Democracy has not delivered the goods. People thought that it would eliminate injustice, abolish poverty and create a society in which everybody could play a creative and meaningful role…J.R Lucas, Democracy and Participation, (1975).
Over the weekend, I was at the launch of the Nigerians United for Democracy, NUD, and as a silent observer of the proceedings. As a young man growing up in Benin City in the days of General Sanni Abacha, I used to watch from the sidelines as well certain civil society activists in the trenches firing verbal salvos at the guns and tanks of the army of the dark-goggled dictator. At that time as well, there were various bodies and organisations like the Nigeria Democratic Coalition, NADECO, with names like Femi Falana, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, Beko Ransome Kuti, General Akinrinade & co whose involvement in the struggle for democracy and freedom from oppression, and against the tyranny of a lone wolf eventually helped to increase the tempo of activities that ultimately grounded the machine of dictatorship and paralyzed its apparatchik.
As one sat down to listen to the first of the eloquent debates that were to set the tone for and establish the agenda of the meeting, one came off with certain apprehensions and aspirations, and these aspirations and apprehensions were to ultimately form the theme of this discourse. The first thing I noticed, and which gave me a lot of hope for our country was that if perhaps the Femi Falanas, the Beko Ransome Kutis, and the Agbakogbas were retiring into respectable retirement, then there is an assurance that if the old banana trees eventually succumb to the natural order of things, the young suckers that would sprout in their place have already taken root and have begun to sprout. I was amused somewhat at the lexicon and rhetoric of the young Turks, most of who were already taking after the vocabularies and idiosyncrasies and uniforms of their mentors - mentors who often relied on personal drive and elocutionary mannerisms to create the kind of awareness that sustained civil society’s engagement with the status quo ante.
There were other issues which the launch of the Edo State Chapter of the Nigerians United for Democracy, in a 21st Century Nigeria threw up. And even though this does not look like the time and place to x-ray these issues, one of them – the problems of credible elections - cannot be wished away just the same way as the proponent of the idea wanted to. In articulating his vision of a modern and dynamic NUD that would meet and address the democratic aspirations of Nigerians, the speaker said that Civil Society groups must eschew any kind of involvement with the elections and with the process of elections.
At first I was unable to understand what the worthy meant by that, that is, until I ran into that semi-quip from Lucas’ Democracy and Participation. There have been occasions when civil society groups had patronized political groups and institutions to work as partners in the electoral process but got used and dumped in the long run. But even at that, I found it a bit weird that we would be thinking of launching a big institution like the NUD if we were not thinking of using our participation and engagement with the electoral process as a catalyst that would sponsor our democratic values and culture.
In other places apart from Africa, elections are carefully choreographed activities. They are like a dance routine where every step, move, and bodily curvatures are programmed to capture an idea. An election is seen as that sublime act of a people who have resolved to surrender their individual liberties, privileges, rights and wrongs and invest them in an individual or a group of individuals. The caveat in the surrendering and investment of the collective rights and liberties in one man goes with the proviso that that one man would harness these rights and privileges and promote whatever would promote the rights and personal liberties of the individual. It is in this soil of civil governance that democracy takes a tap root and blossoms. And needless to say is the fact that that soil on which a people willingly surrender their individual freedoms and liberties is a kind of soil known as elections.
Africa from Cape to Cairo, elections is do-or-die. Or to try to put it likely, it is an Atilogwu dance, performed by a machete-wielding masquerade held on tethers by minders to bridle its unpredictable excesses. Most of those who try to use elections to capture power see it as a business and as a short-cut to fame and wealth. And perhaps that is why it is not sport - the idea behind the theory and practice of elections is one closely linked with the idea of absolutism, where the chosen representative assumes the role of a monarch to be served and waited upon. While nobody will go to war in the Americas and Europe because of an election result, win or lose, cases and cases pile up in the courts of law to challenge the win or lose outcome of an election. In some cases in some countries, internecine wars are fought.
What therefore is on ground in Nigeria today is that the Atilogwu dance step of our masquerades is prompted by yet another song of uncertain connotations – the ‘Dorobucci’ by Don Jazzy. The Dorobucci song was recorded in early 2014, and even though songs are merely supposed to be judged on their acoustic and aesthetic qualities, detractors began to suppose that it was song that celebrates a river goddess, and that it was a cultic song. But after the hoopla, the owner of the song has come forth to say that ‘the latter part of the song means anything that is fun, cool, awesome, or fantastic’.
In order to avoid the uncertainty that is the usual character of our elections, I want to strongly suggest to civil societies, particularly the NUD, to get very involved in the elections and the electoral process. This is because, in the hey days of the struggle against oppression and tyranny, the theme for civil societies was a struggle between the forces of tyranny and progressives. Civil Societies wanted dictatorship to give way to democracy. And so today democracy is here to stay and that dark epoch of tyranny is gone. What we all must concentrate on is how to conduct elections that eloquently articulate our resolve to surrender our liberties, privileges and freedoms to very credible persons or individuals who would not trade our liberty, freedom and privileges for plates of porridge. An election is not just about the Election Day only. An election may take only one day to conduct but its implications take four years to cope with. An election is about democracy, that is, if there is no credible election, then there would be no democracy. Most politicians know this and I guess this is why they are more involved in the political process of elections than anyone else. But civil societies must not allow them to always have their cake and eat it.
Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is communications manager with Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, Nigeria, firstname.lastname@example.org. 08096651570.