For example, legislation requires schools to establish democratic school governing bodies for parents, educators and learners to manage the schools’ affairs collectively. School fees cannot be increased without the input from the three parties. But if parents fail to attend meetings or respond to correspondence, the educators and school management are forced to make decisions that may be regarded as undemocratic, causing unhappiness within the community.
One’s level of education, financial status or language should not hinder active citizenship. When we become active in our communities, we stand a better chance at entrenching values such as accountability, transparency, honesty, trust and respect, which are needed in order for democracy to thrive. For example, in a democracy, everyone is free to voice his or her opinion as long as it does not amount to hate speech. The media has the right to report on all matters concerning the public, even if it means exposing the wrongdoings of government, powerful institutions or people.
Even in a democracy, public protests have a place as a form of participation in community issues. However, it is important to acknowledge that with public protest comes the need for disagreeing parties to talk to each other. Talking about our different viewpoints is perhaps the most difficult engagement, but it is the most viable means to resolving complex matters. Yet an intolerant government that doesn’t appreciate the role of the electorate as partners in ensuring better governance is a government that is on its way out.
In a speech to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, on January 23, 1967, former British Prime Minister and Statesman Harold Wilson said, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery”.
Are we where we are, in this decay of uncertain dimension because we are rejecting or resisting change? Have we voluntarily or involuntarily built a tower of babel where progress suddenly comes to a halt? Electoral frauds constitute the substructure of the abuse of political rights. And abuse of one right can lead to the abuse of other rights or all rights.
What has been the Nigerian experience with respect to elections and by extension political rights?
Here are the facts:
• The post independence national election of 1964 set the stage. It was characterized by wide spread rigging, intimidation, and chaos
• The election of 1965 followed the same pattern and became one of the reasons for the 1966 coup.
• When the country returned to the ballot box in 1979, the ghosts of the 1964 and 1965 elections came back to town to cause havoc.
• Four years later in 1983, things took an even worse turn
• 1n 1993, when we thought we had repented of our sins, the baby was not even allowed to come out deformed, it was aborted
• In 1999, 2003 we barely limped along with bruises
• And then crowned things up with the 2007 election described at that time as the worst in Nigerian electoral history.
• Just when you thought we have learnt our lessons, the 2011 elections came along with all the imprimatur of all previous elections.
Since 2003, almost every election has been called a make or mar election due to fear of massive rigging and its byproduct of violence. The big question is, how many make or mar elections should we have in the life of a nation?
Once again, here we are in a pre-election year. And once again, the witches’ cauldron has begun to boil over. Majority of our political gladiators are neither debating ideological leanings nor scrutinizing past records to guide rational choices in the upcoming general elections. Rather they are engaged in a series of spectacular arguments about agreements reached in dressing rooms and whose turn it is to be at the villa.
Today, the attention is not on possible post-election mayhem or violence. The twin evil of insecurity and violence are already here with us. Right to life has been diminished as never before. We have become so used to stories that hitherto were blood chilling that we flip over them in our newspapers. A new normal has been enthroned. And the man is dying in each of us. Yet elections loom ahead with a fast moving cloud soaked with highly flammable materials. Meanwhile, the political space is so constricted that politicians are gasping for breath and forced into unseasonal migrations. Today’s lecture for me is a wake up call for all of us in the political space, government, politicians and electorate alike. It is a call to ensure that we all work together to guarantee the sustenance of our democracy and the existence of our nation. I will end with another comment by Dowden in the same book. He says “ on the contrary, I sometimes feel Africa is not violent enough. If Africans fought back sooner against theft and oppression instead of allowing themselves to be slaves to the rich and powerful, Africa would be a much more peaceful place. Instead, African patience allows exploitation and oppression to thrive until everyone looses their temper and explodes.” Hopefully this would not be our lot.
Thank you for your kind attention and May God bless Nigeria.
Being a lecture delivered at the second conference of the Peoples Media Limited by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Con, Governor, Rivers State and Chairman Nigeria Governors’ Forum at the Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton, Abuja, on Thursday, March 6, 2014.