The sham of Nigeria’s Representative Democracy

The type of government that is of the people, meant for the people and formed by the people is no other than a democracy. Democracy, everywhere in the world can be direct or indirect. In direct democracy as it was popularly practiced in the ancient Athens around 6th century BC, it allowed people make laws for themselves directly without choosing who would represent them. On the other hand, an indirect democracy which is also known as representative democracy or democracy by representation has taken the place of an archaic and uncivilized direct democracy with its predominant demerit being the use of aggression where only men were allowed to decide and make laws for the entire city of Greeks. Nigeria, which is a good example of democracy by representation returned to the system in 1999 after successive regimes of military rule. The ‘junta’ had a comfortable share in the country’s polity since it thwarted the 5-year period of Nigeria’s first democratic dispensation after gaining independence from the British in 1960.

Would I be right to rationalise a military regime over our obviously nascent democracy? The expected answer remains a NO. I would also be sarcastic to compare the way and manner democracy is being practiced in other advanced countries to that which obtains here in Nigeria. I, therefore do not expect any African country to have made the numerous successes that America, who has not only had a military experience since 1789 but also sustained a 230-year old uninterrupted civil democracy.

The decision to limit my expository essay is because of the ‘big bros’ role and position which Nigeria and some of her patriots believe the country holds in the comity of nations on the African soil. Advantaged by unrivaled population and abundant resources, whatever succeeds in Nigeria surely blazes the trail for other countries to follow. If Nigeria gets it right and sets precedence that are worthy of emulation, the larger African continent will get it right too, making her people to be better for it.

Back to the sham of democracy by representation as it is practised in Nigeria. The huge monetization of Nigeria’s democracy is sickening, to say the least. There is no defensible rationale for having –side by side– a youthful population who are mostly idle and at the same time, a clog of representatives that lives, preaches and displays opulence. There is no moral defence for public display of wealth as it is usually done by any public office holder at a time when the country is adjudged the poverty capital of the world. This is pure asymmetry. They don’t match in any sense. Since our return to democracy in 1999, our government position occupants have either become super rich or suddenly transformed to some political demigods that the masses now adore. Trace the political trajectory of these individuals prior to 1999 and find out for yourselves, that they were politically anonymous. Our so called ‘democracy’ which should impliedly place more supremacy in the hands of the people has made them our gods. All over the world where democracy is operated, aspiring public office holders know they go there to work for the interest of the majority that are being represented. They go there to make people-oriented policies and laws and make sure they are implemented. They see themselves as true servants and not leaders. In our clime, the electorate that come out during elections to cast their votes under the rain and the sun are referred to as followers while those that are voted— constituting only less than 1 percent in numbers—- are praised as leaders. What a misnomer! Using this Nigerian situation in its simplest form as I have done, it will be unfair to compare Nigeria with other ‘working’ democracies known.

Nigerian people should not be absorbed of the blame, for they also are a party in the failure of our democracy. Our people should understand that the kind of democracy we practise is that of representation where those we vote in should not see themselves as special kinds. Anybody from among us could have been chosen too. It is actually ‘all of us’ in government! A situation where we keep mute and groan silently when families, friends and associates of those we voted in continue to live in affluence and drive big cars on our damaged roads must cease to continue. There should be periodic assessment of our legislators’ performances against their promises and our expectations. These regular appraisals should not only be during electioneering. Questions must be asked why our public schools and health facilities are becoming moribund with our representatives doing ‘sidon look’. They must be reminded that our schools cannot be abandoned to suffer when the children of those we claim to represent us get the best form of education in foreign lands from our collective patrimony.

 It was in the news lately that Ethiopia having come to terms with reality that the significant effect of the expenditure being incurred in taking care of its lawmakers and law-making institution has on the overall economy is unhelpful. These are avoidable public expenses which could be better utilised on so many value-adding public projects and to finance the country’s poor budget. The country is looking into the passing of a bill that would shrink the membership of its legislative body.

Although it can be considered a political statement, former Governor of Imo, Rochas Okorocha, during a plenary session in the Upper Chamber of the legislature recently, suggested a reduction in the National Assembly membership to one senator per state. The messenger might be questionable but his message at this time, is trite. Financing the 2020 budget deficit  of about 10trillion naira with FG projections of increased taxation and borrowings, the idea of reducing the cost of maintaining our legislators is equally a good step in the right direction. It boosts people’s trust in the leadership of its responsiveness to the yearnings of the masses. For us to really understand what a true representative democracy is, the leadership and the led must eat their fill when there is excess and must be ready to starve when in lack. 

Kolawole Ganiyu

Kola is an Economics graduate of University of Ibadan. He derives pleasure in fictional writings and contemporary articles arising from keen observation of events - political and socio-cultural.

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