Recall Politics and Direct Democracy in Nigeria

Any keen observer of the s0mersault in Nigerian politics must have noted that the leaders are increasingly frustrating the people with the ineffective political institutions and their "incautious scramble for immediate wealth". Nigerians had expected that democracy, which appears popular around the world, would solve their social problems, but the politicians many of whom are not ruling without electoral mandates (or being guided by any political ideology) are worsening the situation. And the people have no control over their activities, as they violate the laws of the land without fearing any consequences. Despite the many renowned economists in the society the ‘selected dictators' endlessly increase the price of fuel (without allowing the basic principle of demand and supply to function) without cognizant of the distributive consequences on the economy. No one would strike over fuel price increases caused by market forces. It is now abundantly clear that something is wrong with Nigeria's "representative democracy" and since the system is ineffective practical and full-blown "direct democracy" is the remedy.

By definition "direct democracy" is a form of democracy in which all citizens can "directly participate in the political decision-making process" or in the "legislative process." According to Wikipedia
1 "its traditional form is rule by the people through referenda because it as gives them the "right to pass laws, veto laws and withdraw support from a representative" (if the system has representatives) when the political situation warants it. The political theory of direct democracy was succintly stated by John Dewey when he said that "the cure for the ailments of democracy is more democracy."2

However, the concept of direct democracy is not new. It first debuted "in the ancient Athenian democracy" around "508 BC."3 It takes the form of "an initiative, a referendum [petition referendum] or a re-call" An initiative ‘allows citizens to originate and pass legislation themselves;' and with a referendum the people (electorates) will vote on "state enacted laws" to ratify or reject' them. A recall is a means by which state and local elected politicians (from the governor to the local councilor) can be removed from office before the term ends.4 This process has been in existence in advanced democracies, such as in Australia5 and the Swiss6 and the United States7for centuries. And it is serving them well; the Constitution of the Swiss could be put to national referendum for approval or rejection. And in the US referenda are used extensively at the state and local levels, but not at federal level.8 On October 7, 2003 Californians removed Governor Gray Davis in a special election and replaced him with Arnold Schwazenegger because they did not like his policies, among other political reasons. And in 2004 an unsuccessful recall election was held against President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. However, all the forms of direct democracy starts with a citizen's petition and a stipulated number of the people (or a percentage of the voters) would sign the petition for it to be successful.

The world appears to be making good use of direct democracy to throw out political dictators, incompetent and unpopular politicians out of office, as it enables the electorates to hold the politicians accountable for their actions. But the story is different in Nigeria. Although there is a constitutional provision for a recall in Nigerian politics, a full-blown direct democracy (initiative and referendum provision) is not in practice. Worse still the recall politics has not been effective in the society despite the many "selected" and corrupt politicians (President, Governors, Members of the National Assembly, State Representatives and Councilors) that are mismanaging the resources of the society. If Nigerians were politically mature and educated, and if the society had effective political institutions, the political prostitutes who were shifting like Sand Dunes from one party to the other during the 1999 and 2003 politics could have been recalled by their constituencies. Those who have bastardized Nigeria do not deserve to remain in power, but Nigeria's dysfunctional institutions make social change difficult. For instance, the INEC that conducted the most fraudulent elections in Nigerian history is now realizing (after two years) that it declared the wrong person the winner during the 2003 gubernatorial elections in Anambra. After the tribunal has disqualified Dr Chris Ngige and declared Mr. Peter Obi the actual winner the INEC is dancing around naked trying to smuggle in another stooge of Chief Chris Uba through the backdoor. Nigerians should watch the INEC under Prof. Maurice Iwu very closely during the 2007 elections because its neutrality and integrity appears in doubt.

However, the rule of the game of politics does not stipulate that the politicians should give up their interests entirely, but they should satisfy their "self-interests" and assist the citizens to satisfy their "self-interests" too. This should create "a civic culture" where the people would not be discouraged from participating actively in the political discourse. It is a vision of "democracy" that is branded the "living democracy"
9or what this writer calls Peopleocracy10. If the Nigerian government is truly the "government of people" and "for the people" (as stated by President Abraham Lincoln when he defined an ideal democracy during the Gettysburg address in November 1863), then Nigerians should control its process. Therefore, "an active" and educated and well-informed citizenry should be able to address the root causes of their social problems.

As Charles Soeze rightly noted in the Vanguard of September 5, 2005
11 Nigeria needs a democracy spiced with social justice – one in which the people's fundamental "social and economic rights" (employment, decent housing and medical care, pension, old folks care, and good education, etc) are available. The political hired touts and sycophants are running around telling the world that "representative democracy" is working in Nigeria while the economic and political crises in the society remain perpetually unresolved. Thus the rising poverty situation has handicapped the citizens who believe whatever the political gods "are pleased to tell them" (Protagoras, 317). As Plato (588) had noted the situation "becomes disastrous" when "the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers."12

It is crystal clear that something is missing in Nigeria's "representative democracy." And the solution lies in real "direct democracy" that gives the people power to control the political process. If the constitutional provisions of an initiative and a referendum were available the citizens should have availed themselves of the opportunity to make laws and amend the constitution or send packing to any politician that is not doing the wishes of the majority in his or her constituency. After 6 years of Chief Obasanjo's civil rule the 1999 Constitution the military foisted on the people are still in use. Since the National Assembly has failed to perform their duties the people should demand that a full-blown "direct democracy" devices that includes "an initiative constituional ammendment"13 be provided them to enable the people amend the constitution. With that the people would be governed by the constitution they deserve. (This should be part of the on-going political reform program.) In particular, this would alter the political equation in the society and force the politicians to take the electorates seriously. However, the initiators of any recall process in the society should articulate their plans well with back up options (should the recall referendum fails). It appears that lack of good game plan and corruption has contributed to the failure of the attempted recall process in Nigeria. Thus members of any group planning a recall process should be willing to devote more time and resources to achieve the set objective.

It is appropriate to note that direct democracy has its downside, but its benefits, to opinion of this writer (at least in Nigerian situation) outweigh the cons. Some scholars have opined that no society would consider "direct democracy" (initiative, referendum and re-call) if "representative democracy" were effective. It has also been argued that it could enhance "representative government." The electorates should use whatever political weapon available to them to take back their government from the corrupt politicians and control their destiny. It is abundantly clear that merely directing the people's anger and frustration at the politicians (who are not accountable to the people) is not effective. Direct democracy, which seems a better method of controlling the politicians, should be a regular part of Nigeria's political process. One should note that "social" and political "education" would prepare the citizens to fully participate in direct democracy
14. In conclusion, the schools in Nigeria should get involved in the process.

1 Wikipedia (the free Encyclopedia)' [Accessed September 5, 2005].
2 John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems [Chicago: Gateway Books, 1946]
3 F M.I. Finley; Democracy Ancient and Modern. [Rutgers University Press, 1973]
4 Michael J. Ross; California: Its Government and Politics (Fifth Edition) [Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1996]
5 Wikipedia (Ibid).
6 Kobach, Kris W; The Referendum: Direct Democracy in Switzerland [Dartmouth Publishing Company, 1993]; also see Swiss Constitution, 2005. Also see The National Citizens' Coalition, Toronto, Canada M5H 1S3 "Direct Democracy: How We Can Control Our Politicians." (Accessed September 5, 2005)
7 David B. Magleby; Direct Legislation: Voting on Ballot Proposition in the United States [John Hopkins University Press, 1984]; also see Joseph F. Zimmerman; The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action; [Praeger Publishers, March 1999]
8 Michael J. Ross (Ibid.)
9 Frances Moore Lappé and Paul Du Bois; The Quickening of America [Jossey-Bass, 1994]. Also see Tom Atlee (Edited) for Thinkpeace, Vol VII, Nos. 2&3, July 24, 1992.
10 A form of democracy in which the citizens are not coerced or intimidated – see Victor E. Dike; Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria [Second Edition, Forthcoming 2005]. The First edition was published by ABU Press, Zaria, Nigeria, 2001.
11 Charles Soeze; "Of Democracy and Social Justice" Vanguard, September 5, 2005
12 Will Durant; The Story of Philosophy [New York: Pocket Books, 1976]
13 Michael J. Ross (Ibid.)
14 Benjamin Barber "Public Talk and Civic Action: Education for Participation in a Strong Democracy," Social Education, Volume 53, Number 6, October 1989.

Victor E. Dike, is the CEO, Center for Social Justice and Human Development, in Sacramento, California. Being Excerpts from Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria [Second Edition, Forthcoming 2005]

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