Politics and Public Reasoning

THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE,   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE     kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

Democracy has to be judged not just by the institutions that formally exist but by the extent to which different voices from the diverse sections of the people can actually be heard- Amartya Sen

It is significant in many respects that there are other patriots seeking the highest office in the land apart from President Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Despite the media portrayal of the current politics, the fact is that in a deeper sense the February 16 presidential election should not just be a game of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

This is significance goes beyond the possibility of a “coalition of the willing” producing a third candidate that could really pose a formidable option beyond the two obviously leading candidates. Yes, politicians are primarily nominated by their parties to seek power. However, in the context of a stunted polity the participation of other political parties and their respective candidates should enrich the democratic process with harvest of ideas for development. After all, by the logic of election, only one candidate would be elected president. Yet even when a candidate could not enough votes to be president, the political resonance of his idea for progress in any department of national life could be of tremendous significance. And that is very important for development.

So the other candidates apart from the presidential hopefuls should be interrogated on the extent to which they have expanded the ideological content of the polity. Most of the parties cannot be seriously considered because they lack programmatic content. The absence of issue-based politics is an obstacle to the development of liberal democracy in this land.

It is not for nothing the British liberal philosopher, John Stuart Mill, described democracy as “government by discussion.” This idea has been further developed by Nobel Laureate in Economics and eminent social philosopher, Amartya in his important book, The Idea of Justice. While Sen acknowledges the essence of “open, free and fair” elections to democracy he argues that ballots are only an ‘important part of the way public reason operates in a democratic society.” Other important elements include free speech, access to information and freedom of dissent. In fact, for Sen democracy itself could be described as “public reason.” The essence of public reason is to make political decisions justifiable in the estimation of the people. And the justification would be invariably informed by the impact of those decisions on the quality of their lives. Democratic elections are meant to put in place those who wield powers to make these political decisions. If the institutions of elections work without proper discussions of issues of development on which the choice is based, a huge democratic will still exist.

Hence the usual question by politicians during elections as they attempt to convert the voters to their side: has your condition improved in the last four years that the incumbent president has been in power?
The socio-economic choices to be made by hose will be in power after the election will be determined politically in ultimate terms. That’s why as many views as possible should be made available for the people to endorse during elections. The more the voices that are heard, the better for the polity.
Long after the elections, it would be a matter of reflection how much of public reasoning is contained in this democratic process.

In retrospect now, it could be seen the idea to give content to democracy Nigeria is not new. More than a quarter of a century ago, the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida staged an experiment in this direction. It was in the course of long-winding transition programme which collapsed with annulment of the June 12, 1993 election won by MKO Abiola, which ironically was to be the culmination of the process. The theory and practice of this transition is efficiently documented in a book, Transition to Democracy in Nigeria, written by Tunji Olagunju, Adele Jinadu and Sam Oyovbaire, three eminent scholars who worked closely with the regime in managing the transition. At a point in the transition programme, the regime asked politicians to form parties.

In the course of seeking registration parties were actually graded on the basis of the constitutions and programmes apart from the membership spread and physical preparedness in terms of opening offices and staff. Six parties were eventually shortlisted by electoral commission based on the marks scored. Electoral Commission of Professor Mahmoud Yakubu does not enjoy such magisterial powers!
Suddenly the six parties were dissolved because the regime wanted parties of “equal joiners and equal founders.” The regime also wanted to ward ff the undue influence of “money bags” on the transition.

Subsequently, the military regime decreed two parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republic Convention (NRC) with constitutions and manifestoes. In spelling out the elaborate programmes and policies of SDP and NRC, the regime even gave the tinge of ideological bearing. The SDP was described as “ a little to the Left,” while the NRC was said to be “a little to the Right.” A major critique of the process was that the parties selling those programmes during elections were non-organic. The methodology of the transition was rather mechanical. It is now only a matter of historical conjecture what direction democratic development could have taken in Nigeria if the transition had been concluded with the inauguration of the winner of the election as president.

Therefore, is it not worth pondering that despite their democratically flawed emergence SPD and NRC of 1993 had more content in terms of programmes and ideology that most of the parties with their names printed on the ballots of the 2019 elections? The designers of the of the failed transition at least placed some premium on ideas. They gave a place to reasoning and public discussion of issues of politics.

In this regard, the polity needs not just other candidates apart from Buhari and Atiku. Nigeria also needs alternative strategies of development. And that is going beyond the mantra of “private sector-led economy.” The candidates should be conscious of the onerous responsibilities of governance, which like any developed nation in the world, cannot be abandoned to market forces. In any case, the responsibilities of governance cannot be avoided. For the private sector to perform any of the tasks it is loaded with, it requires a certain level of competence in governance. Successful players in the private sector know that governance is a must. So those who seek power must ready to govern by seeking practical solutions rather than dreaming that some phantom market forces would solve social problems.

It is no mark of progress that instead of advancing creative solutions to the decay in public education some of the “young” presidential candidates still the task should be left for the private sector that is operating in a difficult environment. Now that is akin to policy escapism in a country with over 13 million children out of school and tertiary are shut down episodically because of the teachers’ protest of poor funding. Poverty reduction involves deliberately tackling the problems in the social sector with pro-people policies in education, healthcare, social housing, mass transit, sanitation etc. Governance involves making political decisions of the issues affecting the lives of the people. Public reson demands that these issues are discussed in an elightened manner as politicians seek votes.

One apt statement made during a recent presidential debate Kingsley Mohalu of the Young Progressive Party is that in discussing economic policy options, it is important to make clarification about the philosophical underpinning of the economy being run. Beyond executing random “projects,” governance requires that a president or governor should be guided by an organising principle of development contained in his party’s policy document. Such a document should form the basis of the party’s engagement with the public. Such a clarification is important for the policy options.

Take for instance the problem with power sector. The Midas touch of the private sector has simply failed in that sector. But not many policy discussants would readily admit it. Six after years after some investors took over the sector, the electricity demands of domestic and industrial consumers are yet to be satisfactorily met. If anything, the public is fed with rationalisations by those who are in the business of electricity distribution but cannot provide meters for the consumers. The new tales issuing from the sector are similarly those one told before privatisation. A classical case made for privatisation was that foreign investor would be attracted to it the sector with money and technology. That didn’t happen when the DISCOs and GENCOs came on stage of the business. Yet experts and non-experts agree that no economic plan will work in Nigeria without without solving the electricity question. The various parties and candidates ought to come up with options to solve beyond what the APC and PDP have put on display.
Public reason, for instance requires that the discussion of that sector ought to be better discuused in an election year that what is taking place at present.

Beyond executing random projects, governance requires that a president or governor should be guided by an organising principle of development contained in his party’s policy document. Such a document should form the basis of the party’s engagement with the public.