Alexis de Tocqueville never met Bukola Saraki. Had he encountered the APC Senate President or President Muhammadu Buhari or House Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Tocqueville might have learned about a new twist on his concept of the “tyranny of the majority.” What we have in Nigeria is tyranny of the minority made up of 109 senators and 360 reps – an insignificant fraction of 180 million people.
The “tyranny of the majority” Tocqueville spoke about is a system of democracy and majority rule. It's a system in which a majority places its own interests above those of a minority group, constituting active oppression comparable to that of a tyrant or despot. But in the Nigerian case, tyranny of the minority is a situation in which the 469-member National Assembly democratically elected by the people makes or takes actions benefiting them – the minority - without regard for the rights or welfare of the rest of us. The tyranny of the minority in Nigeria is the Pied Piper-like, the opportunistic National Assembly members, governors, the president, who masterfully dupe the masses into believing that they're the new “political messiah.”
After years of military rule, Nigerians had hoped that our democratic experiment would serve as a shining example to the rest of Africa – a successful combination of equality and liberty built on genuine people's power. But, that's definitely not the case. We only need to look at few instances and see the degree to which the Nigerian system of representative democracy is so flawed. Our democracy has made it possible to vote into office governments that suppress the basic rights and freedom.
As this dystopian nation clocks 57, I'm hurried back into memory a passage in Plato's Republic. The very first time I read it in graduate school, it made a profound and lasting impact on me. The passage in the book is part of the dialogue between Socrates and his friends talking about the nature of different political systems, how one can slowly evolve into another. However, Socrates was very sure of one thing: “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.”
Those elected by the voters to act on their behalf by fighting for their economic, social, and political interests rarely and truly represent the people. This month, as we celebrate 57 years of democracy, Nigerian democracy is actually in retreat, close to being destroyed by vastly more unequal economy and the ability of the ruling minority and their cronies to purchase political influence.
One thing that continues to defy logic is the absence of a genuine mass movement in a collective sense of acute frustration. Not despair, or revolt, or resignation, but frustration simmering with rage. The Nigeria situation is unique. With the unending suffering, grinding poverty, mass unemployment, serial killings, insecurity, fear, and deprivation of basic necessities of life, no resistance is visible or audible to counteract the tyranny of the minority. Despite the hard choices and indecent human life that have become the standard of living of our people, and with the complicity of the legislators, the future stretches ahead with relief just out of reach.
When those who engineered the destruction of our economy and by extension of our nation, and those who stash away billions and billions face no consequences but renewed fabulous wealth, the anger of the Nigerian people reaches a crescendo. Nigerians are whipped into submission by the tyranny of the minority in all areas of life. Minimum wage for the poor is N18,000 per month whereas each senator earns N29 million per month while each member of the House of Reps takes home N10 million every month. The minority lives in palatial mansions, the rest of the population fight over shanty dwellings for a space to squat. Government jobs are the exclusive preserve for the family and friends of the minority in National Assembly. The public sector is not spared of the influence of the minority ruling class. Jobs in the banking, insurance, corporations, name it, are pegged down for the children and acquaintances of the tyrants in the legislature. Neighborhoods for the poor are unsafe, insecure, dangerous, and horrible. The poor are constantly living on the edge.
The poor have been disenfranchised from the political process. Their right to contest and compete in a participatory democracy is limited and in most cases impossible because it's being priced out of their reach. The minority 469-member of the National Assembly enslave the rest of the 180 million people. When they're sick, they're ferried to overseas hospitals. For the sick poor, they're told to die quickly. The tyrants govern more often in an arbitrary and unpredictable manner. They manipulate federal financial, judicial, electoral, and anti-corruption institutions.
The reputation and job performance of the tyrants have never been lower. Nigerians see them as corrupt, lazy, brainless, greedy, and do-nothing legislators whose moral judgment is greatly at fault. What do they actually do for the huge salary and allowances we pay them? Nothing! Half of the legislative year, they are mostly on vacation. Do we need 469 members in the National Assembly? Compared to other countries, Nigeria is massively over-represented. We, with a population of 180 million people, have 469 members, US with 293 million people, has 535 Congress members.
The 469-member minority not only rules but dominates. They don't need to worry about the welfare and well being of the people. There's no checks on their ability to be overbearing. In an ideal democracy, the people would rule, and be protected against the power of elected minority in the National Assembly. It's a travesty of justice for a fixed, tyrannical minority to exclude or alienate the majority – the people. It's unfair for the tyrannical minority to monopolize all the powers all the time. It's tyranny of the highest order when we engage in the periodic ritual of elections, only for the minority to reap the windfall of such elections. What we have is tyranny of the minority not genuine democracy.
The tyrants in the National Assembly have erased an efficient democratic opportunity for determining the public good. They are not constrained by the need to bargain with the people's interests. The people lacks any mechanism for holding the tyrannical minority to account or even to listen. They simply have their way, without regard to reach out to the people. The dangerous aspect of this is that the potential for instability and separatists agitations exists and increase when the rest of 180 million people ends up as permanent losers.
To get the business of the majority – the people – done, we must overthrow the tyranny of the minority in the National Assembly NOW!
You can reach Bayo at [email protected]