Nigeria and Presidential Democracy: Any Better Alternative? (2), by Hassan Gimba
In Nigeria and Presidential Democracy: Any Better Alternative? (1), we touched on how cries of marginalisation permeate the air. Partisan interests are placed above national interests while divisions along ethnic and religious lines have become the norm just as the struggle for power and its retention have taken a “do or die” dimension, affecting almost everything, including the neutrality of the judiciary, the supposedly last hope of the common man.
We also observed that the communication gap between the average Nigerian and his representative in government has widened so much it seems they live in two separate worlds with nothing in common except, perhaps, religion and tribe or party and town.
And then we asked if we can continue this way, going on to query if the fault is that of the system and to seek a better one, if so. But in doing that, should we look inwards? Will a system in tandem with our inner being be the answer to our multifaceted and ever-growing problems as a nation? Perhaps we have been imposing on ourselves systems that are alien to us, to our culture, to our souls? Of course, some believe the problem with us is not so much the system as it is the people. Well, could be. But can people be true to what is not their nature? Well, yes, if they put on an act. One can act like a saint but can the actor live the life of a saint? People are always at their best when they are true to themselves. Being yourself does not always give room for hypocrisy. And time has proved to us that it has a way of exposing hypocrisy.
Britain, which gave us the parliamentary system in 1960, still practises it. While the parliamentary system is over 750 years old there, ours lasted six years before it was scuttled by the march of the jackboot.
Surely while ours was an imposition, a sort of a deliberate wholesale adoption of a set system, Britain’s parliament was not created from a “conference”. It naturally evolved as out of daily necessities. Therefore, one is not far from the truth if one insists that the parliamentary system, which started in 1265 with the Simon de Montfort Parliament, is in the blood of the Briton; it is part of him. While the representative system began with the de Montfort (Earl of Leicester) Parliament, fifty years earlier, the check on impunity by leaders was rolled out. In June 1215, the Magna Carta was issued to become the first document to put into writing the principle that the king and his government were not above the law.
We can see how the homegrown parliamentary system has served Britons well. It is because they looked inwards, derived from their nature which was in tandem with their inner being, rather than copy, adapt, borrow and impose on themselves a system that is alien to their culture, to their being. And so it works for them because they are at home with it. It is their roots.
America is another example. The democracy it is practising and proudly imposing it on other nations around the world is homegrown. After freeing itself from Britain, its colonial overlords, the leaders of the revolt set out to build its enviable democratic culture. In an article written for the Smithsonian Magazine of September 20, 2011, Joseph Stromberg said, “The dawn of American democracy didn’t come in 1776, with the declaration of Independence. It didn’t come in 1788 when the constitution was ratified by the states, or in 1789 when George Washington took office.” He continued, “According to Harry Rubeinstein, chair and curator of the Division of Political History at the American History Museum, the symbolic birth of our system of government didn’t come until its noble ideals were actually put to the test…” And that test was Washington’s resignation and handing over to John Adams in 1783.
We need not look far to see that nations tend to develop when their system of governance correlates with their innate way of thinking. Arabs in general, historically and by tradition, live in communities with close ties, respect family lineage and thrive under a strong paternalistic leader. The Arabs of Libya and Iraq that wanted to leave their roots and take up the American system are now rueing their folly. Despite America’s maximum pressure, arm twisting, blackmail and sometimes condescending cajoling, China, Russia and now Iran are holding tight to their roots. And they are stronger for it.
Therefore, one way for a political arrangement to work for a people is for it to originate from them. But humankind is a broadminded, flexible and adaptable species. Because of these and many other plausible positives, man can adapt and get adapted to any political plan for his development but with a proviso. That proviso is that he is sincere and patriotic.
And this is why we have seen thriving countries that borrowed alien systems of governance; their honesty in implementing the system and the love for their country have made it work to their benefit. You can count the Asian Tigers, many European, South American and African countries among them.
As all people evolve, the peoples of Nigeria were all developing at their paces and consolidating the substances that enhanced their lives. Colonialism came and disrupted our slow and steady but sure growth into modernity. It uprooted us, leaving us dangling in the air. We have left our roots but we are yet to grab the ever-elusiveĺ colonialists’ branches.
A ready example can be taken from the textile industry. We had ways of processing cotton and converting it to thread. There was a fabricated machine made from wood for that. From there, we formed yards that were used to sew dresses. Then, even the Whiteman bought them and transported them to his land. We also had methods of colouring clothes. Had our “primitive” textile industry been left alone, it might have evolved into something bigger than what the Whiteman has now.
But because we lack confidence in ourselves, we jettisoned ours that was improving by the day as our knowledge base got expanded, and embraced the Whiteman’s contraption. A contraption we cannot make or repair displaced what we were manufacturing. A contraption we cannot own supplanted ours. Such missteps took place in our iron smelting industry and in all other sectors of the economy. And so, like the bat which is neither a bird nor an animal, we became neither here nor there.
But our neither here nor there-ness does not just stop with our industries. Our dream became to behave like the Whiteman whose morals we see as worthier than ours. Our cultures, traditions and norms we saw as archaic and were ashamed to showcase. Even in our dressing, what is “corporate” to us is Whiteman’s idea.
This hankering for the foreign we knew not, understood not and which was never in sync with our nature also reared its head in our political preferences. Agreed we were conquered and made to live under the conqueror’s will but we have gotten our independence and with that our thoughts, presumably. They did divide us because they never wanted us united, to begin with, but we should know that for our sakes, and forge a united front.
Before the advent of the colonialists, the various peoples that constitute today’s Nigeria were practising various forms of governance. We had our ways of administration; we had our leadership structures and our economic systems. Perhaps, had our march not been truncated by colonialism, we would have continued to improve a system that is natural to us and possibly even export it. Recent actions of some politicians in the United States of America show that their political interests are bigger than national interest; surely, we could have taught them a thing or two. There is little doubt that a homegrown political system would have served us better in our current confusing, seemingly hopeless and daunting circumstances as a nation.