Nigerian democracy is so only in name. Going by the most basic definitions, Nigerian democracy is not anywhere near a political system that can be described as a democracy. Let us look at the most basic denominators of a democracy. For starters, democracy is government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected representatives or agents under a free electoral system. Countries in real democracy despite their so-called imperfections are the United States and Canada.
Relying on these basic definitions and examples, one can easily see that democracy is the rule of majority through their elected representatives for the simple reason that all citizens cannot be in government at the same time. What this also means is that a process of election, which does not permit the people to decide who will be in government, is not democracy.
Central to democracy therefore is election and voting. It really does not matter whether or not those voted are rogues insofar as they are freely chosen by their own people in such representative capacities. In other words, what is fundamentally important in the making of democracy is the sanctity of the electoral process, and not the integrity of those voted into office, since the laws are there to deal with such persons even when wrongly voted into office. Hence it is said that time does not run out on the law in criminal matters even though the wheel of justice may grind ever slowly.
In a democracy therefore, those in power hold office in trust and at the pleasure of the people who they represent. Even those appointed to offices are appointed by those elected and therefore indirectly appointed by the people.
In a democracy, two factors are core-determinants. They are: internal party democracy and sanctity of votes. Internal party democracy gives the party members the power to determine who flies their party flag, which does not happen here. The best way to ensure this is through direct primaries, which allow all members of a political party to vote at the party primaries as happened during option A4 based-elections midwifed by Professor Humphrey Nwosu in the Babangida years. Internal party democracy is absent in Nigeria’s democracy and National Working Committees of the political parties still have the final say on party flag bearers regardless of who wins at the primaries as long as the substitutions are made within the window allowed by the Electoral Act.
Elections are based on manifestos by aspirants and serve as a parameter for evaluating performance and holding both the elected and the political parties accountable. This provides the leash on the politicians and makes it possible holding them accountable to their campaign promises. However, it is so difficult if not impossible holding politicians accountable in the absence of internal party democracy in Nigeria or elsewhere.
The next crucial factor is sanctity of votes. In Nigeria, there are basic reasons why votes do not count. As said earlier, as long as party members are not fully in a position to decide who flies their parties’ flags, holding politicians accountable to their promise will be hard because their allegiances are to their perceived source of power. Even if the party members decide who flies their flags, it will still count for very little without sanctity of votes.
Politicians in Nigeria have devised ways of winning elections without the popular votes. They employ all manner of rigging methods and deploy technicalities at the tribunal (read the small book, ‘How to Win Election in Nigeria’ by Donald Duke for details). They compromise the integrity of the electoral process/officials and security agents policing elections. In fact, what politicians now rely on to win elections is money, and not on their manifestos and popularity.
So, if Nigerians want to hold politicians responsible and accountable to the people, especially where it comes to campaign promises, they have to first ensure internal party democracy so that the party members are given direct power to elect their flag bearers. This can be possible only through direct primaries in order to minimise the influence of money seen in delegates’ elections or in indirect primaries.
Then, the nation must make votes count to make a democracy. INEC must make votes at polling booths tamper-proof. As long as votes count for little in our democracy, holding politicians accountable will not work because of piper syndrome. Electronic voting and electronic transfer of results, as well as electronic coalition, are now inevitable. Electronic interventions helped a lot in the Edo election and need to be firmed up and deployed at national elections. The idea is ensuring real-time in voting and collation of results. It minimises manipulations and doctoring of results, which take place within the space between polling booths to coalition centers.
Nigerians can also hold politicians accountable in two ways – by voting them out in the next elections or by voting their parties out where they fail to deliver on campaign promises but the electoral system need to be reformed to permit such. So, one can easily see the nation still has a long way to go in making our civil rule truly democratic for the simple reason that both internal party democracy and sanctity of votes are not yet in place.
It is therefore a misnomer calling Nigeria a democracy. What obtains in Nigeria is a civil rule at best. But more realistically, what happens in our democracy is an elite conspiracy, which has been used by politicians who have seized power to usurp the powers of the people.
For democracy to be entrenched in Nigeria, Nigerians need to insist on internal party democracy and on electronic voting and electronic collation. Only these can ensure real-time and eliminate the lacuna where politicians stay to cook results with which they are declared winners in elections they clearly did not win.
Dr. Law Mefor is an Abuja based Forensic/Social Psychologist and Journalist; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: +234-905 642 4375; tweet: @LawMefor1.