Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried – Winston Churchill, a former Prime Minister of Britain.
In the interest of participatory democracy, monitoring unelected officials, implementing public policies should be the chief concern of leaders in every democratic government. By overseeing this process, Kenneth Lowande, Professor at the University of Michigan argued that elected officials aim to prevent shirking, corruption, performance failures and policy drift in bureaucracy.
Clear enough; yet, despite the widening of strides by pro-democracy advocates to advertise the virtues and attributes of democracy, the balance of power within the last decades appears to be shifting.
Consider this example reported in depth about China contained in the latest edition of a well respected American Journal, Foreign Affairs.
China is a country that has just experienced a period of economic growth, the likes of which the world had never before seen. The second and most interesting is that it is ruled, increasingly dictatorially by an unelected communist party that puts people in prison for their convictions and limits all forms of free expressions and associations.
Behind this argument lies a growing insistence that China’s model of development is superior to that of the west.
China’s model, the piece submitted, blazes a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization and offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence, as western talk about democracy, is simply a pretext for robbing poorer countries of their sovereignty and economic potentials.
In my views, this cannot, be without exceptions.
Separate from the warning by Havard Political Professor, Samuel Huntington, in an address at Taipei, on August 1995, that authoritarianism may do well in the short term, but the experience clearly shows that only democracy produces good government over a long haul, a long study of this system has at different times and places convinced many observers that tight control from the centre is a remarkably effective way of killing creativity among citizens.
A similar concern was again amplified at a focused group discussion held recently in Lagos to among other things understand the basic reasons why the existing system here in Nigerian now wears democracy in name but a mixture of dictatorship/ authoritarianism and totalitarianism in outlook, and provide answers to why these fundamental assumptions were not challenged but accepted. Strangely,, participants at the end of the programme were unanimous that challenges confronting the nation Nigeria today is not about the system of government but could best be explained in two ways.
First, as a nation, our understanding of the original underlying philosophy of democracy was too narrow-it is obvious that democracy could no longer be seen in such a simple and unitary way. The second stems from the first and has to do with finding a solution to the pressing problem of leadership that will bring a full realization of the ideals and dreams of democracy.
From this standpoint also, different opinions bordering on the qualities of the leaders the nation currently needs emerges.
On that day, at that time and in that place, while many argued that what we need today in the world of politics, perhaps, is not a new theory, concept or framework, but leaders who can think strategically and link the people to government, shape the people’s understanding/behaviours, and determine what is normal and acceptable. Leaders who are dependent and lovers of certain values and beliefs, which consist of the ways we use power to address social and economic problems. Others were of the view that there are practically no governmental models as such but there are fundamental differences between liberal and non-liberal societies.
To this group, which of course constitutes a greater number, all that is needed to create a well-ordered nation is a government that will not fail in its obligation to the people or cheat on them, promotes the value of hard work, learning and respect for the rule of law/the nation’s constitution. And save workers from a sudden drop in their living standards.
What do we make out of this?
Any experienced political observer knows that there is seldom a single answer to the above question..But more particularly, here in Nigeria, there is no middle ground; the history of democracy is filled with political players reputed for personal aggrandizement and ill-calculations. The political climate despite the practice of democracy for over two decades has been largely a survivalist. Successive leaders had focused more on their political survival than in the enhancement of the living conditions of their people and viewed public offices not as an opportunity for a greater good and for the greater number but as an avenue for private gain.
Specifically, the worry is that despite the series of achievements-a striking characteristic of democracy in the Western world, it daily manifests symptoms of failure in Nigeria.
Using the above account as a baseline, it brings to mind the question; what exactly impedes democratic ideologies in Nigeria and other African countries. Why is the democratic framework not providing a strong source of remedy for individuals and communities? If these frameworks exist, why is it not effective and enforceable? Why has the nation not learned a valid lesson from the Western world?
Surely, providing answers to the above will unquestionably establish a link with a time tested postulation which among other provisions maintains that poor countries are poor not because of their system of government but because they have a lot of market failures and because policymakers do not know how to get rid of them and have heeded the wrong advice in the past. While rich countries are rich because they have figured out better policies and have successfully eliminated these failures.
And regardless of what others may say, there are examples of adoption of disastrous policies and wrong advice in the handling of the challenges bedevilling the nation by successive administrations.
The proposed hate speech bill currently before the Senate, government’s non-compliance with the United Nation Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s [UNESCO] budgetary recommendation on education, and non-adherence to the directives of the courts are but separate examples.
Admittedly, ‘from a polite team come a polite result’ just as no nation can grow above its leadership. Nigerians looking at results as released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), we cannot deny that this leader did not emerge from, and with our votes.
That notwithstanding, I hold an opinion that there are sets of separate but similar factors that promote this ugly political reality in Nigeria.
First, for the past two decades, Nigerians did not see anything wrong fraternizing with candidates and public officers that lack due care and those with a culpable absence of solicitude in meeting or performing their practical and political duties to the people.
What exists in Nigeria is not leadership but an ‘obsolete team management structure’ that cares less about discipline and planning but concentrates on the working assumption that ‘doing is more important than thinking, and execution considered more important than generating breakthrough ideas. This state of affairs also provides insight as to why the nation is littered with abandoned projects with our infrastructures crumbling slowly and steadily.
And if this ‘leadership style’ is left uncorrected, it will further impede economic growth, social progress, peace and stability and employment generation.
Achieving the change will among other things require leaders’ willingness to openly admit and adopt both structural and managerial changes, listen and learn from fair-minded citizens’ ways to curb this challenge.
*** Jerome-Mario Utomi writes from Lagos, Nigeria.