Democracy and state of the nation (2)

(By Ezeugwu Austin Ifeanyi)

The argument that democracy is the system best suited for resolving conflicts on the basis of consent in a complex modern society is true only up to a point. The universalism and formality that characterise the rule of law in democratic societies do provide a level playing ground on which people can compete, form coalitions and ultimately make compromises. But it is not necessarily the case that democracy is the political system most capable of resolving social conflicts per se.

Continued from Friday, 20-6-2014

BEFORE the dawn of democracy in Nigeria, the country was characterised by persistent religious bigotry and ethnic rivalry, mercantilist economic policies, a pervading sense of injustice in the social structure and marginalisation. So by the time democracy set in, it marked enormous disparities in wealth, prestige, status and power which the microscopic few use to control the democratic process. The social pathology that followed was inevitable; the dominance of a cabal that necessitated an equally intransigent opposition. It is not a gainsaying that man has a natural desire for struggle no matter what the stakes are.

   Experience had shown us that there are people for whom the success of a government does not mean the satisfaction of their amour proper (self love). Such people cannot imagine living in a world without struggle. If they cannot fight on behalf of a just cause, they will fight against the just cause. And if the greater part of the world in which they live is characterised by peaceful and prosperous government, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, against that government.       They will struggle for the sake of struggle. The common denominator here is that the success and stability of a government never depends simply on the mechanical application of a certain set of universal principles and laws, but requires a degree of conformity between peoples and states.

  The argument that democracy is the system best suited for resolving conflicts on the basis of consent in a complex modern society is true only up to a point. The universalism and formality that characterise the rule of law in democratic societies do provide a level playing ground on which people can compete, form coalitions and ultimately make compromises. But it is not necessarily the case that democracy is the political system most capable of resolving social conflicts per se. A democracy’s ability to peacefully resolve conflicts is greatest when those conflicts arise between interest groups that share a larger, pre-existing consensus on the basic values or rules of the game, and when the conflicts are primarily economic in nature. Cases abound in the country of such disputes that were promptly put to rest through democratic means. But there are other kinds of non-economic conflicts that are far more intractable, having to do with issues like inherited social status and nationality, ethnic loyalties and religious fundamentalism which democracy is not primarily good or even geared at resolving.

   Even American democracy, as stable as it seems, has not been particularly successful in solving its most persistent ethnic problem, precisely that of American blacks. Black slavery constituted the major exception to the generalisation that Americans were born equal. In fact, American democracy could not settle the question of slavery through democratic means. Years after the achievement of full legal equality by American blacks, many remain profoundly alienated from the mainstream of American culture. (One difference though is that none of the American ethnic groups constitutes a nationality, living in their own land and speaking their own language).

   Nigeria is highly polarised along lines of social class, ethnicity, and religion, and democracy is not satisfactorily functional under such situation. If the military, with its monopoly of power, had stemmed the tide of religious and ethnic violence while it held sway, thereby creating the spirit of tolerance and equality in the socio-political life of the people, the country would have been better for it. A modernising military government can in principle be far more effective than a democracy in creating the social conditions that would permit rapid economic growth, and over time, the emergence of a successful democracy. The major aim of the military junta that took over power in Argentina from President Isabella Peron in 1976 was to rid Argentine society of terrorism and forces that threatened the nation’s sovereignty.

   The question of national sovereignty is inherently uncompromisable. Little wonder President Goodluck Jonathan categorised it as a ‘no-go area’ in the ongoing national conference. Fortunately or unfortunately, realities on ground have made that position untenable. Sovereignty either belongs to a people or the other. For example, the Soviet Union could not become democratic and at the same time remain unitary, for there was no consensus among the Soviet Union’s nationalities that they share a common citizenship or identity. Democracy could only emerge on the basis of the country’s break up into smaller national entities.     When different groups that constitute historical communities living on their traditional lands and speaking their own language, with a memory of past nationhood and sovereignty come into conflict, there is seldom a way of splitting the difference through peaceful democratic means, as there is in the case of economic disputes.

   If we are to tell ourselves the truth, Nigeria carries a burden too heavy for democracy. And until we lighten this burden, genuine dividends of democracy –peace and prosperity- will continue to elude us, the sovereignty of Nigeria will, more often than not, be threatened, and the labour of our heroes past, in vain. As the marriage between one Nigeria and democracy continues to suffer asunder, let us note that it is either one Nigeria or democracy, not the two (at least for now). They are incompatible and it is high time we realised that.  It was in the struggle to break the grip of colonialism that we learnt the need for unity. There is even a greater need for understanding now that we seek to correct the mistake of 1914. Members of national conference, please take note!

Concluded.

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

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