Monday, 28 January 2008




M. M. Yusif
Department of Political Science
Bayero University, Kano

One of the major challenges of the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria today is how to stabilize democratic individuals, institutions, structures and generally governance in the country’s local administration system. The current situation in the local government system, in spite of the present democratic experiment is far from being transparent, accountable, and in short democratic.

The determination of Nigerians, especially those in the local government service commission to address this problem will inform the stability of Nigeria’s current transition to democracy. It will also accelerate the consolidation of democracy and the spread of the dividends of democracy to vast majority of Nigerian citizens, rather than the very few in top government offices.

This paper merely raises some questions and some basic principles on democratic governance in local government administration. It conceptualizes democracy and the problems of democracy rule to local government governance.

Conceptualizing Democracy
The concept of democracy not withstanding the context it is used is bound by controversies. It does not present easy definition, which is value-free. For some democracy have different meanings to different people and different classes (George Novack, 1970:9). The concept is too vague and variegated to be precisely or adequately defined (Ibid: 9). For George Novack the content and forms of democracy have changed considerably on the course of its development. New historical conditions and social alignments have brought new types of democracy into (Ibid: 9). For others, democracy is an alien phenomenon that is being imported into Africa whose culture places more emphasis on the community than on the individual, and is therefore incapable of internalizing liberal democracy value (Nzongola Ntalaja and Lee, 1997: 10).

Despite this problem of conceptualizing democracy, the essential elements of the term as a mode of rule and management of other human affairs can be discerned and formulated. The most popular conception in the current discourse on democracy is liberal democracy. Communists rejected the principles and doctrine of liberal democracy. Lenin polemicised against it on many grounds among which is that it is bourgeoisie democracy which ensures dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over proletariats (Lenin, 1975: 8). However, to condemn liberal democracy as bourgeoisie dictatorship is incorrect. Whereas I want believe that the case against liberal democracy may be justified by the way democracy is currently married to Structural Adjustment Programme and deep poverty by the people of Africa, yet liberal democracy may be taken seriously because of the opening it gives to struggle against the poor conditions of life created by the SAP. The significance of this line of argument becomes sharper if we consider one element of bourgeoisie democracy i.e. political competition whose most common form has been the competition of political parties (Alan Hunt, 1980: 16). It is imperative in the logic of democratic politics that political competition plays important role in empowering the weak and created opportunities for other political groups to take over state power.

It is now possible to understand more clearly what is democracy? It is true that even from liberal perspective scholars have many different definitions of democracy. In a four volume study on democracy in developing countries, the editors give a seemingly an authoritative definition of democracy. For them democracy is a system of government that meets three conditions.

Meaningful and extensive competition among individuals and organized groups (especially political parties) for all effective positions of government power at regular intervals and excluding the use of force, a highly inclusive level of political participation in the selection of leaders and policies; at least through regular and fair elections, such that no major social group is excluded; and a level of civil and political liberties – freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom to form and join organizations – sufficient to ensure the integrity of political competition and participation (Diamond, Linz and Lipset, 1988: XVI).

In that passage the meaning of democracy is brought out. But, the definition presents democracy as a system of government. If it is characterized only as a form of government then of course as Beckman observed such a definition is highly problematic (Beckman, 1989: 86). Hence, I prefer to use the term democracy to refer to the system of institutions, procedures, rule of law, formal rights, internal mechanisms of running governments, unions; parties and associations; transparency and accountability and depersonalization in administering of anything. Other components of democracy relevant to my usage of the term involve a society infused with the spirit of liberty and justice; and ordered stable society; a free society; a just society; and an independent, self-reliant, prosperous economy. Others also are access to information held by leaders either of government or of non-governmental organizations; participation of citizens in government or of members of associations; consensus on crucial issues makes achieving of objectives much easier; and responsiveness of leadership to the people.

These defining components of democracy are necessary in everyday practice both in governmental affairs, also in non-governmental organizations and in al other human relations in order to create a democratic society.

As for governmental affairs in particular, whether at federal, state or local government levels, a combination of at least most of these characteristics create good and democratic governance.

Application of the concept of Democracy in governance
All the above defining characteristics of democracy help us to specify what democracy is as a form of rule. Democracy, in this sense, means to what extent its defining components are put as political practice by any government in democratic governance. Nzongola – Ntalaja (op-cit) recommended that there are two levels at which a democratic rule can be identified.

These are at the level of the characteristics themselves, and that of the institutions and procedures of government, which are compatible with the characteristics themselves (Nzongola Ntalaja and Margaret Lee, 1997: 13). A democratic rule must frequently apply all or at least most of the principles of democracy in any management of affairs of the people. The most important ones which will qualify a system as democratic include rule of law, formal rights, freedom of association, and the right of citizens to participate in forming and in running of government, depersonalization of government affairs, and transparency and accountability. The second notion associated with the concept of democracy in governance has to do with the existence of institutions and procedures of government, which are compatible with characteristics of democracy (Ibid, 15). Accordingly, democracy is inconceivable without rule of law, free and fair elections, representative government, and an independent judiciary (Ibid, 15). For democracy to be systematic these procedures must be respected. Any government that fails to abide by these conditions should not be considered democratic.

As Schimitter and Karl have observed these procedures alone do not define democracy, but their presence is indispensable to its persistence (Schimitter and Karl, 1991: 81). In reality, there are nowhere these characteristics and procedures are attained in absolute term. That is why it is argued that the conception of democracy should be linked to a minimalist, not a maximalist, conception of democracy. What constitutes a “procedural minimal” conditions for democracy to exist according to Robert Dahl are freedom to form and join organization; freedom of expression; right to vote; eligibility for public office; right of political leaders to compete for support; alternative sources of information; free and fair elections; and institutions for making government policies depend on votes and other expressions of preference (Robert Dahl, 1982). Certainly, for American political scientists, the term democratic regime should, strictly speaking, be reserved for states with the above minimum conditions. However, “proto-democracies” are simply used to refer to political systems where the formalities of a democracy exist, namely, periodic elections with universal suffrage, freedoms of expression and organization and so on, but the electoral process is abused and manipulated as a means to create favoured governments, and where “reserved domains” of policy exist.

Local Governance and Democracy
Local governance and administration is essentially about the management of the political, economic and social development of the people at community and grassroots level. Thus, it is expected that it is from there that democracy and the consequent development of the people will be seen.

For many years, from independence to date local government administration in Nigeria, have seen many structural and other changes. Because of long period of military rule in Nigeria, under the military regimes local government has been an extension of the state to the community. Local government councils derive their legal existence from the state and, all their human and financial resources as well. Also they do not possess any independent discretionary authority a part from the state (Richard Joseph, 1996: 285). However, the current period of democratization gives some hopes for the local governments to become independent of the state and map their own agenda of political and economic development. Constitutionally, they have direct access to financial resources. They carried the burden of the provision of most of the basic social and infrastructure services, and basic health and educational services as well as agricultural extension. Accordingly, local government councils are expected to play a critical role in the democratization of their administrations and communities.

Unfortunately, in spite of appearance of party competition, democracy is far from being a reality in local government administrations in Nigeria. The most threatening problem is that local governments in Nigeria became “a cesspool of political and administrative corruption”. Indeed, it is logical to argue that local governments are to show to people the image of good governance by promoting accountability, but most of them are involved in a most crude form of corruption, which send to people a great hatred of the democracy. The danger of corruption to democracy is of great concern in the New Democracies that even the Ministerial Conference of the community of democracies noted “No problem more threatens the efficacy and legitimacy of democracy than corruption. Survey data from a wide range of democracies, new and old, show growing disaffection with democratic institutions as a result of perception that corruption is growing significantly and that governments are not taking effective measures to control it (Seoul, 2000). In addition to problem of corruption, another major threat to democratic growth in local government administrations is the personalization and “ruralization” of government procedures, actions and even of policies. Whereas local governments were regarded as critical for training both citizens and political leadership in democratic life, but in Nigeria it is an absolute contrast. The modern system of administration, even in urban-based local government administration hardly is adhered to. Thirdly, the failure of local government to give a fertile ground for democracy to thrive is contributed by what happened at the National and state levels.

Local governance implies the management of the totality of structures within the local community that comprise both state and non-state organizations. Therefore, the failure of local government administration to democratize the local community can be checked and alternatives searched by the actions of the non-state actors. In other African countries this has become a reality (Richard Joseph, 1996: 288 – 293). These alternatives have developed as new civil society groups to control the undemocratic tendencies of both political parties and monitor and check the local government administration. By this method it has become evident that the civil society is carrying a greater burden in management of the local community than the formal structures of the local government. This also constitutes another power of the informal local community organizations to influence national government policies to give a push to the democratization of the local government administration.

1. Akin Mabogunje (1995), “Institutional Radicalization, Local Governance and the Democratization Process in Nigeria” in Dele Olowu, Kayode Soremekun and Adebayo Williams (ed), Governance and Democratization in Nigeria

2. Alan Hunt (ed) (1980), Marxism and Democracy, Lawrence and Wishan, New Jersey.

3. Beckman Bjorn (1989), “Whose Democracy? Bourgeoisie Vs Popular Democracy”, Review of African Political Economy No. 46/47.

4. Dele Olowu (1996), “Local Governance, Democracy and Development”, in Richard Joseph, Conflict and Democracy in Africa, Lynne Rienner London.

5. Diamond L., Linz J. J., and Lipset S M. (ed) (1988), Democracy in Developing Countries, Volume Two Africa Lynne Rienner.

6. George Novacx (1970), Democracy and Revolution Pathfinder Press, New York.

7. Lenin V. I. (1975), The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kauntsky, Foreign Languages Press, Peking.

8. George Nzongola Ntalaja and Margaret Lee (ed) (1987), the State and Democracy in Africa AAPS Books Harare, Zimbabwe.

9. Robert Dahl (1982), Dilemmas of Puralist Democracy Yale University Press, New Hawen.

10. Schimitter P. C. and Karl T. L. (1991), “What Democracy is… and is not”, Journal of Democracy Vol.2 No.3

11. Seoul (2002), Second Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies COEX, Convention Center, Seoul.

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