Do Fair Elections Necessarily Guarantee Good Governence?

Fair elections are said to be the bedrock of good governance that guarantees peace, stability and prosperity. However there is much to wonder why many a times popularly elected governments through generally fair elections fail to make any difference in the lives of their citizens anyway? This is what I intend to address with a view to identifying the missing link between such popular and fair elections and commensurate development in many countries and entities around the world. Interestingly this tricky paradoxical scenario happens exclusively among the developing countries. It is also noteworthy that I am not here to refer to unfair elections, which are marred by rigging and violence etc. I instead refer to the very elections under which candidates who actually get higher votes are announced as winners.

Fair elections could of course guarantee good governance but not under any circumstances. What actually determines whether fair elections can lead to good governance is the extent to which the electorate enjoy decent standard of living in the first place. For instance, a hunger-stricken, destitute and fear-gripped pauper, whose preoccupation is how to keep body and soul together, can hardly have any guiding principle, independent opinion and/or reasonable self-esteem, to enable him to even identify the best candidates let alone elect them.

It needs no deep investigation to realize that the vast majority of electorate in Nigeria for instance are not in the position to make right choices. Their votes are in most cases effectively for the highest bidder (i.e. politicians), who exploit their plights with meager and tantalizing inducements. Many of such electorate also fall victims of mislead under the pretext of ethnicism, sectionalism or religious disguise. Refer to “Is Kano Really Politically Civilized?” to see some examples of what mostly motivate average electorate in Kano State as an example.

Politicians who maneuver themselves into political offices as such can not deliver of course. And the so-called dividends of democracy would continue to elude the electorate, which explains how after every election exercise including the fair ones the plights of the electorate deteriorate further.

The bottom line here is that, human needs and rights are not of equal importance. They are fundamentally classified into two: (1) “Needs to survive” and (2) “Needs to thrive”. Needs to survive are those most basic needs without which one can hardly survive or can not survive at all. Things like food, shelter, health, security, hygiene and basic knowledge fall in this category. “Needs to thrive” on the other hand are those needs that have to be provided in order for individuals and communities to lead and enjoy most befitting living standards. Things like freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom of association and of course freedom of political participation etc, fall in this category.

Though very crucial “Needs to thrive” are entirely subject to “Needs to survive”. People are naturally preoccupied with the challenges that directly affect them in the first place. And their mindsets and attitudes are conditioned to respond accordingly. The challenges of modern days have linked people’s potentials to think constructively to the grades they are able to record on their scorecards in “Needs to survive” list. The general rule today is, the better one’s living condition is, the higher his chances to think positively and achieve his potentials. And the slight exception to this general rule does not affect its relevance.

Popular political elections –no matter how fair- in circumstances whereby the vast majority of the electorate are paupers can not guarantee good governance, because only those who have resources to offer and tricks to play can be elected, which explains the mediocrity, incompetency and lack of accountability that characterize the governments they form. And the poor masses would always pay the price dearly.

Having practiced military dictatorship in Nigeria in the past, and various democratic systems including the current one without commensurate difference, one may wonder what is the alternative? And the question is more confusing for average Muslim electorate, who had been made to expect a lot as a result of the introduction of "Islamic Shari’a" in their various states.

Basically there is no alternative to real participatory system of government in the modern age. However for it to yield positive results, the electorate should-at least- not be under severe economic pressure, which unleashes despair and frustration. Even the so-called civilized countries, which boast of functional democracies, had to provide potential grounds for their democracies to flourish. In some points and times many of them had to sacrifice a lot of democratic values in order to impose certain realities on the ground before introducing full democratic systems. In fact some of them had even gone to the extent of bloody revolutions. Though I am not advocating for bloody revolution in Nigeria, neither do I call for any violence for that matter, I nevertheless believe that there would never be any appreciable progress so long the status-quo remains unchanged.

Nigerians therefore have to learn from the experiences of other countries, which had gone through similar or even worse crises before they succeeded in getting it right, when they decided to do the right things. Things are rapidly getting out of control in Nigeria, warning of a spontaneous anarchy if care is not taken. See "Looming Class Struggle in Nigeria".

To sow the seeds of real change in Nigeria, there shall be an elite movement of unconventional like-minded progressives of different professional, intellectual, business, technocratic and political persuasions. They shall have detailed guidelines, blueprint and roadmap to guide their activities. Their desired destinations shall be the most strategic positions in the land including the presidency without any apology. Their mechanisms shall be flexible but consistent. And they shall also -though loosely- adopt the notion that says “the end justifies the means” with appropriate reservation of course.

Once they get to the top, they shall provide a style of leadership that assumes that the vast majority of the citizenry do not necessarily realize their actual interests and strategic needs in the first place. (I do not mean any insult at all.) They shall systematically impose systemic and social realities that focus primarily on the provision of decent living standards in the light of “Needs to survive” list, even if it entails sacrificing some “decorative” rights and privileges as contained in “Needs to thrive” list.

As the people begin to enjoy such standard of living, their mindsets simultaneously begin to improve until they get to the right level, where they will be more enlightened and get better self-esteem and consequently be ripe enough to handle the intricacies of other rights and privileges e.g. full democratic principles. For example, the citizens of the oil-rich Arab countries in the Gulf are ripe enough for full democracy.

Though sustaining the momentum of such phenomenon could be as challenging as creating it, it is nonetheless sustainable through creative hard work, until it is right time for normal democracy.
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