By Isaac Asabor
Like everyone else, I believe that the most popular definition of democracy is “Government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Democracy is equally a political process that allows plurality of political parties to ensure popular participation in political decision making.
Other manifestations of a democratic government include a free and independent judiciary, a free press and the recognition that is given to the provisions of the constitution, especially on those clauses that concern fundamental human rights. Most of these rights, apart from their inclusion in the nation’s constitution, are also enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights.
The most frequently and popularly exercised rights among other rights are the right of association and assembly and the right of freedom of thought, religion and expression.
Regrettably, since the clampdown on Nigerians who were exercising their right of association and assembly during the EndSARS protests that literarily swept across the country like a harmattan wind, not few democratic-minded Nigerians have being compelled to start having a rethink on the actual meaning of democracy. This is because the level of oppression which Nigerians are presently witnessing contradicts what Frances Perkins said about the people and democracy. She said, “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life”. Paradoxically, it is not hyperbolical to say that democracy has become such a sacrosanct concept that even governments that have resorted to dictatorship and anti-people governance call themselves a democracy. But what is democracy? Mohandas Gandhi explanatorily put it thus: “I understand democracy as something that gives the weak the same chance as the strong.”
As it is now, there is no denying the fact that the meaning of democracy and its ideals have being misconceived by our leaders. This misconception of what democracy is has now gone to a ridiculous and absurd level where the armies will be deployed to mow down the lives of peaceful protesters in their prime. Democracy has been misunderstood to the extent that whenever those at the nation’s helms of affair are criticized; which is allowed under the tenet of free speech, they will be seen as enemies of the State. At the bus-stop, a policeman can point his gun at protesters and shoot all in the name of controlling or preventing illegal gathering. The policeman, after killing, can proudly and gleefully walk away and beat his chest, and somewhat mutter to himself, “This is democracy”. No, that is not democracy!
Of more concern is the fact that our leaders, who are highly educated, and have been mouthing democracy at every given opportunity are beginning to see democracy as a system of government that allows earning of “fat salaries”. It is now a system of government that allows politicians to collectively earn salaries that runs into trillions of Naira annually. It is an open secret that some political office holders today earn salaries that are in the neighborhood of N30m as if the squandering trend is an element of democracy or entails what an ideal democracy is. Ironically, some of the politicians, like Oliver Twist, are presently been accused of storing away palliative items meant for the people in warehouses. One of them in Lagos even sent words through Journalists to his constituents at Ikorodu in Lagos that the Covid-19 items at his disposal, and which few days ago where looted by seemingly hungry and angry hoodlums were meant to be distributed on his birthday.
Also, it seems most educated and elitist Nigerians have lost touch with the meaning or essence of an ideal democracy. In my view, the present democracy is what I would in this context refer to as travesty of democracy. It is a parody. The preamble of the universal declaration of human rights which marked its 50th anniversary in 1988 states that “recognition of the inherent dignity is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” In as much as anyone aspires to exercise his own fundamental human right, he should equally realize that others too have dignity and inalienable rights.
The reason for the foregoing view cannot be farfetched as most present day politicians erroneously think that they have the democratic right to hold what belongs to the people as they have done in the case of Covid-19 palliatives that unarguably belongs to the people.
With the trending news that Covid-19 palliatives have mischievously being stored away by politicians, it appears they are ignorant of the fact that Heads of State and Government gathered in Rome at the World Food Summit at the invitation of FAO in November 13, 1996, where they reaffirmed that the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, and that it is fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. At the meeting, they considered it intolerable that more than 800 million people throughout the world, and particularly in developing countries, do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs, and pledged their political will and their common and national commitment to achieving food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries. They formally renewed their commitment to the right to adequate food and recommended that the content of this right be defined more clearly and ways to implement it be identified.
In the same vein, it appears that they are ignorant of the fact that rights and responsibility are inseparable. They are Siamese twins, so to say. There should be responsibilities to match rights. Simply put, in exercising our rights, like the rights to association for instance, we should remember the scriptural injunction that says “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” I believe the scriptural injunction is a common thread that runs across the common fabric of all religion. No religion approves the wanton killings of Nigerians and destruction of properties.
We should not forget that the birth of this democracy was accompanied by great labour pains in the nation’s political history. It was a struggle against Abacha and his acolytes. It was a struggle against “Khakitocracy”. It was a struggle against oppression, suppression, clandestine killings and injustice. It cost thousands of lives in bloody conflicts especially between 1993 and 1998. Against the foregoing backdrop, it is ironical that we are today exhibiting what we fought against.
We may leave this for another day, but it should be mentioned that the majority of the people in political offices that are today reaping the fruits of democracy never knew how the seed was sown and nurtured with peoples’ blood. We should, therefore, desist from trivializing this democracy that cost Nigerians and Nigeria so much. It is high time Nigerian politicians eschew the habit of making democracy look as if it is a travesty.
Isaac Asabor is a Public Affairs Analyst.