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Published On: Thu, Jul 2nd, 2020

A knee on the neck of democracy

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THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu

(08035892325 sms only) | dankande2@gmail.com

By Mohammed Adam

The All Progressive Congress, APC has just succeeded in scaling a chasm in two delicate jumps. It has managed to ‘cheat’ its way off the precipice of the political Grand Canyon, and has thus preemptively –or so its optimistic members say- saved itself from a mighty fall. In actual fact, its pessimistic others fear, the ruling party may have only succeeded in censoring normal, healthy democratic dissent rather than in curing abnormal intra-party dissension. And this is thanks more to the aberrant intervention of a strong personality, namely the President himself, than it was to the normal interplay of strong democratic institutions. Political scaremongers both within and outside the party had cried so much wolf about a political storm in a tea cup, that a panicky President Buhari, rather than allow the party marinate and toughen itself even through the baptism of extra-democratic fires, decided to halt the ‘learning process’. And maybe it is the reason that our usually ‘nascent’ democracy forever remains in infancy because it has never been allowed –by ‘feats and starts’ or by ‘fire by force’- to go through its teething process in the hope that someday it should grow its own democratic ‘wisdom tooth’. Left on its own ‘democracy’, said Marjorie Kelly “always wins in the end”. because, as Chen Shui-bian the Taiwanese politician and lawyer said “The road to democracy may be winding and is like a river taking many curves, but eventually the river will reach the ocean”.
And this is without prejudice to the fact that democratic disagreements are equally resolvable through consensus. But not when the interests of disputing parties are already irreparably subjugated before the vagaries of the judicial process. To deepen our democratic learning process, they should be allowed to wear and to exhaust their claims before the law so that by precedents of courts, if not by the legislative process, our slow-learning, pubescent democracy may be rightly guided. No democratic culture can be built on the altar of litigiously shy politicians and political parties. Nor can a democratic culture be nurtured on the altar of a harmonious, crises-free working relationship between the Executive and the Legislative arms. There cannot be conciliation without conflict. Democratic institutions must conflict first before they can conciliate. Besides, the hallmark of democracy itself is as much the contestation of interests and ideas as it is also the resolution of contested interests and ideas. And just as we appreciate the value of ‘checks and balance’ between and among the arms of Government, it is meet that that we appreciate the inevitability of inter and intra party schisms. They are necessary for the growth and development of the democratic wisdom tooth.
We make a public show always, of wanting a system of democratic government run by ‘strong institutions’, but we are always quick to run to ‘strong’ (elected) ‘men’, created and spawned by the same democratic system, to come to its rescue –even when in actual fact it is not in any danger. Yesterday’s democratic Lilliputs and whose political lives are still nourished and oxygenated by the same democratic system, are thrust by impatient democrats as ‘saviors’ and avenging angels of the system itself. And rather than nip dissent in the bud before it degenerates into dissension, what this does actually is to trample on the democratic right of disputants to assert their presumptive rights until democratic truth prevails. This idea that in the interest of ‘party electoral fortunes’ or so called ‘stability of the polity’, otherwise mutually-divergent democratic forces and tendencies must be persuaded to abandon their legitimate individual or group interest spoil the fun envisaged by the democratic process. It makes democracy stilted and uninteresting. When strong political men intervene to arrest democratic conflict, they unwittingly force on the polity a conciliation that has not ripened from the bud. It is akin to inducing an unripe fruit to ripen prematurely. If the system is self-propelling, and is run around equally self-propelling strong democratic institutions, it obviates the need for the intervention of ‘strong democratic’ players to make to happen artificially what should happen as a matter of course.
An elected President in a democracy wielding the ‘stick’ to call his political party to democratic order rather than the courts arbitrating or the party’s internal conflict-resolution mechanism or at the very least its periodic electoral process determining ‘who’ or ‘what’ is ‘right’, is more a symptom of systemic gastroenteritis –meaning that something is abnormal- than it is a sign of a healthy democratic metabolism. It is the excepted default modus operandi and not the generally-accepted modus Vivendi that all inter or intra-party democratic cultures should live by. Our politicians seem always to be in desperate search for ‘democratic harmony’ that is not supposed to always be present in the day-to-day relationship between and among individual or group democratic actors much less between or among established democratic institutions. A harmonious working relationship especially between or among democratic institutions is an aberration. Often in fact ‘harmony’ in the intra or inter-system relationships in a democracy is itself toxic rather than an elixir or a cure-all to democratic toxins. We get unnecessarily agitated for example whenever executive-legislative ‘disharmony’ seems perpetually to define the relationship between these two arms of government. In truth only therein are the interests of the public made safe. Public endowments are more in danger of despoliation when otherwise mutually-checking institutions rather than conflict to conciliate, cozy always in mutually-beneficial ‘harmony’.
In a democracy people should dissent without dissension; they should be able to disagree but without becoming disagreeable. Getting agitated over democratic schisms is as primitive as the anxiety of unscientific man had been over the natural phenomenon of lunar or solar eclipse. It is to fret over nature sorting itself. It is to worry over what you cannot help. Call it much ado about nothing. And this mentality also defines even our attitude to democratic litigation. We worry over going to court to resolve even persistently system-harming issues. We would rather bicker and bicker –feeding the media with the logs and twigs to heat up the system by driving controversy. The existence of courts whereby democratic dissent and disagreements are to be resolved is a primordial provision of the democratic process. Democratic actors –rather than shy away from litigation- must maximally avail the judicial process if our democracy is to grow past it teething nascency into its illusive wisdom tooth. Whenever it becomes necessary to litigate to resolve, especially dissent that is threatening to degenerate into dissension, or to reconcile disagreers who are becoming disagreeable, we have to go to court, to determine who is right from what was wrong. If the courts are tardy or unjust, we must demand from them a return to the path of timeous justice.
But it is even more ridiculous when politicians in a ‘multi-party’ democracy fret over the phenomenon of ‘division’. A ‘divided’ party or a disunited polity occasionally is inevitable in the life a properly functioning democracy. By the way a multi-party democracy –especially- is already pre-fated to divide into as many political parties as are allowed to thrive. They are divided by their ideologies and by their mutually-opposing political interests. It is thus preposterous to lament division in a multi-party democracy. Or even in a one-party system of democracy. Because again, a political party is equally regularly into as many divisions as there are members seeking elective offices to govern its affairs; or aspirants seeking to be candidates to bear its flag at local, state of federal elections. Said Stephen Skowronek primary elections have the tendency to “strip away the veneer of party unity”. Division is the hallmark of democracy. It is the culture of every democratic institution; and must be imbibed by politicians and non-politicians alike. As must do judges, when constituted as panels. Because they do dissent. And are thus disable by the weights of their dissenting numbers. Nor are dissenting judicial views, in their own right, unimportant. Because they are. At the very least they take the weight out of judicial unanimity. Or where they occasion a split decision, they cast a blot on the escutcheon of majority decisions. Parliament too is divided as regularly as there are legislative matters to debate.
Dissent, disagreement and division are inevitable in a democracy. They are in fact the live wires of democracy and the democratic process. Nor is the system incapable of regulating them –to ensure that dissent does not degenerate into dissension, or that those who disagree to not become disagreeable, or that when we divide –on the ballot- we do not remain divided as democratic actors. We choke the system when, by our own fearful interventions, we do not allow it to self-run.

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