Good governance as a panacea for sustainable democracy
Published On 29 Aug, 2014 At 03:10 PM | With 0 Comments

Good Governance as a Panacea for Sustainable Democracy

Paper delivered by Ayo Obe at the 10th All Nigerian Editors Conference, Katsina,29th August 2014

Let me confess that the title of the paper that I was being asked to present as given to me, sent me to my dictionary to confirm that I hadn’t got the meaning wrong.  “A panacea” it told me, is “a solution or remedy for all difficulties”, “an answer or solution for all problems or difficulties”.  But if Good Governance is the panacea, then should I take it that Sustainable Democracy is the problem?


Well, let me say at once that I have not come here to tell you that democracy per se is a problem or should be seen as one.  Because on that score, I am with whoever it was that Winston Churchill (former British Prime Minister) was quoting when he remarked: “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time …”


I have spent quite a few years of my adult life under dictatorship, and quite a few under democracy, and I know which I prefer.  Three centuries ago, Fisher Ames gave it as his opinion that:


“Monarchy [for which we should now read “dictatorship”] is like a splendid ship, with all sails set; it moves majestically on, then it hits a rock and sinks forever. Democracy is like a raft. It never sinks, but, damn it, your feet are always in the water.” Fisher Ames, 1783


For only very brief periods has our experience of dictatorship in Nigeria come anywhere close to the “splendid ship”, moving “majestically on”, so I suppose that in opting for democracy, and indeed, having been involved in pro-democracy struggles to see an end to military dictatorship, I should see the issue of “sustainable democracy” as a matter of the extent to which you can keep as many people’s feet out of the water (or at least, only immersed for short periods) as possible.


If sustainable democracy therefore, is the objective, the desirable end, and not at all to be cured or remedied, but only improved and made stronger, what is the place of good governance?  Permit me to suggest that rather than being a panacea for sustainable democracy, good governance is a large part of the recipe for it.  We would, however, be foolish to ignore the capacity of even dictatorship – or monarchy – to deliver good governance.  When I see the obsessive attention and concern of our present political rulers to their personal safety and security, I am always reminded of the “Let tyrants fear” speech by Elizabeth the First of England in 1588, when her country faced invasion from the powerful Kingdom of Spain.  She insisted on going to be with the troops who were gathered at Tilbury despite the warnings of her advisers and ministers that her life would be at risk, and in addressing the troops, she said:


“My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people.  Let tyrants fear; I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects.  And therefore I amcome amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood, even the dust.”


Well, it is a question whether after 15 years of what some are pleased to call “democracy” in Nigeria, many of our rulers can claim that their “chiefest strength and safeguard” is the “loyal hearts and good will” of their fellow citizens!  But what we should take from that confidence of a leader who declared that she had “but the body of a weak and feeble woman” is the question whether our present rulers, today’s leaders, conduct themselves as though that is even their goal.  If it is, can they secure those “loyal hearts and good will” by governing well?  Or should their failures also mean the failure of the democratic project in Nigeria?


Certainly, when we consider Nigeria’s history over the past 50 odd years, and in particular, the military coups that have truncated – or failed to sustain – our attempts at democracy, we find that all but one of them has given bad and poor governance, of which one of the frequent manifestations has been corruption, as their excuse for taking place.  Only the coup led by General Sani Abacha in November 1993 did not cite bad governance as its excuse for seizing power.


So we can definitely see that in Nigeria, bad governance is a cause, or a precipitator of ‘no democracy’ – it leads to military dictatorships.  But is the converse true?  Does good governance therefore lead to – and indeed, sustain – democracy?


I am afraid that even with my re-formulated subject: Good Governance as a Recipe for Sustainable Democracy, my answer remains equivocal.


In the Nigerian context, one of the things that can sustain democracy is a transparent and accountable government that aligns itself with the wishes and aspirations of the people.  But the means by which we – the people – get that accountable democracy is through the mechanism of democracy.  If the democratically elected government that you have is not delivering good governance, then the answer to that is not to jettison democracy itself, but rather, to use that democracy to replace it with another government – also democratically elected.


So it is clear that a necessary element of the recipe for sustainable democracy is a political pluralism which offers the electorate an alternative government to which they can turn if they find that the party in government is failing in the good governance stakes.


It goes without saying that if there is an alternative government that can be voted for, but the electoral process does not allow the people’s desire for that alternative to be expressed, the sustainability of that democracy is non-existent – indeed, it is a contradiction in terms to talk of democracy and yet have an electoral process that lacks integrity and independence.  An electoral process which has the qualities of independence and integrity is a necessary ingredient of the recipe that goes into sustaining of democracy.  I would go further and say that such an electoral process is an element or manifestation of good governance.  However, it does not have to be attached to any particular political party.


If we are able to achieve that kind of electoral process that delivers credible, free and fair elections, that will, I suggest, be a good thing.  But will it mean anything without political pluralism?  The tendency of ruling groups in Nigeria is to want to take over the entire political space, and ruling parties always want to take over all other political parties under one pretext or another.  In the infancy of the Fourth Republic, we heard a lot of boasts from the ruling party that it would “rule Nigeria for 60 years”.  But was this boast tied to any promise of good governance?  I may be wrong, but the message that was conveyed to ordinary citizens like me – through the mediums of communication that you, gentlemen of the press, control – was that the strategy of the ruling party to remain in power was nothing to do with whether or not it was able to deliver good governance, but simply a declaration of its intention to corner all the other political parties.  Your guess as to whether the end result of that process would be a democracy of any kind, let alone a sustainable democracy, is as good as mine.


One method by which the contest to corner the political space is waged, and this is despite the provisions in the Constitution (Section 68(1)(g)[1] which stipulate that a legislator who is elected on the platform of one political partybut becomes a member of another party shall vacate his seat, is the carpet-crossing phenomenon.  Indeed, the amount of political carpet-crossing that characterises Nigeria in this Fourth Republic is a marvel to behold, both among elected legislators and among the general membership of political parties as a whole.  Hardly a week passes without some fellow or other “decamping with his followers” (or just decamping by himself sha) from one party to another, dumping this party for that, and so on and so forth.  You have the decampees who – when they decamp, stay decamped, but you also have the serial decampees where each New Year finds them in a different political party than the one they were in last year.


In one sense, the fact that it is not all a one-way street suggests that even ruling parties may not find it easy to occupy the entire political space.  But from the perspective of being able to offer alternative or better models of good governance to the electorate, what impact does all this political manoeuvring have on sustainable democracy?  It is easy – and, I suggest, lazy – to simply say that “they are all the same”, or to complain that Nigerian politics are not “ideology-driven”, or that elections are not “issue-based”.  Yet is it not tempting to do just that when it appears that the actual party members themselves see so little difference between the political party that they have just left and the one that they have just joined.  But as I said, the question is: how does all this crossing of carpets affect the vital ingredient of offering a genuine choice to the electorate?  It would be interesting to hear the views of the discussants on this issue


Unfortunately, if we consider the restrictions on the formation of political parties that we have in Nigeria, it becomes easier to understand how the desires of outgoing military dictators in 1979 have limited and shrunk our political perspectives, such that ideology and issues have ended up taking a back seat.


While many who are operating in the political arena see limiting the number of political parties as a desirable objective, the tendency of our media is to discuss the issue as though – since the successful challenge by activists such as Gani Fawehinmi and Olisa Agbakoba to the attempt by the Independent National Electoral Commission to refuse to register political parties in which they were active – Nigeria is teeming with hundreds of active political parties draining away the life blood of the real gladiators, to present this picture of unlimited pluralism, but to report politics as though there are only three or four political parties.


This gathering may want to consider whether the option of getting rid of a government that is not performing on the good governance front can be maintained in the face of the kind of restrictions on the formation of political parties that we have in Nigeria when we come to the discussion of this paper, but there can be no doubt that we do have such restrictions, even now.  Sections 222, 223 and 224 of the 1999 Constitution provide as follows:


“222. No association by whatever name called shall function as a party, unless –

(a) the names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission;

(b) the membership of the association is open to every citizen of Nigeria irrespective of his place of origin, circumstance of birth, sex, religion or ethnic grouping;

(c) a copy of its constitution is registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission in such form as may be prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission;

(d) any alteration in its registered constitution is also registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission within thirty days of the making of such alteration

(e) the name of the association, its symbol or logo does not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the appearance that the activities of the association are confined to a part only of the geographical area of Nigeria; and

(f) the headquarters of the association is situated in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.


223.(1) The constitution and rules of a political party shall-

(a) provide for the periodical election on a democratic basis of the principal officers and members of the executive committee or other governing body of the political party; and

(b) ensure that the members of the executive committee or other governing body of the political party reflect the federal character of Nigeria.

(2) For the purposes of this section –

(a) the election of the officers or members of the executive committee of a political party shall be deemed to be periodical only if it is made at regular intervals not exceeding four years; and

(b) the members of the executive committee or other governing body of the political character of Nigeria only if the members thereof belong to different states not being less in number than two-thirds of all the states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.


224. The programme as well as the aims and objects of a political party shall conform with the provisions of Chapter II of this Constitution.”


So not only are regional political parties prohibited, even the programmes of such political parties are prescribed for them.  Of course, there are reasons why these provisions appear in our Constitution, but are these reasons sufficient justification for these kinds of limitations?  Bringing it home to the present forum, is there any interrogation in our mass media about why we have these limitations?  If Chapter II of the Constitution requires all political parties to have as their aim and objective policies that comply with the provision that requires the Nigerian state to ensure:-


“… that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group”


where does privatisation fit into that?  Where does the allocation of oil exploration/exploitation licences fit into that?  Do the instruments of public communication that you all control even present this as a question for your consumers?


Or does the discussion in your organs start off from the dictated position, for example, that regional parties are bad?  (There can be little doubt – surveying the Nigerian political landscape, that we have what are de facto regional political parties, with some which barely even make any effort to win votes outside their regional strongholds.  Think of APGA campaigning for votes in Sokoto, for example – it hardly computes.)


But does the insistence on parties which have a so-called ‘national spread’ really advance democracy?  If my field of concern is – let’s say, Eti-Osa Local Government in Lagos State, and I want to direct all my energies to ensuring that affairs in Eti-Osa are run in the best possible way, why should I have to form a national party in order to do so?  Indeed, is not the stifling effect of this on Nigeria’s democratic process not the reason why we keep hearing calls for independent candidacy?  Again, it is one thing to consider the options and to reach a decision that for this reason or that – be it the peculiar two-headed characteristics of Nigerians, or our history so far, or our short political memories and refusal to learn from the past – this system is indeed better or preferable.  But blind parroting of some self-serving excuses produced by apologists for military dictatorship may not inspire the kind of understanding, let alone the kind of enthusiasm necessary to defend and stand up for our democracy when it comes under threat.


The imposition of party primaries as a means of selecting candidates is another example of forcing a one-size-fits-all system on Nigeria’s political space.  Yesterday we had a comment about imposition of a candidate in Adamawa, but how else can a party maintain ideological purity or avoid becoming the tool of moneybags who can sign up and pay the subscription fees of as many people as they like?


Still considering the issue of political plurality and the need for the electorate to be able to vote out one government for poor performance (or bad governance) and vote in another in the hope of a better performance (or good governance) I must also ask whether the actual operators of the democratic system strive to offer good governance because they want to sustain democracy, or because they want to sustain themselves in government or office?  Consider the cases of Chris Ngige and Peter Obi in Anambra State.  It could be argued that Ngige was driven to offer the people of Anambra State good (or at least, better) governance, not so much because his purported victory in the 2003 elections was being challenged by Peter Obi, but because he had broken ranks with his political godfather, Chris Uba (whose electoral jiggery-pokery had secured the declaration of victory in his favour) – defiance which led to the fake resignation and the kidnap episode of July 2003.  In the 33 months between that episode and his eventual removal by the March 2006 decision of the Court of Appeal in the electoral petition brought by Peter Obi, Ngige provided good governance through programmes that were designed to appeal to the electorate: he had to do that as that was his best form of insurance against – at least against the kind of civilian coup that had been attempted in July 2003.  Peter Obi, coming to office against that, had to also compete with good, popular programmes that tried to answer the demands of the electorate.


From this we can see that the incentive for providing good governance is not so much an abstract or altruistic desire to sustain democracy, as the expectation or hope, that if you govern well, you sustain yourself in office and get re-elected.  So what is the impact of term limits then?  Do we see second-term governors slacking off, resting on their first term laurels?  Or is the need to install ‘your own man’ as your successor, or to see your own political party continue in office after you have departed, sufficient incentive for continuing to provide good governance?


Of course, here in Nigeria, the results of the gubernatorial election held in Ekiti State have left many wondering whether the reward for good governance is indeed to have one’s political party, or indeed oneself, re-elected time again for good performance.  But leaving Ekiti aside, and going, as it were – to Afghanistan – or in this case, to the United States of America, it is widely expected that the Democrats will suffer heavy losses in the mid-term elections and lose control of the House of Representatives and probably the Senate.  But will that be because President Barack Obama and the Democrats are not providing good governance?  Is not what we see over there the same kind of power politics that we see at play in our own country?


Before I close, you will see that I have not attempted much of a definition of what constitutes “good governance”.  That is not just because – following protests (strangely enough, from many countries in Africa) that it was paternalistic and judgmental to call the priorities of some governments evidence of good governance: “good” with its implications that other choices are “bad”.  It could be that good governance can be measured by the extent to which various United Nations benchmarks, including the Millennium Development Goals, are attained, or the extent to which the provisions of Chapter II of the Constitution are realised.


From my involvement as a member of the Steering Committee of the States Peer Review Mechanism of the Nigerian Governors Forum, I can say that several State Governments are genuinely committed to providing better things for their citizens.  Whether that is at the expense of their own wellbeing or electoral prospects, or whether it can be attained through the operation of enlightened self interest and so on – is something that you, leaders of the Press, ought perhaps to be interrogating with rather more sustained and searching spotlight than the electorate may yet have been made aware of.


I will stop here.  I think I have said enough to get you to agree that – however much you as Editors, may, like the Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass and what Alice Found There be of the view that when you use a word, it means just what you “choose it to mean, neither more, neither less” – we do not want a ‘panacea’, a magic bullet to finish democracy off: rather, we want to know what we can do, and what are the ingredients that will sustain our democracy.


[1] (g) being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected;

Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored;

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