THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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The law –for all its vaunted rectitude- has not always strictly been about what is ‘right’ or what is ‘wrong’. It has always been about what is permissible from what is not. Nor are the conventional norms regulating electoral democracy some kind of Mosaic tablet hauled down from Mount Sinai unto the Rock of Gibraltar. Whatever the majority in a democracy chooses, provided it is not inconsistent with the law and the Constitution, that cannot be wrong. Plus the democratic majority has the liberty also to use its numbers to amend the law, -sometimes even to make it amenable to its shifting whims. The democratic minority may inquisition the lawful conduct of the majority, but it cannot contain, control or curtail it. The minority grouching about the lawful conduct of the majority is as ineffectual as what the English describes as ‘the howling of Irish wolves against the appearance of the moon’. This is a poignant metaphor revealing the limit of minority right, -that it’s right to a ‘say’ though necessary in a democracy, must not necessarily change a thing. It is such a cruel fate really that even if the democratic majority whimsically and capriciously steers the ship of state into troubled waters, all that the minority has the right to do is wail. It can scream, it can yell, but it dares not kick; because to kick is to resist the lawful discretion of the democratic majority and is tantamount to wanting to have a ‘way’.
Charlie Boy’s ‘Resume or Resign’ campaign ignored this limit, until a whiff of the majority’s anger at Wuse Market missed him by the whiskers! They had had their ‘say’ just singing ‘our mumu don do!’ They should just have left it at that. They had no right to determine when the ‘mumu’ of the majority should be enough. The majority can choose to be wise or foolish –including also choose how long to remain so. Truth is the minority has no democratic right to make demands or give ultimatums. And so, the only ‘right’ that a ‘minority’ can have in a democracy, is strictly the right to ‘dissent’ without creating ‘dissension’; or the right to ‘disagree’ –without being ‘disagreeable’. As historian Daniel J. Boorstin would say: “A liberal society thrives on disagreement but is killed by dissension. Disagreers he said “seek solutions to common problems” but that dissenters seek power for themselves.” Having a ‘say’ in a democracy means that the minority can sing ‘we shall overcome’, but it cannot go ‘swinging’ physically to overcome.
And maybe it is the reason that democratic minorities in their desperate bid to justify their right also to the expression of revolutionary anger, prefer the term ‘moral minority’ -suggesting that during seasons of anomie, when virtually all the normative values of a society appear to have broken down, even they can be avenging angels –arrogating the right to a revolutionary ‘way’ in addition to their right to a constitutional ‘say’.but truth is, not even a ‘moral minority’, outside the due democratic process, should have the justification or suffer the obligation either to save the ‘people’ from a political ‘affliction’ that they are determined to bear, or to confer on them a ‘relief’ that they are not disposed to regale in. It is the way of all ‘civilized’ democracies, that even self-righteous oppositions must be patient to bide their time with superior argument –not to seize opportune moments with lethal narratives, to subvert the system. Or by the way, ‘morality’ too is what the majority says it is. Said the British philosopher A. N. Whitehead: “What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like”.
The power of the ‘people’ in a democracy to ‘freely’ elect or remove their governments is sacrosanct; and at no time and under no guise should it be abridged by any –even if for the reason that the people may not be sophisticated enough to handle it. The people may freely install ‘bad governments’ or even bring down ‘good’ ones, provided they do so through the due democratic process. Because it is in the periodic exercise of this power that they assert themselves as the repository and conferrer of political authority. And in addition to possessing this power –ad nauseam or ad libitum- the people also possess the right to exercise it however they wish! And maybe it is the reason John Patrick said democracy is “the right (even) to make the wrong choice.” Or as the 18th century poet and diplomat, James Russell Lowell said, that democracy) “gives every man a right to be his own oppressor”. Nothing is truer than that democracy is ‘four wolves’ and a ‘lamb’, voting on what to have for lunch.’ And that is just the way that the democratic ‘cookie’ crumbles. What the majority sows on election day the nation reaps in all the days of (mis)governance. It is neither in vain that the other name for democracy is ‘majority rule’ nor is it in vain that they say ‘the majority’ is always right’. Not in the sense of being morally truthful –but in the sense of being numerically correct. The ‘minority’ being a ‘tail’ in the democratic enterprise, is to be wagged by the dog. It has not the wherewithal to ‘wag’ the ‘dog’. But it still makes even moral sense that the ‘many’ alone should decide the fate of the ‘few’ and not that the few should decide the fate of the many.
That is the nature of all democratic majorities, -that whether they are achieved by the simplest or suppermost of margins, they are bound always to get what they want -if not by right, then by might. When the majority exercises its constitutional right to approve a measure, that measure does not have to be the best; in fact it will not matter that it is the worst. Conversely when it rejects a measure, the measure does not have to be bad, or even the best. It is the reason that Lord Acton, the British historian said “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority”. Call it dictatorship of the majority. Or the despotism of the ‘many’ over the subservience of the ‘few’. It is not necessarily in the merit of its choice or in the morality of its position that the majority is entitled to ride roughshod over the minority, it is merely in the greatness of its number. This rampaging power of the majority David Robertson said, has continued to be the concern of political philosophers “whether or not a majority vote really represents a positive preference, or simply a relative preference for one rather than another of a set of unpopular alternatives.”
Whatever the law subordinates to the electoral process it has technically subjugated to the caprices of the democratic majority. Often in parliaments, some of the best legislative measures are voted down by the faintest –often un-discernable- ‘majority voice vote’. Fact is, no matter how the democratic minority dislikes the way the democratic majority governs, it only has recourse to the courts to challenge obvious breaches of the Constitution, or to wait till the next election -or simply wail and wail. It is only in Nigeria that any partisan Tom, Dick or Harry can proclaim ‘Nigerians are tired of this Government’; and then arrogate a most ludicrous entitlement to demand the resignation of the President.
Sowore who had a measly 33,000 votes and whose party did not even win a council seat- said 85% of Nigerians (about 160million) supported his ‘RevolutionNow’! And he wanted a democratically elected President to vacate office, who won 16million votes and whose party won about 70% governorship seats, several hundred seats in parliament and hundreds and thousands of Local Government chairmanship and councillorship seats respectively. What Sowore wanted was that we sacrifice the will of the majority on the altar of his failed presidential ambition. And you wonder, who the American writer, Wyndham Lewis was referring to when he said “The revolutionary simpleton is everywhere”!