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The unthinking majority

28 January 2014, 14:45 Imo "boc" Abiaesse.

As at the last time I checked, the system of government popularly known as Democracy still had the same meaning.
 Crafted by philosophers centuries ago and as we used to chant in secondary school back in the day; Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Whether this meaning still holds true today in actual practice or not may be a subject of academic argument. Whether any nation or community has ever really practiced this system of government is the subject of another article, however, practicing democracies or even pretenders, in drawing up a constitution, are constrained by this acceptable definition to commence their constitution.
The import of this phrase -"We the people" gives credence to the hallowed, albeit philosophical principle that power belongs to the people but is entrusted to some persons as leaders to represent the people.

It is also generally agreed that there is no democracy without election - a process of picking one leader among several contestants who would then be entrusted with the people’s power. He whom the majority votes for becomes the leader of the country or group of people. 

Therefore, ideally, in a democracy it is the wish of the majority of the people that prevails in a given situation. This ideal situation presupposes logically that the majority knows what they want and are situated to understand the consequences of their choice.

If power resides in the people and majority of the people elect their leaders under the process of true democracy, then the leaders would know that they are truly answerable to the people and are obligated to function with that responsibility in mind. This ideal situation again presupposes a thinking majority. But is this often the case?

In the process of election a basket of characters is thrown at the electorates, from the noble to the outright charlatan. It is the people’s choice that counts, right? However, how do the people make this choice? Do the people independently or in groups study the candidates presenting themselves for electoral offices?

Do they care to know the academic, family, moral and social background of the candidates? Do they know the mental (or psychological) disposition of the candidates? Have the people ever studied the manifesto of the various parties fielding candidates for election? Are the people even offered the opportunity of knowing the candidates well?  Finally, do the people know what they want the government to do for them within a time period and what to do if the government fails to fulfill the promise made during the campaigns?

The Nigerian situation presents an unfortunate classic example of an unthinking majority. Here is a giant with over 150 million people, out of which less than thirty percent (arguably) are educated, literate or enlightened. Of the literate class, less than ten percent participate actively in the electoral processes.

At the 2011 general elections, for instance, INEC reported that only about 35% of the 70 million registered voters participated in the electoral process. An in-depth analysis would reveal that out of this 35% the illiterate or unenlightened class were in the majority.   Therefore, a majority of those who participate in electoral processes in Nigeria are of the illiterate class. The result of this analysis is immediately clear to the illuminated reader.

It portends that those who elect (if they actually do so) our leaders do not even have the basic requisite of understanding the qualities a leader must possess and what leadership is all about.

The unthinking majority presents a burden and a threat to the practice of true democracy.  How is this so? It is the unthinking majority who sell their votes to candidates they do not even know or to political parties whose manifestoes are at best a compendium of fancies and fantasies.

However, the concept of unthinking majority extends beyond just the illiterate class in the process of election. Where the so- called literate or enlightened class of electorates (who are often more in number than the candidates anyway) allow juvenile or mundane persuasions to influence their choice of a candidate whom they hardly know, this is an unthinking mentality. The same applies where the people allow a godfather to impose a candidate on them. This brings to mind the question of rigging and imposition of candidates during elections.

The godfathers of rigging and candidate imposition are doing so because of the firm or pretentious belief that the majority of electorates are, in the words of Fela the late Afro-juju exponent, zombies – meaning Unthinking. And Nigerians have continuously and unwittingly located themselves within this meaning.

In the aftermath of elections, where leaders (elected, selected or imposed) pursue policies and programs that tend not to reflect the wish of the majority, thus showing a clear disdain of the majority and their wish, an unthinking majority would remain comatose and endure unnecessary suffering. A variation of this clime is a situation where the few in power use the instruments of office to silence the majority or ignore their opinions or cow them into surrender.

Where the people allow a government to dictate policies with impunity, the people become an unthinking majority.  Where the people refuse, fail, neglect or fear to criticize government policies, especially those policies that repress the wish of the people, the people become an unthinking majority.

Other variations of unthinking majority exist in Nigeria, like in other so-called African democracies.  Here, once elected the leaders suddenly become all- knowing, all-powerful messiahs and, under this cloak, the wish or contribution of the masses become anathema. Thus the people are foisted with the garb of the unthinking majority.

Even members of the National Assembly are not exempt from foisting the garb of the unthinking majority on Nigerians. In the first place members of their respective constituencies hardly ever have access to them after elections. They hardly hold regular and democratic Town Hall meetings with their constituents to determine the true needs of their people for onward presentation at plenaries.

It is the unthinking majority in a democracy who are permissive of a government that impoverishes the majority of the people so a few could be rich. It is the unthinking majority who cannot stand up in the face of oppressors. It is the unthinking majority who cannot emancipate themselves from the oppressive hold of godfathers.

Nevertheless, we plead with entrenched Nigerian Leaders, Elders and Statesmen to engender the birth of a new Nigeria, where the electorates are given a voice and allowed to make their choices. This new Nigeria necessarily entails massive enlightenment campaigns and electorate education at the grassroots. For, indeed Democracy is the most beautiful form of government that gives strength and sense of purpose to a nation.

Democracy is much deeper than we depict because it is also divine. Yes, democracy is divine because it was through democracy that humanity was given birth to, according to most religious faiths. Is it not written in the Bible that God said “Let us make man in our own likeness.” Meaning that God the creator understood the strength in number, for He would easily have decreed “I want to make man in my image.”

The government is called upon to be truly sincere, by allowing the majority to think and voice its opinion which can contribute meaningfully to the process of governance. The majority cannot be foolish if, for example, they say that high cost of living is weighing them down. If truly it is the people that gave you power, then you must listen to the people.

I must warn here there is no perfect system of government. There only are imperfect leaders. Saying this is not a license for leaders to hide under assumed human imperfections to frustrate the tenets of democratic good governance. However, in democracy it is not always the best candidate that wins but often it is the most popular candidate.

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