Redefining Democracy, Yearnings Of The Minority In A Democratic Settings- Onofiok Luke

It’s an honor to be invited as a one of the discussants in this public lecture and a greater honor share this platform with our very revered Former President HE Dr GoodLuck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, the face of democracy in Africa in this present age and generation.
My appreciation to Chief JK Gadzama SAN, the founding partner of J-K Gadzama LLP for the invitation. Let me commend the Law Firm for its contributions to the development of the legal profession and the nation in general through the public lecture series.
Listening the HE President Jonathan this evening, I want to agree with his postulations, appreciate his honest opinion and the solution he has offered.
I however have a few insights to offer on the lecture.
Democracy can be defined as a system where government is in power by the consent of the people and the government is accountable to the governed. It has its basic attributes like” presence of elected officials, free and fair elections,inclusive suffrage,the right to run for public office, freedom of expression, existence and availability of alternative information and associational autonomy”( Dahl, Robert A: Preface To Democratic Theory, ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1956). I agree with Dahl on this.
Unfortunately this system that out to have been for the people and by the people has become the rule of the majority and its operations has most often negates the above stated essentials and the ideals of the founding fathers and proponents. This now rule of the majority as equally practiced in our country just as in other evolving systems around the world is faced with the need for popular legitimacy, the shallow roots of democratic values,weak party systems, organized factional interest and complicated electoral rules.- Ashok Swain- Democracy,Minority Rights and Conflict Prevention in Asia 2008.
Another scholar, Schedler; Andreas in an article titled ”What is Democratic Consolidation” published in journal of democracy 9.2(1998)91-107, Posits that such systems struggle the customization of politics, the decentralization of state power, the introduction of mechanisms of direct democracy, judicial reforms,the alleviation of poverty and economic stabilization. This again paints a vivid picture of our democratic experience.
With the above scenario, I will agree with the organizers that we need to redefine democracy. We need to shift towards a system where all are given equal participation not only in the choice of leadership but active inclusion and involvement in the formulation of policies that will in turn affect their lives. More involvement in law making process, involvement of people in the choice and siting of projects, more involvement of people and CSO’s in the appointment of our judicial officers, taking into serious consideration the sensitivities of the nation in the appointment of senior officials into critical government agencies and corporations.
While we are seeking to redefine democracy, how can we manage our diversity and the yearnings of the minority within the present settings. In ethnically,culturally and religiously segmented societies just like ours, the operation of democracy as the rule of the majority is always charged as the minorities view it as dominance. This disposition in most instances has led to conflicts. The answer for me lies in institutionalized power sharing. Beyond being a concept, tradition or concept can we give power rotation a legal backing. This should be pondered on as we engage in another round of constitutional alterations.
Another solutions lies in strict application of the federal character principles, how can we strengthen the commission to effectively deliver on its core mandates?
One very critical point of note is that we have spoken so much about the minority question at the national level and forget that this question lingers at our various states, where one group either ethnic or religious tends to act in manners which excludes some minorities in matters of leadership recruitment and even in the distribution of democratic dividends. Same situation plays out at our local government and ward levels across the country. The above mentioned legally backed or institutionalized Power sharing system will equally address this. There should however be a distinction between a genuine case of minority position and a false creation of a minority situation due to personal interest of a few individuals seeking their selfish gains.
Furthermore, the yearnings of the minority in a democratic settings can be addressed by the safeguards of their rights as a minority. As democracy guarantees majority rule, it must also guarantee that the majority will not abuse its powers to violate the basic and inalienable rights of the minority. This rights includes to compete fairly and freely in elections, that of free speech, assembly and association. One of the causes of violent agitations is the lack of voice or the censorship of the voice of minorities. Democratic settings ought to be system founded on free speech. Before it used to be the “ minority will have their say but the majority will have their way” but today the majority wants to have both the say and they way thereby robbing the minority.
Suffrage/ political participation is another basic tenet of democracy, but under the rule of the majority as democracy represents today, its only the right to voting, some instances to be voted for and in most instances to be OUTVOTED that is guaranteed as a minority.
However,the international community has put in place legal frameworks as models for the protection on the rights of minorities both as individuals and as groups. They include UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic,Religious and Linguistic Minorities; Convention No. 169 on the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
These minority rights must be protected no matter how singular or alienated that minority is from the majority.
In conclusion, good governance is necessary for the survival of democratic values, meaning equal participation by all, transparency, accountability and the rule of law. The legitimacy of a democratic process depends on the degree to which those affected by it have been included in the decision making process and have had the possibility to influence outcomes.
Good/ inclusive governance provides the best platform for minorities to achieve the education, health,economic status,and religious freedom that prevents them from enacting their frustrations through violent agitations.

Wisdom Bassey

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