Democracy has given many without character important government function, argues O. Jason Osai

Socrates (469-399BC), the Greek philosopher and political sage of Athenian descent, was critical of the ways in which his fellow Athenians operated under the then novel  concept, democracy. Though Socrates was not necessarily critical of democracy itself, he was worried about its likely outcomes in the future. His criticism indicated that he wanted this mode of decision making and governance to be operated with utmost care.

           Addressing his audience on the then novel concept, Socrates said thus inter alia: “Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions, and democracy will give it to them…when thieves and fraudsters finally democratically take authority because criminals and evil doers want power, there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”.

          The above brief deposition on democracy is segmented into four parts that yield to critical analysis. The segments are: One,“Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions”; two, “democracy will give it to them”; three,“When they finally democratically take authority because criminals and evil doers want power”; four, “There will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy and oligarchy”.   This piece interrogates contemporary Nigeria with special reference to the essence of democracy and power politics from the prism of these segments of Socrates’ perception of democracy.

            It is with trepidation that one reflects on the above centuries’ old saying vis-a-vis the reality of contemporary Nigeria with special reference to the Fourth Republic. With the prophetic exactitude of the averment for Nigeria, one could have sworn that Socrates looked into a giant celestial crystal ball for the then nonexistent most populous nation in negrodom, perched on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.

            Five months into office as President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Evan Enwerem was removed from office as a result of duplicity of names, fraudulent educational records, concealment of criminal records, etc. It was also during the same period that “Toronto” entered the lexicon of Nigerian politics, not as the name of a major city in a country in North America but as euphemism for certificate forgery. Incidentally and interestingly, the political head of Salisu Buhari rolled in that episode. He was later pardoned and reintegrated into the political fold through a political appointment.

             Today, public office holders who can, with every sense of responsibility, be justifiably referred to as “thieves and fraudsters” have finally taken authority. How else do we describe those with forged educational and birth certificates other than “thieves?” Or how else do we describe those who deliberately manipulated the democratic process by hacking into voting machines and altering voting figures other than “fraudsters”? And how do you describe those who brazenly and audaciously grabbed, snatched and ran with ballot papers and boxes into the “bush” other than “criminals and evil doers”. 

            Socrates’ crystal ball certainly zeroed in on the futuristic Nigeria and we are all living in that future because all of the above have happened in Nigeria during the 25 years of the Fourth Republic. Hitherto esteemed eggheads have tainted the Ivory Tower by their inordinate quest for ignominious pecks;  the judge’s gavel has morphed into auctioneer’s hammer thereby enfeebling the Justice Delivery System, the last bastion of hope of the citizen against the Leviathan. The moral fabric of the nation has been swept under the carpet and stench of technicalities.

           Sprouting at the heels of the Hobbesian state of nature, when “life was nasty, brutish and short”, monarchies and oligarchies were characterized with unbridled use of power that degenerated into dictatorship. It is therefore very worrisome to note that Socrates envisaged that “there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”. This is where the Socrates averment under reference becomes ominous.

            The trending phrase of defiance “Go to court”, is reflective of a compromised judiciary and the hopelessness of the concept of rule of law in the Nigerian social milieu. How this will pan out regarding social order vis-a-vis lawlessness remains a subject of serious concern for social critiques. Given the proliferation of assault rifles in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, what is very likely in the not-too-distant future is that when the seed of disregard for law and order, which we have sown, germinates, government will depart from the democratic ideals of governance. They will, inevitably, degenerate into dictatorship that may be worse than what obtained during the immediate post-Hobbesian monarchies and oligarchies; this will be necessitated by the need for government to use sufficient force to contain the lawlessness in the land and the resultant threat to peace.

            Political Science 101 teaches that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  At this point, there will be justification for the utilization of extreme force to deal with the dire realities of the extreme situation. There and then, there will be absolute power that will birth dictatorship worse than what obtained “in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”. No wonder it is said that since Socrates, no one has said anything new. 

            At the point of the groundswell crises implied above and with powers reminiscent of the absolute powers associated with post-Hobbesian monarchies and oligarchies, Nigerian political leaders are acting like drunken captains of a sinking ship. With the judicial delivery system sweeping the moral fabric of the nation under the filthy and nauseating carpets of technicalities, Nigeria is consistently and insidiously slipping down a slippery economic slope; and will speedily slide down the precipice of disintegration, if care is not taken.

            Socrates was right: democracy has given “thieves and fraudsters…important government functions” in Nigeria because “criminals and evil doers” adorned in tainted wigs and gowns “want [financial] power”; and now, “dictatorship worse than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy” is afoot.

            The tragedy is that, dazed in the hoodwink of religious bigotry, regionalism and ethnocentrism, Nigerians are stupefied and confused; and they are watching helplessly while morally stinking and sticky-fingered scoundrels in every sector of the economy are sinking the ship of the state.     

     God help us all.

Prof Osai writes from

Rivers State University

Port Harcourt

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