DEMOCRACY, GOOD GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA (1) By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
I was to deliver this speech as the guest speaker at the behest of the Government of Ondo State, as part of activities marking the Democracy Day on June 12 but the sad event that took place at St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, where innocent souls were sent to their early graves aborted it. I am glad that the Governor of Ondo State and indeed a host of other State Governors have taken up the challenge posed by the insecurity across the land. It has taken the State Houses of Assembly forever to concur on the areas of amendment of the 1999 Constitution. This should be a challenge to all politicians who gave solemn undertaking to the people that the Constitution will be amended, to do so before the end of their tenure or else it would be a grand fraud upon the electorate. It is clear to me and not the least other Nigerians that the way to go in tackling the security situation in our land is to embrace State Police. We have seen it demonstrated in the moderate success of the Amotekun Corps, especially in flushing out the criminal gangs operating in various forests in the South West region of Nigeria. With proper funding and sound structure, there will no doubt be some major achievements recorded in reducing the crime rate. It gladdens my heart that the collaborative efforts between Amotekun and the regular police has been able to demystify the terrorists that carried out the mass slaughter of worshippers in Owo. As expected, their arrest has not aligned with the propaganda of the federal government that the Owo attack was masterminded by the ISWAP faction of Boko Haram. Now to the Democracy Day lecture.
Your Excellency, the Executive Governor of Ondo State,
Government functionaries, distinguished legislators, eminent royal fathers, learned colleagues, Comrades, Gentlemen of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I salute the organizers of this event for inviting me to speak on an august day and occasion as this. This is a lecture organised in commemoration of our dear June 12 democracy day and I am honoured to have been invited as a guest speaker on this 29th Anniversary. I have been a tireless defender of democracy all my life because I believe it is the form of government most conducive to peace, sustainable development, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Regardless of class, tribe and religion, I believe that we are all created equal; we are all human beings endowed with reason and with the right to the pursuit of happiness. When I received the invitation on the 2nd day of June, 2022 to speak on Democracy, Good Governance and Development in Nigeria, I said to myself that the organizers have done well in terms of the choice of topic. At a time when the Nigerian society is ravaged with unending insecurity, endemic poverty, killings and heightened tyrannical disregard for the rule of law, discussions on democracy, good governance and development are excellent, not only to identify and clarify the issues, but also to come together and attempt a solution to our individual and collective challenges. Regardless of the individual and institutional decay militating against our individual and collective wellbeing, it is still without doubt that our people remain our strongest asset when put to productive use. I have not the slightest doubt that our struggle against bad governance will succeed. United we will stand and pass on a better country and a better life to our children. We should therefore not be dampened in our collective resolve to salvage our country from the rentiers
Meaning of Key Terms
In doing justice to this topic, let us take a quick look at the meaning of key terms, to wit:
James Roland Pennock in his book, Democratic Theory, defines democracy as follows:
“Government of the people, where liberty, equality and fraternity are secured to the greatest possible degree and in which human capacities are developed to the utmost by means including free and full discussion of common problems and interests.’
According to Abert Wale, a professor of Government at the University of Essex, UK, democracy is a system where ‘important public decisions on questions of law and policy depend, directly or indirectly, upon public opinion formally expressed by citizens of the community, the vast bulk of whom have equal political rights.’
Like most concepts in Law and the social sciences, the term ‘democracy’ has no one fit all definitions. The United Nations Development Programme Office simply identified Nine (9) core characteristics of democratic rule, namely:
(i) Participation, (ii) Rule of Law, (iii) Transparency, (iv) Responsiveness
(v) Consensus, (vi) Orientation, (vii) Equity, (viii) Effectiveness; and
Some authors have opined that if citizens can participate equally in free and fair elections, and if elections direct the actions of the government, then, this is the essence of democracy. The American Lawyer, Statesman and President, Abraham Lincoln, defined democracy as ‘the government of the people, by the people and for the people.’ Whilst it may be said that Lincoln’s definition commits the fallacy of over simplicity, it captures the essence of democratic rule to the extent that democracy takes its root from and centres on the people. According to the political satirist, P.J. O’ Rourke, ‘the beauty of democracy is that an average, random, unremarkable citizen can lead it.’
Perhaps, we need to refresh our memory that democracy has its origin with the Hellenes, the ancient Greek city of Athens. The Athenian leader, Cleisthenes, in the year 507 B.C, introduced a system of political reforms that he called demokratia. The system comprised three institutions- there was the ‘ekklesia’ which was a sovereign body responsible for writing laws and dictating foreign policy; there was the ‘boule’ which was a council of representatives from the ten Athenian tribes; there was the ‘dikasteria’, which was the popular courts in which citizens argued cases before a group of lottery-selected jurors. Although Athenian democracy survived for only two years, democracy invented by Cleisthenes remains one of ancient Greece’s most enduring contributions to the modern world.
You would do well to wonder at this coinage. As with every other thing Nigerian, it has become necessary to create our own brand of democracy, as it would seem that we have largely been unable to align with the universal concepts of the idea. The term ‘democracy’ has been qualified and pigeonholed into a Nigerian context. Some have expressed the view that democracy as invented in Athens or as practised in the West is not the same as democracy as practised in Nigeria. Israel Ebije, in his article titled ‘Nigeria’s Definition of Democracy’ published on Thisday Newspaper of October 14, 2018, wrote that Nigeria’s democracy is:
‘A system of government where a group of political business men and women specialised in using tokens and beautiful promises to promote ambition of selected business managers to preside over affairs of the country or state government. These individuals execute their game of deception by hiring thugs specially recommended for rigging, wrangling electorates in elections. Security operatives in this system of government become observers in the rigging process. The rich cabals after declaring themselves or stooges winners, sit back and feast on the commonwealth of the people. If the people dare protest bad governance, they will be treated as criminals.’
We wish to state that whilst the observation of Israel Ebije is true about politics and elections in Nigeria, it does not call for a qualification of the meaning of democracy which, being an ideal, manifests its perversions even in highly democratic States. Conceptually speaking, therefore, we do not think that the meaning of democracy is affected by the democratic space within which the people rule.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission defines ‘governance’ as ‘the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented.’ According to a World Bank Report in 1991, ‘governance’ is ‘the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.’
Also, the erstwhile Nigeria Vision 2010 document stated that:
‘Good governance means accountability in all its ramifications. It also means the rule of law and an unfettered judiciary; that is, freedom of expression and choice in political association. Good governance means transparency, equity and honesty in public office. In the Nigerian context, good governance calls for Constitutional rule and a true federal system.’
Good governance therefore means that the process of decision making is good; that the process by which decisions are implemented is good. Good governance is connected with elements such as dependability, transparency, accountability, prosperity and development.
Premium is placed on democratic rule because it is seen as a harbinger of development. A World Bank report in 1989 sheds light on the nexus between governance and development as follows:
Underlying the litany of Africa’s development problems is a crisis of governance. Because countervailing power has been lacking, state officials in many countries have served their own interest without fear of being called to account. Politics becomes personalized and patronage becomes essential to maintain power. The leadership assumes broad discretionary authority and loses its legitimacy. Good governance inevitably leads to economic and social development.’
Thus, good governance brings about development and prosperity whilst bad government brings about underdevelopment and lack of confidence in the government of the day.