In America, the people are the master whose exigencies demand obedience to the utmost limits of possibility…..Yet, without power and independence, a town (or local government) may contain good subjects, but it can have no active citizens’. Prof. Akin Mabogunje
The government and the governed are in a sort of sacrosanct contract. The Terms are defined the the constitution of any defined society. What should be the ideal relationship between a Government and the citizenry? This question is deeply examined in the text of a Special Lecture to mark the Fourth Splash F.M. Anniversary and Chief Adebayo Akande’s 72nd Birthday delivered at Adeline Hall, Lead-City University Ibadan, Ibadan on Friday, July 8, 2011. It is being reproduced in part in public interest and to create awareness.
Democratization, I suggest, is the process of fostering and enhancing democracy or democratic culture among a people or in a nation. At a very simplistic level, it can be understood as entailing no more than holding periodic elections to choose or determine the leaders and representatives of a people. It could even be extended to include holding such elections in the context of a multi-party system of government. However, a more serious examination of the concept of democratization emphasizes that it is truly a way of life, a culture or an all-pervasive system of organizing the affairs of any society that ensures an all-inclusive mobilization of its members in the operations of all of its activities. This is why TonnyGitonga, a Kenyan scholar of democracy, in his 1987 publication titled: “The Meaning and Foundations of Democracy” emphasized that democracy is about people ruling themselves, ordering, organizing and managing their own affairs in freedom. Or, in the celebrated words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people. However, Gitonga went on to stress that to truly appreciate the nature of democracy, we must conceive of it as operating at three levels of social existence of a people. These levels he referred to as the infrastructural level, the structural level and the super-structural level.
In governance terms, therefore, democracy is not just about how representatives are chosen which we have just done in Nigeria. More importantly, it is about how the citizens are regarded in the decision-making process – whether they are believed to be individually the equal of those making decisions and have the freedom to accept or reject any decisions made on their behalf or whether they are inferior beings on whom any decisions can be imposed. Accountability of elected representatives to those who elected them at each level of government and not to any other body however highly placed is thus central to the operations of a democratic system. It is through such accountability which, especially at the local government level is expected to be made directly to the people, that much of the temptations to corruption can be checked. This is why a critical feature of local democracy in America is the Town Meeting. This is an annual affair in which elected representatives in a local government area meet with their electorate to report back on their achievements during the year and present them with their budget and tax proposal for the following year for their approval. This is why Alexis de Tocqueville, the earliest scholar of Ameican democracy, noted that such “local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations”. He went on as follows: “Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach; they teach men how to use and how to enjoy democracy…..In the township (or local government) the people are the only source of power; but in no stage of government does the body of citizens exercise a more immediate influence. In America, the people are the master whose exigencies demand obedience to the utmost limits of possibility…..Yet, without power and independence, a town (or local government) may contain good subjects, but it can have no active citizens’.
The structural level of a democratizing society relates to the various institutions of governance, their functions and procedural arrangements for ensuring that democracy functions well in the society and that the decisions of government reflect as much as possible the wishes and desires of the people. Three principles are critical for ensuring that these various institutions of governance meet the democratic ideal. First, government must be open in the sense that it allows to citizens freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of choice of whoever they want to represent them; second, these institutions must be simple to operate or manage so that the citizens can easily understand the nature of their operations and are thereby less vulnerable to fraudulent manipulations; third, the role of each institutions must be clear as to their authority, power and influence since it is this that helps to establish the necessary checks and balances in the operation of a democratic system. In a paper titled: ‘Promoting Good Governance: What Can We, The Peole Do?” Professor Akin Mabogunje stated that the challenge of transparency and accountability is not only one to be met by those who govern us, but also by “We, the people” ourselves. Or, as Bernard Shaw so aptly puts it in his play, The Apple Cart, “We (the people) need to be governed and yet to control our governors”. This is why, in reminding people of Abraham Lincoln’s famous dictum on democracy as “the government of the people, by the people and for the people”, we need to remind ourselves that “government of the people” means that we choose people from among ourselves to rule us; “government for the people” means that they are to rule us for what we need; but “government by the people” means that even when they do those other things, we remain committed to ensuring at all times that they serve the purpose for which we elected them to rule us. This is the sense of the
For true transformation in the governance of the continent to come about, he continued, “We, the People” must ensure that those who govern us listen to us, the level of awareness or consciousness of our latent power in particular situation has to be raised and greatly enhanced. This certainly must be one of the many tasks of the media and other public relations agencies.” And yet, it is clear we cannot continue like this. This state of alienation and cynicism to our surrounding conditions cannot go on indefinitely. We cannot continue to be indifferent to the filth, dreariness and degraded environment that define the context in which most citizens live and have to earn a living. We cannot continue to pretend that it is only at the federal and state levels which are farther away from our direct influence that the challenges for good governance are to be met. Indeed, for the majority of “We, the people”, it is at the local level that our lives have meaning and true worth.
It is thus at this local level that we must begin the struggle for good governance and the fight for real democratization; quoting Nigeria’s President Jonathan in his inauguration address: “The time for lamentation is over. This is the era of transformation. This is the time for action. A society can only be transformed if we all play our parts with commitment and sincerity. resort to promoting those issues that could assist in balancing power at various levels of interaction; from the communities to the global level. (Mabogunje, Akin: A paper titled: PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE: WHAT CAN WE, THE PEOPLE, DO? Presented in Ibadan; Friday, July 8, 2011)
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