June 8, 2005
As the Nigeria Political Conference winds up, there is the need to revisit the concepts of democracy and development which undoubtedly are the two most used concepts throughout the duration of the conference. The concepts are among the most contested concepts in social and political discourse. There are different perspectives on the concepts influenced by history, ideology, discipline and experience. There is no doubt that in the past six years, we are living in a period that is very significant in the life of the country for many reasons. First, it marked the transition period from military to civilian rule after many years of military dictatorship. Secondly, it represented the first time in the history of the country that there was a successful civilian to civilian transition without military incursion even though there was no regime change and the election was severely criticized for massive irregularities. Furthermore, it was a period of economic growth that is unprecedented in the life of the nation. In 2003, a growth rate of over 10 percent was reported even though there were concerns that this was not translated into poverty reduction.
Furthermore, it was a period of increased ethno-religious conflicts. For instance, in Plateau State alone, about 53,787 persons lost their lives as at 17th May, 2004 made up of 18,931 men, 17,397 women and 17,459 children. It also marked a period of increased indebtedness of Nigeria to foreign creditors despite improved revenue occasioned by increase in the price of oil. Nigeria’s external debt climbed to about US $34 billion. But it is instructive to note that even though Nigeria borrowed $13.5 billion from Paris Club between 1965 and 2003 and repaid $42 billion, as at the end of 2003, Nigeria still owed Paris Club more than $25 billion. However, despite the social, economic and political challenges facing the country, there is increasing capacity and readiness of citizens and civil society organizations to organize for change in Nigeria.
As noted above, the concepts of democracy can be viewed from different perspectives beyond liberal democracy. Essentially, we agree with the argument that equating liberal democracy with democracy in the classical sense is to devalue and trivialize the concept of democracy. For us, democracy goes beyond the conduct of elections. The values of democracy should be exhibited in the family, workplace and all kinds of institutions in the society. Beyond representation, the operationalisation of democracy should demonstrate the notion of popular power where the citizens would not only be the repository of power in the society but will actually participate in everyday politics and influence the policies, allocation and utilization of resources.
We have always argued that there is a nexus between democracy and development. For the average Nigerian, democracy is only meaningful if it delivers what has become known as democracy dividends i. e. socio-economic development. It has been argued that there is an organic linkage between the political freedom that can be brought about by democracy and freedom from hunger, ignorance and disease that can come from socio-economic development.
There are certain themes that should run through our own notion of democracy. First, a lot of emphasis should be placed on the kind of knowledge that can bring about true democracy and development. The important role that research plays in social development should be acknowledged. But we argue for a different kind of research. The point of departure is the idea that both the researcher and the researched must be transformed, and that the researcher should identify completely with those extremely exploited who are usually the objects of study, helping transform them into researchers of their own reality and making them more independent and more able to engage in struggle by seeking to resolve their own problems, thereby contributing to the transformation of the social structures responsible for their situation.
Secondly, empowerment defined as control over material assets, intellectual resources, and ideology is crucial in development as it leads to redistribution of power and transformation of structures and institutions. In addition, the problem of poverty should be recognized as the central development challenge in our time. Meanwhile, it is argued that the pubic policies that have been designed to tackle poverty in the past have failed because of confusion among policy makers on the design of appropriate policies to eradicate poverty; lack of participation by the poor; poor co-ordination and inability to link anti-poverty policies with other policies/sectors that should have impact on poverty. Therefore, a poverty eradication policy for Nigeria should promote a more naunced understanding of poverty, participation of the poor, empowerment of the poor, good governance, transparency and accountability, combat gender inequity and children vulnerability, promote rights based approach and pro-poor policies.
One other important concept that is crucial to democracy and development is that of popular participation. It is well established that participation by citizens is crucial for democracy and development. We argue that for citizens to effectively participate in the political process, they should have unfettered access to information. Scholars are in agreement that when citizens participate in the planning, execution, utilisation and assessment of social amenities or facilities designed to improve their welfare, success of those efforts are assured. However, strengthening the process of participation alone cannot bring about empowerment and development but that it has to be complemented with strengthening the accountability of responsiveness of democratic institutions and public policies that will ultimately lead to pro-poor governance.
Another key issue is the importance of content and process of constitution making in democracy and development. We argue that the process of making a constitution is as important as the content. From the history of constitution making in Nigeria, it is clear to us that the old approach of making constitution is not process led and participatory and the product has never met the wishes and aspiration of Nigerians. We advocate for a new approach that is guided by the principles of inclusivity, diversity, participation, transparency and openness, autonomy, accountability and legitimacy. We can show from experiences of other countries like South Africa, Eritrea and Uganda that when people participate in the process, the product is radically different. This contrasts with the process in Nigeria that has excluded women from the constitution making process.
Another important theme is the place of women in development. We argue that the position of women in society in relation to men is characterized by subordination, oppression and marginalization. We posit that there is a progressive and deeper understanding of why women are oppressed and what needs to be done to reverse the situation. In our view, the programmes and actions meant to address women issues have failed to transform the structures, institutions and systems that perpetuate women oppression. There is the need to challenge patriarchy in all its manifestations in domestic production, paid employment, culture and religion, sexuality, male violence and the State; and specifically promote women’s rights.
There is a huge discourse in Nigeria on the tension between market oriented and State led development strategies. Our position is that we need capable states to deliver just and accountable governance that will lead to human centred development. This is in sync with the report of Economic Commission for Africa report released in 2005 which argued that the creation of capable states is one of the most fundamental challenges of Africa today. According to the report, there are ten priorities of action in building capable and accountable states. These are:
Strengthening the capacity of parliaments to perform their core functions
Deepening legal and judicial reforms
Improving public sector management.
Improving the delivery of public services
Removing bottlenecks to private enterprise
Tapping the potential of information and communication technologies
Fostering credible and responsible media
Maximising the contribution of traditional modes of governance
Confronting the governance dimension of HIV/AIDS
Getting external partners and donors to live up to their commitment
Finally, we are of the firm belief that for change to occur in any society requires the presence of objective and subjective conditions. Objective conditions exist when situations are evidently abnormal with huge contradictions which can only be resolved by change. The subjective conditions are the organizational preparations required to bring about change. In our view, the objective condition is ripe in Nigeria. There is poverty in the midst of plenty. There are huge contradictions and gap between the poor and the rich. The country cannot continue in the way it is presently being run. Unfortunately, the subjective conditions are absent. There is no virile political party or movement that is committed to change neither is there a vanguard revolutionary organization to guide that change. There are no well organized democratic and popular organizations to support a change process. Although, there are individuals committed to and are driving change, the organizational support required for sustainability and great impact is lacking. The challenge is to build the organizations with dynamic and visionary leadership as well as a committed followership that is dedicated to change. Therefore ongoing attempts to build the requisite organization, leadership and followership for change which must be assisted, nurtured and consolidated for the necessary change to occur in Nigeria.