The Federal Government of Nigeria has tagged June 12, as democracy day in commemoration of the return of civil democratic governance to Nigeria.
I will not write on democracy as a general concept because that will be too wide.
Democracy , as a concept is a very wide area. I think what Nigeria is celebrating is its return to constitutional democracy. This is so because even military, authoritarian and dictatorial regimes do claim that they are “democratic “. Democracy is a beautiful damsel every body would like to have as a wife, but only a few are willing or ready to pay the bride-price.
Among the gains in the return to constitutional Democracy, is the return of the Legislature, as a fundamental institution in governance.
Constitutional democracy implies government by duly elected representatives of the People, the existence of the rule of law, and the respect for, and protection of human rights and civil liberties.It also implies the existence of the principle and practice of limited powers of the legislature and the executive arms of government. It is the limitation in the exercise of power and authority by these arms of government that underlines the principles and theory of separation of powers.
The doctrine of separation of powers is cardinal. It says that the system of checks and balances in the exercise of power and authority of the three arms of government would guarantee the environment and the process of good governance. The checks and balances are meant to reconcile the need for an executive branch which will be at the same time strong, participatory, limited in exercise of power, representative and responsive. The system rests on acknowledgement that functions of government are assigned by the constitution, and such arrangement would ensure that the three arms individually do not exceed their acknowledged constitutional powers so as to become arbitrary and despotic.However, I would argue that separation of powers does not guarantee good governance as we can see in the case of Nigeria currently. The guarantee should come from the political process. But unfortunately that process is marred with a lot of irregularities.
In both theory and practice , constitutional powers are hardly separated in water-tight compartments, either in functions or by functionaries.Sometimes they overlap. It is therefore of fundamental interest in understanding the separation of powers in our Presidential system of government, given the traumatic years of Nigeria’s military authoritarianism. There seems to be a hang over of this trauma in our present civilian democratic system.
In this Presidential system, the will if the People,, the sovereignity or mandate of the electorates are entrusted on the Legislature and the Executive arms.
The National Assembly is an elected body and each of its members is an embodiment of the people’s will. It is assumed that the National Assembly will guide and provide legislation, guard against arbitrariness and violations of the freedoms and liberties of the people and ensure that the welfare of the people is the primary objective of governance. It also should provide oversight or checks against the Executive, and even the judiciary.
Similarly the Executive as embodied in the elected President and his Vice, the Governor and his Deputy, are entrusted with the people’s will or sovereignity and mandate. They are Trustees.
In line with the constitution, the Executive is expected to lead the people along the path of good governance, ensuring security of life and property, and defence against external aggression. The executive can not make laws. The Legislature foes while the Executive executes such laws. It is and interlocking and dialectical relationship. This provides the environment and the content of good governance. The dual mandate in a Presidential system is good governance. There should be no exclusive or monopolistic insistence or claim to the people’s will but there is a presupposition of mutually inclusive and robust claim to the mandate of the people.
The relationship between the two arms of government are as provided by the constitution, other non- constitutional institutions such as the party system, civil society organisations, the economy and the global setting of governance. The actual conduct of this relationship is shown in the institutional behaviour of the officials of the Legislature and the Executive. Where the behaviour patternsconform with the structural imperatives , good governance was or is likely to ensue.However, where the officials are non-conformist or deviant, there is a high likelihood of the executive-legislative relationship becoming a negative factor in governance.
Constitutional democracy is obviously a complex arrangement.There is the likelihood of the dividends and development of democracy when the constitutional provisions,the exercise of the people’s will, and proceedings of the political process are organised and conducted without rupture and disharmony.
Until and unless these three social forces of constitutional democracy exist in sufficient quantities, the people will more often than not, experience democracy deficits rather than dividends. This is where Nigeria is. It does not make any sense celebrating what is non-existent. The damsel we have been salivating to get has been violated and deformed. We better sit up and evaluate the past in order to improve the present and positively change our future.
Chief/Barr Joshua .D Ephraim writes from Abuja