Towards a More Perfect Democracy (2)DemocracyTowards a More Perfect Democracy (2)

Anthony Kila writes about the need to evolve a better democracy for the country through active participation of all and sundry on how  political parties and institutions evolve.

Dear Readers,

We find ourselves at a crucial juncture, contemplating a true reflection on our 25-year democratic journey towards a more perfect democracy. Let us state clearly that with all its triumphs and challenges, this journey is a testament to our commitment to the democratic process. 

Advancing towards a more perfect democracy necessitates a rigorous examination of the key players in this journey. A candid and profound introspection will unveil the areas that demand our reconsideration and vigilance in our democratic process. 

An excellent place to start such honest and deep reflection is to consider the role and impact of politicians and political parties in our democracy. 

General education does us a disservice by insisting on defining democracy as “the government of the people by the people” That definition, taken from Abraham Lincoln’s November Gettysburg 1863 speech, does not allow for reflection in our times; yes, it rhymes, and it is evocative and stimulating, even romantic, but it does not allow us to put into focus the crucial elements that make democracy what it should be. It does not talk about the role of parties and politicians, nor does it dwell on the Constitution or the duties and limits of government. 

Most Nigerians and those who observe Nigerian affairs will, on reflecting on the role and impact of politicians and political parties in the last 25 years of uninterrupted democracy, hardly give politicians and political parties a pass mark on their performance. The most common reason is their inability to provide the most basic services that the modern state they contested and won to manage should deliver.

I refer to security, constant electric supply, good roads, reduction of poverty and level of illiteracy, etc. That is about services of good democratic government, or “dividends of democracy”, as most say in Nigeria. 

Beyond the services of a government, we have other intangible but more significant and debilitating issues, like the fact that rather than helping unite the country, politicians have, in the past 25 years, divided the people more along ethnic and religious lines in a bid to get into power not through vision, merit, and rigour but indolently through mere identity politics. 

Let us note here that political parties conceived as a platform to bring ideas to the commonwealth table and unite people of like mind based on ideologies or visions of the world have become, in Nigeria over the past 25 years, mere special-purpose vehicles that individuals use to achieve their very personal ambitions: A total corruption what political parties ought to be. 

With this in mind, it is easy to see why politicians will and can easily defect, disappoint, and betray so many of what they purport to stand for the day before. It is also easy to see why those leading our political parties, referred to as leaders and parading themselves as such, are nothing but boys and girls doing the bidding of their sponsors (aspirants and candidates) too many times to the detriment of conscience and nation. 

To move towards a more perfect democracy, it is crucial that we, as observers, politicians, and citizens, spend more time following the formation and procedures of political parties and those who manage them. It was, and still is, a significant and dangerous error to consider issues of any political party affair a “family affair,” as was declared and believed. 

A major peculiarity of Nigeria’s peculiar democratic system that has offered the world is the role and prominence of the election regulator and manager, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Let us start by noting that unlike most countries and in their normal times, where anyone rarely talks about the election regulators, Nigeria’s election regulator is visible and prominent. 

Our INEC is amazingly expensive, largely disorganised, untrusted by too many people, and involved in too many controversies. 

INEC is a body that has too often done a major disservice not only to election management but to the image and reputation of professors in Nigeria that have brought little of professorial to the election process.

In our journey towards a more perfect democracy, we must review INEC and reset it towards a lighter, less expensive, more decentralised, and more digital organisation with many functions outsourced. 

As said elsewhere, I propose that BVN should be linked to voter cards and that registration for and retrieval of voter cards should be managed by banks where possible. 

We do not need a central body keeping us up in a hall all night to announce results. Let us devolve this function to the local arms of the commission and let parties and media announce certified results. 

How have we, the people, fared in this 25-year democratic journey in the country? Truth be told, not very well. Sadly, too many people who should be involved based on conscience and knowledge are not. Scarily, too many people who, based on character and capacity, should not be anywhere near matters of the commonwealth are right in the middle of our democratic process. I am not one who believes in the generally accepted platitude that wants to get millions and millions of people to vote and participate in politics just because they are citizens of the country. There are other ways to exercise our citizenship. 

If we want to move towards a more perfect democracy, we must realise that it is time to consider what our experience has taught us about voters in the last 25 years, but we refuse to learn based on a received but poorly digested value: universal adult suffrage. I propose we consider voting and participating in politics a duty and a qualified earned right, not a natural right. 

A voter’s card should be treated not as proof and right of citizenship but like a driver’s license that requires demonstrable commitment and capacity. Yes, I know it’s not a popular idea, but let us think about it…

Many complain and moralise about vote buying and selling, but what do you expect? What do you expect in a system where so many voters are in a state of abject poverty and are primarily illiterate? How do you think voters who do not know what the Constitution says and pay no tax will vote? 

Join me on Twitter @anthonykila to share your thoughts, ask questions, and continue these engaging conversations. 

• Kila is an Institute Director at CIAPS.

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