voice for democracy

Majoritarianism bucks democracy – The Punch

Punch Newspapers
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Lekan Sote
Still on the argument that the 1999 Constitution should have been “annulled” immediately a civilian government succeeded the military that had enjoyed a long run imposing its command-and-control winner-takes-all culture on Nigeria’s polity.
At a recent “Conversation by Media Industry Groups on Inclusion in the Electoral and Political Process” hosted by the Dr Akin Akingbulu-led Institute for Media and Society, Prof Ayo Ojebode of Department of Communication and Language Arts of University of Ibadan suggested that citizens should be wary of the principle of “majority-carry-the-vote.”
In the following soundbite, Prof Ojebode avers that majoritarianism could skew decision-making against minorities: “Most of the time we are unable to distinguish between democracy and majority rule. These are two opposing concepts.
“Majority rule or majoritarianism is a system where the majority always has its way. Whether it is good or not, the majority usually has its way in a majoritarian system. In a democratic system the will, the intention, the expectation of the minority finds a way of expression.”

Whereas democracy is all-inclusive and promotes equity, the equality that majoritarianism claims to deliver to the majority is oppressive to the minority because it hardly recognises and accommodates others who are not in the majority.
It gets really absurd when a minority gets hold of majority power. Section 54 of Nigeria’s Constitution requires a quorum of only one-third of members of any of the chambers of the National Assembly, and when they have a joint meeting with themselves or with any or all States Assemblies.
Section 56(2) further adds that anytime that (one-third) quorum is formed for the purpose of the meeting “the required majority for the purpose of determining any question shall be a simple majority.”


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This means that in the Nigerian Senate, only 36 or 37 of the 109 members can form a quorum to deliberate and only a simple majority of 19 of the 36 or 37 are needed to carry a vote on behalf of the whole house.
By some strange logic, a minority has the legal leg to act on behalf of the majority. This makes it very difficult to express and accommodate pluralism in the National Assembly and, by extension, the nation.
Remember that on June 9, 2015, despite Article 9.1, Sub-Section 2 of the All Progressives Congress Constitution, which prescribes reprimand, censure, fine, debarment or even expulsion for members who do not comply with party directives, the “Like Mind Senators” led in electing Dr Bukola Saraki as Senate President against APC directives.
Senate was inaugurated and principal officers were elected by a mix of 57 members of APC and Peoples Democratic Party present in the red chamber, while 51 other APC senators were misled to go to the International Conference Centre, Abuja to await the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who had no inkling about any such meeting.
A group, albeit across APC and PDP party lines, bearing only their self-interest in mind, went ahead and captured the leadership of the Nigerian Senate, the upper chamber of the second arm of government.
You saw the consequent cantankerous relationship between the Buhari presidency and the eighth Senate led by Saraki and his rabble-rouser supporters, ably led by his sidekick, boisterous Senator Dino Melaye.
The capture of the Senate by ‘rebel groups’ extended to the House of Representatives where Yakubu Dogara, who was not the choice of APC leadership, was elected Speaker, with some others in his gang as principal officers.

Those who argue that political parties are formed to advance private interests presented as public interest are spot on. To stop the oppression by those acting as a majority, the constitution must provide for independent candidates and expunge provisions that insist that only candidates presented by political parties can contest elections in Nigeria.
When former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, described democracy as the worst form of government, safe for the other forms, he must have had majoritarianism at the back of his mind.
What obtains at Nigeria’s federal legislature obtains also at the state and local government levels. Americans would say the manure rolls down the hill. You only need a simple majority vote of only one-third of NASS members to pass an Act.

Many mistakenly assume that when Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, which seeks to grant maximum happiness to citizens, didn’t recognise the minorities when he argued that the mandate of government is to seek the greatest good of the greatest number.
As a sociopolitical construct that promotes “the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people,” utilitarianism or utilitarian ethics seeks the betterment of society as a whole. That is the goal of a democracy that serves all citizens.
When first-generation Nigerians like Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, whose origin is in Arab Mauretania, begins to brag about the so-called numbers that Northern Nigeria could deploy to impose its political will on the rest of Nigeria, you know that his default position is that numbers are instruments of oppression. Unfortunate.
People who think like him do not seem to be aware that an ignorant majority may not always have the best judgement, and may also stifle superior ideas that could be of advantage to both the majority and the excluded minority.


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The existence of Indigenous People of Biafra and Oduduwa Republic separatist groups in Nigeria proves that majoritarianism disregards the interests of minorities and will always lead to disagreements, protests and even the Balkanisation of a country.
Groups like these need to be heard out not shouted or hunted down. There must be constructive engagement with them to understand their demands and determine how to deal with their issues.
Even the writers of the defective 1999 Constitution realise that citizens should be able to express their opinions no matter how different or far out. Section 39(1) of the constitution says, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas…”
In addition, Section 40 provides that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”
Dr. Baba-Ahmed needs to be reminded that whenever politicians get into office because they won the majority vote, they should be aware of the small foxes of different opinions that can affect the stability of the so-called majority.
His conduct and pronouncements reflect the sentiments of President Buhari, who reportedly said electorates that gave him only 5 per cent of their votes should not expect to be treated the same way as those who cast 97 per cent of their votes for him.
Unfortunately, this attitude of the president, favouring only his partisans while excluding the South-East from heading any of Nigeria’s security agencies, is partly responsible for general disaffection among those regarded as outsiders in Nigeria. It also fuels insecurity all across the country.

It’s even causing some people to spread the wild speculation that “repentant” Boko Haram insurgents, kitted with Nigerian Army uniforms, taught more sophisticated military drills, and armed were deployed to combat in South-East Nigeria.
Though difficult to believe, the perceived persecutory posture of government against the South-East because of IPOB’s presumed iniquities cannot be disregarded.
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