Democracy has many definitions and interpretations across schools of thoughts depending on the ideological leaning or interest of the contending scholars. Samuel Lipset offered one of the initially recognized classifications of contemporary democracy which he hinges on majority rule and minority rights.
Morlino developed Lipset’s hypothesis further by describing a democratic system as “a set of institutions and rules that allow competition and participation for all citizens considered as equals characterized by free, fair and recurring elections.
Though, definitions of democracy may vary for obvious reasons, its unique features are clear and incontrovertible across the contending perspectives. Among such are accountability (every democratically elected government is accountable to the people, to whom it owes its existence) and proper conduct of elections.
The true representatives of the people must emerge through credible electoral process for us to expect them to be accountable to the people.
One very important feature of democracy that, distinguishes it from other systems of government is its guarantee of freedom of association. According to Lane Kirkland, famous American labour leader, who served as AFL-CIO President for 16 years,
“Democracy depends on stable, representative institutions. It depends on the right to organize. It depends on freedom of association.” The UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 20, 1948, also states that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and that no one may be compelled to belong to an association.”
The exercise of freedom of association by all classes of people in a given society has always been at the heart of the struggle for democracy around the world, and it remains at the heart of society once democracy has been achieved. Without freedom of association, other freedoms lose their substance.
It is impossible to defend individual rights if citizens are unable to organize around common needs and interests. As one labor leader put it, “Freedom of expression without freedom of association is the right to speak freely in the wilderness.”
Freedom of association is the right to mingle with or dissociate from, join or leave, relate or disagree with groups purely out of a person’s own choosing, and for the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of members. It is both an individual right and a collective right, guaranteed by all modern and democratic legal systems, including the United States Bill of Rights, article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and international law, including articles 20 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organization.
The 1999 constitution in Section 40 makes it clear that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest.”
It is from the foregoing that one would like to analyse recent political development in the country, with particular consideration to the defection of politicians from one political camp to the other. It would not be an understatement to state that the recent arrival of the All Progressive Congress, APC, on the Nigerian political scene, has radically altered the political landscape in the country.
The party’s ability to gain a significant in road, within such a short period of its existence, into places hitherto regarded as People Democratic Party, PDP, strongholds is already creating palpable fears among PDP stalwarts across the country. It has now suddenly dawned on PDP and its group of day-dreamers that their ludicrous plan to rule the country for 50 un-interrupted years is becoming an illusion.
It is, however, disappointing that the leadership of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate, has been acting in undemocratic manners by deliberately frustrating attempt by 11 defecting PDP senators to officially notify the Senate of their new political preference.
It is rather amusing that Senate President, David Mark and his co-travellers in the Senate, have found it expedient to hide under curious legal pretext in their bid to thwart the wish of these defecting senators. It is equally laughable and hypocritical that the PDP-led senate leadership has suddenly found legal justification as a basis to temporarily delay the aspiration of the defecting senators.
In 2003, when the late Dr. Wahab Dosunmu dumped the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and later defected to the PDP, it was a big celebration in the Senate. Ditto for Senator Musiliu Obanikoro who took his mandate with the AD to the PDP and was equally applauded by the largely PDP dominated Senate.
In fact, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe was not only applauded for dumping the AD for PDP, he was compensated with the position of Minister of Works. This is just to mention a few instances that reinforce PDP led senate leadership hypocritical stance on the defecting PDP senators.
What those behind the APC initiative has done should be commended by all stakeholders in the polity. They have been able to achieve what respected political leaders in the previous republics could not accomplish.
If the opposition leaders in the second republic, for instance, had achieved such feat, the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN, could have found the task of re-election a tough call in the 1983 general elections. By implication, the country would have been rescued from the political and economic woes it was thrown into by the ruling NPN.
This is the first time in the socio-political history of Nigeria that opposition parties have braced the odds to come together in order to build a solid party with a broad outlook and national identity. It is a bold attempt to forestall the tendency of turning the country into a one party state which the PDP, for obvious reasons, would have preferred.
To consolidate democracy, restore a functioning economy, and promote sustainable economic growth, we need to tolerate and encourage the political preferences of every Nigerian.
To deliberately complicate the aspiration of Nigerians to freely associate with the political party of their choice is inimical to democratic principles.
For democracy to truly be the government of the people, it is important that the political inclination of everyone is respected and protected. Indeed, as it is often said, and truly so, power belongs to the people, but certainly not for people whose freedom of association is being curtailed. God bless Nigeria!
Ibirogba is commissioner for information and strategy, LagosNo tags for this post.