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CSOs and the Media in Promoting Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria (Part 1)
An issue that is as loaded as this, puts one in a dilemma: how much of the underlying culture of sub-titles is one permitted to make incursions in to? An exhaustive discourse of same presumes that one is at the same time a Lawyer, a politician, a media practitioner, a civil society activist, a public affairs analyst and an expert in electoral matters and democratic process. We shall do our best to discuss this multi-dimensional and multi-faceted topic of considerable significance and currency.
We shall dissect this topic from the perspectives of:
i. Definitional terms of what constitutes:
a. Sound Democratic Culture.
b. Good Governance.
c. The Civil Society.
d. The Media.
ii. The Civil Society and Credible Elections.
iii. The Media and Credible Elections.
iv. Character of the Nigerian Media (influence of Ownership on
Independence and Objectivity).
v. The Civil Society and the Influence
of their Sponsors.
vi. Engaging the Civil society and the
Media for National Development.
“Sound” or “Constitutional” Democratic Culture?
We shall start our discourse, from the prism of a “constitutional democratic culture”.
While subjecting the concepts of constitutional democracy and arbitrary rule to considerable thought Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN, the renowned Constitutional Lawyer posited, most admirably that:
“Democracy as a form of government, is man-based; it is a humanist, individualist and moralist institution, “created for the sake of what the ancient philosophers called the essential differences between democracy and socialism. “Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number… while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude”.
Democracy is the most desired concept of government, in our contemporary world. Yet, democracy is the most bastardised or prostituted concept in political history. As Bernard Crick rightly remarked:
“Democracy is perhaps, the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs. She is everybody’s mistress, and yet, somehow retains her magic even when a lover sees that her favours are being, in his light, illicitly shared by many another. Indeed, even amid our pain at being denied her exclusive fidelity, we are proud of her adaptability to all sorts of circumstances, to all sorts of company”.
There are as many definitions and concepts of democracy as there are writers, political theoreticians, each viewing democracy from his prism. They are all right. It is akin to the theory of the three blind men and the elephant. One described the elephant as flat and hard as a wall, having touched its broad trunk. The other argued that, it was as long and thin as a snake. He had actually touched its tail. Yet, the third swore by all the gods of sight and vision, that the elephant was large and flexible like a fan. This third blind man had managed to touch the fanny ear. Yet, they were all right, albeit not completely so.
The Black’s Law Dictionary with pronunciations’s definition of democracy is more laconic and straight to the point. It says democracy is:
“That form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of the citizens directly or indirectly through a system representation, as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy or oligarchy”.
It was Abraham Lincoln, the great slaves’ liberator and former President of the United States of America who on 19th November, 1863, in his Gettysburg Declaration, defined democracy as “government of the people, for the people and by the people”. This definition lives on to date. “Democracy” has been identified with government by the people, usually through elected representatives. Democracy is a political system that enables people to freely choose an effective, honest, transparent and accountable government. It can equally be described as the philosophy of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly or indirectly through a system of representation, usually involving periodic free elections.
The concept of democracy originated in Ancient Greece, as a philosophy of popular sovereignty in Greek City States. The rise of democracy as a universal system of governance, is largely a product of the 20th century. Although, it has now gained widespread acceptance, democracy took a long time to emerge. From its ancient origins in Greek City States, the growth of democracy was largely facilitated by the French and American Revolutions of the 18th Century; the widening of the franchise in Europe and North America in the 19th Century, to the heroic struggles for popular participation and social justice in the 20th Century. With the collapse of communism, democracy has become established as the “normal” form of governance.
Challenges Among Emerging Democracies
It must be emphasised that, in emerging democracies across countries such as Nigeria, the key challenge is how to deepen and widen democracy, democratic structures and the political space. Central to this challenge, is how to effectively build the key institutions of democratic governance, to wit.
i. A system of representation, with well-functioning political parties and civil society organisations;
ii. An independent electoral system that guarantees free and fair elections;
iii. A system of checks and balances based on the separation of powers, with independent judicial and legislative branches of government;
iv. A vibrant civil society, able to monitor government policies and to provide alternate forms of political participation;
v. A free and vibrant independent media with strong dedication to professional ethics;
vi. Effective civilian control over the military and other security forces.
In spite of the divergent opinions on the concept of democracy and its amplitudinal ramifications, it is generally agreed and accepted that democracy consists of five core values. They are:
i. The right of the people to freely choose their governments in periodic but free and fair elections;
ii. The right of freedom of association, especially in forming political parties;
iii. The right to freedom of expression, especially freedom of speech and press freedom;
iv. The primacy of the rule of law and independence of the Judiciary; and
v. The commitment to transparency and accountability of governments to the people.
Variants of Democracy
The practice of democracy differs from one place to another. In the United States of America and Nigeria for example, democracy is predicated on Presidentialism, separation of powers, checks and balances and an independent Judiciary. In Britain and many other commonwealth countries, there is almost an imperceptible integration and intertwining of the executive and legislative organs of government. As Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary-General has noted, whatever variants of democracy we may have, there are universally acceptable ingredients that define a truly democratic country. They are:
• The right of the people to choose freely their governments periodically;
• The right to freedom of association especially in forming political parties;
• The right to freedom of expression, especially freedom of speech and a free media;
• The primacy of the rule of law and the independence of Judiciary; and
• The continuing transparency and accountability of government to its electorate.
Democracy is not a magical wand. It is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a means to an end.
Democracy that does not yield “democratic dividends”, is as accursed as military dictatorship. Democracy goes beyond the mere holding of periodic elections of Government. In the words of Salim Ahmed Salim,
“Democratic governance is not simply structures or only rituals; it is also a modality of behaviour and interaction. It constitutes relations, as well as values to be internalised. It is a means of societal empowerment, and with such a complex composition. Democratic governance is not a “one-off” static phenomenon to be juxtaposed or grafted into a society. It is a dynamic process that is nurtured and enriched with the growth and evolution of society…
“I need to also point out in this regard, that democratic governance is not only a relationship between State and society, but it also refers to relationships within society. At this second level, it underscores such virtues as tolerance, dialogue and understanding, social integration, gender equality, abidance to norms, respect for fundamental human rights, adherence to the rule of law, negation of corruption”.
It is very important that access to political power is extended to every citizen of the country, and that he/she is given an opportunity to participate in the choice of those who govern him. This is called public participation, and it helps to nip conflict in the bud and balance centripetal and centrifugal forces. In like manner, we must emphasise that the use of acquired political power is not synonymous with the mere holding “free and fair elections”, “but should go beyond that and critically explore how the management of the acquired political power affects the generality of the people. If instead of its being used to promote the basic needs and aspirations of the generality of the people, the acquired political power is merely used to promote the needs of a microscopic ruling elite, then democracy cannot deliver peace and public harmony”.
In the illuminating words of Lord James Bryce, Modern Democracy. Democracy is supposed to be the product and the guardian both of Equality and of Liberty, being so consecrated by its relationship to both theses precious possessions as to be almost above criticism.”
Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN, noted with precision that:
“Democracy as a form of government, is man-based; it is a humanist, individualist and moralist institution, “created for the sake of what the ancient philosophers called the “Good Life” of society. Herein lies one of the essential differences between democracy and socialism. “Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number … while democracy seek equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude”.
(To be Continued)