Once upon a time, the animals called for a meeting to discuss how to discourage man from hunting them in the forest. As they were gathering for the meeting, they saw Mr. Goat heading to his farm. When they asked him why he wouldn’t come for the meeting, he told them he had important business in the farm and so they should carry on with the meeting. He went further to say that whatever decision made at the meeting is ok by him. Well, the decision made at the meeting was that an animal will be donated to man so he will have meat at his disposal and, hence, leave the animals at the forest alone. No animal volunteered to be sacrificed for this. But since Mr. Goat was not there, the meeting decided he will be used as a sacrifice to man. That is why goats are domestic animals today.
That was one of the fables we were entertained and taught with then. If you actually look at the story, you will see the surface moral lesson – everyone should participate in the development of his community/nation. But look deeper and you will see democracy at its best. That folklore actually depicted the way our forefathers practiced democracy. It tells us everything that is wrong with the democracy of today.
In the days of old, the Igbos practiced ideal democracy. Then, democracy was the same in theory and practice. It was not what we are seeing today that makes people ask whether democracy is still government OF the people BY the people and FOR the people. This definition is a reflection of those days, when the sky was the land of the squirrel. This democracy disappeared the moment colonialists appointed warrant chiefs and introduced corruption into the system (hope you can now understand how deep corruption has eaten into our system).
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For the benefit of those that don’t know how the ancient Igbo’s system of government was, just imagine the animals gathering to make a decision to better their lives. That was the system of government then. Everyone (especially the male gender) was directly and actively involved in government. In cases of making decisions that might involve some levels of secrecy (say security affairs), only men (not boys) were involved. In those days, to be looked up to as a man in Igboland takes a lot of things; but that is not the point here. Then, decision making was thrown open to all. The elderly had upper hand when matters become too twisted and volatile because their words are seen as wisdom. If they feel that what was happening to them was beyond their control, they sought for the advice of their gods. Other than that, every man in a community was involved in decision making. This way, no one felt cheated or marginalised. They had the opportunity of contributing towards the development of their communities, unlike what we have today.
Another basic feature of democracy of the ancient Igbo communities is that politics did not exist. I mean, then, once you are of age, you join the decision makers. No one asks another to vote him into the government. There was no campaign, election, vote buying, or what have you that we see today. Leadership was truly the job of everyone. No one, not even the chief priests, took absolute responsibility for leading the community. But things have changed today.
Today’s democracy is the opposite of the ideal. Today, democracy is no longer government for the people but government for the s/elected few. Politics came in with its insincerity and democracy became a thing of the past. Decision makers are now paid heavily and given special privileges and so they no longer consider the interests of the community or that of its members. Selfishness has set in and corruption is the order of the day. Honestly, if the meeting of those animals were to happen in the present day, it wouldn’t have been all animals in attendance. Only a few would have been “chosen” to represent the rest of the animals and, believe me, those representatives would have connived with mankind to hunt down all the other animals so long as their palms are greased. That is the bane of mankind.
Well, we have to be realistic. Politics has come and ‘democracy’ is no longer democracy (what we actually have now are totalitarianism, authoritarianism, pseudo-democracy, and the rest). The democracy that was enjoyed by our forefathers can no longer be achievable today because of the structure of the state – diversity inclusive. Then, communities were small and so governance was more like a family affair. Today, that type of government, where everyone participates, is no longer possible, hence the election of representatives. So, what we need now is to find the way to make what we practice today work for us.
Well, it is left for the experts in this area to tell us what to do. We are not actually practicing democracy here, so we might as well start now to give a name to what we have. From all I can see, there is a need to educate people on politics because the majority of us are politically illiterate. But first things first, what system of government are we actually practising in Nigeria?