Democracy and Development: A Prolegomena for Growth

It therefore beats my imagination, how, as entrepreneurs and employers of labour, we focus on recruiting the best of the best to grow our business visions, expand our investments, ensure profitability and return on investment but fall back to select, through election, the most incompetent, the worst, to manage our states, resources and infrastructure

By Obiora Okonkwo Ph.D

The Okwadike at 80 Symposium presents us with another opportunity to dialogue on the journey we consciously embarked upon, called democracy, for our own good.

Political philosophers of both ancient, medieval and contemporary times agree that man opts for government in order to create social order and control through laws and regulations. Governments exist, therefore, so as to establish organization, and provide parameters for societal behaviour and control while also defending people from aggression, which could be internal or external. Like Karl Marx espoused, property ownership is a huge source of social conflict which makes government a necessity. Outside these, what we probably would have is a state of nature where we live like savages with brutish, nasty and short lives as argued by Hobbes. By agreeing to form a government, man surrenders his will to a group of persons whom he entrusts with the capacity to make policies and decisions that will work for his own good. This way, man is free to pursue other interests that will make him happy and ensure his well-being. Classically, government evolved as people discovered the need for protection which is easier when people stay together.

Over time, however, government responsibilities have evolved. They have also expanded to include economic planning and development. They have also come to include the provision of social services that enables man to enhance living. It is out of this expanding responsibility that we begin to have ideologies of differentiation of forms of government. That explains the reasons behind what we have today as capitalism, welfarism, liberalism and all the ideologies that were developed to expand knowledge of what exactly the government should be.

In our expression of our preferences, we have settled for democracy as a form of government that allows for mass participation. However, our form of democracy is federalist. This is different from other forms in which democracy is expressed. Other nation states adopt the form of democracy that best suits them. In our expression, we agreed to a presidential federalist democracy which supposes that we have a central government structure with semi-autonomous states. In other climes, parliamentary democracy is practised. Some also elect to go with an infusion of monarchy and parliamentary democracy. However, what is most important is that whatever form of democracy that is in practice observes the basic tenets which include holding period elections, guaranteeing freedom of the people to hold plural opinions, associate freely, settle where they desire, pursue their business interests freely and also to express their faith without molestation. This is what makes the difference between democracy and autocracy or dictatorship. I guess the fact that democracy offers the people the freedom to periodically chose their leaders and also, be free to pursue their interests and associate freely, is why many nation states prefer it.

However, there have been opinions also to the effect that democracy is the worst form of government to the effect that it allows for mob rule through a majority vote. Some scholars have argued that the dictum of the majority vote makes mob rule possible as the majority could be a bunch of irredeemable mongrels. Though views in this regard are not popular, I still recall the famous Winstonian thought that “democracy is the worse form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried”.

In appreciating the beauty that democracy offers, one may have to look back at Nigeria and see the differences. For 16 years, beginning in December 1983, this country was managed by the military. Many have argued that military government has never been the best. I agree. During these 16 years, there was suppression of rights, indiscriminate imprisonment of opposing voices, violation of human rights and other infractions against the people. This happened because the military did not see itself as accountable to the people. It was accountable only to itself but most especially, to the ruling group. This accounted for one of several reasons military officers contested to outdo themselves in planning coups.

Usurpation of government by military rule comes with one significant thing: suspension of the constitution. The implication of this is that rules, law and order were at the discretion of the military ruler. What he said was law became law as he had no parliament to work with. In such circumstance, the people live at the whims of the military ruler who is often the most senior military officer and as such, cannot be questioned by his juniors.

Despite these, there has been a long-standing debate as to which pushes the frontiers of development better. There is no doubt that military regimes created states, a development which has remained almost impossible in a federal democracy like ours. This, I think, was made possible because of the command and control style of the military where actions are sometimes taken without minding the outcomes. Be that as it may, our national experience is one which says the military created states and “with immediate effect” decreed certain developments into being. However, I believe that democracy expands the frontiers of development such that both individuals and societies can develop using available resources in a more impactful and peaceful manner.

Taking Abuja, our federal capital, in context, one observes that though the military created it, and with military fiat relocated the seat of government, it also took military failures to derail it with abuse of the master plan which a civil democracy corrected using laws that passed the scrutiny of the people. It is debatable if the relocation of the Federal Capital to Abuja from Lagos would have been better handled by a civil administration. Similarly, is it possible that some of the infractions that occurred, like the forceful ejection of the original inhabitants of the territory, would have occurred in a democracy in the same way and manner the military managed it? Whatever our views on these are, a preponderance of opinion suggests that development thrives better under democracy because of the creation of the legal basis, through the parliament, for such developments.

This paper is, however, not a comparison between military and democratic rule. I have drawn from the above to show why democracy, which entails periodic elections and changes of administrators, the plurality of opinions, freedom to develop at one’s own pace etc., is preferable. Weiner, A. (2008), in The Invisible Constitution of Politics: Contested Norms and International Encounters, writes that the “literature on democratic ethics primarily focuses upon key components such as universal suffrage, free speech, legal equality, constitutional checks, political equality in practice, freedom of representation and enhanced participation”. This essentially summarizes democracy.

That essential ingredient called participation is what really makes the difference.  It further says that the absence of such democratic tenets like universal suffrage, free speech, legal equality, constitutional checks, political equality in practice, freedom of representation and enhanced participation removes from democracy what it should be. For if democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865), then, the people must participate to drive their own development using legal guarantees established by the parliament and protected by the government.

I believe this was what Okwadike attempted to do in Anambra state between January 1992 and November 1993 when he was elected by the people of Anambra and empowered to lead the charge and use governmental tools to put in place infrastructures that they need to drive their own development. I have no doubt that Anambra state would have been better had Okwadike executed the mandate without interruption. I say this because, with hindsight, we see the trajectory of development discourse that Okwadike has pursued. He has remained a vocal advocate of a restructuring aimed at putting power back in the hands of the people to enable them to pursue societal development. At the 2014 National Conference, Okwadike stood firmly on his belief that for Nigeria to make progress, government must remain true to its social contract with the people and provide the enablers that drive industry. Okwadike has remained an unrepentant Igboist with a pan-Nigerian outlook. In his intellectual discourses, from his days in government, he never shied away from insisting that government must use its powers to remake Nigeria by creating a leadership culture that is altruistic.

If we review Okwadike’s propositions for the development of Anambra state, for instance, we will be able to draw inspiration for the future of our state. Anambra is the leading light of the Southeast. It achieved that because of the enterprising zeal of its people. When I say this, I do not mean to humiliate or denigrate other states of the southeast. I rather want to instigate debate for the development of the region using government as a tool. For our people, the government exist to facilitate development. As a people who have surrendered their will to a set of people who administer their commonwealth on their behalf, we expect, that in line with Okwadike’s visions, that infrastructural development will be at the top of the government contract with the people. The people believe that there should actually be no reason for them to suffer lack in social amenities given the huge human resource pool, and internally generated revenue, the state is blessed with.

Therefore, in designing a prolegomenon for the future of Anambra state, we, the people of the state, must begin to look at government as a tool towards driving societal development. This view, which I believe is shared by many, aims to make us responsible for our development. It suggests that we must sit back and ask ourselves some hard questions and from the answers we generate, push for the constitution of credible alternatives to managing our commonwealth. Fact is, we cannot constantly bemoan our state of development but refuse to get involved in the process of using available tools to change our narrative. When we elect our leaders and representatives, it must occur to us that we are entrusting a set of competent, credible and honest people with our lives, our security, our resources etc. If we are deeply conscious of this, then, we would make the right move by ensuring that we design a system which will make us empower a set of people who will deliver the goods and show us outcomes of the errand we sent them.

Like I had argued elsewhere, the government is not for self-enrichment. The government does not aim to produce the richest man. It aims, rather, to serve the people in a most honourable manner. It therefore beats my imagination, how, as entrepreneurs and employers of labour, we focus on recruiting the best of the best to grow our business visions, expand our investments, ensure profitability and return on investment but fall back to select, through election, the most incompetent, the worst, to manage our states, resources and infrastructure. At times I wonder if we really understand that elections are simply a job recruitment drive while campaigns are like job interviews? Do we honestly expect to plant mangoes and harvest apples? If we recruit the incompetent, how do we expect our societies to develop? How do we expect democracy to be of utilitarian value to the majority of the people? Therefore, I believe we must begin to review at our leadership recruitment process with the aim of selecting, through elections, the best of our best to lead us. This should be the competent, the credible, the honest with proven success in private enterprise leadership and management.

I guess this is what China has done. China is a democracy. Its people sat back and fashioned out a democratic system that works for them. Several years back, we heard of China only in negatives. The West was at the forefront of attempting to export its own brand of democracy to China. But China closed its gates and while the West bamboozled it with negative media, it worked behind the curtain to push its development. When eventually China opened its doors to the world, the West started a new kind of diplomacy -to ask China to slow its growth. Today, China is the largest economy in the world. It did not achieve that depending on models exported to it by others. It designed its own.

Zhang Weiwei, Director of China Institute at Fudan University said: “China’s rise has attracted global attention and many have focused on the economic model behind its rise, which is, of course, important. But China’s evolving political change has somehow been ignored by many. In fact, without much fanfare, China has established a system of meritocracy or what can be described as “selection plus election”, where competent leaders are selected on the basis of performance and broad support through a vigorous process of screening, opinion surveys, internal evaluations and various types of election. This is much in line with the Confucian tradition of meritocracy. After all, China is the first country that invented civil service examination system, or the ‘KeJu’ system.”

Import of this is that China has been able to develop a leadership recruitment system that promotes merit across the entire political stratum. This leadership by merit is what now drives China’s super-fast economic growth. For instance, as Weiwei said the “six of the seven top leaders of the members of the standing committee of the Politburo, elected at the 19th party congress, have run provinces or province-level municipalities, many of which, in terms of population and GDP is equivalent to many nations combined.”

According to Weiwei “China’s political and institutional arrangements and innovations have so far produced a system which has in many ways combined the best options of selecting well-tested competent leaders and the least bad option of ensuring the exit of the leaders who should exit for all kinds of reasons, through for instance, a collective leadership or age limits. The China model of ‘selection plus election’ is by no means perfect. It is still being improved upon. But, it is well-positioned to compete with the western model of popular democracy.”

What China has done, in essence, is to educate us to the fact that we could strive to design a democratic leadership recruitment process that is based on merit and competence, which alters the incumbent system. We must design and develop a leadership system that promotes meritocracy through a selection process that identifies, and elects, the best of the best and entrust them with the management of the commonwealth. I believe that Anambra state needs such a process. It is clearly antithetical to common sense that, as a people, we succeed in private enterprise but fail in the management of our commonwealth. We must return to the drawing board, redraw the map and bequeath to the next generation a system that promotes competence, rewards excellence and drives development through selfless service to the community. Meritocracy remains the solution.

*Okonkwo contributed this paper to a book titled ‘Okwadike: Nigeria, Democracy and State of the Economy’, a commemorative publication on the 80th birthday of 1st Executive Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife.

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