Democracy is a real-world political system with its deep roots in antiquity. Although coined from a Greek word called “demokratia”, in the middle of the 5th century BCE, details of the centres of origin and dispersal are still largely embedded in obscurity. Thus, for example, elements of political systems broadly similar to it (democracy) existed in some African societies long before the phenomena of Asianisation, Arabisation, and Europeanisation. Such African democracies (with some slight modifications with the passage of time) exist up to now, in the south western region of Federal Republic of Nigeria. Every rural or urban Yoruba community has local representational democracy with its own leadership nomenclature.
The bottom line is the engendering of a higher quality of life and a greater degree of happiness and/or welfare of the masses of the people. This is through the lens of representational participation, especially now that most societies are transforming from a product-determined economy to an information/high-tech economy. Simply put, democracy is rooted in the rule of the people through a popular representation as opposed to an elite group of citizens. In the Yoruba world-view as indeed, many African societies, the oba (king) is the president with a council of high chiefs as representatives of the extended family groupings. This is comparable to ministers in modern-day politics. They also have some amount of judicial powers.
The king is also called kabiyesi (theoretically it means a head with unchallengeable powers). But in practical terms, “kabiyesi-ness” is a challengeable concept, in least in most parts of Yorubaland. The oba has no absolute power. Thus, for example, in Okemesi, Ekiti State, there is a special social control mechanism christened, the Olorisa. Members of this group are official protest singers (men and women from about ages 10 to 60 years). They move around the town in least once a week, and on each occasion finally end the exercise in front of the oba’s palace. This happens whenever the king or a high chief is abusing his power. It goes on until there is a positive change. Sometimes, the president/king (oba) is forced to abdicate the throne. He can also be asked to commit suicide depending on the severity of his crime(s).
The Nigerian political class with a special emphasis on the legislators has no respect for democratic principles and by extension, the ordinary citizens who vote them into power. It seems to me, that the executive arm is solely in charge, while the other two (legislature and judiciary) are in most cases, mere puppet bodies with strings. The aspirations and sensitivities of the people mean little or nothing to the National Assembly members. Therefore, ours is a caricatured democracy. The basic values and assumptions upon which democracy was originally constructed are being practically called into question in this country. In actuality, no separation of powers. No impeachment of the president. This is a good example of serious dereliction of duty by the legislature. By this attitude, there are no checks and balances. This lacuna paves the way for the abysmal performance of the executive arm of government. It is too easily forgotten, that man is a corrupt animal. However, leaders tend to be more prone to corruption than the led. This is because they (leaders) are in charge of the distribution of the wealth of a group of people in any point in time and space. Painfully, this wealth is generated by the agricultural and industrial proletariat. Although impeachment exercise is a tortuous path, lawmakers have no choice but to tread it with diligence and unalloyed patriotism in the interest of the common good. Glossing over impeachment does the Nigerian people, a great disservice in a myriad of ways.
The US Congress had so far impeached three presidents for one misconduct or the other. Andrew Johnson was dealt with according to the American Constitution in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump was charged with impeachable offences twice in 2019 and 2021. However, the Senate acquitted him in 2020. In 2021, he (Trump) was charged for insurrection against the government. But trial commenced when Donald Trump’s tenure was about to expire. This is the general global grammar of representational democracy. President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was impeached by the Congress in 2012, due to nepotism and insecurity among other infractions of the country’s rules and regulations.
The Nigerian case is different. The senate hardly talks of impeachment despite the poor performance of the executive. One concomitant effect of this scenario is the absence of peace and progress in the land. Impeachment exercise in today’s Federal Republic of Nigeria stops in the state level. This is “dem-all-crazy” not democracy. State assemblies also need to do more in order to correct some corrupt and power-drunk governors. There should be no more space for politics of lies and deception. Leaders need to bury their pride and go to the villages and cities especially in the southern region, to learn some of the fundamentals of representational democracy. The power of a ruler derives from the people, usually through the lens of high chiefs among other structures.
It is time for Federal Republic of Nigeria to begin to craft its own authentic political system(s) or ideologies based on our time-honoured, indigenous epistemologies or African thought. The Nigerian National Assembly is already in a coma. Who will attempt to resuscitate it? Politicians warming up for the 10th Assembly have many rivers to cross. It seems to me, that the highly traumatised, insulted Nigerian masses, are no longer going to tolerate uncaring, sentimental, self-seeking, and reckless political leaders who have become huge parasites on society. Legislators have to be kept on their toes. Under-performing or non-performing lawmakers should be asked to return to their constituencies. The “special treatment” (protest songs) given some time ago, to an Ekiti State legislator, for not representing his people fairly, should be an eye opener to our federal lawmakers as from 2023. Thumbs up for some indigenes of Ikole-Ekiti in this connection. As from 2023, our prayers inside churches, mosques, shrines, and homes must be matched with action, in the interest of the common good. God is not going to relocate to Federal Republic of Nigeria to solve our problems for us. In actuality, Providence has given us a considerable amount of intellect and opportunities to explore and exploit our local socio-material geography to His great admiration. It is time for Nigerians to distinguish between illusion and reality. No country experiences sustainable peace and progress in the face of docile, almost completely disorientated followership. Nigerian parliamentarians should begin to demonstrate that they are not a rubber stamp for reactionary decisions and policies made by the executive. The National Assembly is neither a theatre nor a rendezvous for relaxation and/or sleeping, as if we are an unserious, conquered lot. The 10th National Assembly must be a hallowed chamber for fine-grained deliberations, based on rational thought as opposed to primordial impulses. In this context, political merchants and/or ruffians should not be allowed to pollute our leadership space. Enough is enough as our age-old national heritage coupled with indigenous values rapidly disintegrates.
- Prof Ogundele is of Dept. of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan.