A Customised Democracy for Nigeria


Olukunle Iyanda

Nigeria Today

Perhaps the most indicative summary statistics of the development and well-being of a nation is the Human Development Index published annually by the UNDP. In the latest published index for 2015, Nigeria ranks 152 out of 188 countries, one rank below that of 2014. In comparison, Nigeria ranks below Tunisia, Libya, Botswana, Gabon, Egypt, South Africa and Morocco which are all in the High Human Development Index category of countries while Nigeria is categorised as a “low human development index”. While many countries have risen in rank, Nigeria had remained around the same rank of 150s since 2010. It actually declined by one rank in 2015. It is statistically easier to make a higher rate of improvement from a low base than from a high base. But this has not been the case with Nigeria.

Although the index is increasing, it is not increasing at a rate sufficiently high as to improve its comparative ranking. When adjusted for inequality, Nigeria’s human development index declines from 0.527 to 0.328 while life expectancy decreases from 53.1 years to 40.8years. This is an indication of a wide disparity in human development among various classes of citizens.

Table 1: Human Development Index (2015) of Selected Countries
Other indices that reflect the low level of development and, consequently, the well-being in Nigeria are life expectancy (53.1 years), Unemployment (13.9%), youth unemployment (45.7%), poverty index (279) with about 54% of the population living on less than $1.9 a day. Another statistics that should be of interest to watch is the rate of suicide. In 2015, the rate for female was 2.9 persons per 100,000 and 10.3 for men. With recent occurrences, this statistic may get worse.

Another index that may be regarded as a major contributor to the grim picture of the condition in Nigeria that is painted above is the Corruption Perception Index which measures the extent to which respondents perceive a country free of corruption in the public sector. In 2016, Nigeria had a score of 28 and ranked 136 out of 176 countries, the same rank in 2015, with a score of 26. The perception index of 28 for Nigeria in 2016 is two points higher than the 2015 index and the highest ever since 2012. Indicators for the rule of law and justice scored badly because corruption has found its way to these sacred chambers. Many countries, such as Benin, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are much less-endowed than Nigeria had much higher scores and ranks than Nigeria. The public sector, consisting of political office holders, civil servants, and top managers of other government agencies manage the enormous resources of the country. Widespread and endemic corruption in this sector leads to gross misallocation of resources, massive diversion of the public wealth to private pockets and outright stealing. This poor management of resources result in degradation of economic and social infrastructure and widespread poverty and diseases among the populace

Table 2: 2016 Corruption Perception Index of Selected Countries
Nigeria is not an isolated case. Two-thirds of the countries covered scored below 50 while 40 out of the 46 Sub-Sahara countries have “serious corruption problems”. The sordid records of practically all African political leaders pervade all media, electronic or print. It is not a surprise therefore that the Mo Ibrahim Prize for any elected African country President judged to have provided excellent leadership to his country has not been awarded for the fourth time in its seven-year history, in spite of its very high prize value of $5 million and $200,000 annually thereafter for life. In another story of corruption, Strive Masiyiwa, who brought his mobile telephone service provider company, ECONET, to Nigeria had his management contract of the company terminated because he refused to pay a bribe of $4.5

1. Masiyiwa, Strive (2015), It’s time to play by a different (ethical) set of rules million to the then governor of Delta State James Ibori. Strive also refused to buy the V-Mobile (Econet) shares of Akwa Ibom State offered by the State Governor Victor Attah, through a seedy “Special Purpose Vehicle” designed by their now jailed lawyer, Mr Gohil. Similar cases of fraudulent transactions of public property abound in the media. Those involved are state governors, top federal government functionaries, top bankers and businessmen and a few ubiquitous Nigerian men of God. The public is so exasperated with Nigerian political leaders that one young man in a post on social media pronounced them as the only problem of Nigeria and wished for “mass burial” for all of them so the youths can have a fresh start.
One could just indulge one’s imagination on what a country Nigeria would have been if all those entrusted with the management of its enormous resources had done so responsibly and honestly, adhering to the excellent and noble Code of Conduct of the NIM. Would we have been so import-dependent for our food and other basic needs? Would our roads have been so bad as to be suckers of the blood of our youths and some of our best bright hopes? Would our sick have lost hope and confidence in our hospitals as to seek their care and healing from foreign hospitals? Would we, ordinary citizens, have had to spend a third or more of our paltry income on providing illumination for our homes by having to invest in costly inverters, personal electricity generators and solar energy systems, with all their attendant risks? Would our educational institutions have become so degenerate that anyone who could barely afford it would rather send their children or wards to any foreign educational institution? Would our national currency, the Naira, once the most preferred currency in West Africa, become such an object of derision such that a student considered it more economical to print her birthday invitation on the N50 naira currency denomination? Would our youths have become so desperate to travel to just any other country in order to seek relief from unemployment, deprivation and misery? Would they have, in such high numbers, openly embraced violence, kidnapping, terrorism, or cyber-crimes? Many questions: Many more may be asked. But it seems more useful and more productive to try to address ourselves to identifying the cause of these gross abuses of office, fraudulent and criminal diversion of public resources and the consequent impoverishment of the populace.

It was such a challenge that engaged my mind when Alhaji Azeez Bello conveyed your invitation to me to attend this Reunion and to address you on a topic of my choice. There is so much happening in our country that can form the topic of an address to an elite group like yours. Does one talk about the circus that the national assembly has become? Do we talk of the degradation of university education under the guise of its liberalisation? Does one talk of the billions of dollars and naira being discovered in odd locations or recovered from depraved politicians and public office holders? Or of the ubiquity of corruption that has found its way to the topmost ranks of revered professions such as law, academics or civil service? There is hardly any shock these days from hearing of corruption allegations levelled against justices of the highest courts, the most senior members of the bar and even professors and vice chancellors of our universities, once the models of asceticism, honesty, and integrity. Or do we talk about the religious charlatans masquerading as men of God, or the commercialization of churches? All these are largely the results of mismanagement of resources mainly caused by corruption. They represent the real life qualitative dimensions of the dismal statistics discussed earlier. So the question I wish to address in this discussion is how to deal with the issue of corruption which is at the root of most, if not all, of Nigeria’s problems.

Assumptions of Democracy
Management theory teaches us that an incongruity between structure and strategy is most likely to result in discordant practices and failure to achieve set objectives. We also learn from ecology that, for its survival, it is imperative for any living organism to adapt to and be in harmony with its environment. It is my considered view that our adoption of a political or governance system that is too sophisticated and far in advance of our individual or collective level of development is the root cause of most of the ills of our nation. By this I am referring to our adoption of a democratic system of governance without due regard to whether its implicit assumptions are extant in our society.

In a series of writings in the The South African Observer in the 1950s, Anthony M Ludovici2 decried the abuse, prostitution, and counterfeiting of the word “democracy”. He claimed that the word is used in a “hundred different contexts, none of which necessarily bears any relation to a clearly conceived political system”. Ludovici argued that Athenian democracy of direct self-government was feasible because the total free population of the Athenian State of the 5th century “could hardly have been more than 140,000 and the number of males entitled to conduct the government of the State was only about 30,000.”

He therefore argued that there was no excuse to use the same word to describe the current system in modern nations “where the mass of the population have no direct self-government, would be quite incapable of carrying it on if they had, and possess only the right of voting very occasionally … in favour of representatives who stand for policies the mass of the population do not understand, information about which is never either wholly available or resolutely sought, and the sponsors of which… they do not necessarily know, are quite incapable of judging accurately … and have no reason to trust out of their sight”

Implicit in the above assertions is the fact that there are certain assumptions under which democracy functions effectively and the absence of which makes it fraudulent to lay claim to its existence or practice. I will discuss only one or two of such assumptions. First is the assumption that all members of the voting population are capable of making the right choice of candidates and take the right decision of issues represented by candidates. Sir David Lindsay Keir in his book on The Constitutional History of Modern Britain (1950) asserted “that only a small portion of the electorate is sufficiently well-informed to judge politics on grounds of pure reason” and that voting is nothing more than an invitation and encouragement “to perform an important piece of work, a nationally momentous job, unconscientiously and badly”. If this could be said of Britain of 1950s, where literacy and enlightenment level then was much higher than exists in Nigeria today, we can only be engaged in self-deceit by claiming we are practising democracy in Nigeria.
Secondly, there is an assumption that adequate information on issues as well as on candidates

2. Ludovici, Anthony M. (1956 – 1958) “The false assumptions of democracy”, The South African Observer.
(character, competence, etc) seeking election is available to the electorate. In hiring workers of lesser status, one is likely to ask for as much information (personality, character, integrity of the candidates, testimonials from former employers and track record of previous positions held) before taking a decision. Yet the choice of a political representative, “who is expected to perform far more complicated and responsible and intellectual duties … and to help in determining the fate not only of his contemporaries but also of generations to come, should be left to every Tom, Dick and Harry, and every Judy, Janet and Jane who would regard it as a personal insult if you questioned their ability to form a sound judgement without some sort of testimonial or evidence of character”

A third and last assumption discussed here is that for a true democracy to exist, no individual serving as an elected representative of the people should pursue any individual ends or interests, whether such interests are consistent or inconsistent with the common weal. In other words, an elected representative in a democracy is expected to be self-effacing and altruistic. He would therefore be ready to subject his personal or class interests to those of the nation. If these assumption are extant, we would not have legislators fixing their own salaries, making politics so lucrative and earning incomes in one month that are a hundred thousand times higher than the life-time earnings of really hard-working, better qualified, and more accomplished professionals.

It could be concluded that the claim of democracy in Nigeria is a farce, and a self-deceit. The assumptions on which truly democratic governance is based are not true of Nigeria. A country of low literacy and little knowledge of local and international issues, a country where change can only come from the very beneficiaries of the status quo, where two out of three citizens live below the global poverty line of $1.9 a day and where many citizens would readily sell their birth right for just a few thousand of Naira hardly provides a conducive terrain for the practice and growth of democracy.

Customising Democracy
There is so much emotion attached to democracy such that today, it takes quite considerable courage to advocate any other form of political governance courage. Yet Dr Salazar of Portugal had described as a great fallacy the thinking that English parliamentarianism and English Democracy were adaptable to every European country. How much less adaptable would they then be to other countries with less cultural affinity with Britain. But as has been pointed out above, the word “democracy” is capable of usage in 100 contexts. Each country can then create its own contextual democracy designed to reflect its culture, size, complexity, and level of political sophistication.

Our customised democracy must reflect and be informed by the experiences we have had with the current pseudo-democracy we operate. Here we offer a few guidelines for a new customised democracy that will largely avoid the abuses characteristic of the current pseudo democratic arrangement.

i. First, Nigeria should revert to the parliamentary system in order to eliminate the separation of the National Assembly and the Executive arm of government. In the parliamentary system, members of the Executive are also members of the legislature and could therefore brief the parliament of development as well as respond to any questions or allegations. An indication that we are not ripe for a Presidential system is the non-productive, personal-interest-related tension that occurs rather too frequently between the two arms of the executive and the national assembly. Besides, the presidential system appears to be too expensive for Nigeria, encourages corruption and invests too much power in the President.

ii. My second suggestion to customise our democracy is to scrap the bicameral legislature. There is hardly a difference in the quality, maturity or competence of membership of the two houses of the National Assembly as currently constituted. If the purpose of the second House, the Senate, is to provide a non-partisan, more national interest-focussed, professional second opinion on government policies and plans, it is likely to be better achieved by constituting that house with selected representatives of traditional rulers, professional organizations, private sector organisations, and such other non-partisan organisations. Such representatives must be selected by the bodies they represent and should possess the requisite competencies, independence of thought, and a track record of integrity and appropriate exposure in public/international affairs.

iii. Thirdly, we should make politics less lucrative: Politics is perhaps the most lucrative in town. Nigeria can boast of many who have not succeeded in any other area of human endeavour but are now transformed into affluence overnight after venturing into politics, which in Nigeria, grants practically unlimited access to public wealth. This access can be illegal through corruption and malfeasance or through the power to determine their own remuneration. For example Nigerian Senators are reported to be the highest paid in the world, their earnings per month more than ten times the annual salaries of other professional public service employees such as superior court judges, university professors, top managers of blue chip private corporations, and medical doctors. It would have been defensible if such unmerited high remuneration attracted the best in competence and ability to the trade of politics. But such best and honest souls disdain the kind of practices that get people elected, or even appointed, into political positions in this country. And would have none of it.

One way to achieve this is to have part-time legislators, paid only sitting allowances. This alone would screen out mercenary-legislators whose motivation is to steal the people’s wealth rather than to serve them and most likely engender politics of altruism. Since politics would thus attract fewer emoluments, there would be less incentive to bribe or to engage in politics of desperation.

iv. Repeal the Immunity Clause: The intention of conferring immunity on the president and his Vice, the governors and their Deputies is noble. But experience has shown that the good intention is abused, and immunity has encouraged impunity. Since there can be only one sovereign power in a nation, and because most of the flagrant abuses of the immunity provision is by the governors, the immunity clause should only be enjoyed by the President and his Vice.

v. Election Process Reform: It is encouraging that the nation is taking advantage of technological advancement in the election process. This process should be consolidated. The national identity card should then be used for identification of voters. The voting machine could be programmed to screen voters along specified criteria in order to ensure that only votes of qualified voters are accepted and counted.
Secondly the electoral process should allow independent candidates and they should enjoy the same privileges and support as party candidates.

In order to provide relevant information on candidates, appropriate forum should be organised for candidate at all levels to present their credentials as well as answer questions from the electorate. This may help the electorate to bridge the electorate information gap and help them to make a more informed choice among candidates.

In 1993, we had arguably the best election ever in this country under the open ballot system designed by Prof Nwosu. It was an election with the least or no “mago mago” at all. The annulment of the presidential election results by the Babangida forces of darkness perhaps because the results were not what they expected, plunged Nigeria into a prolonged crisis that almost disintegrated the country. But the results were widely accepted by the people. Yet the decision of a few selfish privileged persons prevailed over the decision of the vast majority. If a fully electronic voting system is not yet feasible, the open ballot system should be substituted, in the meantime, for the current secret ballot system.

vi. Finally, there is the need for massive social education and information of the civil Society. Nigerians are currently mere manipulated spectators in their democratic system. To get citizens to be more active participants and to make informed and reasonable choices, there is need for massive social education and mobilisation through the activities of civil societies and civil organisations.

Periodically, citizen consent or approval on major decisions or proposals should be obtained through organised plebiscites. Issues such as the amendment of the constitution, form of governance, emoluments of political officers, and resolution of any other controversial national decision should be decided by the people through plebiscites or referendum. A plebiscite decision should override any other decision of either the legislature or the executive.

Citizens should be empowered to initiate such plebiscite subject to specified conditions to be met which should not be made too difficult. Such periodic plebiscites would move the Nigerian democracy closer to the true democratic government of the Athenians as well as reflect the extant culture of the country.
I thank you for the courtesy of your attention.

––Being the text of an address presented by Prof Olukunle Iyanda at the 40th graduation anniversary of the UNILAG MBA Class of 1977