Electioneering campaign is warfare in Nigeria. Billions of naira are invested in campaigns and conducting elections. War and money have not yielded wise leaders for the country. Is it not the time for us to generate creative ideas on how can we peacefully and cheaply select citizens for offices? I suggest that we complement our system of an election with a lottery. We reserve one-third of all seats in the State Houses of Assemble, Federal House of Representatives, and the Senate for delegates to be filled by lot. Every four years, we put the names of all eligible citizens in a given constituency in a computerized urn or other mechanism and pick out a winner to represent his or her constituency at one level.
I offer this proposal based on seven reasons. First, it is more cost effective to operate than the rigged system we run now. Second, this will partly break the power of the cabal and Godfathers that handpick candidates for us at every election. Choosing candidates by lot levels the playing field for both the rich and the poor.
Third, the proposed system is more just than the current one. It opens up leadership opportunities to those who will ordinarily not be permitted to come near governance of our country. Fourth, this new system will give ordinary, poor, or middle-class Nigerians a chance to represent their constituencies without first amassing wealth or stealing public funds to finance their campaigns and settle political gate keepers.
Fifth, what have we got to lose? The performance of our “duly” elected officials is worse than that of any group of persons we will randomly pick from the streets. The candidates we select by the lottery system cannot be worse than our present crop of politicians. Sixth, in many holy books of the world’s religions divine wisdom or strategic information from the gods has been obtained or revealed by a lot. All the Nigerians who pride themselves as prayer warriors will now have their work cut out for them. Let us unleash their energies to pray to God or gods to pick the right candidates for us.
Finally, my proposal is more “democratic” than the current electoral system. It is aligned with the founding theoretical idea of democracy itself. The foundation of democracy is in fact, the lack of any foundation. Any serious research into the debates about democracy in ancient Greek easily reveals that the Greeks understood democracy to depend on the sheer contingency of equality. This is a radical notion of equality that does not allow access to power to depend on any form of hierarchy or discrimination based on birth, seniority, wealth, intelligence, virtue, or strength. The rule by the demos means that all are equal before the law and by nature. This is the scandal of democracy. This is why both Plato and Aristotle were not advocates of democracy. Plato preferred knowledge as the basis of choosing leaders and Aristotle preferred virtue.
These ancient thinkers knew that the rule of the demos, which is a democracy, means it was governance by those who had no entitlement to govern. Democracy depended on egalitarian contingency, an egalitarian disruption of the ruling order. Democracy had an irreverent core. So democracy emerged as a word of derision by the opponents of the demos, that is, from those in society who were against the masses who in their reckoning did not count, had no entitlement to rule. This idea of governance by those who had no entitlement to power demanded a new qualification for political leadership, a qualification that was really no qualification.
Plato who laid out the six entitlements to the exercise of power, we stated above, added the seventh one, “god’s part,” “choice of God,” or “drawing of lots” (see Book III of his Law, paragraph 690e). Jacques Rancière sums up the meaning of democracy in Plato’s thought in this way: “So democracy is characterized by the drawing of lots, or the complete absence of any entitlement to govern… Democracy is the specific situation in which it is the absence of entitlement that entitles one to exercise arkhè”[power to rule] (Dissensus, p. 31). This whole line of argument or intellectual history suggests that the law of chance is embedded the idea of democracy.
Why have I gone into the primordial meaning of democracy as it emerged in ancient Greek? It is to support my proposal of election by lot. It is not such a scandalous idea when you think about it in the light of the core meaning of democracy. What democracy really means is that we are all equal, equal to rule and to be ruled. It is our citizenship that counts, that fits us for office. But all through history leaders have not been at ease with this radical notion of democracy. So they crafted various properties to limit their fellow citizens, especially the masses from power.
Before some of you consider my proposal as too radical, let me remind you that my suggestion of election by lottery is not an overturning of our contextual democracy. I requested that we reserve only one-third of the seats in the three legislative houses for the lottery system. Don’t you want to inject some novelty into our so-called democracy to address some of its perennial problems? Or are you afraid that unqualified Nigerians might get to exercise power?
Democracy is for people who have no qualification to rule. Since 1999 we have given or sold seats of power to those who have “qualifications” to rule and they have unqualifiedly failed us. Let us now in God’s wisdom try those the Godfathers deem unqualified to rule. Let us now qualify the unqualified and inject some new blood into our political system.
By Nimi Wariboko
Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics
Boston University, USA