By Abiodun KOMOLAFE
(Published in Ekocity Magazine on March 4, 2023
Democracy is a political paradigm, albeit, with a specific ideological undertone; and the ideological tone refers to the attributes of democracy. Indeed, that distinguishes it from other ideological classifications. Making it simpler, democracy is different from, say, monarchy in that, while the former embraces and encourages all to participate in a political system, the latter is reserved for the privileged family. In other words, it is family-specific, hereditary and it is essentially the government of the few. So, it’s either one belongs or one doesn’t!
Lest we forget, the evolution of democracy has its rich history in a rebellion against dictatorship, against monarchical institutions, against bigotry, and anything that prevents mass participation. Be that as it may, democratic governments function only to the extent of the understanding of the society and the political gladiators practising it. So, for the society to have a functional democratic system, it must have a robust understanding of the tenets as well as the intrinsic attributes of democracy so that it won’t appear alien to its practitioners and/or those over whom it is being practised. Since everybody will have to be part of it, it also has to be a general, not restricted, knowledge.
Let it also be noted that Democracy is not derivable, nor a by-product of hidden meanings! Impliedly, its meanings have to be known to everybody, with its central nerve being the majority having not only their say but also their way. That’s the meaning of democracy! Democrats abide by the rules; that is, the grundnum remains sacred! That’s why, if a democrat should lose an election in a free and fair contest, he or she will accept the results and face the future with equanimity.
On its part, ideologies, at best, are tools or instruments with which political paradigms are activated or energised. Ideology gives life and propensity to political paradigms. Undeniably, it is the oxygen with which political paradigms breathe. It distinguishes it and makes it distinctive and identifiable. For instance, in a capitalist world, the pursuit of prosperity and personal riches are allowed without the state interference. But, in a socialist enclave, that’s an aberration, because the state arrogates ownership of all resources to itself, and, in the name of equitable distribution, socialism redistributes the state’s wealth – ‘on behalf of the masses’ – according to its (socialist) light. It also spells out the modalities by which the political paradigms work. So, if we have a democracy, we will discover that it is glaringly opposed to a dictatorship or a monarchy.
Ideological attributes are not only to be assimilated but also internalised by its adherents. For example, a Labour party man in the United Kingdom remains so till death! And, since he or she might have assimilated and internalized those values, he can’t be seen changing overnight. That’s why it is difficult to see politicians decamping anyhow over there – unlike here; which indeed shows the frivolity of partisanship. In the UK, a Labour man, fifty years on, remains not just a Labour man. His worldview is also affected by that ideology.
Lastly, loyalty presupposes an understanding that, irrespective of circumstances, one’s disposition towards a particular cause is always constant; that it won’t change! It also means that, deliberately, a man who is said to be loyal is not looking for a rescuer or an escape route. He or she is loyal to the core! His or position won’t change frivolously over a cause, an issue, policy decisions or an agreement with political actors. If there’s anything that counters or interferes with that, then, the loyalty profile becomes wounded. In the then USSR for example, the people supported Mikhail Gorbachev till the very end. Ditto for Mao Tse Tung (China) and Adolf Hitler (Germany).
In saner climes, if and when politicians disagree with the fundamentals of their political party, they either resign or quit politics altogether, not to join or defect to another party. A Marxist will always engage in an argument from a Marxian perspective. He will always bring Karl Marx into his or her discussions and/or arguments – be they political, economic, or social. And, once the logic of argument is traceable, it becomes obvious to the world from what perspective the argument is being made.
In Nigeria, we have people who are referred to as progressives; which, to yours sincerely, has no meaning, simply because it has accommodated everybody. Progressivism as an ideology in this part of the world means different things to different people who think differently. Here, strange bedfellows are able to stay under one umbrella in the name of being progressives. But, to actually define and nail it down, nobody has a generally acceptable or accepted definition of the term and, in any case, it is the appeal of the ideologies that help to recruit membership to the political groups. They are people with common core values.
For instance, Labour believes that it is the creator of wealth, whereas a capitalist thinks otherwise: that those who invest their wealth in the acts of production are the real owners of the wealth. Labour also believes that it is the people, working together and producing something who should be the owners of the wealth, not the main investors. That is why, in socialism, it is preferred that the state should invest; that when the state invests in the acts of production, then, the people, not the state, will own the production. Once that happens, it’s not the capitalists but the state which will be in charge of the sharing of all the profits. As such, the portion of the less privileged will not be in vain.
Remember Lapite in ‘Saworoide’ when he retorted: ‘K’iwo j’eji, k’emi j’eji, ki t’ara yoku ja s’asan’ (The survivalist creed of the selfish: you take double, I take double, while others’ become nought)! Therefore, the argument can be made that the progressive bent in Nigeria is amoebic in nature and texture. It’s the same as wearing an ‘Awo cap’. It’s about the actors playing games with the people’s destiny and grounding the country to a halt by giving deceptive interpretations to progressivism. It’s about progressing, not necessarily being progressives! Yes, it’s about joining politics with bathroom slippers as the best pairs of shoes only to end up owning monstrous mansions at eyebrow Banana Island in Lagos and Asokoro in Abuja.
There was a time in Nigeria when Adam Oshiomhole was the symbol of Labour and the struggle for the emancipation of the citizenry. Time it was also when Lai Mohammed was the face of the opposition politics in Nigeria. Now, the music has changed! No thanks to loyalty which has become a victim of dear fatherland’s rapidly changing political temperature! Well, I intend to dwell more on this in my forthcoming ‘Letter to the Progressives.’
For the society to gauge the relevance of democracy, the roles of ideology in governance and the place of loyalty in party politics, there must be a robust understanding of what the concepts stand for. Not only that, the adherents must also be willing to do exactly as those concepts prescribe. The dangerous truth is that democracy will work to the extent of the understanding of the society; and, since one cannot give what one doesn’t have, a better democratic practice will remain an illusion until the basics and fundamental issues of literacy, rule of law, equality and individual freedom are attended to.
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Nigeria!
Komolafe wrote in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State, Nigeria (email@example.com; 08098614418 – SMS only)