Dr Young Fiabema on Democracy and Rivers State
Who is Hijacking Democratic Principles in Rivers State? Let’s fix what is broken
It is interesting to note that a protest, tagged, ‘One-day Global Action in Defense of Democracy in Rivers State,’ is scheduled for Tuesday, July 30, 2013. According to “THISDAYLIVE” publication of Sunday 28 July, 2013 (http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/senate-approves-takeover-of-rivers-assembly-s-functions/154497/ ), this protest will address politically motivated violence and other anti-democratic norms in the state.
A lot of never-ending articles, stories, editorial comments and blogs have been written on how the crisis in Rivers State is hijacking democratic principles in Nigeria. In spite of the wealth of information available on democracy, most analysis I have read miss the central point of democratic principles.
There should be no disagreement about protecting democratic principles in Nigeria. It is an issue that affects all of us and future generation. Indeed democracy is an economic imperative as it is believed to be a foundation stone of how we install the doctrines of responsible government. I will therefore like us to understand basic democratic principles because it’s important that we get this right in other to fix what is broken. We have been hearing ugly rhetoric statements from politicians in Nigeria on how democracy is being constrained by Abuja based politicians. The Rivers State crisis is a complex issue that raises strong feelings in the nation. In the Rivers State case, it is very easy to overlook the underlying issues, because on the surface, everything seems to be about presidential politics. The question begging for answer is: Who is barricading or exploiting democratic principles or should I say dodging the main issues of the people? In Nigeria it seems the answer depends on the fitting political agenda of who you ask.
We cannot be self-absorbed when we are discussing democratic principles. It is therefore crucial to answer this question objectively. First, let us fully understand what democracy means. Democracy comes from the Greek word, “demos,” meaning people. Therefore the driving force of this system of government is “the people”. Understandably, in a true democratic system, people hold superior power over parliament and the government. It is a system where rule of law is zealously protected. In this notion, even the chief executive is under the law and is expected to utilize every legal means to govern.
It equally forces governments to the rule of law and respect for the decision of other arms of Government (e.g. court ruling). This serves as a foundation to epitomize the fact that all citizens receive equal protection under the law. Accepting the power of the judiciary and respecting the rights of those with differing points of view are paramount under a democratic system that is designed for the people. While I have not observed the Federal Government’s involvement in the suspension of any duly elected official, it is sad to see the numerous instances where local government chairmen and councilors were suspended in Rivers State under the current administration due to ideological differences.
Undeniably, democratic principles were observed in the nation when judicial rulings were upheld and respected without crisis as in the case of: His Excellency Celestine Omehia (former governor of Rivers State) vs. His Excellency Chibuike Amaechi (governor of Rivers State) and the recent case of Mrs. Turai Yar’adua (former First Lady of Nigeria) vs. Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan (First Lady of Nigeria) over Abuja land dispute is another reminder. These exemplify the importance of accepting the power of the judiciary by the politically influential in a democracy.
However, it is not comforting also to observe that judicial weight of a competent Nigerian High Court, which dissolved the Rivers State PDP executive, was utterly rejected by Rivers State government in an unlawful manner. In retaliation, the Rivers State Governor collaborated with the House of Assembly to suspend the entire Obio/Akpor Local Government Council on April 22, 2013. This is an impediment to a dependable democratic system.
Press freedom is another major tenet of a true democracy. The press should operate free from governmental control. Governments that have ministries of information to control content of state owned newspapers, radio and television stations ultimately scrutinize the activities of state owned journalists. Interestingly, while the federal government is restricted in this aspect, it is a commonly observed practice in most States. This practice breeds false reporting that is not only counterproductive to a free press but also disruptive to democratic system as the populace is quite often fed with government propaganda.
Another major goal of democracy is to make the best possible decision for all citizens with available scarce resources. This can only be actualized when elected officials enforce transparency, accountability and effectively exchange ideas with citizens and stakeholders. It’s not reassuring in a democratic system when governors create policies and programs that are not well debated by the people and shove such policies down the throats of the House of Assembly as well as their citizens.
Ironically, there is still this general view that if a member of the House of Assembly or a citizen has ideological differences with their State governor, he or she is an “Abuja Rebel” without a cause. Your intentions are questioned and most times branded corrupt. Generally speaking, society is composed of people with divergent viewpoints and enriched diversity. Therefore this autocratic approach to governance which tends to silence the views of citizens is purely against the tenets of democracy, so it must be rejected.
Limiting abuse of power is another core principle of any democracy. In a democracy, government is structured to limit the powers of the three branches of government. This includes creation of independent courts, parliament and executive that can provide checks and balances to the abuse of power. While the Federal government does not seem to have control over the two other branches of government, the Rivers State government seems to be very much dominant in all branches of government. This is evident during the recent crisis in Rivers State House of Assembly where the Governor, notarized the gruesome violence we observed on “YouTube”. Such actions promote abuse of power in any democracy.
Free and fair election is another indispensable road sign to democratic principles. This entails impartial and balanced system of conducting elections where election results are verified to the satisfaction of the body of voters. In this regard, the last election under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan undoubtedly fulfilled the best democratic ideology Nigeria ever enjoyed. We witnessed trained election officials that were politically independent. It is public knowledge that election supervisors freely permitted representative of the various political parties in the vote counting process.
Therefore, it is imperative to imbibe this democratic principle that empowers the electorate to freely vote for whom they want to lead them. The culture and practice of “godfatherism” and imposition of leaders on the people at various levels of government is not only dictatorial, it disenfranchises the people. End result is apathy, endless acrimony and litigations amongst party members which often results in what we are all witnessing in Rivers State
Kudos must be given to the Federal Government for showing restraint in the following democratic principles: Rule of law; its control on parliament as well as the judiciary. Clearly its neutrality on press freedom and its efforts on conducting free and fair elections equally deserve admiration.
For us to find a lasting solution to the political crisis in Nigeria, the democratic fundamental principles that contribute to making a government work effectively must be enshrined as part of our constitution and rigorously enforced. These include the following: POLITICAL TOLERANCE; REGULAR FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS; CONTROL OF THE ABUSE OF POWER; ACCEPTING JUDICIAL RULINGS; RESPECT FOR RULE OF LAW; ACCOUNTABILITY and TRANSPARENCY.
I remain optimistic that rational Nigerians will muster the courage to fix what is broken in our system with particular emphasis on the autocratic tendencies of some Governors as we have seen in the Rivers State example.
Dr. Young Fiabema Writes from Raleigh, North Caroline, USA
Posted on July 28, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged Abuja, Democracy, Election, House, Nigeria, River State, Rivers State government, Rivers State House of Assembly, United States. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.