LONG years of military rule have impacted heavily and negatively on almost all aspects of our lives, especially our understanding of democracy and how we practise it. That, combined with the fact that what we knew in most of Africa before the coming of the Europeans was basically the rule of almighty kings and queens, has discoloured our appreciation of democracy.
Democracy is popularly defined as government of the people by the people and for the people. However, since all the people can never always agree 100% on any one issue, it is better redefined as “majority rule,” which is all fair. It is believed that the wishes of the majority should prevail in any given situation.
We need to imbibe the core values of putting together opinions on issues and conceding to the majority wishes right from the family up to political parties, election and governance decisions. The burden for those who think their opinion and choices are the best is to try hard to convince the majority of the population. Of course, the father is the head of the family but in every critical decision about the fortune of the family and the destiny of the children, the best decisions are invariably taken when the opinions of everyone is sought, and the one that believes his or her opinion is better tries hard, persuasively and convincingly, to get the majority to see the light and agree to that decision. No doubt, there will consequently be peace and progress in such family.
As it should be for the smallest unit of the society – the family, so it should be with all associations and organisations: the village, the city, the state and the nation at large, not only during elections but with all critical decisions that can affect the fortune of the community.
Whatever group you belong and however enlightened and smart you think you are, the democratic order demands that issues are tabled among all stakeholders. The duties of the most enlightened and the smartest is to enlighten the majority to see the light and key in. At the extreme ends, the ill-intentioned usually avoid rigorous, all-inclusive debate for selfish and anti-people interests while the well-intentioned who are in a hurry usually short-circuit it, for fear that the majority are usually well behind in their appreciation of new (strange) ideas and policies.
Whereas, the democratic values of consultation, debate, consensus and the validation of the will of the majority must be cultivated at all levels, from the family up to all associations (trades unions, students unions, cultural and religious associations, town and professional associations, political parties, governments, etc), it is at the political level that it is inescapably essential. Unfortunately, it is at the political level that it is mostly relegated, no thanks to the mentioned hangovers from military dictatorship and a monarchy past. There are two tendencies that tend to retard our democratic advancement, which is why we forever keep saying our democracy is still young, even after 22 years of unbroken civilian rule: firstly, sponsored and mischievous popular consensus from well-orchestrated assemblies arriving at what is usually parcelled as “wishes of the people,” and secondly, the wishes of a select clique presented as “consensus” and the “best” for the people. The mass media usually come handy in these opinion manipulations.
For the survival and progress of democracy, we all owe it a duty to deepen the democratic culture by learning and imbibing democratic values and promoting them within our various associations and political parties. It is the absence of these values and practices that breed “cabal,” absence of internal party democracy, “imposition,” and inevitably organisational and political party crises and bad governance. As democracy anticipates, there will always be differing opinions and interests within any association but the wishes of the majority should always be made to prevail. That way, the minority will clearly see that they are in the minority and will have to put more effort into convincing many more people to tow their way.
Debate, consultations, enlightenment, and majority carrying the day should be everyday realities. We should promote democratic values in all associations to the extent they become a way of life. Only then will service be the essence of leadership at all levels, from fatherhood at family level all the way to the Presidency. The alternative is to continue to languish in disorderly organisations amidst destructive dissent, and at the highest level, political parties continuing to run “civilian” administrations that have no semblance of democracy, while we forever deceive ourselves that our democracy is young and evolving.