Home COMMENTARY Of Democracy, Good. Governance And Political Participation, By Abdulfatai Usman

Of Democracy, Good. Governance And Political Participation, By Abdulfatai Usman

Abdulfatai Usman
Abdulfatai Usman

Good governance, to start with, is all about the effective use of public resources for general good. The social contract theory which presupposes that leaders are recruited by the people to ensure optimal utilization of resources, political, economic, social and spiritual for the general good according to the terms agreed with the people, in fact, section 14 of the Nigeria constitution states that government exists for the welfare and security of the people.
It should be noted that the Nigerian state assumed a new governance status in 1999 following the demise of authoritarian regime in the country. Military dictatorship was replaced by representative democracy with the hopes and aspirations of good governance much higher than what the seemingly collapsible democratic institutions could fulfill. The source and nature of transition in 1999 was later found to constitute threat to the foundation of democracy and obliterates the current efforts at consolidating democracy. Though, 2015 general election ushers in a transitional government from a commemoration of opposition parties to ruling party,  but that can not dispose of the reality of the attempts to subvert the concept of democracy to serve the interests of a few, rather than a greater majority, still looms high. The emerging democracy was artificial and reflexive of external imposition. It is a weak democracy that repudiates inalienable ethos of its true identity. Democracy and political participation are related to good governance is interrelated and complementary but appear to be antithetical in Nigeria. Democracy in Nigeria is alien and its practice has proved difficult. The erosion of good governance by the practice of democracy has deepened the crisis of democracy. When democracy is abused, good governance becomes elusive and evasive. This is what Darl describes as “virtual democracy,” democracy that shares resemblance with true democracy but lacks basic tenets of democracy. Democracy in Nigeria has three unique features which include: insulation of economic matters from popular participation, manipulation and monopolization of democratic process including the use of violence and electoral fraud to secure legitimacy and peripheral participation of citizens. Surface-level participation does not have far-reaching influence on the outcome of policy choices. We conclude this introduction from the extract of Olusegun Adeniyi “ In Nigeria, political parties change and increase in number every election season. The acronyms that distinguish them are ideologically empty. They are merely arrangements among friends or strange bedfellows for the sake of cornering state power at regional, state, local government or federal levels for the purpose of distributing patronage and pork. Beyond the drama of electioneering and ritual of voting, our democracy delivers almost no positive change in the lives of citizens. But the people still seasonally suspend disbelief and follow the politicians almost with religious fervor. We elect them at these seasonal festivals and thereafter, leave them to feast on our commonwealth for another four years.”
Democracy, on its own, does not connote good governance. It is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Deep-rooted and consolidated democracy in form of liberalism or what Cheema and Maguire call ‘maximalist democracy’ indeed has been found to be able to engender good governance. According to them, maximalist democracy encompasses “various rights and liberties that have to be associated with a competitive and inclusive system of government. Diamond, while appraising the maximalist approach of democracy, submits that democracy is a concept that allows for fundamental human rights, broadening political participation and guaranteeing credible and periodic election. For democracy to evolve good governance, Linz and Stepan (1999) suggest five inter-related conditions that must exist which include: the rule of law to guarantee citizens’ freedoms and independent associational life, functional state bureaucracy which can be used by the democratic government to deliver public good, free and lively civil society, a relatively autonomous and valued political society and an institutionalised economic society. Political participation is sine qua non to good governance. Political participation, which includes citizens’ involvement in the decision-making process, contribution to public debate on national issues and voting, needs to be encouraged. Wider political participation naturally endows policies that emanate from that process with legitimacy, as people feel sense of belonging and can lay claim of ownership to such policies. Policies are more likely to be sustainable when they receive popular understanding and support, most especially when women, youths and minorities have input into governmental decisions and also be provided with mechanism through which unfavourable policies are contested and protested against. The purpose of broad inclusion of citizens in the policy-making arrangement is to create sense of belonging and awareness necessary for the sustainable of policy even if it is a short-term painful policy that will provide long-term reward. This public participation model is potent enough to consolidate democracy and engender good governance.
The beauty of good governance stems from its tendencies to empower citizens the opportunities to use their discretion and provides with opportunities of self-fulfilment and self-actualisation by deliberately enhancing the capacity of individual citizen, who will, in turn, transform other factors of production into productive purposes for national development. Human development is the means through which other forms of development are achieved. Good governance must indeed democratise the process of decision making in a way to guarantee the involvement of the groups for which decisions are being made.
Governance is good when it is not discriminatory and tends to treat every member of society according to the established norms; laws should be applied to both the haves and the have-nots in the society. Citizens regardless of social status, ethnic origin or sex, should be given unrestrained access to justice and that judiciary, as an arbiter, should be independent and neutral in the interpretation of law and efficient manner. Expectedly, therefore, good governance is achievable in the atmosphere of sustenance of the rule of law. Good governance should also focus mostly on results and not processes in order to engender development. It should be measured on government’s delivery inputs. That is, good governance is not about budget provisions; it is about actual accomplishment and its good intentions. Good governance is not only critical to development but should also have the capacity to use resources effectively to create wealth and, in addition, induce economic growth and engender sustainable development.
Democracy in Nigeria since independence is practised with regard to subjective factors and primordial loyalty to one’s place of birth, social connection and group affinity. Consequently, voting pattern has been ethnic-based. Democratization is always directed towards consolidation of ethnicism. Campaigns are not issue-based and election victory is a function of level of intimidation, thuggery and rigging. Sub-national consideration has displaced national interest and mediocrity took preference over merit and competence in the election of national leaders. More so, The culture of intolerance that leads to denial of rights to participate in politics has made individual to think and believe that fighting for the national interests is a perversion and in contrast, fighting for individuals and groups is ‘an acceptable norm’ in Nigeria.
Rolling back doldrums of bad governance perpetrated and perpetuated by anti-democratic forces requires building strong democratic institutions that surpass the tenure and manipulation of the political actors that create them.
Electoral reforms will completely eliminate political violence, sit-tight syndrome, corruption and ineptitude and improve political participation. Reform is also capable of bringing about good governance, as meritocracy rather than mediocrity determines who occupies what position. The inseparable synergy between politics and economy makes reform in electoral processes a matter of necessity. Political stability creates economic stability. To evolve robust economy, therefore, it is desirable to have electoral reforms geared towards political stability. Thanks to the formal INEC chairman for introducing such methodical reform.
According to Dare Arowolo, there should be a minimum of six months litigation period for the conclusion of grievances and all electoral litigations arising from electoral malpractices before swearing-in or constituting new government. This is to prevent a case whereby state funds are used to pursue electoral litigation and using state resources to hire thugs and unleash terror on the people. Appropriate sanctions, ranging from jail term without option of fines to permanent disqualification from contesting future election, should be imposed on any erring political actors and INEC officials that are involved in or known to have aided any form of electoral malpractices. Any breach of the electoral law (no matter how insignificant) should render the election invalid and void and the next highest scoring candidate should be declared winner. Election re-run should be seriously discouraged in view of the heavy resources required for such exercise.
It has been widely observed that Nigeria does not require strong men but strong institutions. Strong institutions are capable of compelling the occupants of the offices to behave according to the dictates of their offices. Another important point to note is the need for good leadership. Leadership is good when it pursues public good and places national interests over and above personal interests. Leadership, in this sense, is responsive and responsible.
Another important point is to make Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) truly independent. This could be done by structuring the composition of INEC. The composition of INEC should be broad-based. This can be achieved through the following suggestions: involvement and appointment of representatives of all major political parties in the constitution of INEC; the major political parties can be determined through the seats won in the National Assembly; membership of INEC should also comprise the representatives of the civil society organisations, labour unions, etc.; the nominees from these organisations should be sent to the National assembly for ratification; the confirmed members to select their chairman, who shall not be partisan and that the funding of INEC should come from consolidated revenue account. [myad]