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Developing a Functional Participatory Democracy in Africa

Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi

By Prof. Ipinyomi, R.A. University of Ilorin, Nigeria

Every individual is a politician by nature, although this inherent instinct may expose itself in each of us at varied degrees. Nevertheless the fact remains that everyone is interested in how he or she is governed and making the individual a politician. Given the opportunity everyone wants the best possible governance around them. The governance in any environment includes the model of government, the leadership set, the followership set and adherence to a common value system. Where what is in the book and what is on ground are at variance there could be a simple or major revolt, demonstration, strikes and even a coup d’état. Hence a participatory democracy can be defined usually as a government of a people, set up by the people and for the people; this is a government where everyone has a role to play.

African Leaders

African Leaders

Even in the United States of America, UK, Germany, France, India, and developed democracies, participatory democracy is fading because either that there has continued to be a disconnection between people’s expectations and what the leadership care to provide, or those who are supposed to complain and demand for necessary changes for improvement have been made comfortable by the existing system, or people think that they only have to mind their own business. In this way the western democracy has been losing out in its highly valued participatory democracy system over the years. By losing this valuable component of democracy we now have situations where anyone can get elected or get appointed with little opposition, apathy in politics and government not my business generally. In our society today we have series of inequalities because we have refused to play our roles and make our voices heard. A few are extremely rich while majority is in abject poverty, healthcare system is in misery and we lack proper environment to bring up the youths. Our children do what their neighbours are doing. We are not just anybody but a royal citizen of heavenly order. It is wrong to soil our heavenly robes for a mere pot of pounded yam even with egusi soup.

The prevailing environment under which we grow our children is defective from start and would never grow any child properly on its own. For example, I find a student thinking that he is “good” simply because he sleeps around with only one girlfriend whereas others have two or more girlfriends. Similarly we have politicians who only rig their elections less visible than their opponents, a civil servant who steals only less than his co-workers, and so on. What we want is absolute openness, absolute conformity to the rule of law, absolute righteousness through love and obedience. Behaving like everyone else or even a bit better than a neighbour is not enough for governance that will grow our society and prevent a revolution that is destroying them in North Africa and the Arabs.

The ongoing ASUU strikes may be a mild form of the Arab Spring but one does not know what the general elections in 2015 holds for Nigerians. We have so many individuals who are parading themselves as politicians but who are not because politics is a money making avenue in Africa. They are wolves and many of them only wearing sheep skins. The academia, Nigerian media, community leaders and all well meaning Nigerians should act in one voice now and prevent a catastrophic situation ahead. The so called religious leaders have failed us as the organisation only turn itself as another power and influence seeking avenue and not a moral building or even a corrective and reformative society. They are simply interested in numbers, that our congregation is larger than they are; or that more people are Muslims than are Christians. This is their only goal and only to secure political positions and not heaven. These are therefore woods for heavenly fire at the end because the target is their bellies and not the welfare of their neighbours to be cared for or the God they preach.

We cannot have a consistent followership where there has been neither properly instituted leadership, nor a winner of any election where everyone knows that the results are faked by misuse of figures, and where politicians live beyond their approved incomes and there is no record of accountability in their trays. The much talk on a National Conference in Nigeria will also fail if the right ingredients are not put into the system to be installed. We just don’t go for a change of name, but a change of life, a change of business as usual to a business as it ought to be. Hence it is the people who should decide how they want to be governed and led.

A few individuals in privileged positions have always hijacked governance instruments in Nigeria and in Africa especially and run the people poor, disappointed, dissolution, discouraged and disenfranchised. Nigeria is not poor by endowments, natural or human resources but Nigeria is a den of wolves and lions devouring its people together with its resources by a few who stole themselves to position of leadership. Nigeria’s problem is not only resource sharing formula or mere leadership rearing that is at odds. There has always never been a common Nigerian dream to drive us to a common goal for a participatory democracy.

Recently some new officers were elected into the Local Government Areas in Kwara State of Nigeria. The elections if held a few days later would have allowed a new opposition party in the state to qualify to participate after its constitutional 60 minimum days of existence. Why did the state rushed to elections knowing that its effective opposition party may not participate? Does the ruling party want respect and dissenting views? Yet this is not the participatory system we advocate here but if such cases should arise an individual or group of electorates to seek a redress under the prevailing laws. Similarly I had expected the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria to seek their redress in the courts and not on the streets. Remove erring officers by law not by the force of the gun. Document their faults and use such against them when they become unbearable. If we are all active to promote our civilisation through promotion of a common constitutional documents we shall build a more accountable, equitable, civic and enduring society. Today the system goes to the highest bidder and he/she runs away with it without looking back leaving us poorer. Instead of uniting to combat a common enemy we allow ourselves to dissolve into private religious and ethnic enclaves seeking enclave Councils.

Our personal interest is more on the enshrining of enduring and affordable National Education System Nigeria through good governance in a proper participatory democracy. The Federal Government has a great role to play in directing and leading but we must bring other stakeholders on board by asking for their inputs in cash and kinds in order to run an efficient and robust system. What the Abuja government is doing to our system is like using cutlass or herbicides to cut down your plants in the farm before their maturation, giving harmful drugs to patients in hospital, using administrative physic to drive us away from the narrow roads, and the like. They do this in various ways including enthroning incompetent administration, allowing high level of admissions into institutions, refusing to maintain the dilapidating infrastructures, poor welfare package to staff, and preventing charges of tuitions when government knows it could not provide the minimum 26% of annual budget for education as recommended by international bodies amongst others. Participatory democracy is both open and all involving. Electorates would have both say and inputs at all time.

Hence we all need to work together and solve the problem of development in Africa. The problem of leadership is a crucial part of the problem, especially the way leaders were educated would make a huge difference in the future of the continent. Those who are students today will be African leaders tomorrow. Hence the type and level of education African children receive the environment under which they are trained, those they look up to as mentors or guidance will play a great deal in the development of Africa.

Setting up the appropriate educational authorities in Africa that it would be adequate to African students in the liberal arts, political sciences and international relations and good governance is one approach. These courses and disciplines are already regular courses in most conventional Universities in Africa. However African Universities face several obstacles such as inadequate classrooms, poorly equipped laboratories, substandard hostels, inadequate number of lecturers and low quality of the available few, and inappropriate curricula are just a few of the problems. So far we imitate the western education system but fail to see the peculiarity of Africans and their inherent background to be built into the system. For African leaders we seek a set of courses in the liberal arts core that compel students to think and see broadly, to connect different ideas, to learn how to ask the right questions, to think critically and to be able to develop an innovative, entrepreneurial approach to problems.

Private universities that have been floated have many drawbacks for most African students. The private universities have very artificial environment and very expensive for more than 95 percent of parents. Their curricula are not specific for training true future leaders. For example most of the leaders in Arabs are from royal families and naturally trained for such roles from birth. In the western democracy individuals ensures proper self and family training in order to stand a chance in the political field. The system in the west has matured enough to be capable of weeding out the less qualified candidates or impeach wrongly elected individuals as required. In that direction Africa is yet to grow and groom its leaders. Those who put themselves up so far are candidates of opportunities and money bags or candidates from the military apparatus. Their mindsets require the extra training that we advocate here if they must be useful beyond lording self around.


Prof. R.A. Ipinyomi,

ipinyomira@yahoo.co.uk or/and raipinyomi@unilorin.edu.ng



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