By Mike Ozekhome, SAN
It was Churchill that once theorized that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” How correct is the above assertion? Only time will tell as I continue my discourse on the above topic. Last week, I made it clear that there are well over 65 forms and structures of government. Democracy is just one of them. Having considered the origin, definitions by various scholars and ingredients of democracy in my last outing, I shall today continue with types of democracy, and the genre of democracy practised in Nigeria and some other countries.
DEMOCRATIC PLENITUDE IS LIMITLESS
There is always room for unlimited disagreement and contestations about the exact meaning form or plenitude of any and all of the above conditions. That is why democracy continues to be and remains the focus of intense public and academic debate. There thus exists many paradoxes of democracy which have equally engaged the attention of sociologists, social and political scientists.
TYPES OF DEMOCRACIES
Democracies differ from society to society in their form and content. It is usually based on the peculiar experiences of a people.
The main forms of democracy are however as follows:
PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY (OR DIRECT DEMOCRACY)
This is a form of democracy in which decisions are made jointly and communally by those affected by them. This was the original type of democracy practised in ancient Greece and India (Gram Panchayat), from where the idea of democracy actually originated.
Participatory democracy is however of limited importance in modern societies, where the mass of the population have political rights. It is therefore impossible for everyone to communally participate actively in the making of decisions. Virtually, only a small or tiny minority of people actually participates in political process and political organizations at the local or national level.
There are some modern states, such as Britain and Sweden, where traditional rulers—the King or the Queen, acts as constitutional monarchs that actually head the elected government. Their power is severely restricted to ceremonial matters by the Constitution, which vests real authority in the elected representatives of the people.
In most cases, they are mere symbols of national identity, rather than personages having any direct or executive power in political life. The vast majority of modern states are republican. In such states, there is no King or Queen. It should be noted that almost everyone, including constitutional monarchies, profess adherence to democracy.
LIBERAL (REPRESENTATIVE) DEMOCRACY
Liberal democracy is a framework for the expression of diverse views and interests. It does not specify how we should behave apart from insisting that we should respect the views of others. Consequently, it is compatible with the pluralism of attitudes and ways of life.
In practice, a liberal democracy is a representative multi-party democracy (such as in India), where citizens can vote for one of at least two parties. Liberal democracy is, in part, a theory about the relationship between the majority of the people and their leaders (the political elite).
Liberal theorists state that democratic political elites are representative of the people and are ultimately accountable to them. In liberal democracies, voters can choose between two or more political parties and the mass adult population has the right to vote.
It is a political system which is different from communism as found in the former Soviet Union (and which still exists in China). Communism was essentially a system of one-party rule. Since 1989, with the fall of the communistic regime, the processes of democratization commenced across the world, in all the countries which were ruled by the Soviet-style one-party regimes. Liberal democracy involves several political parties and free and fair elections at regular intervals.
Those who favour liberal democracy argue that parties and pressure groups should effectively represent people and influence government. They believe that the Civil Service is the ‘servant’ of government. The judiciary is regarded as independent of government and is not expected to concern itself with political matters.
Most Marxists may not agree with the model of liberal democracy described above as ‘real’ democracy. For them, it is merely ‘bourgeois democracy’, a smokescreen behind which the capitalist class pursues its own interests. Parliament and political government are not considered to be the major source of power.
Capitalists make the decisions and control politicians. Marxists believe that in liberal capitalist democracies, the capitalist class actually rules, not the people. Many contemporary Marxists have different (modified) views about modern liberal democracies.
Political Sociologists have explored the nature of the state as a sociological entity, political socialization, voting behaviour and political participation, the relationships between democracy and economic systems, and the manipulation of public opinion.
PROBLEMS OF DEMOCRACY
Democracy has become a global phenomenon. Even then, all is not going well with this political system. It has got into some turbulent times almost everywhere. Democracy is in trouble even in the countries of its origin—Britain, the US and many European countries.
Surveys show that increasing proportions of people are dissatisfied with this political system, or indifferent towards it. Political participation is decreasing day by day as is evident from the percentage of voters turnout at the hostings and the attendance in the parliament and assemblies during debates. Nigeria is an example of so called constitutional democracy. The suffering masses are genuinely wondering if democracy is the answer, since their lot has never improved under successive democratic regimes.
MOST PEOPLE ARE UNHAPPY BECAUSE OF THE
The government is unable to address many needs of its citizens. Decisions affecting lives of the people are made by distant ‘power brokers’ – in Delhi; or State Headquarters—party officials, interest groups, bureaucratic officials, and the like. In Nigeria, it is the now faceless infamous cabal that reigns supreme. People believe that government is unable to deal with important local issues such as corruption, security, parlous economy, crimes, cleanliness, road repairs, unemployment, slums and encroachments. Like all bureaucracies, democracy creates its own vested interests and tends to be slow-moving and at certain times, it becomes oppressive. Civil servants may give partial advice to ministers, or take too long in producing it. In Nigeria and India, for example, democracy has not produced the intended results because of many manifest pitfalls (corruption, nepotism, communalism, regionalism, prependalism, cronyism, favouritism, etc.).
For its failure, it could be argued that it is not the institution itself which is to be blamed, but the way it has worked, or that the way it is working has been distorted by those in power. It is usually because of the vested interests of a few negligible people that the tangible gains cannot go round to the large masses of people.
Notwithstanding the many problems and difficulties of liberal democracy, it is not only persisting in the countries where this system is being practiced, but is even spreading to those countries where other political systems are operating. The freedom that exists in liberal democratic societies is so cherished that we cannot undervalue it.
Within broadly defined limits, people can speak their minds and organize themselves for a cause. Private lives are largely left private by the state. In their individual homes, people can at least ‘be themselves’.
These freedoms might not seem so substantial or so precious if we did not experience the agony of full blown totalitarianism practised in Germany and Soviet Union in the 1930s or Taliban’s Afghanistan and Saddam Hussain’s regime in Iraq. Perhaps, the major argument in favour of liberal democracy is that there is every scope to bring improvement in the system. This is why Churchill once described liberal democracy as ‘the least worst system’ of government.
In spite of its many pitfalls and weaknesses, democratization is one of the major political forces in the world today. Like many aspects of contemporary societies, the realm of government and politics is undergoing major changes.
In many parts of the world, pro-democracy movements have been successful in toppling authoritarian and dictatorial regimes. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Communism was overthrown by such movements.
But, democracy is still not a reality in China, though a movement in favour of democracy was launched as early as in 1989 and a demonstration was held in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Democratic forms of government have also been established in recent years in much of Latin America and some countries in Africa and Asia, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and some Arab countries.
DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA
The British philosopher, John Stuart Mill, had argued that “for a (democratic) federalism to work, no one group will have the advantage of relying on its unaided strength. If there is such a one, and only one, it will insist on being master of the joint deliberations.”
Britain certainly did not heed Mill’s warning. Rather, in 1914, she cobbled together an unbalanced colonial amalgam that clearly laid the groundwork for northern geographical and political domination of the South, without the consent of the amalgamated Protectorates. Having brought together an unwieldy and unwilling collection of over three hundred and fifty ethnic groups of different sizes and persuasions into an unwieldy non-consensual union, the colonial power handed the topmost political office, the post of Prime Minister, to its preferred Northern stooge, velvety-voiced Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. Sir James Robertson, the last British Governor-General of Nigeria, knew that the country Britain would be granting independence to in October 1, 1960, might not survive for long. In his own parting words, “The general outlook of the Northern [people] is so different from those in Southern Nigeria. There is less difference between an Englishman and an Italian, both of whom have a common civilisation based on Greek and Roman foundation and on Christianity, than between a Muslim villager in Sokoto, Kano or Katsina, and an Igbo, Ijaw or a Kalabari. How can any feeling of common purpose of nationality be built up between people whose culture, religion and mode of living are so completely different?” Robertson said it all.
It is self-evident that the British colonial officials knew that the geopolitical contraption they were leaving behind would be unstable. Still they, and prominent Southern Nigerian politicians, led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, persisted in their quest for “One Nigeria.” Indeed, Azikiwe exhibited extraordinary naiveté in thinking that his people, the Igbo, given their relentless quest for success, industriousness and gregarious nature would thrive in a united Nigerian nation. Consequently, Zik of Africa ignored or downplayed warning signs from key Northern traditional rulers who, in 1942, arrogantly proclaimed that “holding this country together is not possible except by means of the religion of the Prophet. If they want political unity let them, [southern politicians] follow our religion.” (To be continued).
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”. (H. L. Mencken).