Democracy and state of the nation (1)

(By Ezeugwu Austin Ifeanyi)

Democracy is so powerful and attractive that it has been touted as the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution and the final form of human government. If we weigh the impact of democracy in other countries and compare it with that of Nigeria, the first question that comes to mind is; Is Nigeria cursed or Are we the cause?

THE primary end of any political association is the preservation and prosperity of its members, and when a nation fails in this task, the subject of criticism is usually the government in power. But in few cases, a critical scratch would reveal that it is more or less the fault of the government than the system. In Nigeria precisely, we are so used to bad governance that we fail to recognise a good one when we see it.
   But believe it or not, the Jonathan Administration stands streets ahead of others in the annals of democratic governance in Nigeria. Some people can point at the spate of killings in the land and argue that the Jonathan Administration has failed Nigerians. Some political theorists appositely hold the view that the surest mark of a people’s preservation and prosperity is their numbers and population. In other words, the government under which, (of course without external aids) the citizens increase and multiply most, is beyond question the best. While the government under which the citizens wane and diminish is the worst.
   This piece is not an attempt to count, measure or compare past administrations with the present, but as a matter of concern (especially now that there is an ongoing national discourse on the state of the nation), to set the record straight by drawing a line between a failed administration and a failed system. There is a saying among the Igbos that he who does not know where the rain started beating him, cannot tell where he dried his body.
   Democracy is so powerful and attractive that it has been touted as the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution and the final form of human government. If we weigh the impact of democracy in other countries and compare it with that of Nigeria, the first question that comes to mind is; Is Nigeria cursed or Are we the cause? Indeed, the 1914 amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria, a sheer blindness to differences in culture, was both a generosity and arrogance at the same time. It shows generosity by viewing the North and the South to be all the same, and capable of achieving a peaceful co-existence. However, it shows arrogance by demonstrating unwillingness to accept the simple human reality that cultures are different, and may have different values and different perspectives of the world, of governance. For over a century, we have experimented on the system of government that will guarantee this presumed peaceful coexistence. No doubt, democracy stands out (albeit in theory). For the neo-evangelists of democracy and its twin principle of liberty and equality, let it be noted, based on obvious macroscopic facts, made up of innumerable singular sites of blood shedding, that no degree of progress would be enough for any right thinking Nigerian to fake ignorance that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been frustrated, maimed and exterminated in the country.
   Democracy is such a delicate system that if not rightfully institutionalised could spell doom and stagnation for any nation. Many countries in Latin America were established as democracies shortly after winning independence from Spain and Portugal in the 19th century, modeling their constitution on those of the United States or France. Yet, not one of them has succeeded in maintaining a steady democracy up to the present. In Europe, Germany have had terrible difficulties achieving stable democracy, while France, the birthplace of liberty and equality has seen five different democratic republics come and go since 1789. The reason for this lies ultimately in the incomplete correspondence between peoples and state, not opposition to democracy.
   The realm of states is the realm of politics. It is the sphere of self-conscious choice about the proper mode of governance. The realm of the people is sub-political. People are pre-existing moral communities with common belief about good and evil. It goes without saying that states impose themselves on top of peoples, and in some cases, the state forms the people, as the laws of Lycurgus and Romulus were held to have formed the ethos of the people of Sparta and Rome respectively, or as the rule of liberty and equality has shaped a democratic consciousness among the various immigrant peoples making up the United State of America. But in most cases, and as is the case in Nigeria, the state sits in uneasy tension with their people. It is a truism that the country’s transition to democracy was ill planned. It was a kind of cold calculation at the expense of existing moral and cultural horizons. And today we face the consequences of such ill planning.
To be continued.

Ifeanyi, a political analyst wrote via austinehippo@gmail.com 08035014819

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