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1. Ojo and Nickolay discuss the similarities and differences between Russian and Nigerian democracy—what are these?2. Why do you suppose there are these similarities and differences? What does this analysis tell us about these two cases, and cases like them, with respect to democratic progress?3. According to Sutton, what is the conceptual difference between a power-sharing regime and a personal autocracy?4. As Sutton notes, Cambodia is a case where multiparty democracy started out weak and has now turned to almost complete authoritarianism. What happened? Do you find Sutton’s lens on the process of de-democratization useful?5. Our cases for today represent the far side of hybrids, going over into authoritarianism over time in Russia and Cambodia. Given the variations we’ve seen in how democracy can falter or fail, are there solutions to reverse the trend?
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Problematic Democracy: Nigeria and
Russia in a Comparative Context
by
Emmanuel Oladipo Ojo
eodzho@sfu-kras.ru, emmanuel-oladipo.ojo@eksu.edu.ng
Associate Professor, Department of History & International Studies,
Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria
2018: Department of General History,
Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk, Russia
&
Novoseltsev Nickolay
Department of Russian History, Siberian Federal University
Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Abstract
This article compares democracy in Nigeria and Russia. Although universal democracy is often
associated with Western liberal values such as egalitarianism, secularism, equality and free
markets, individual countries of the world has ‘domesticated’ democracy to ‘suit’ their values
and local contents. Thus, this paper contends that while Nigeria and Russia manifest some
outward paraphernalia of democracy such as constitutionalism and periodic elections; several
core elements of democracy are missing in both. The paper concludes that while democracy is an
antithesis in Nigeria; it is an oxymoron in Russia.
Keywords: Nigeria, Russia, democracy, development, infrastructure, governance
Introduction and Conceptual Discourse
Structurally, this article is in three parts: an introduction and conceptual discourse, which
attempts a brief discourse of democracy followed by the comparison of the brands of democracy
practised by both countries, followed by a conclusion.
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Russia and Nigeria had striking different experiences with regard to status, power, influence and
size in the early stages of their histories, and while the former was an extensive empire and
imperial power (1721-1917) that built the third largest empire in history with a population of
125.6 million in 1897; 1 the latter was a colony subjected to a ‘99 year lease’ to Britain 2 and was
never an empire in the sense of Russia, though the Oyo and Benin Empires flourished luxuriantly
within (and beyond) its borders.
Democracy is relatively young in Nigeria and Russia – just about two and a half decades while
both are not strangers to autocratic and repressive governments. Under its tsars, Russia was an
absolute and autocratic state wherein democracy was foreign. 3 Also, when the Romanov dynasty
was thrown off the throne following the 1917 Revolution, Russia transmuted from tsarist
autocracy to communist totalitarianism particularly under Josef Stalin, described Kaul as “a man
who respected no rules or ethics”. 4 As a United States’ classified document (released to the
public in February 1994) pointed out, throughout Soviet history, political activities were illegal
and impermissible and anyone who engaged in them took “a significant risk” as it almost always
resulted in very “harsh treatment…including immediate arrest…loss of pay or jobs, longer prison
term, forced labor or confinement in mental institutions”. 5 Ironically, the two Russian leaders
who attempted some forms of liberalisation and freedom got consumed in the process: Tsar
Alexander II was killed in the streets of St. Petersburg on 13 March 1881 by a bomb thrown by
a member of the radical People’s Will 6 on the very day he signed a proclamation (the so-called
Loris-Melikov constitution) that would have created two legislative commissions made up of
indirectly elected representatives while Gorbachev’s ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ consumed his
presidency and the Soviet Union. The tragic fate of these two reformers is the thesis of Lipman’s
study. 7 Ulyanov Aleksandr, Vladimir Lenin’s elder brother, was one of the six executed for the
assassination of Tsar Alexander. Although, he was not one of those designated to throw the bomb at the
Tsar, he manufactured the nitroglycerine used in making it. Ulyanov who carried out his own defence and
refused to ask for imperial clemency said tsarist autocracy was responsible for their action. In his final
address to the court, he said
Among the Russian people there will always be found many people who are so devoted to
their ideas and who feel so bitterly the unhappiness of their country that it will not be a
sacrifice for them to offer their lives…my purpose was to aid in the liberation of the
unhappy Russian people. Under a system which permits no freedom of expression and
crushes every attempt to work for their welfare and enlightenment by legal means, the
only instrument that remains is terror. We cannot fight this regime in open battle, because
it is too firmly entrenched and commands enormous powers of repression. Therefore, any
individual sensitive to injustice must resort to terror. Terror is our answer to the violence
of the state. It is the only way to force a despotic regime to grant political freedom to the
people… there is no death more honourable than death for the common good 8
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The Russia Federation attained its current democratic status only after the collapse of the Soviet
Union in December 1991. On the other hand, of its approximately six decades of statehood,
Nigeria has had democratically elected governments for about two and a half decades while
military dictatorship account for the remainder, climaxing with General Sanni Abacha’s reign of
terror, which, to a limited extent, qualifies as Nigeria’s equivalent of Stalin’s reign of terror.
However, following Abacha’s death in 1998, and the General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s stint, the
democratic process was restored in May 1999. 9
Democracy is an omnibus concept that has been subjected to all shades of meanings,
cataloguing, interpretations and application. Today, there is probably no concept that is subjected
to antagonistic interpretations and contradictory practises as the concept of democracy. One
reason for this pervasive contradiction is that democracy is the least objectionable form of
government. Consequently, from the extreme left to the extreme right, states always lay bogus
and questionable claim to democracy. Indeed, even military regimes, with records of pervasive
violations of human rights and other anti democratic tendencies, sometimes lay claim to
democracy. 10 This is what Ekeh refers to as democratism, which, according to him, is the brand
of rule that makes use of ‘false principles of the institutions of democracy’ while at the same
time creating anti-democratic conditions. 11 This obviously informed Crick’s description of
democracy as the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs 12 or what Tocqueville
calls ‘democratic despotism’. 13 Indeed, democracy is in the catalogue of Gallie’s ‘essentially
contested concepts’. 14
Any meaningful attempt at understanding democracy must proceed from its ancient definition as
peoples’ rule. The Greek words demos and kratia mean ‘people’ and ‘rule’ or ‘authority’
respectively. Thus, democracy refers to ‘rule by the people’. This began in the first half of the
5th century B.C. among the Greeks, thus beginning with what Dahl calls the transformation from
rule by few to rule by many. 15 During the French Revolution (1789-1799), the French lawyer
and political leader, Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), defined democracy as a “state in
which the people, as sovereign, guided by laws of its own making, does for itself all that it can
do well”. 16 Abraham Lincoln authored what has since become the most famous definition of
democracy. In an Address delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery on 19
November 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln asserted that ‘all men are created equal’
and defined people-centred as ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’. 17 The
most important attraction of this definition is that it stresses the principle of equality (since all
men are supposedly equal) and makes the people the subject and object of governance or what a
scholar terms ‘the raison d’être of governance’. 18 Thus, going by Laski’s definition of equality
as the absence of special privilege; 19 a democratic state is often said to be one wherein the
citizens have equal access to justice, job, power, privilege, etc. Indeed, Gamble describes a
democratic state as a ‘republic of equals’. 20 This is because democracy implies that there should
be a substantial degree of equality among people both in the sense that all the adult members of a
society ought to have, so far as is possible, equal influence on those decisions which affect their
lives.
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According to Robert Darl, in every democratic state, the citizens are ‘political equals’. 21 This is
because, as Bottomore has pointed out, all human beings are remarkably alike in some
fundamental respects – they have similar physical, emotional and intellectual needs. 22 In 1646, in
an article entitled ‘An Arrow Against All Tyrants’, Richard Overton (a puritan) wrote “For by
nature, all men are equal…even so we are to live everyone equally”. 23 Indeed, in virtually all his
major works, Alexis de Tocqueville insisted that history (the story of humankind) is synonymous
with equality. 24
However, as fascinating as the concept of equality is, there exists a wide gulf between its theory
and practice, and indeed between the theory and practise of democracy itself. There is hardly
anywhere in the world where democracy is a republic of equals, apparently because “through
occupation or wealth, some citizens are more able than others to influence political decisions” 25
From the Greek City States to the emergence of modern state, the concept of egalitarianism had
been consistently negated. In the often eulogised Greek City States, which Palma referred to as
the ‘birthplace of democracy’, 26 every inhabitant supposedly had a direct say on issues which
directly affected the state. It must be pointed out however that in practice, Greek democracy was
an exclusive one because a large part of the adult population was denied full citizenship i.e. the
right to participate in politics whether by attending the meetings of the Sovereign Assembly27 or
by serving in public offices – for instance, women were denied the right of full citizenship so
were longterm resident aliens (metics) and the enslaved. Indeed, the enslaved were no more than
the property of their owners totally bereft of legal rights. 28 Thus, only the non-enslaved were
allowed to vote yet by 430 BC, nearly half of the total population of Athens were enslaved. 29
Furthermore, Jean Jacque Rousseau (1712-1778), the Enlightenment French social and political
theorist and one of the first thinkers to question absolutism in Europe, limited his notion of
democracy to property owners while John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), the British philosophereconomist, opined that only the propertied class should be enfranchised. 30 Moreover, the
emergence of modern state meant some loss of rights by individuals since the state possesses the
coercive machinery to compel its members to carry out certain tasks. Thus, the reality is that in
most modern states, while the citizens may be free to express their views, they are made to live
under the conditions prescribed by their states (leaders). Although, while democracy is not
synonymous with diktat; the above consideration may have informed the submission that
democracy can never represent the rule of the majority, because, more often than not, the people
merely accept the dictates of the minority – the leaders. 31
In sum, in every human society and organisation, there are bound to be inequalities in status,
influence, contributions and rewards. Indeed, inequality is the bottom line of the Circulation of
Elite Theory as postulated by its leading apostle, Vilfredo Pareto ((1848-1923)), the Italian
sociologist and economist. By definition, elites are a group which influences power and redefines the norms of society. They have pre-eminence over other members of the society by
various acts of deference. 32 The deference and influence of the elite on the other members of the
society may have informed Pareto’s conclusion that “history is a graveyard of aristocracies”. 33
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This calls to question the entire content and context of the egalitarianism vaunted by liberal
democracy: more often than not, the concept of equality espoused by democracy is theoretical,
hence, its dismissal by Letwin as the ‘leading fetish of our time’. 34 Even in a leading democracy
like Britain, as Andrew Harding has pointed out, most people only engage in democracy when
they vote in general elections every four to five years. While admitting that to an extent, voices
are lost or misplaced, Andrew argued that “more often than not, they are simply not heard”. 35 In
his penetrating study of American political system, Lees asserted that ‘elitist and inegalitarian
traits have always existed in American society”. 36 Indeed, Patterson has pointed out that despite
the lofty claim that all people are created equal, equality has never been ‘American birthright’.
He cited the 1882 ban which made it impossible for the Chinese to immigrate into the United
States as well as other sundry discriminations against the Chinese and other Asians which were
not ended until 1965. He opined that these discriminations were premised on the assumption that
the Chinese were an inferior people. 37 Also, the Rosa Parks incident of 1955 in Montgomery,
Alabama is well known. 38 However, despite all the odds, it must be conceded, as Lees has rightly
opined, politicians in the United States have always recognised the importance of the common
person with a strong commitment to liberty. 39 From our analysis so far, it appears that while
government may be for all, it cannot be by all. As Julius Nyerere once averred, in every form of
government, as far as the masses are concerned, power is something wielded by others – even if
on their behalf. 40 Nyerere’s view aligns with that of Anderson who defines politics simply as
‘making choices on behalf of other people’. 41 Today, government by all is neither possible nor
practicable because, as Bealey has pointed out, with vast numbers of people in the modern nation
state, direct participation in decision making by all is impossible. 42 Ironically, democracy
flourishes when and where citizens enjoy basic freedoms, have a voice in how they are governed
and understand the workings of their governmental system. If the principle of representative
democracy is worthwhile and workable in other climes; its practise in Nigeria and Russia is
faulty and fraudulent. In Nigeria, no one represents or protects the interests of others:
individuals, whether in the cabinet or parliament, can hardly be described as representatives of
the people. Indeed, as Suberu has pointed out, a fundamental feature of democracy in
contemporary Nigeria is the deep and profound distrust of Nigerians for their elected
representatives. 43 This is not surprising given the endless abortion and frustration of the
aspirations and hopes of the people by successive Nigerian governments. On the other hand, for
close to two decades, Russia has practiced monocracy – rule by an individual. This assertion will
be substantiated as we move forward.
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Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.11, no.5, April 2018
Nigerian and Russian Democracy: Some Convergences and Divergences
Democracy is the least objectionable and questionable form of government because it
presupposes that authority emanates from and resides with the people. Thus, enfranchised and
eligible citizens of a democratic state possess the power of the ballot through which they
participate in the sel(election) of their representatives. Indeed, this is about the only or
commonest privilege majorities of citizens of democratic states all over the world enjoy in their
quest to participate in governance.
This means that competitive, free and fair elections are the sine qua non of democracy because
they are a regular and a direct means of citizens’ ability to influence the choice and emergence of
the occupiers of the structural frame. Unfortunately however, despite their enormous financial
and personnel implications, 44 elections in Nigeria and Russia can hardly pass the most
rudimentary credibility test. Nigerian elections can hardly be described as elections as they are
characterised by all sorts of malpractises and fraud. It is indeed instructive to note that
controversies arising from widespread electoral fraud and malpractises had assailed Nigerian
democracy virtually all through its entire post-colonial political history. It would be recalled that
the military intervened in the democratic process on 15 January 1966 following an acrimonious
election in the defunct Western Region. Again, the military sacked the Aliyu Shagari-led civilian
administration on 31 December 1983 following pervasive post-election violence in several parts
of the country. Also, the military-civilian administration of General Ibrahim Babangida collapsed
following the annulment of the 12 June 1993 presidential election presumably won by the late
Moshood Abiola, a Muslim Yoruba. From the above, it is evident that Nigeria has a long history
of failed electoral processes although since the commencement of the current democratic
dispensation in 1999, five general elections had been successfully held. For all intents and
purposes, Russian elections since year 2000 have been mere rehearsals and platitudes. There are
excellent studies on the nature and pattern of elections in Russia, and a cursory glance at major
newspapers and magazines around the world would confirm this assertion. For example,
Treisman’s study, particularly the section titled ‘Manipulation and Fraud’ provides insight into
the questionable and fraudulent nature of elections in Russia. 45 Indeed, many Russians dismissed
the 2012 presidential election as “a disgrace [and] not an election”. 46
One major divergence between Nigerian and Russian democracy is regime change – while there
have been regime change in the former; what exists in the latter is what Kathy and Will referred
to as ‘power vertical’ 47 – exercise of power by a single person or what we prefer to call
monocracy. Between 1999 and 2015, five general elections (which produced four presidents)
were held in Nigeria. Indeed, the ruling All Progressive Congress defeated the People’s
Democratic Party of the immediate former president leading to the emergence of Mohammadu
Buhari as president. Thus, like in other climes, Nigerian elections may not be foolproof; they are
held periodically with the holders of the structural frame emerging there from.
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Conversely, since the emergence of Vladimir Putin on the Russian political scene, elections have
not been more than ‘yes voice’ to validate tenure elongation or continuity. As Harding rightly
pointed out, elections in Russia are mere rituals which mimic and ‘imitate democracy’, but lack
crucial elements of democracy. 48 According to Harding, the 2012 presidential election was
Vladimir Putin’s Brezhnev moment…when he ceased simply being an elected
leader and segued towards a lifetime presidency. Having neatly sidestepped the
rules by doing a stint as prime minister (no Russian leader can serve more than two
consecutive presidential terms) Putin can now go on and on. Brezhnev did 18 years,
Stalin 31…who would bet against Vladimir matching Leonid? 49
It would be recalled that after two four-year terms as president (2000-2008), term limitations
prevented Putin from running again so he picked Dmitry Medvedev to replace him. Medvedev
made …
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