By Edwin Madunagu
This is the second segment of an appreciation of Anthony Akinola’s new book, Democracy in Nigeria. The first segment ended last Thursday with Akinola recalling one of the demands that came from delegates of the Southsouth geopolitical zone at the 2005 National Political Reform Conference. They had demanded, on behalf of their zone, 25 per cent of the nation’s oil revenue and the increase of this percentage to 50 per cent over a five-year period.
Anthony Akinola fully endorses the Southsouth’s position on this question. He says: “Their insistence on this position gives the writer (that is, Akinola) much joy in certain respects. The first ground of support emanates from the belief that if the oil wealth had resided somewhere else, the issue of how much they wanted as payment would not have been as contentious. And if the oil wealth had resided in the territory of one of the so-called majority ethnic groups the so-called minority groups might have been made to feel grateful for the tiny crumbs that come in for them.” (Page 50).
There are two brief comments I would like to make here. First, I would have loved to find out how many “progressives” from the major ethnic groups would support Akinola’s first “ground” unconditionally, that is, without qualifying it to the point of emptying it of every meaning. I have often posed this type of challenge to my friends and compatriots.
Second: The author’s robust stand on this oil revenue allocation debate gives useful insights into his conception of democracy – that it goes beyond “free and fair and credible” elections. For me, also, there is in the very idea of democracy, not only the principle of equality but also the consciousness that the application of equal measures to unequal entities or situations does not remove the original inequality. The late Chief Anthony Enahoro held this position and called it equitocracy.
Running through Anthony Akinola’s Democracy in Nigeria, in virtually all the 55 essays, are what, I think, the author would call “attributes of democracy”. These are in lieu of technical and didactic definitions, which, however carefully and liberally crafted, are always found to be defective and contradictory and, therefore, self-defeating. I have, myself found that every attempt at improving on Lincoln’s general definition has ended in intellectual disaster.
Here is a sampling of what Akinola regards as “attributes of democracy: “A nation is qualified to be called democracy if it respects agreed rules and procedures” (page 32); “…democracy as an idea which, among other things, is about respect for the rule of law, free and fair elections and freedom of the individual within the confines of the law” (page 37); “…true democracy is about a people making a choice between alternatives” (page 124).
Akinola admires what he calls the “British approach to democracy” and believes Nigerians have a lot to learn from it. He urges: “We must learn as a matter of urgency that an election is not a matter of ‘do or die’. Elections must be free and fair, and a people represented by those they have duly chosen” (page 130).
Commenting specifically on the last British general elections 92010), Akinola says: “The campaign lasted barely four weeks and not a single related death was reported. There were no fraudulent issues with ballot papers, or the outcome of elections. Voters’ registration cards came through the post, as the ages and addresses of every person resident in Britain are available in the records. (Election day was not declared) a public holiday; people enthusiastically exercised their mandates during their free time” (page 130).
Furthermore, Akinola’s testimony continues: “There were neither police officers nor armed soldiers at the polling stations, neither were there party officials to monitor voting” (page 130). I honestly share Akinola’s admiration for the British electoral culture in comparison with what obtains in Nigeria.
I would, however, insist that the root of the difference between the two cultures cannot be found in our “backwardness”, “poverty,” “illiteracy”, “corruption” “greed”, etc – which themselves need to be explained – but more crucially in the capitalist path of development that Nigeria’s ruling classes have chosen and imposed on the country, a path of development that passes through primitive capitalist accumulation and its “do or die” tactics.
It is not an argument to say that Britain is also a capitalist country. To this I would simply respond that the path of development that led Britain to becoming a fully developed and central capitalist country – including global exploitation and unequal relations – has been closed forever. It is no longer open for Nigeria or any other developing country for that matter. This point may be put differently: Any developing country that insists on following the path which Britain or America followed to what they are now will be stunted, and then stuck. Forget the illusion about South Korea or Taiwan. But that is for another day.
On the foundation of Lincoln’s “general definition” and “attributes of democracy” such as those that punctuate Akinola’s book a political movement may mobilize a nation to fight to erect concrete democratic structures. I believe that is what the author had in mind when he said: “A nation can decide its own structure of democracy” (page 85). Earlier Akinola had argued: “The so-called advanced democratic nations of the world have varied political arrangements – the presidential /congressional system in America, the Westminister parliamentary system in the United Kingdom, the presidential/parliamentarianism in France and the collective presidency in Switzerland. Why must Nigeria be the copycat nation?’ (page 74).
Akinola also greatly admires, and has been deeply influenced by America’s political system, their model of democratic constitutional presidentialism. This is putting the point very mildly: Akinola loves American democracy. Although he also admires the British, he would prefer the presidential system for Nigeria – for reasons of our country’s ethnic and religious “cleavages”. It is because of these “cleavages” that the author very strongly advocates rotational presidency in this book and he has consistently done this in the past 30 years.
He shows his admiration for the American system partly by contrasting it with some other political systems. One of the contrasts sketched in this book – the one between America and the defunct Soviet Union – is deeply ideological. This is an illustration of what I said at the beginning of this series – a political writer’s inevitable ideological inclination and a reviewer’s inevitable ideological preferences.
In the fourth essay of the book, Presidency is the issue, Akinola says: “Had the defunct Soviet Union followed the path of the United States of America by putting appropriate democratic structures in place, rather than indulging in many decades of sloganeering, it might have survived until today. Nigeria can only learn from the history of others if its own is not to be continuation in the chapter of failed nations” (page 33).
There are two pertinent comments I wish to make on Akinola’s proposition. The first is that there are several elements of America’s political system that are truly admirable if taken in isolation, if freed from their capitalist/imperialist integument – a liberation which would happen one day, a liberation that would transform America literally into a “paradise” on earth.
The political elements that await liberation from capitalist/imperialist integument include America’s federalism, constitutionalism, bicameral legislature, the role (and power) of the Congress, and the principle of equality of states in Senate representation. Democracy in Nigeria has made the American political system much clearer to me. But this clarity only further convinces me how wonderful it would be – for the masses of America, for the masses of the world – to remove the capitalist/imperialist integument.
The second comment is that the founders of the United States of America and the Soviet Union set out to create different types of society; they “dreamt” of two different worlds; and, more critically, they had different ideas and different plans on how to move from the present to the future.
In the course of building the Soviet Union, succeeding regimes committed errors – grave and tragic errors – in addition to objective historical difficulties, some of them foreseeable and foreseen, others quite unforeseeable. My proposition is this: The founders of the Soviet Union and the country’s succeeding regimes must be judged in the context of the type of society and the world they said they were committed to creating and the methods they proclaimed.
The Left is harsh in their judgement of the Soviet Union not because Lenin’s successors committed more atrocities than the founders and subsequent rulers of America, or failed to commit themselves to building America-type society as Akinola obviously believes they would have done.
The Left is harsh on post-Lenin rulers of the Soviet Union on the grounds of what they had proclaimed, the ideology and vision they invoked, the hopes they raised among the toiling and oppressed masses of the world, including those in slavery, those being colonized, those being visited with genocide by capitalist and imperialist expansionists. The Left is harsh on the grounds of acts of heroism and martyrdom the post-Lenin rulers inspired across the globe, including Nigeria.
• To be continued