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Democracy at work in developing nations



Governments all over the world are established for the welfare and security of the people (for the people) and all governments claim to be for the people. All governments are by the people because nobody can make you inferior without your consent. All governments are of the people if the people in governments are from the people, for people get the type of government they deserve. Welfare is a factor of food adequacy, housing adequacy, transport availability, access to effective education, access to medical facilities and effective security of people and their assets. Democracy is designed to be a government of inclusiveness as the majority has their way, the minority has their say and all have their pay.

Democracy does not work on its adoption alone; democracy works on people’s awareness of their rights and responsibilities in a democracy. It works on people’s interest in the type of persons their leaders are and the power the people have in the form of voting rights. Democracy works when people realise that they have the mandate, which they ‘gift’ to the political elites and which makes the political elites accountable to them. Where the people do not realise how much power they wield, there will be a problem of manipulation of the people, with whom the power dwells, by the people who are supposed to request power. This is a fundamental issue in democracy. When people who run a government (have authority) are also in charge of power, the nation is doomed. Democracy’s performance is directly related to the poverty level of the nation adopting it.

As popular as democracy is, the founding founders of the United States of America (the biggest and most popular democracy in the world) actually feared the idea of democratic rule. James Madison, the American fourth president, mentioned in one of the federalist papers that this form of government could lead to confusion, instability, and injustice. What he failed to do was to recommend a better form of government! Winston Churchill warned that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” In a society where the majority of the people are uneducated and poor, democracy will lead to dynasties. Every election is seen as “us” versus “others” and not an exercise to select the best representatives in a society, so democracy may become a rule by the mob.

No wonder Will Rogers warned that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” The cost of democracy in developing nations is another issue. There are two costs which must give one concern. One is the cost of organising elections. The other is the cost of operating democratic governments. Little wonder Keith Miller described democracy as “a chicken in every pot.” In developing nations, the representatives of the people are more concerned with what they gain as democrats, who garnered more votes than the opposition; than what the people they are representing get. The process of recalling a politician that ‘erred’ is too cumbersome. When people vie for election and win in Africa, they see themselves as being powerful than those who voted for them. This is the reason our political class are the elites of society.

Section 91 of the Nigerian Electoral Act, which the lawmakers amended in October 2018, stipulates that the president must not spend more than N5 billion from N1 billion that the 2010 Electoral Act stipulated and that all national assembly members must not spend more than N70 million from the N10 million that the 2010 Act recommended. These stipulations are not enforceable because there is no task force to monitor how much each candidate spends and its source from the Independent Electoral Commission, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, the Nigeria Police Force and the civil society. This has made all politicians spend more amount than stipulated by the Electoral Act for their offices. No senator spends less than N100 million on his or her election, starting with party primaries. Their returns on investment are, therefore, the highest in the world!

The dividends of democracy in Third World countries are hard to get because the shareholders are weak and the board members are in charge of the direction of affairs and policymaking. There is no inclusiveness in governance as recommended by the United Nations in its good governance principles. The United Nations defined good governance as governance having the following eight characteristics: participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and follows the rule of law. How Third World countries perform in these eight principles of good governance can be assessed by all and democracy was established to ensure the eight principles reign!

For democracy to work in developing nations, authority and power must be separated. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In every situation where a government is in total control of the administration and wealth of a nation, there is an oppressive tendency of the masses by the people in government. Democracy works when there are shared responsibilities between the governed and the government. The governed must own the government and realise their roles in choosing those who represent them and their power to recall them if they are not performing to expectations. They must not be at the mercy of those in government to eat and sleep under a roof. Where the electorates are not aware of their rights and responsibilities, the politicians become powerful and politics becomes a lucrative business.

  • Olufemi Adedamola Oyedele, a social commentator, writes from Lagos

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