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We have a choice on liberal democracy

The ex-governor of Ekiti state, John Oluwakayode Fayemi from Isan Ekiti has admitted what we knew all along, that liberal democracy is not working in this country. He previously served as governor of Ekiti state between 2010 and 2014 and also served as minister of solid minerals development under President Muhammadu Buhari from November 11, 2015, to May 30, 2018, before he resigned to contest for a second term as governor of Ekiti state. He handed over as governor to his chosen successor, Abiodun Abayomi Oyebanji on October 16 last year.

At present, he is a lecturer at Kings College, University of London, his former school. After completing his studies at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, he joined The Guardian newspaper before venturing into academics and later into politics.

On Tuesday, September 5, this year, he made the admission on liberal democracy while delivering a keynote address at a national dialogue organised to celebrate the 60th birthday of Prof Udenta Udenta, founding national secretary of Alliance for Democracy (AD).

While speaking at the event, the ex-governor criticised the “winner-takes-all” nature of Nigeria’s democracy stating that the nation’s current challenges could not be effectively addressed without adopting proportional representation, where election rewards are distributed among contestants based on their share of the vote.

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“Today, I read former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s interview in TheCable saying our liberal democracy is not working and we need to revisit it, and I agree with him. We must move from the political alternatives. I think we are almost on a dead end of that. What we need is alternative politics, and my own notion of alternative politics is that you can’t have 35% of the vote and take 100%. It won’t work! We must look at proportional representation so that the party that is said to have won 21 per cent of the votes will have 21% of the government. Adversary politics bring division and enmity,” he said.

On a personal note, while I was working in Ibadan at the secretariat in the ministry of works and transport, Western state, his father’s office was opposite mine, the then Ministry of Information. When I switched to journalism in early 1972, while working in the Nigerian Tribune, I used to visit his father who took me like a junior brother.

His father was then working under Chief Festus Oladipo Shadare from Akure, who was then the chief information officer in Western state. His dad’s colleagues at that time included my late friend, Femi Olurin from Ilaro in Ogun state, Chief Adewole Atandeyi (84), from Akure who retired as Chief Information officer in Ondo state, Mr. John Fademi (82) from Ijebu Ijesha in the present day Osun state and others.

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General Yakubu Gowon appointed Brigadier General Christopher Oluwole Rotimi, governor of Western state on April 1, 1971, likewise, Brigadier Rotimi appointed Chief Samuel Kolawole Babalola from Ipoti Ekiti as commissioner for health. Fayemi’s father, Chief John Fadeyi Fayemi, served as an information officer under the late Chief S.K Babalola. Fayemi’s parents were then living at Agodi in Ibadan. He retired as a zonal information officer when Ekiti state was created. He died in 2009 at 86, just before his son became governor.

My keen interest in Fayemi grew when he went into politics in this republic and fortunate enough he has had his own share in serving the people, both at the national level and the state level. No one can predict his political future. What he has said deserves some commentary. The question I would like to ask, is who gave us this liberal democracy we are practicing?

Out of office, if these two men (Kayode Fayemi and former President Olusegun Obasanjo) are today questioning the validity of our liberal democracy, we should be worried. Afterwards, empiricism in the philosophy of science emphasises evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resisting solely on prior reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Empiricism, often used by natural scientists, says that “knowledge is based on experience” and that knowledge is tentative and probabilistic, subject to continued revision and falsification”. Empirical research, including experiments and validated measurement tools, guides the scientific method.

It is often said that it is those who wear the shoes that know where the shoes pinches. If former President Obasanjo, who was part of the supreme military council that imposed on us this presidential system of government, is part of those complaining today about liberal democracy then we have to note that something is wrong. You may not like the messenger but you must examine the message.

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Except for the president, the governors, legislators and their aides including ministers and commissioners and probably friends, no one is benefitting from the liberal democracy. The people are getting impoverished every day. It is no exaggeration that there is extreme poverty in the land irrespective of who is leading us. I wonder why we are sticking to this type of democracy that is not yielding results and making us more miserable. Is there no alternative? And why must we recite every script on liberal democracy? Can’t we adopt another system of government that will be beneficial to us all? We have to admit that liberal democracy is not working in our interest at all.

Nigerians are one of the few people in the world who have never had a say in how they are being governed. What has happened in Nigeria and what is presently happening is enough to bring a revolution in other parts of the world. Everything has been imposed on us.

There are other alternatives to liberal democracy. We have:

  • Noocracy: A democracy in which only the wise and competent are allowed to stand and vote.
  • Sociocracy: A democratic system of governance based on consent decision-making, circle organisation, subsidiarity and double-linked representation.
  • New Democracy: A Maoist concept based on Mao Zedong’s Bloc of Four Classes theory in post-revolutionary China.
  • Market Democracy: Another name for democratic capitalism, an economic ideology based on a tripartite arrangement of a market-based economy based predominantly on economic incentives through free markets, a democratic polity and a liberal moral-cultural system which encourages pluralism.
  • Participatory democracy: This involves more lay citizen participation in decision-making and offers greater political representation than traditional representative democracy, e.g., wider control of proxies given to representatives by those who get directly involved and actually participate.
  • Semi-direct democracy: Representative democracy with instruments, elements, and/or features of direct democracy.
  • Grassroots democracy: This emphasises trust in small decentralised units at the municipal government level, possibly using urban secession to establish the formal legal authority to make decisions made at this local level binding.

Let us look at what liberal democracy means. According to Wikipedia, liberal democracy, substantive democracy or Western democracy is a form of government that combines the structure of a representative democracy with the principles of liberal political philosophy. It is characterised by-elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, a market economy with private property, universal suffrage, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for all people.

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To define the system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a constitution, either codified or uncodified, to delineate the powers of government and enshrine the social contract. The purpose of a constitution is often seen as a limit on the authority of the government. A liberal democracy may take various and mixed constitutional forms: it may be a constitutional monarchy (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Japan, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom) or a republic (France, India, Ireland, the United States). It may have a parliamentary system (Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, the United Kingdom), a presidential system (Indonesia, the United States), or a semi-presidential system (France). Liberal democracies are contrasted with illiberal democracies and with dictatorships.

Liberal democracy traces its origins—and its name—to the Age of Enlightenment. The conventional views supporting monarchies and aristocracies were challenged at first by a relatively small group of Enlightenment intellectuals, who believed that human affairs should be guided by reason and principles of liberty and equality. They argued that all people are created equal and therefore political authority cannot be justified on the basis of noble blood, a supposed privileged connection to God or any other characteristic that is alleged to make one person superior to others. They further argued that governments exist to serve the people—not vice versa—and that laws should apply to those who govern as well as to the governed (a concept known as rule of law). Some of these ideas began to be expressed in England in the 17th century.

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By the late 18th century, leading philosophers such as John Locke had published works that spread around the European continent and beyond. These ideas and beliefs influenced the American Revolution and the French Revolution. After a period of expansion in the second half of the 20th century, liberal democracy became a prevalent political system in the world.

Liberal democracy emphasises the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and a system of checks and balances between branches of government. Multi-party systems with at least two persistent, viable political parties are characteristic of liberal democracies. In Europe, liberal democracies are likely to emphasize the importance of the state being a Rechtsstaat, i.e. a state that follows the principle of rule of law. Governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedures.

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Many democracies use federalism, also known as vertical separation of powers, in order to prevent abuse and increase public input by dividing governing powers between municipal, provincial and national governments (e.g. Germany, where the federal government assumes the main legislative responsibilities and the federated Länder assume many executive tasks). The characteristics of liberal democracies are associated with increased political stability, lower corruption, better management of resources, and better health indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality.

John Locke was the first to develop a liberal philosophy as he coherently described the elementary principles of the liberal movement, such as the right to private property and the consent of the governed. The Agreement of the People (1647), a manifesto for political change proposed by the Levellers during the English Civil War, called for freedom of religion, frequent convening of Parliament and equality under the law

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Liberal democracy traces its origins—and its name—to the European 18th century, also known as the Age of Enlightenment. At the time, the vast majority of European states were monarchies, with political power held either by the monarch or the aristocracy. The possibility of democracy had not been a seriously considered political theory since classical antiquity and the widely held belief was that democracies would be inherently unstable and chaotic in their policies due to the changing whims of the people. It was further believed that democracy was contrary to human nature, as human beings were seen to be inherently evil, violent and in need of a strong leader to restrain their destructive impulses. Many European monarchs held that their power had been ordained by God and that questioning their right to rule was tantamount to blasphemy.

These conventional views were challenged at first by a relatively small group of Enlightenment intellectuals, who believed that human affairs should be guided by reason and principles of liberty and equality. They argued that all people are created equal and therefore political authority cannot be justified on the basis of noble blood, a supposed privileged connection to God or any other characteristic that is alleged to make one person superior to others. They further argued that governments exist to serve the people—not vice versa—and that laws should apply to those who govern as well as to the governed (a concept known as the rule of law).

Some of these ideas began to be expressed in England in the 17th century. There was renewed interest in Magna Carta, and passage of the Petition of Right in 1628 and Habeas Corpus Act in 1679 established certain liberties for subjects. The idea of a political party took form with groups debating rights to political representation during the Putney Debates of 1647. After the English Civil Wars (1642–1651) and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Bill of Rights was enacted in 1689, which codified certain rights and liberties. The Bill set out the requirement for regular elections, rules for freedom of speech in Parliament and limited the power of the monarch, ensuring that, unlike almost all of Europe at the time, royal absolutism would not prevail. This led to significant social change in Britain in terms of the position of individuals in society and the growing power of Parliament in relation to the monarch.

By the late 18th century, leading philosophers of the day had published works that spread around the European continent and beyond. One of the most influential of these philosophers was English empiricist John Locke, who refuted monarchical absolutism in his Two Treatises of Government. According to Locke, individuals entered into a social contract with a state, surrendering some of their liberties in exchange for the protection of their natural rights. Locke advanced that governments were only legitimate if they maintained the consent of the governed and that citizens had the right to instigate a rebellion against their government if that government acted against their interests. These ideas and beliefs influenced the American Revolution and the French Revolution, which gave birth to the philosophy of liberalism and instituted forms of government that attempted to put the principles of the Enlightenment philosophers into practice.

When the first prototypical liberal democracies were founded, the liberals themselves were viewed as an extreme and rather dangerous fringe group that threatened international peace and stability. The conservative monarchists who opposed liberalism and democracy saw themselves as defenders of traditional values and the natural order of things and their criticism of democracy seemed vindicated when Napoleon Bonaparte took control of the young French Republic, reorganized it into the first French Empire and proceeded to conquer most of Europe. Napoleon was eventually defeated and the Holy Alliance was formed in Europe to prevent any further spread of liberalism or democracy.
However, liberal democratic ideals soon became widespread among the general population and over the 19th century traditional monarchy was forced on a continuous defensive and withdrawal. The Dominions of the British Empire became laboratories for liberal democracy from the mid-19th century onward. In Canada, responsible government began in the 1840s and in Australia and New Zealand, the parliamentary government elected by male suffrage and secret ballot was established in the 1850s and female suffrage was achieved in the 1890s.

Reforms and revolutions helped move most European countries towards liberal democracy. Liberalism ceased being a fringe opinion and joined the political mainstream. At the same time, a number of non-liberal ideologies developed that took the concept of liberal democracy and made it their own. The political spectrum changed; traditional monarchy became more and more a fringe view and liberal democracy became more and more mainstream. By the end of the 19th century, liberal democracy was no longer only a liberal idea, but an idea supported by many different ideologies. After World War I and especially after World War II, liberal democracy achieved a dominant position among theories of government and is now endorsed by the vast majority of the political spectrum.

Although liberal democracy was originally put forward by Enlightenment liberals, the relationship between democracy and liberalism has been controversial since the beginning and was problematized in the 20th century. In his book Freedom and Equality in a Liberal Democratic State, Jasper Doomen posited that freedom and equality are necessary for a liberal democracy. In his book, The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama says that since the French Revolution, liberal democracy has repeatedly proven to be a fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives, and that democracy will become more and more prevalent in the long term, although it may suffer temporary setbacks. The research institute Freedom House today simply defines liberal democracy as “an electoral democracy also protecting civil liberties”.

When the colonialists arrived in our land years ago, they brought the bible and this thing called liberal democracy. We never resisted. They took away our traditions and stripped us naked. We retained the Bible but the colonialists have abandoned the Bible for us.

We married the parliamentary system of democracy until the army terminated it on January 15, 1966. The military then imposed the presidential system of government on us, we did not resist it. The military on their own terminated it on December 31, 1983, and they restored it on May 29, 1999. Since then, we have been fumbling and wobbling with this system of government

I am happy Fayemi described our democracy as a “winner-takes-all democracy”. We all know what a winner takes all, entails.

In the Middle East, what is being practised is no more democracy but autocratic pragmatism. They are no longer following the rules and dictates of the so-called Western democracy. In an article published by the British magazine, The Economist, in its September 18, 2023, edition, it was quoted as saying:

If you thought the Middle East was stagnant, think again. The Gulf economies are among the richest and most vibrant on the planet, helped by a Brent crude oil price that rose back to over $90 per barrel this week. A $3.5 trillion fossil-fuel bonanza is being spent on everything from home-grown artificial intelligence models and shiny new cities in the desert to filling the coffers of giant sovereign-wealth funds that roam the world’s capital market looking for ideals. As for the cash flows in, the chaos shows signs of receding, thanks to the biggest burst of diplomacy for decades. Saudi Arabia and Iran have negotiated détente in a rivalry that has lasted since the Iranian revolution in 1979. Civil wars in Syria and Yemen are killing fewer people as their sponsors seek de-escalation. Following the Abraham accords between Israel and some Arab governments, Saudi Arabia is considering recognizing the Jewish state, 75 years after its creation. The region’s global clout is rising — four countries are about to join the BRICS club of non-aligned powers that want a less Western-dominated world.

As our briefing explains, these shifts begin a new chapter in the Middle East marked by fresh opportunities and new dangers. The region’s leaders are testing ideas that have caught on in much of the world, including embracing autocratic pragmatism as a substitute for democracy, and multipolar diplomacy instead of the post-1945 American-led order. The Middle East is also a place where threats that will menace the world in the 2030s may play out early, including nuclear proliferation, extreme weather and even greater inequality, as weak countries fall further behind.

Many occupants of the White House have left office wishing they could forget all about the Middle East. But whether you run a super-power or a small business, it matters as much as ever. Although it has only 6% of the world’s people, it has a chokehold on the global economy. As the lowest-cost oil producer, its share of crude exports is 46% and rising. Its share of exports of liquefied natural gas, in great demand since Russia’s pipelines to Europe shut down, is 30% and going up too. Thanks to its location, 30% of all container trade and 16% of air cargo passes through the region. With $3 trillion of assets, its sovereign wealth funds are among the world’s largest. Its wars and disorder often spill across borders; its refugees affect politics as far away as Europe.

The past two decades have been miserable in the Middle East. Democratic project ended in failure and bloodshed, in Iraq after the American-led invasion of 2003 and in several countries after the Arab Spring in 2011. Islamic State sought to kill its way to creating a caliphate, while in Syria Bashar al-Assad doused his own people in chlorine and nerve agents.

Yet now, as the fighting ebbs, three big changes are visible. First, the region is having to take more responsibility for its own security, as America’s appetite to intervene militarily has evaporated. Alongside this, trade patterns have become multipolar: the IMF reckons 26% of Middle Eastern goods exports to China and India, almost double the level in 2000 and roughly twice the share headed for America and Europe. Recently, the geopolitical alignment has led to a desire to de-escalate conflicts.

Second, the energy transition creates an urgent need to escape the familiar patterns of oil booms and busts. Instead, there is a powerful incentive for the Gulf to lift fossil-fuel production in the next decade before demand dwindles permanently, and spend the proceeds on diversifying local economies.

The final shift is a weariness in public opinion. Political experiments, whether democratic or Islamist, are tarnished. Instead, people across the Middle East yearn for economic opportunity. Forget Canada or Sweden: polls show the country young Arabs admire most is the UAE, with its stability and thriving economy under iron-fisted dynastic rule. At the same time, less Western involvement in security and trade also means less pressure for human rights or democracy.”

There is a Yoruba adage that says: “No one will tell the blind that the market is over until he or she hears no sound”. This liberal democracy is ruining us.



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.
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