DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN NIGERIA
1.1 BACKGROUND OF STUDY
The Nigerian state assumed a new governance status in 1999 following the demise of authoritarian regime in the country. Military dictatorship was replaced by representative democracy with the hopes and aspirations of good governance much higher than what the seemingly collapsible democratic institutions could fulfill. The source and nature of transition in 1999 was later found to constitute threat to the foundation of democracy and obliterates the current efforts at consolidating democracy.
The reality of the attempts to subvert the concept of democracy to serve the interests of a few, rather than a greater majority, still looms high. The emerging democracy was artificial and reflexive of external imposition. It is a weak democracy that repudiates inalienable ethos of its true identity. Democracy and political participation are related to good governance are interrelated and complementary but appear to be antithetical in Nigeria. Democracy in Nigeria is alien and its practice has proved difficult.
Democracy is abused, good governance becomes elusive and evasive. This is what Darl (1989) describes as “virtual democracy”, democracy that shares resemblance with true democracy but lacks basic tenets of democracy. Democracy in Nigeria has three unique features which include: insulation of economic matters from popular participation, manipulation and monopolization of democratic process including the use of violence and electoral fraud to secure legitimacy and peripheral participation of citizens. Surface-level participation does not have far-reaching influence on the outcome of policy choices.
According to Oke (2010) democracy involves the opportunity to participate in decision making in the political process. It repudiates arbitrariness and authoritarianism. It extols the consent of the governed and it protects human personality and values (Ake, 1991). Democracy, whether liberal, African or modern, includes equal opportunity for all, fundamental recognition of popular sovereignty, representativeness, majority rule, minority rights, popular consultation, right of choice between alternative programmes, consensus on fundamental issues, as well as essentially periodic elections (Oke, 2005). The concept of democracy confers the opportunity to participate in decision making by all.
Democracy here goes beyond opportunity of election. Although, the centrality of elections to democratic process can not be over-emphasized, democracy is not wholly centered on election. For democracy to evolve good governance, it must be liberal and participatory. In this sense, Liberal democracy entails not only free and fair elections in terms of voting administration, it requires a more comprehensive fairness of political competition embodied in the concept of a just and open competition. In a liberal democracy, the electoral arena is open, and the playing field is reasonably level.
Only in a free society with opportunity of free participation and respects for citizens’ rights can good governance be achieved. True democracy places emphasis on freedom, and open competition, popular and meaningful participation, responsiveness, transparency and accountability. Freedom to organise, freedom to protest anti-people policies and freedom to demand and assert citizens’ rights and interests, freedom of the press to report, investigate and expose government policies and actions without fear or favour. According to Diamond (2005), “Only in a climate of true political and civil freedom can a country achieve the absolute fundamental condition for development: responsible government—that is government that is committed to the advancement of the public good, rather than the private interests of its own officials and their families and their cronies”.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The experience with citizens’ participation in electoral politics in Nigeria generally and Delta state in particular has not been encouraging. Even where development of local participation is an important tool of rural development and where political education in mass participation is a key element of the development strategy, programmes have not developed genuine participation and responsibility among the people.
The people have become recipients of development as if development is something outside their realms of experience and right respectively. There are political, socio-cultural and bureaucratic constraints to political participation.
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF STUDY
The main objective of this project work is to consider the nature and extent of political participation by the people in a democratic system. This, as noted above, will be carried out by assessing the involvement of the people in electoral process in Asaba, Delta state.
Besides, this research work also aims at achieving other important objectives which are also fundamental to the smooth operations of governance in a democratic set up. The other objectives are enumerated below:
To establish any possible relationship between political education and political participation in order to clearly state the crucial ingredient of political participation;
To examine the legal framework of electoral system and election administration in Nigeria in order to spot their inadequacies and provide possible amendments;
To propose a number of strategies to mobilize citizens for increased political participation and effectiveness respectively in the country as a whole; and
To know the degree of confidence the people have in the electoral system of their state/country as it is assumed that this is reflected in their participation in electoral politics.
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY
This research work is significant because it is aimed at explaining political participation in the context of good governance. This will enables us to appreciate the fact that the formulation of a national agenda through dialogue by all stakeholders is a prerequisite for political participation.
Participation needs to be part of a broader conceptualization of development, with much more attention to organizational structures and linkages. However, participation has turned into a cliché for those administering development; its values have been overemphasized, while doing little to make it a reality.
1.5 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This project work shall discuss the concept of political participation, focusing mainly on what it is and what it is not within the African context. The history of Nigeria’s politics shall be traced from the colonial era to the present. The gathering of views on the electoral politics shall be restricted to Asaba Delta State with reference to the 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 general elections covering Gubernatorial, House of Assembly and Local Government elections in the state.
1.6 RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS
The research hypothesis that will serve as the yardstick for the administration of the questionnaire shall be based on the theoretical framework that political education is fundamental to political participation. Therefore, the research hypotheses are:
H0: That the extent of the political participation of the people in electoral politics is not related to their political education.
H1: That the extent of the political participation of the people in electoral politics is related to their political education.
Where H0 is the Hull Hypothesis, while H1 is the Alternative Hypothesis
1.8 DEFINITION OF TERMS
DEMOCRACY; A system of government in which power is vested in the people, who rule either directly or through freely elected representatives.
POLITICAL PARTICIPATION; Political participation can be defined as those actions of private citizens by which they seek to influence or to support government and politics.
ELECTION; An election is a formal decision making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office.