedy against elected leaders who turn out to be bad and autocratic especially where the legislative arm is compromised and would not exercise the power of impeachment or where on the other hand a recall process is frustrated. Such effective system will also ensure that only candidates with track records of what they promise and workable plans for realizing their promises are elected by the people.

For democracy, it is not enough that the people participated in the electoral processes that brought about their government. A further step necessary for democracy according to Larry is the people's active participation in the politics of their government and civil life.This is so because democracy is not just a government of the people, it is also a government by the people and for the people. As opposed to autocracies, in democracie, the people are allowed by laws to make useful contributions to their government, hold out harsh criticisms against their government and embark on protests and civil disobedience as ways of influencing their governments unto a desired path or demonstrating their legitimate dissatisfaction and grievances.

To get the government to be responsive, not only must citizens be concerned with the affairs of their government, the press, as well as Non Governmental Organizations must be allowed to operate freely. However, over the years in Nigeria, the government's stern and unwelcoming attitude towards critics and protesters has discouraged and discourages citizens participation in government. Unfortunately, this is a known feature of the county's military junta rearing its ugly head in a different dispensation and as expected succeeds in writing off accountability and transparency from the template of our government. This is why Barack Obama observed that the ability of citizens to organize and advocate for change is the oxygen upon which democracy depends.
Larry Diamond's third element of democracy is the protection of the human rights of all citizens. This element is essential for the very fact that government is all about the people. Hence, the first and only object of government according to Thomas Jefferson is the care of human life and happiness, not their destruction.

Human Rights are those benefits and interests to which every man has claim over by reason of his being a human being. These rights are universal and inalienable and they include right to life, right to the dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to freedom of thought, expression and religion, right to associate with other people and be free from discrimination on any basis and generally, rights to better and improved standard of living -- the socio-economic rights. Because of their nature and place in the affairs of government, the success or failure of any regime depends largely on the extent to which these fundamental rights are not only guaranteed but their unlawful violations promptly and adequately remedied.

These rights are explicitly spelt out by every successive constitutions of Nigeria since independence. These constitutions (including the 1999 Constitution, as amended) strictly provide for specific deserving circumstances under which such rights maybe denied. However, in Nigeria, these rights and liberties rather than being protected have been and continues to be assaulted especially by the government and her agencies. As it relates to right to life of Nigerians, tens of thousands of Nigerians have died and continue to die from preventable violent crimes and painfully without justice as the perpetrators of these crimes are sure of their not getting nabbed for prosecution. Also very painful is the unabated and unapologetic extra judicial killings of unarmed civilians by security operatives in Nigeria.

As it relates to dignity of persons, in clear contravention of Section 217 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, the Nigerian Army has become notorious for the unprofessional conduct of some of it's personnel who fall for the temptation of involving themselves in purely civilian matters and misunderstandings as judges, meting out enforcing different kinds of degrading corporal punishments on the supposed person at fault. Not to mention the many acts of police brutality and assaults on citizens. As it relates to right to freedom of expression, aside the notable assaults on citizens' and groups' rights to express themselves and hold out their opinion about the affairs of government, whether or not they politically correct, also notable is the recent failed legislative attempts to limit, if not take away this right; forgetting the words of George Washington that "If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we maybe led, like sheep to the slaughter".

The last and final element of democracy going by Larry Diamond is the existence of rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. Rule of law as the name implies refers to an end state in which all individuals and institutions, whether public or private, and the state itself is held accountable to the laws of the land. This is the idea of the supremacy of law over and above every other person and office. This principle of government was brought about by the need to eliminate arbitrariness in the exercise of private and public powers and also to best protect underlying rights of citizens.

In civilized societies or democracies, the Constitution is the supreme law. Accordingly, it is mandatory for public and private conducts and every other laws to be consistent with it in order to derive their validity. The Nigerian Supreme Court noted this point in Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal v. Okafor. The court observed that " Nigeria's constitution is founded on the rule of law, the primary meaning of which is that everything must be done according to law". To this end, the Constitution among other things provides for separation of governmental powers and functions and charge as sacrosanct the independence of the Judiciary. These are the necessary framework and mechanisms for ensuring conformity of conducts with laid down rules and due processes, irrespective of the social, economic and or political status of the citizen.

In view of the foregoing, with respect to Nigeria, public office holders and other government agencies, especially the security agencies are known for their flagrant violation of laws, including the Constitution, and due processes in the conduct of their affairs. Worthy of mention is the unhealthy acts of the Executive arm of government interfering with the affairs of the Judicial arm and sometimes even the Legislative arm.

Inferably, it is clear and well articulated by Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people. And also that the idea of democracy was initiated to best guarantee this security and welfare by not only reposing power in the people, but also by giving priority to the will of the people. While the necessary elements of a democratic society continues to be lacking in varying degrees in Nigeria, the entrenchment of a strong, more inclusive, more accountable and transparent democracy is as expedient as it is necessary for the security and welfare of the present Nigerian peoples, and also indispensable for preventing further transfer of an ill-fated Nigeria (where among other things, the sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of people are disdained and disregarded) to succeeding generations of Nigeria to come.

Adama Fidelis Ekene is a graduate of Law from the Kogi State University, a Social and Criminal Justice Advocate, Co-founder of Country Over Self, and a member of the Young African Leaders Initiative.

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