The argument about whether, or not, democracy is the appropriate form of government for Nigeria has been on the forefront in many discussions I have engaged in. Quite recently, my friend, who has a penchant for analyzing democratic governments and their shortcoming, gave me the opportunity to debate on this salient topic.
Presently, I think every discussion that bothers on seeking an alternative system of government for Nigeria has a way of subtly citing or pushing Nigeria to consider the Chinese state capitalism, led by the communist party, as the appropriate solution to our democratic problems because of the giant economic leaps the country has made in such a short period of time. Well, personally, I don’t think Nigeria should consider that.
Much as we (because many do) fancy the current Chinese political system, we must notice that for all its adaptability – being pragmatic, non-ideological and technocratic, it is not as sound or adaptable as a democratic system of government. Even Chinese leaders won’t dare experiment with democracy for the fear of losing control of their immense powers – powers which are limited under democratic conditions because of its many checks and balances.
Democracy being a government of the people, by the people and for the people, is considered the freest and fairest form of government that have sustained (and is sustaining) the economies of many, different, world powers that have institutionalized it. It has brought many countries to abundant economic prosperity simply because they have fully obeyed its liberating principles.
I believe that Nigeria’s democracy is under threat because it is nascent and, like every nascent democracy, it is riddled with many problems. These problems are the reason Nigeria is still trying to grapple with, or effectively implement, democracy’s liberating principles.
Democracy remains what it is irrespective of any country that uses it. The major problem is that we have not mastered it. Experiences of the military are still fresh in our memory.
One of the major reasons we always feel we are in a crisis with democracy is what I strongly believe is the greatest advantage of democracy – democracy tend to get associated with scandals, it has the ability to welcome criticism, it gives people the freedom to air their opinions on issues. But a lot of people consider this characteristic as an evidence of the failure of democracy in itself. They think scandals and undue criticisms are usually a distraction rather than an avenue for transformation; they allow anyone in the society to let off steam without always treating the basis of the cause of the scandals or even providing strategic solutions. And media houses use it to their advantage since panic sells far more newspaper than calm reflection does.
The question for these people is simple; would they prefer a system of government that wouldn’t give its people the freedom to voice their opinions?
Democracy gives people the freedom to air their views on critical issues – whether these views are useful or useless is a different case altogether. However, this freedom has limitations which must be followed strictly.
Now, for Nigeria’s democracy to effectively work, Nigerians need to have confidence in it. They have to understand that nothing is really as bad as it seems. People have to understand that our democracy is an evolving process, and we can’t achieve everything at once. Even today’s advanced democratic governments had their fair share of problems in their beginnings. America, in all her advancements, just had a government shutdown few months ago.
But many Nigerians belong to the school of thought that holds that the above pattern of thinking leads to complacency – the idea that things will sort themselves out if we wait on them. Others think that this pattern of thinking fosters impatience – the idea that if democracy is the best system of government why can’t it deliver results more quickly?
While it is almost true the contemporary democracy is riddled with complacency and promotes impatience, my take on the solutions to the problems facing our democratic process is that we should imbibe the spirit of tolerance. Tolerance for the problems is as important for our democracy as a desire for radical changes. I say this because I understand that without the desire for radical changes, a tolerance for irregularities allow the irregularities to get even worse. We have to strike a balance between these two, a process which I know will prove difficult considering our hasty characteristics.
I understand that the future shape of our democratic politics is very unclear as we seem to be descending deep into the dark worlds of ethnic differences, cryonism, greed, terrorism and corruption, but these narratives does not mean we have to say we need to replace our democracy or frantically experiment with new political and economic arrangements. It would be disastrous.
What should Nigerian leaders do to assure Nigerians that democracy is the best?
Nigeria’s leaders must understand that the citizens need to see an even stronger Nigeria that fulfils its ambition to be among the regional and global leaders. To that end, Nigeria must strengthen its democratic institutions, advance economic reform, control corruption, professionalize its security forces, and effectively counter the threat of terrorism while respecting the human rights of all its citizens.
Among the above mentioned steps, professionalization of security forces and countering terrorism are hugely important in every democratic process – whether nascent or advanced, because they are the foundations upon which every thriving democracy/sector lie.
The Nigerian Government has to take a comprehensive approach to insecurity across the country. And that approach, in my view, has to include addressing every region’s legitimate political, economic, and social needs, as well as implementing a professional security response that respects human rights.
These steps, if followed, I believe, would provide the social satisfaction and economic wealth needed by many Nigerians. Dembisa Moyo, the economist, confirms this when she said: “Economic prosperity is the prerequisite for a successful democracy”.
Brethren, democracy is the best for Nigeria. We just need to fold our sleeves and work on it.
Interact with Richard Chilee on twitter via @richardchilee