Democratic Corruption: The Case of Nigeria, By Ogunmakin Oyewumi

Democracy or democratic system of government is one of the most reputable system of government that gives values and recognition to the citizens of a particular country on how to shape their destiny or government through periodic franchise or referendum without being under duress or any intimidation. It is the most widely used system of government since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 because there is no alternative to it. Thus, this in my own opinion is why the concept lack a unique definition because. James Bryce in his two monumental works, The American Commonwealth (1893) and Modern Democracies (1921), defined democracy as “the rule of the people expressing their sovereign will through their votes”. However, the road to democracy in Nigeria was arduous, but we finally re-adopted the system in 1999. Hence, we have been witnessing an ‘unhindered’ democratic system of government since then.

Corruption on the other hand is regarded as an immoral and illegitimate use of public power for the benefit of private interest is one of the main problems threatening the developments of this country. Thus, it is not news that corruption is one of the pains in the neck of Nigeria democratic development. It is institutionalized in every Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government and it is systemic. The question is how is the Nigerian state corrupt using democracy as the basis of our analysis? To what extent can democracy as a system of government develop the Nigerian state? To what extent can or will the political class deviates from corruption?

The truth of the matter is, democracy has a limit on how it can help foster development in Nigeria as a state and how it can help reduce corrupt practice and other immoral political actions. For democracy to thrive in a country, it must key into the five pillars of democracy which are, Government by consent, Public Accountability, Constitutional government, Majority rule and recognition of minority right. Of course, these pillars of democracy are present in the democratic culture of the Nigeria state but these are also sets of democratic dogma that encouraged the wide-spread of corruption in Nigeria because of the way we practice it. Let us now examine four of the pillars of democracy and the ways they have infiltrate Nigeria’s democratic system with corrupt minded people who only seek the development of their pocket at the expense of the masses.

  • Government by consent

Democracy of course is a system of government by consent of the people. Rational consent of the people can be obtained by ‘persuasion’ for which an atmosphere of free discussion is essential. In Nigeria, we do give consent to every government through vote and political participation but what do we get in return? Elected representatives who are supposed to foster the interest of the people at the federal and state level unequivocally change the tone of government to their personal and egoistic interest. They live in mansions, ride luxury cars, send their children abroad at the expense of the masses who perspire and stay in a sunny environment for hours just to cast their vote for their favorite representatives. To a large extent, government by consent represents the beauty of democracy and why the vox populi of the people matters. But the irony of the matter is that, those who consent are the ‘sufferer’ while the elected representatives take the glory of the political show. The result is a divided society in which there exist a wide and unending gap between the bourgeois classes, proletariat, haves, have not and the extremely poor citizens. The combination of what we have in present day Nigeria. But does this mean we should seize our consent? No. Government revolves around the people or inhabitant of a particular country without you and me, Nigeria will surcease.

  • Public Accountability

A democratic government based on the consent of the people, must remain answerable to the people who created it. It is on this basis that an English philosopher sees government as an asset to a ‘trustee’ who the people entrust through vote the political post he or she occupy. Hence, public accountability to this extent does serve as a motivation for the masses to participate effectively in politics so that they can entrust them with their elected representatives irrespective of their ethnic or geographical background. The literates in Nigeria all know that public accountability is written theoretically in Nigeria. Practically, we do not pay much attention to it. It is a sophistry in our democratic system. Instead of being accountable to the masses, political posts have been a systemic instrument in the hand of the political office holders to syphone wealth for their social and personal elevation. This is why government MDAs finds it difficult to publish their budget for the masses to see and ask relevant questions on how the money generated are spent. This is also one out of many reasons why Nigerians is yet to know the total number of money recovered under the umbrella of fighting corruption since the inception of this administration and the total number of PMS product produced by NNPC daily. It is also the reason why the President of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara is yet to publish how much he receives as salary despite the challenge from Kaduna State Governor, El-Rufai. It is also one of the reasons why members of the upper chambers refused to make public their salaries and allowances.

  • Constitutional Government

In ordinary parlance, constitutional government means ‘government by laws’ rather than by man or some political class. It is a situation where the rule of the law supersede all and sundry irrespective of your post. Democracy requires an infinitely complex machinery process, procedures and institutions to translate the will of majority into actions. In a democratic corrupt system like Nigeria, the laws of the country are meant for the masses in practice, while the political class uses the technicality of the law to evade or delay justice. The procedures, time and nature of the laws encourage corruption in Nigeria. This is one of the reasons why no one is yet to be found guilty out of many suspected to be chronic looters of the commonwealth of people.

  • Majority rule

In a democratic society, decisions are taken in several bodies of government-legislature, committees, and cabinet executive or regulative bodies. Therefore, majority rule is all about these decision-making bodies, from the electorate to the last committee; the issues are to be resolved by voting which to a large extent must be in line with the sole interest and development of the masses. Political equality is secured by the principle of one man one vote. Is this really happening in Nigeria? Though to some extent, Nigerians participate effectively through vote which is the core value of majority rule, but did the political class engage themselves in what will really benefit the masses? Truth be told, top decision of these democratic bodies are mainly for the interest of the elected representatives. A perfect example is the SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) cars being bought by the legislature when the masses are finding it difficult to eat three square meals per day.

From the above, we can infer that democracy as a system of government is not really good for Nigeria, though other countries might be developing with this system of government. Our democratic development has being rapid and lack the value of real democracy as being practiced in some Scandinavian countries. The pillars of the democracy which ought to encourage ‘true development’ now serve as a mean for the rich political class enrich their pocket and punish the masses whom the system revolves around. No wonder our country is in the state of comatose.

To conclude, what we really need is ‘Demo-military’ systems of government that will to some extent follow the norms of democracy and also have the capability to veto some democratic decisions which have all the trappings to stagnate the growth of the country. Lessons can be drawn from Lee Quan Yew of Singapore.  If at the twenty-first century we are like this, when are we going to catch up with the rest (emerging economies or developing states), when are we going to get it right?


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