What is all the fuss about?
NOW that the electoral battles have been lost and won, the chattering classes have had their days in the press and the social media, we must now look at the positive lessons of March 28 and June 9 for deepening and strengthening our democracy and respect for the constitutional separation of powers respectfully.
Democracy is not about rigged elections or intimidation and often use of brute force by security services against opposition parties and their supporters or emptying the Treasury to buy votes at election times or merely going through an empty process to produce plainly dishonest results. These merely lead to violence and worse cynicism and lack of faith in democracy by citizens resulting in resigning to the fact that our votes don’t count. “They will rig the election anyway.” With the result that our nascent democracy is diminished.
Democracy is about free and fair elections and parties alternating in government to avoid elected dictatorship. Even in advanced democracies rule by dominant parties leads to corruption. Japan and Italy are clear examples. In developing countries such as ours, dominant party rule not only leads to corruption but also despotism, thus negating the fight and clamour for democracy for which many of our compatriots have either died or have been exiled or jailed.
In the last 16 years, we have witnessed the blurring of the constitutional separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government ostensibly to check abuse of power. We have seen this power abused by the executive through excessive intrusion into affairs of the legislature and directly influencing of the election of leadership either by threats, intimidation or bribes.
Therefore, if we reflect, we should be celebrating March 28 and June 9 not because of which party won or lost at the general elections or who won and lost in the leaderships of the National Assembly. Both are welcome and celebratory developments for strengthening and deepening our democracy, introducing accountability – you deliver or we vote you out – and rekindling active and participatory democracy in the citizens who now know they have the power to remove governments in power if they are found wanting.
The elections to the leaderships of the National Assembly also give real meaning to the constitutional separation of powers, which the President publicly reiterated in his inaugural speech where he declared: ‘The Federal Executive, under my watch will not seek to encroach on the duties of the legislative and judicial arms of government.’ If he had come out and openly sided with one or the other side, as recent Presidents did to their cost, there would have been howls of opposition, shouts of incipient dictatorship, etc.
The press, social media and the citizens should apply their tremendous power and energy on constructively engaging and probing the executive’s social and economic policies in a way that such policies don’t negatively impact on the most vulnerable and more particularly how it intends to fight the real enemies of Nigeria: poverty, ignorance, disease and squalor. The new Government came into power through people’s power in the teeth of opposition from most of the elite classes. Therefore, its duty should be to constructively plan and execute peoples’ policies and not worry too much about who gets what post. The National Assembly’s role in passing social and progressive policies should also be watched. In a peculiarly Nigerian way, we now have a bipartisan assembly. And it is good for democracy, and good for Nigeria. A warning: this is the most popular President in our history: to unjustly stand in his way is to risk the wrath of Nigerians.
• Abba Kyari is former editor of the defunct New Nigerian newspaper