The principle of autonomy and/or self-determination is viewed as foundational in any true democracy. It is however worrying when democracy becomes a millstone around the neck of those who are supposed to benefit from it. Such has been the case in Nigeria for close to seventeen years of supposed democratic rule. Democracy has been turned on its head and self-determination or autonomy do not exist, or at best, are infinitesimal.
Ajayi and Ojo (2014) wrote that “while it remains true that Nigeria is governed by democratically elected leaders at the federal and state levels, Nigeria is yet to institutionalise democracy after a century of existence as a political entity and that the impediments to the institutionalisation of democracy in Nigeria after more than half a century of political independence include the country’s colonial background interspersed by vagaries engendered by deep-rooted ethnicity; complacent and spendthrift leadership; incessant intervention of the military in the democratic process; electoral fraud; wide spread poverty and high illiteracy level”. They argued that the pivot around which most of the factors listed above revolves is corruption which has virtually become a way of life in Nigeria. However, fortuitously, the prospect of a politically stable and democratically viable nation is marked by the Nigerian people’s eagerness to participate in the electoral process; the relative stability and sustenance of multi-party system and the general realisation in the country that the only acceptable and popular route to the acquisition of political power is through the ballot box.
Some free-market-oriented economists have strongly criticized the efficiency of democracy, based on the argument that voters are illogical or otherwise highly uneducated about many political issues, especially those concerning economics and relationships with other countries in the world, while having a strong bias about the few issues on which they are knowledgeable.
This could result in a wealth disparity in such a country, and in the case of Nigeria, add ethnic and religious discrimination, which unscrupulous and corrupt politicians are very quick to exploit. Fierlbeck (1998) points out that such a result is not necessarily due to a failing in the democratic process, but rather, “because democracy is responsive to the desires of a large middle class increasingly willing to disregard the muted voices of economically marginalized groups within its own borders”. The criticism remains that the will of the democratic majority may not always be in the best interest of all citizens within the country (Wikipedia)
Furthermore, some have argued that voters may not be educated enough to exercise their democratic right. A population with low intellect or low education (and let’s face it, Nigerians are still largely uneducated) may not be capable of making beneficial decisions. They argue that the lack of rationality or even education is being taken advantage of by normally unscrupulous politicians, who compete more in the way of public relations, money and tactics, than in ideology. Lipset’s 1959 essay about the requirements for forming democracy, found that “good education was present in almost all emerging democracies”. However, education alone cannot sustain a democracy, though Caplan did note in 2005 that “as a person’s education increases, their thinking tends to be more in line with most economists”.
For example, voters may not be sufficiently educated to be able to foresee the perpetuation of the community they belong to, and therefore are unable to cast a vote to that effect. But given the right to vote, an uninformed man would certainly cast a vote which will more likely be wrong as affected by the personality charisma of the candidate or some other superficial reason, such as electoral bribery, flaunting of wealth to induce or modify voting patterns, that is, an ordinary voter may also be lured into casting a vote on the basis of financial help or some other petty promises, e.g. Ekiti State’s Fayose’s notorious “stomach infrastructure”.
In a democracy, the question is whether to vote with one’s own interests in mind or to ponder the greater good. As a simplistic example, should a rich man vote for a candidate or party that will benefit him directly or one that he believes will provide better public services for the poorer, even if it means a loss in profits for him?
If one believes the greater good is more important, those become one’s best interests. One then is able to see how that will benefit; there are apparent difficulties here such as lack of sentience about issues, half-baked knowledge about sensitive topics that plague the country, etc.
On the other hand, if one believes one’s needs are more important than what is necessary for the country, then one definitely should vote with that in mind. In this case, one doesn’t necessarily need a morally right or incorruptible leader; what one needs is a leader who can make his country and people happy and since you’re one of them, your best interests are just as important.
In the longer run, it’s important that one’s best interests are brought into line with the society’s. If not, the leader one votes for will never win. To even consider the greater good before casting one’s vote is a success of democracy in my estimation and will lead to the election of good leaders over time.
So maybe it is better to vote in your own best interests and hope others would benefit too. Often voting for your interests may be taking into account the greater good, for example, as we often say in Nigeria, securing and distributing equally, the dividends of democracy. Wouldn’t a freer, fairer, peaceful and secure society that values, recognises, ensures and maintains individual rights not benefit the greater good, the greater society?
I like to think that many people in Nigeria would vote for the best leader who will govern based on what is needed for his people to be happy at any time as opposed to someone who is corrupt and harps on nepotism, tribalism and religious bigotry. Flexible, impartial, sincere, honest people with conviction, vision and focus in their opinions and ability to adapt make good leaders in my view.
Doesn’t everyone vote their own interests, consciously or subconsciously? Even those that profess to vote in favour of the greater good still have their own interests at heart. No one is entirely altruistic. And no politician is so particular in nature that they can be entirely “greater good” versus policies that could benefit you. There will always be a mix. But this is made worse in Nigeria because almost all our politicians who go for political positions go there for purely, 100% self-seeking reasons, purpose and actions. Therein lays the problem of the “own best interest” or “common good” or “service to the people”.
In a normal democratic environment, people tend to vote for people they feel best align with their values and views. There is often some perceived benefit to voting for Candidate A over B for that reason. Unfortunately again, this theory does not hold water in Nigeria, for two reasons. One, the “perceived benefit” is usually the immediate benefit to the voter, that is, inducement by money or other material inducement (stomach infrastructure in Ekiti State again comes to mind). Second, due to widespread electoral malpractices, even if you cast your vote with your mind, your vote might not really count, hence, work done is zero, and your vote does not have any influence on the outcome of the election nor on the person who eventually rules you. We are therefore totally left frustrated and angry.
Generally, there has been a serious (and almost irreversible) decline in social and moral values in Nigeria. Our quest for economic, social and political development after Independence which was aided by the oil discovery and wealth of the 70s led to a situation where scant regard was paid to the social engineering and betterment of the citizenry, with the adverse consequences we are now experiencing.
These leaders or politicians or elders are Nigerians and so they do exhibit the tendencies or the orientation of Nigerians. We should recall and admit that many of these politicians scarcely won any genuine elections into the political positions they now hold. They were involved in various forms of electoral malpractices and fraud; so where is their shame and moral standing in the society, and whose interest are they serving? It is impossible to expect men and women of such kind to take the path of honour when they come under the crucible of even the least moral values. They have never known the path of honour so can never willingly take the path of honour.
What we should be asking of our leaders, and ourselves, since Independence 56 years ago should be initially, “in whose interest?” and then graduating to “in whose best interest?” Unfortunately, we neither asked both of them or ourselves, but are suddenly realising that “it is to their (an unscrupulous and opportunist ruling elite’s) selfish interest”.
So, some of the questions that come to mind are (and there are thousands more), and we are not even asking for “best” interest, just ordinary interest:
- In whose interest was the whole idea of democracy in Nigeria?
- In whose interest was the sixteen years of democracy under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and in whose interest would the Alliance for Progressive Change (APC) rule for the next 3 years remaining?
- In whose interest were our oil and other resources being managed since Independence 56 years ago?
- In whose interest do we even have governments – federal, state and local?
- In whose interest do our politicians seek election into all electable offices?
- In whose interest are our civil servants, ministers and other political appointees working?
- In whose interest are politicians called upon to resign for one reason or the other
- In whose interest are the employees, contractors, owners and stakeholders in Nigeria’s oil industry working?
- Whose interest have Nigeria’s military been serving since they ventured into governance?
- Whose interest is being served when unions call strikes?
- And a thousand other questions.
What we have in Nigeria is a deadly cocktail of conflict of interest, self-interests, selfish and personal interests, regional interests, religious interests and unbridled, chocking corruption-driven interests. What for? Aren’t we all going to die? And when we die, what do we take with us to wherever dead people go?
Femi Fabiyi, in his article, “Nigeria and the Emerging Economies” wrote “Many of Nigeria’s mafias have invested their stolen monies in personal homes abroad (USA, Britain, Dubai, South Africa and a host of other countries). Why should a Nigerian-based politician maintain a residential home in the USA? I honestly cannot find a reasonable answer to this question. For my readers who do not understand USA real estate market, here is a hypothetical case – A Nigerian based politician who owns a $1,000,000 house in America is expected to pay at least 2% of $1,000,000 in property taxes and between 1.5% and 2% of $1,000,000 for maintenance on a yearly bases. So, what sense does it make for a Nigeria politician to pull an average of $35,000 from the local economy every year and send it to America to help develop America cities and counties?”
Will it be easy? Of course not! Aside from dealing with the problems inherited after decades of debauchery, profligacy, mismanagement, indolence, corruption, neglect of the people and infrastructure, etc., there is also the added issue of newly created difficulties occasioned by prevailing circumstances alongside the added complications of purveyors of hopelessness and dejection fouling the air with their negative natter, sabotage and wanton corruption, who want to retain and maintain the status quo.
But just like President Obama of the United States of America said -simply and succinctly – “NOTHING IN LIFE THAT’S WORTH ANYTHING IS EASY”
In whose best interest is Nigeria itself?
Ajayi, A T and Ojo E O, 2014. “Democracy in Nigeria: Practice, Problems and Prospects” International Knowledge Sharing Platform, Vol 4, No 2 (2014)
Bendix, Reinhard; Lipset, Seymour M. (June 1957). “Political Sociology”. Current Sociology 6 (2): 79–99. doi:10.1177/001139215700600201. Retrieved April 05, 2014.)
Caplan, Bryan. “From Friedman to Wittman: The Transformation of Chicago Political Economy”, Econ Journal Watch, April 2005.
Fabiyi, Femi 2016. “Nigeria and the Emerging Economies” http://www.championsfornigeria.com/index.php/14-articles/107-nigeria-and-the-emerging-economies Retrieved 10 April, 2016.
Fierlbeck, K. (1998) Globalizing Democracy: Power, Legitimacy and the Interpretation of democratic ideas. (p.13) Manchester University Press, New York.