President Buhari

Sonnie Ekwowusi argues the need to strengthen our values

Anyone shocked by the reported killings, ballot box snatchings, threats and intimidation of political opponents, rigging and gerrymandering which characterized last Saturday’s elections is expecting too much from our young democracy. I am not in the least surprised. Prior to last Saturday’s Presidential election President Buhari was asked whether he would congratulate his opponent if he lost the Presidential election and he quickly responded with a whiff of a despot: “I will congratulate myself”. My deduction from Mr. President’s response is that Mr. President has no intention of relinquishing power and would do everything possible to continue to cling to power. So you can now appreciate that democracy can be corrupted.

And a corrupted democracy, in my view, is as bad as the worst military rule. In any case, Nigeria is listed among the African countries with “defective democracy”. Therefore the script playing out today should not surprise any of us. Come to think of it, democracy does not have an in-built problem solving mechanisms that instantaneously solve a country’s myriads of problems. No democracy comes with an already-made bounties and dividends. Every country will have to work out its democracy before it starts reaping dividends from it. Not even the best democracies have yielded the expected dividends. Therefore Nigeria must work out its democracy if she wants to reap dividends from it. We must begin to move away from the statist mentality that once we establish political parties and democratic institutions and bureaucracies such as INEC as well as enact good electoral laws then there will be human flourishing in Nigerian society.

Agreed, to a certain extent, functional bureaucracies and democratic institutions and laws are crucial for proper ordering of society but not every obligation that augurs well for human flourishing can be democratized, institutionalized, bureaucratized let alone legislated upon or codified in positive law. For sure, no democracy in which wrongs such as snatching of ballot boxes or murdering of political opponents are intentionally committed and perpetuated by people who ought to know better can save a country. True democracy does not operate in vacuum. True democracy thrives on communally-binding ideals. Therefore if we want to strengthen our democracy we must first of all strengthen the communally-binding ideals because the latter are what give rise to the former. Without communally-binding ideals our democracy is bound to fail.

Truth be told, democracy has not divested us of our civic, social and family duties and obligations as members of the society. Rather democracy ought to assimilate and reinforce these civic, social and family duties in order to bear fruit or yielded democratic dividend. Where are those communally-binding values that can be assimilated by our democracy in order for it to yield democratic dividend? There are virtually non-existent today. Truth is that we have sunk so deep in Nigeria over the years. In the last 20 years or so Nigerians have been witnessing a steady and progressive deterioration of those cherished values such as public honesty, public civility, self-restraint, patriotism and so forth which form the superstructures for the building of our national ethos. For example, last Saturday one of the political jobbers in one of the states was seen with some street urchins openly committing electoral malpractices.

In another state a governor ordered thugs and hoodlums to snatch ballot boxes and result sheets in selected collation centres to prevent the opposition from winning. It is obvious that nothing is loathsome to us anymore. No public shame. The most tragic is that human life has become so cheap in Nigeria. We have become accustomed to spilling of human blood or killing our fellow human beings. Last Saturday many voters who trooped out to cast their votes did not return home in our piece. Regrettably President Buhari did not see anything wrong with killing suspected election riggers on the spot. Prior to last Saturday our president had directed that suspected election riggers should be instantly shot. Imagine the president approving jungle justice. So, we have a long way to go in this country.

Democracy is a learning process but I doubt if our learning process has begun. I think the prerequisite for learning the lessons of democracy is to restore the power of moral indignation in Nigeria. First things first. Politics is not the first thing. Democracy is not the first thing either. The first thing is culture and at the heart of culture are those communally-binding ideals which hold society together. Abstract politics without those communally-binding ideals cannot hold Nigeria together. French political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) says by stressing that a country cannot escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed. Simply put, if we want to strengthen our democracy, we must first of all strengthen the moral tie because the latter is what gives rise to the former.

In her essay entitled, A Disposition of Delight, Elizabeth Covey, assistant professor of political science in the Honors College at Baylor University, writes that when the religious and social tradition of the society wither, we are left “with nothing but a dry and gritty residue. Thus we have the spectacle of a set of sanctimonious, rationalist politicians, preaching an ideology of unselfishness and social service to a population in which they and their predecessors have done their best to destroy the only living root of moral behaviour”. I dare say that all the living roots of moral behaviour have been destroyed in Nigeria. And it is our task to restore them.

To restore them we must first of all jettison all our wrong assumptions about democracy. The first wrong assumption to jettison is that the political office holders have enough wisdom and virtue to pursue the end of democracy-promotion of the welfare of the people. Viewed against the backdrop of history, political leaders do not have enough wisdom and virtue to pursue the end of democracy. Democracy is challenged from within by sheer ignorance and pursuit of personal interests at the expense of the common good and welfare of the people. Certainly, a democracy that creates loopholes for snatching of ballot boxes or the lynching of political opponents cannot lead to human flourishing. The second assumption to jettison is that politics, political parties, elections, political chieftains and political institutions are the unmistakable signs of the existence of democracy.

Of course, the aforesaid are not the true signs of the existence of true democracy. Also they are not the reasons why democracy has excited men. Democracy is exciting because of the character of its ideals and the expectations it encourages men to hold, and by the degree to which it fulfils these expectations. Therefore a democracy bereft of ideals and the communally-binding values which I earlier mentioned can kill in the same way a tyrannical military rule kills. According to Peter Kreeft, “if we think we are automatically free from the danger of ignorant prejudice and tyranny simply because we are a democracy, we should reflect on the fact that it was a democracy that killed Socrates….”