An interesting incident during last week’s Sallah – an innocuous social media posting by me and a barrage of comments and queries following that – set me thinking about how much of democracy we have really imbibed in Nigeria after 15 years of, well, democratic rule. One must quickly make the point that at the heart of democracy is the representation of the interests of citizens by a select few, chosen by the majority.
What triggered everything was the presentation of a greeting card to President Goodluck Jonathan by his Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Olajumoke Akinjide, wherein the media reported that she made the presentation ‘on behalf of residents of Abuja’.
Being a resident of Abuja myself and not being aware of any mandate we gave the minister to make the presentation, I posed a rhetoric question about that and soon enough I got a mixed bag of reactions. While I recognised each person’s entitlement to their views, I was worried, however, when citizens failed to see beyond the ordinary event of a card presentation and claims of representation.
I made the point that because Abuja residents did not discuss, agree, endorse, mandate or otherwise authorise a card issued on our behalf. The actions of the minister failed the test of representation known to democracy. In fact, if the report had said the card was presented by some Abuja residents (privileged, connected to or ‘worshipping’ in the corridors of power), I would not have complained.
And truly, I have no problem with anyone or any group of persons presenting or sending greeting cards to the president. I was simply using the event as a peg to raise issues as to how decisions are purportedly taken on behalf of citizens and mandates wrongly assumed and appropriated, without the knowledge of the supposed constituents. I was looking at issues of mandate, representation, citizens’ right to speak for themselves, public space etc.
I recall how, as a one year resident in the United Kingdom, I regularly received newsletter delivered to my house from the councillor of my constituency, informing me (and other residents) of previous and upcoming debates in the city council and seeking our views. On one occasion, we were informed of the debates for and against the proposed siting of a communications mast in our neighbourhood.
By contrast, in Nigeria, there is proliferation of cabals and caucuses, populated and constituted arbitrarily, and all purporting to speak for the rest of the society. Often, the only whiff of link to the people’s mandate is, as in the instant case, being appointed to a political position. It is specious for such persons to assume mandates that do not exist in a democracy.
I recall an interesting scenario during the attempt to foist ‘third term’ on Nigerians under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Then many senators kept saying in the chambers and to a live television audience that they had consulted their constituencies and their constituencies mandated them to support ‘third term’. A former state governor dismissed the claim of the senator representing him, saying the man never held any consultation with the people but was merely regurgitating the position of a select group of self-serving and self-preserving politicians that called itself the ‘state forum’. The senator never responded to that allegation.
It is in the character of many politicians to claim mandates and powers they know they don’t have. What is worrisome, however, is where the citizens, including the elite class, display ignorance of the illegitimacy of such claim or acquiesce thereto, sometimes for selfish or pecuniary interests. Somebody actually said that by the minister’s appointment, she is working daily on our behalf; so “she has the mandate to make any presentation for whoever is resident in Abuja”. It is this same mentality that makes state governors promise candidates in election that they will deliver all the votes of their states to the candidate, even when the governor has only one valid vote. And the citizens in that state will be celebrating in their ignorance that their ‘leader’ has spoken.
If after 15 years of uninterrupted constitutional governance, citizens are still locked in discussing such pedestrian issues as above, then we are far away from redemption and our democracy is skin deep. As we say around here, we don enter one chance vehicle.
– See more at: http://www.thenicheng.com/democracy-representation-disaster/#sthash.Z2tjvo9p.dpuf