We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

NIGERIA: Demanding Direct Democracy

The business of democracy in Nigeria

By Joshua Ocheja

Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is basically of two types: Representative Democracy and Direct Democracy. Representative democracy is one founded on the principle of the people’s representatives, the representatives form more than one independent ruling body, vested with the responsibility of acting in the people’s interest but not as their proxy representatives, but with enough authority to take initiatives in the face of challenging circumstances.

Direct democracy, classically termed pure democracy, comprises a form of democracy and theory of civics wherein sovereignty is lodged in the assembly of all citizens who choose to participate. Depending on the particular system, this assembly might pass executive motions, make laws, elect and dismiss officials and conduct trials. Where the assembly elects officials, these are executive agents or direct representatives, bound to the will of the people.

Direct democracy stands in contrast to representative democracy, where sovereignty is exercised by a subset of people, usually on the basis of election. However, it is possible to combine the two into representative direct democracy.

In Nigeria today, we have striven for democracy for the greater part of our political history. Democracy is not a political buzzword but something definite, something we have relentlessly striven to attain, especially during the 29 years of military rule.

Those years were marred by the brazen ambitions of the military junta who were determined in retaining their leadership of the nation with detrimental repercussions. The contemporary Nigerian society consists of over 250 ethno-linguistic groups and is among the most ethnically-diverse countries in the world. The challenge our nascent democracy faces, is not the health status of the president or the number of ethnic groups, but the sheer politicisation and incorporation of ethnic diversity into national life.

Each ethnic group under the cover of relevance organises itself in the contest for national booties and view public policies largely from the prism of their sectional interest. Ethnic sentiments is at the heart of the perennial allegations of marginalisation by the different ethnic groups that make up the Nigerian nation

Democracy in Nigeria is a limited liability company where certain people have ownership and these people are conformist in that they feel Nigeria is not ripe to be listed on the stock exchange so the citizens can have shares via public offer.

The big question is how democratic is Nigeria? Nigeria is 48 years old. This is a company that has been in business for that long and remains a limited liability company whereas other nations that have not clocked 48 have become full fledged public liability companies, posting impressive financial result and giving its share holders(citizens) a reason to smile. But the Nigerian scenario is a different one. When an organisation stands as a limited liability company, their profit goes to the pocket of the few that are the owners. This is what our beloved country has become! You might want to agree with me that there exists a powerful cabal that dictates our yesterday, today and tomorrow.

These people have hypnotised us and they too have been hypnotised by their imagination. Their greatest worry is, when the spell eventually fades away what befalls them? Nigeria can not remain a limited liability company anymore; it has outgrown that status. Its citizens have a right to know who gets what, when and how.

The year 1999 marked a defining moment for Nigeria, I remember vividly when Obasanjo was being sworn in as president. He wore a facial expression, which I could not interprete. If only I could read his thought pattern. It was not easy but it was worth it, I believe Obasanjo will be telling his close aides in Ota farm. The task of ruling Nigeria is the most tedious in human endeavour. Aside the paraphernalia of office that are enticing, the rest is in the hands of God. You are for God or for the devil.

When Moses went to Pharaoh to deliver the heavenly message, Pharaoh in his earthly wisdom, dismissed it with a wave of the hand. The rest is history. This same scenario is playing out in Nigeria: Let us go, we keep saying! The ruling cabal is turning the deaf ear to our pleas. Nigeria is 48 and sincerely, we cannot tell our right from the left.

But I have a dream: that one day, we shall be free and free indeed! Nigeria will become a public liability company, churning out impressive result for its shareholders (citizens).

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