Friday Sermon: Democracy Retarded!

By Babatunde Jose

“The expert view is that we’re living in an age of democratic retreat. Strongmen in de facto single-party states have consolidated or expanded their rule, while nationalist populists and would-be autocrats in democracies are systematically undermining or corrupting their countries’ liberal institutions. In some places in the Arab world, where democracy has long struggled to take root, peaceful protests are still being met with murderous state brutality and repression.” Washington Post

The Economists asked “Why are so many countries witnessing mass protests? It put the blame squarely on failing economies, demography (which relates to the overwhelming young age of majority of the world population), a sense of powerlessness of the majority poor … and the ubiquitous social media.”

“Large anti-government demonstrations, some peaceful and some not, have taken place in recent weeks in countries on every continent: Algeria, Bolivia, Britain, Catalonia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and more. On November 1st Pakistan joined the ever-lengthening roll as tens of thousands of protesters converged on the capital, Islamabad, to demand that the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, stand down within 48 hours;” wrote the Economist.

Far from representing a global movement coalescing around common demands, the protests are peculiar and country specific; though similar themes run through them; corruption, leadership inadequacies and pauperization of the people. Incidentally, non are religious or ethnic in causation and very few are in Black Africa where majority of the world poor reside.

Economic explanations make much of the way in which seemingly minor policies such as tax increases have proved the final straw to people struggling to get by in increasingly unequal societies. Rising food prices have also provided the latest “paroxysm of a dysfunctional and doomed capitalism;” added the Economist. As an Australian socialist journal, sees it: “For more than four decades, country after country has been ravaged by neoliberal policies designed to make the mass of workers and the poor pay for what is a growing crisis in the system.”

The presence of a ruling class and the distinction between a ruling and a ruled class are universal and ‘constant facts’ of all societies. The ruling class ‘performs all political functions, monopolizes power and enjoys the advantages that power brings. Alexander Hamilton noted that ‘all communities divide themselves into the few and the many’.

The ruling class’ dominance derives first and foremost from their possession of ‘social forces’ (i.e. sources of social power) that members of the ruling class obtain the material, intellectual and even moral superiority to rule. The power of the ruling class rests also on the advantages that every organized minority enjoys over a disorganized majority. Robert Michels developed this argument into his renowned ‘iron law of oligarchy’, stressing ‘the immanent oligarchic tendencies in every kind of human organization which strives for the attainment of definite ends’.

Elites are present within pluralist democracies since even these societies cannot work without a governmental machine and a political class. It is therefore, axiomatic to note that in democracies governments can be of or for the people, but not realistically by the people; ‘for it is quite impossible for the government of a society to be in the hands of any but a few’. In this sense, we can safely question the myth surrounding the democratic model, the ‘democratic fallacy’ that governments are run by the governed. However, when the excesses of the ruling elite gets too overbearing on the masses, there is a critical mass that things gets to a point of no return and the system explodes in a revolt against the paganism of the elite, their shenanigan, unbridled peccadilloes and brigandage; their self aggrandizement, economic idolatry and spiritual poverty.   It is when the society get to this stage that we witness an uprising. No! Not a revolution, but an uprising, which comes as a spontaneous and unstructured reaction to bottled up injustice. It is usually uncoordinated as it does not have an epicentre or leaders. Its leaders are spontaneous and it erupts in various places and spreads via words of mouth and these days via the ubiquitous social media.

Hence, an innocuous incident such as a car ramming into passers-by at a bus stop in Mushin Olosa could develop into a social fracas that would lead to the masses stoning passing vehicles and later to the burning of cars and later the maiming and killing of perceived enemies. Any one driving past in a good car automatically draws the ire of the masses, the stories would then spread via the omnipresent WhatsApp to Idumota, and viola, mayhem is unleashed on innocent people. The uprising spreads to Agege and before you know what’s going on, Kano, Port Harcourt, Maiduguri and Ibadan have joined the fray. The country which is traditionally under-policed will be unable to cope and then the army would be brought out. Unfortunately, the killing of protesters by the army would add fuel to the matter and the country would be set on fire. By the close of day, NO-ONE would be able to say what caused the uprising. If care is not taken a set of emergency leaders would emerge articulating demands for the government to go, unfortunate political leaders would by then have been beheaded and their heads on spikes like that of Akaluka. The turmoil would be spontaneous and at the end of the day, the army would take over the reign of affairs. The lesson here is that’ let no one conjecture that the military can never take over the government. They can and it would be a very big shame as all the democratic evolution of the past 20 years would have come to naught: And Democracy would be on REMAND!

Let those who have ears listen now. The rascality and excesses of the political elite is beginning to give cause for serious concern. The masses are starting to get restless. They are not only hungry, but angry. There is too much poverty in the land: Poverty in the midst of plenty, scarcity in the mist of waste and profligacy. Ostentation, brazen flamboyance, and grandiosity have become the order of the day; even in these days of economic downturn. We have said it before, we should say it again; the hungry poor will soon have nothing to eat, and woe betides the unfortunate elite they lay their hands on when the fight starts: That’s when they become food for the hungry poor.

The antics of the elite in whipping up religious and ethnic animosities coupled with the hiring of foot soldiers from among the poor will not augur well for the security of this nation.

Bob Marley said ‘every day the bucket goes to the well, one day the bottom will fall out.’ Analysis of past societies indicates that if inequality, poverty and socio-economic inadequacies are allowed to fester, violence will not be far off. Why it has not erupted here is a question which baffles political analysts. But it is coming, even a ‘blind man can tell when he is walking in the sun.  May God save us from our elite; Amen.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

A Gentle Reminder:

December 19 2019 is  the date of our Book Unveiling: “Reflections on Juma’at Greetings”, at the Sir Adetokunbo Ademola Hall, Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos. At 11 A.M.


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