A Giant’s Crawly Democracy:

Thoughts on Consensus Politics in Nigeria

Abdulwarees Solanke, FCIPDM

Director, Media & Strategic Communications, MPAC Nigeria.
12th June 2019, Lagos

MPAC Nigeria-A Giant's Crawly Democracy

As we celebrate June 12 as Democracy Day, we should interrogate how we embrace it as a political tradition. What is the future of Democracy Nigeria, Africa’s giant and the Blackman’s pride? Can democracy in its present practice in the country endure as we still grapple with the crises of nation-building? In any case, these crises of nation-building are not peculiar to Nigeria as they feature in all complex polities desirous of resolving certain critical issues that impinge on their sustainability or continued existence, consensus building or political cohesion. One of such crises relates to the system or structure of government to be adopted for orderly and good governance in the interest of the citizenry.

Where the polity is diverse or heterogeneous in composition or where the goal is to ensure an effective government to manage the country’s diversity, the concern is on what policies and programmes should be pursued to ensure the appeasement of the marginalized, or inclusion of the political or numerical minorities? That is, what affirmation policies do we put in place to accord such a disadvantaged group special status? How can we ensure that Popular Choice, is indeed the choice of the people, the people’s preference that leads to an inclusive and effective government? How do we play consensus politics that will ultimately institute a political or decision-making process that assures Good Governance? These questions or issues border on the acceptable form or structure of government that meets the distinctiveness of the country in terms of history, culture and value system, the criteria for leadership selection or representation, power distribution, revenue and resource mobilization and allocation.

The assumption, however, is that a democratic system which foundation is a popular choice offers a good recipe to resolve these highlighted issues on achieving consensus in diversity management in the quest to construct a true nation. In classical political and policy studies, choice, alternatives and decision making are central themes essential for an understanding of the dynamics and workings of government. They are the kernels of appreciating or differentiating between government and governance. For while the government is a system or institution, governance is a process that underlines the health and vitality of the governmental system or structure in terms of how choices and decision are made. Therefore, good governance is said to be in a state or nation when it conduces to certain values and parameters that are objective, rational and inclusive.

Such values are deemed to exist in a democracy necessary for the achievement of cohesion and amity in the polity, after all, the common or open definition of democracy as a system of government is that it is the government of the people by the people and for the people. Underlying this definition is that choice in democracy will be based on reason or rationality. These values again are subject to the level of citizens political and social consciousness as well as their material development or fulfilment, That is in such countries, suffrage will be truly universal and that citizens are ideally empowered to make an informed choice, not depending on someone else judgement or influence to vote. It also implies that the electorate is under no threat or fear, that the consequence of their choice is a public or common good, not retribution or regret, denial or withdrawal of rights and privileges, as their choice is based on free conscience and conviction. So, it is generally believed that democracy is the best form of government as it is the expression of the popular will.

Taken altogether, it will seem that where the public good is the overriding or overwhelming g consideration for democratic choice, it would not lead to rancour, but popular acceptance. The winner will absorb, aggregate and represent the interest of the loser as well, while the loser will readily concede that the decision of the majority is also in his interest and will accommodate his concerns, that under the ideal democracy, once a decision or choice is made political competition and distractions must cease and all hands will be on deck for the common good. But this ideal or utopian democracy finds expression only in an environment or system where citizens share common values, vision and aspirations, where they nurture neither suspicion, hate, nor animosity against one another and where cooperation, collaboration and compromise are vital indices of the political system, not disdain or unproductive political rivalry. The Nigerian political order is not in any way near this democratic ideal which explains why we say democracy is still evolving in Nigeria. We are democratizing.

MKO Abiola
Chief Moshood Abiola (MKO) in green, a politician who was widely regarded as the winner of the inconclusive June 12, 1993 Nigerian elections.

In my perception, there can’t be just a single path to attaining an ideal governmental system because of differences in history, context, values and culture, differences in worldview and experiences, in heterogeneous countries like Nigeria, where consensus building is problematic because of the enumerated crises of nation building. So, it would be difficult to graft American, Chinese, Singaporean, British or even Ghanaian democracy on Nigeria, and make a success of it. The British democracy is historically parliamentary and the American democracy is presidential or executive. Even then, the ultimate selection of the American president is based on the Electoral College system. Each country that has perfected its democracy does so in the achievement of national consensus and cohesion in defining their national identity and guiding value system. Such countries have conditioned the criteria of their leadership selection on who best approximates their national vision. If this is the case, we must interrogate the Nigerian democratic system to determine its suitability for resolving our crisis of nation building.

We, therefore, need to ask: Can Nigeria achieve the ideal democracy? Is democracy even the ideal political system or the best form of government? Even if it is ideal, why is the Nigerian democratization floppy and easily compromised for the country? What are the bulwarks for democratic sustainability in Nigeria? Are there no alternatives to democracy which will accommodate our authentic value system and which will truly guarantee good governance in the country? The truth about democracy in the Nigerian context is that it is a hijacked or exploited political system in which power does not necessarily reside in the electorate. It is a compromised system lacking informed choice or true public participation or where popular choice does not necessarily lead to effective government.

So, the nature of the political system that Nigeria needs is one that recognizes consensus, where losers are also winners in some respect because of inclusiveness. Regardless of who sweep polls, provisions will still be available for the representation of the opposition, not as losers but as stakeholders in the Nigerian Project. The political arrangement that Nigeria needs must lighten heady competition that leaves heavy costs and casualties. It must reduce tension and electioneering to election years, not distractive of good and orderly governance once a government is in place. Political choice and alternatives in such system of government must conduce to rationality, objectivity, freedom, consciousness and conscience in the determination of who is elected to power, with most citizens in agreement that such leaders and representatives emerge by political consensus and they truly approximate the values of integrity, including merit, knowledge, mental sanity, experience and physical health in its entirety in the collective interests of the citizens.

Are these guaranteed in our crawly democratization process? If democracy is this problematic in Nigeria, shall we not contemplate anarchy, diarchy, and shuura or even to publicly privatise Nigeria? We must begin to think of alternatives to redeem our flawed democracy, alternatives that promote collaboration, and not a deadly competition in a zero-sum game or winner takes all politics but that which will engender peace, growth, development. For now, our democracy is still costly, exploitative, heighten competition and promotes corruption. O Allah, lead us out of the woods of unimpressive democratisation and take us to our Canaan land, an abode of peace, a Dar-es-Salam.


Abdulwarees Solanke

Abdulwarees, a 2007 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association scholar in Public Policy at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam is Assistant Director of Strategic Planning & Corporate Development at Voice of Nigeria, Ikoyi Lagos and Director, Media & Strategic Communications, Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC Nigeria.