Sunday, May 13, 2007

At what price, Democracy?

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At What Price, Democracy?

From the United States
to Scotland, to Turkey to Syria
to Israel and from Zimbabwe to Nigeria; they are all examples of
Democracy gone awry. A growing culture of impunity that rises against the
pursuit of liberty and true freedom. The substance of democracy that defines
its character is the mandate of a people, freely expressed and made sovereign. It
is from this sovereignty that every nation acquires its democratic being and
legitimacy. This sovereignty upon installation is made explicit by a people’s
constitution and sustained by the rule of law that is derived there-from. The
well-being of its existence and longevity is nurtured by a people’s desire and
a collective wish to be bound by its tenets. Put another way, democracy is the
expressed wish of a people for the kind of government they desire and the laws
under which they have elected to live.

Consequently therefore, it follows that the
expression of such a mandate must flow from the people and the stream through
which this mandate flows is the ballot box. It is precisely for this reason
that we regard the duty to vote as a civic responsibility. Under any true
democratic dispensation those rights, to vote and be voted for, are sacred. The
denial of those rights extinguishes democracy, we cannot pretend to have
democracy in place whereas those rights are not guaranteed and made manifest.
There can be no justification for its absence in any normal democratic setting
because without that presence democracy does not exist. The foregoing
deductions are what has made the Bush administration’s commentaries on the
state of Nigeria’s
recent elections most ominous. And one must wonder at what the future portends
for democracy with such reckless denunciations coming, as it were, from the
bastion of global democratic expression.

Nigeria’s presidential elections
were purportedly won by Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of the ruling PDP, a known favorite
of Nigeria’s
incumbent president and younger brother to a late Nigerian army General, who
served as Obasanjo’s second-in-command in the seventies under a military
regime. I have severally told my friends that had Pat Utomi not ran for the
presidential elections, I would most probably have voted for a Yar’Adua
presidency. Yar’Adua has maintained a studiously committed approach to the
development of his home state, Katsina. Extremely reserved and introverted, he
has stayed away from the political limelight all through his tenure and never
for once joined in the then fashionable glee of shuttling abroad at the
flimsiest excuse, as most of his governor colleagues were inclined to do. He
was also about the only governor that did not grow rosy cheeks while in office
and it is on record that his health progressively deteriorated from the rigors
of office to which he applied himself. He was clearly not materialistic but
devoted to serving his people well. He was clearly, for me, a man I could live
with as president; he is also Nigeria’s
first postwar president-elect to flaunt the credentials of a degree holder.

But the foregoing not withstanding, I still had my
reservations about his ability to be a performing president. I knew that being
president of my country was not comparable to being a governor to some state. I
worried about his deteriorating health and the rigors that would be imposed on
him as president. I had a good measure of doubt about his mild nature and his
ability to contain the hawks in the corridors of power. I was deeply concerned that
he would be held hostage in power and to our incumbent president. And in all, I
could place better candidates besides him. Putting it all together, he just
didn’t make my ticket but there is probably no denying the fact that he is a
good man. The truth, for me, was that I found better men besides him.
Ordinarily too, and without party and presidential interference, the man may
have won the elections on a level playing field but that didn’t happen. The
playing field was not level but ridiculously tilted in his favor; Elections
2007 was a convoluted mess. So much so that even the Bush administration tagged
it a “seriously flawed” process. It will never suffice that even the good man
should be rigged into office and that should not be the price good Nigerians
have to pay for a good president. Good or bad, each man must be subjected to the
fullest test of the Nigerian ballot. This is precisely why, under all true
democracies, a people are only as good as the leaders they elect into office.

Studying the said text of the Bush administration’s
release on that election, raises infinite questions as to the state of global
democracy today and it may indeed be a revelation as to how it became so
terribly polluted. It reveals a malignant contamination that poisons
democracy’s well-being in the comity of nations to disfigure its character and
essence. When the Bush administration says “Analysis of the process by most
international observers does not conform to what Nigeria’s electoral commission has
reported.” and that “There are credible reports of malfeasance and vote rigging
in some constituencies.” what is it, in fact, implying? To start with, to say
there were reports of malfeasance and rigging in some constituencies is a huge joke.
It occurred in virtually all constituencies. The implication from a standard
point of view would be that Nigeria’s
electoral commission lied about the conduct of that electoral process. Clearly,
to lie about the conduct of any process impairs the context and delivery of
that same process to disable credibility. Whereas this is so, it can be no
surprise that “Overall, the process was seriously flawed.” Now, for an
electoral process to be seriously flawed, overall, is only to say one thing and
it is that the process failed woefully. For the Bush administration to
acknowledge this fact and yet be “prepared to work with Nigeria’s next
administration …” come May 29 this year is not to exhibit a sense of regret or
to do Nigerians any favor. To the contrary, it is to conspire with those who
seek to nail us to the boots of tyranny and serfdom. It is a statement that
instigates the very rejection of that concept called democracy and which forces
one to wonder how the Bush administration can find the nerve to go on a global
crusade extolling the good virtues of democracy and campaigning for its
installation around the world. Nothing in its release exhibits a commitment to
or willingness for the pursuit of that relief which is a government for the
people, of the people and by the people. The realization at best is one of
betrayal. How can there be joy to any democratic transition that flows from a
“seriously flawed” electoral process? How can anyone possibly derive happiness
from it? Or is it to say that the price a nation ought to pay for a ‘historic democratic
transition’ should be the giving up of those civic responsibilities and values
that convey democracy’s essence and by which its character is defined?

Conclusively therefore, it is patently absurd for the
Bush administration to say “we look forward to helping it (Nigeria) implement international recommendations
for improving the preparation, administration, and conduct of future elections
in Nigeria”
I would most certainly think and hope not. Its utterances are sufficient proof
already that its concerns are not one that pertains to the Nigerian people. Where
was the Bush administration, its excellent bilateral relations and its promotion
of peace and security when hundreds of innocent Nigerians perished during the
recent elections? Where was it Elections 2003? It is not hopeful to expect that
an administration which advocates the installation of a “seriously flawed” electoral
process (flawed, in the extreme sense that it denied the majority of Nigerians
the right to vote and be voted for; the very essence of democracy) as the
alternative to an appropriate democratic transition can supervise or nurture
democracy because its reasoning and concept of democracy are seriously flawed
in itself and without depth by the very virtue of its own pronouncements. The
price for democratic continuity can never be at the expense of democracy itself;
it is only an administration such as Mr. Bush’s is that could wish it were.

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