Representation, not tokenism

Representation, not tokenism

A good political system is one that allows people to compete equally, not give them handouts


It is true that we are a multilayered, highly differentiated society. And it is certainly true, that our differences compel us to pursue solutions that are different from those applied in the more streamlined West. Personally, I am pro at a rotational system which, in my view, will accommodate our differences. But I also understand that the differences are so deep and the interests so diverse that it will always be impossible to make everyone happy.

What president Uhuru proposes in the rotational presidency and what he tries to achieve with the BBI is an equality of outcome. He attempts to accommodate all interest groups and as much as possible, to please everyone, resulting in a convoluted BBI document that includes noble proposals that are not necessarily constitutional issues. 

Equality of outcome is about accommodating everybody. Although it sounds good, it is idealistic and almost always never achieves the intended outcome. As I said, there are too many groups in a society and one cannot please each one of them if they set out to. Take the tribe, for instance. In a country of 42 tribes, it would take more than 200 years for all the tribes to enjoy a stint at the helm and one tribe will have to wait another 200 years for that chance. I am not sure it solves the problem. On the other hand, if the presidency rotates among regions as opposed to just tribes, the dominant groups in those regions will still hold sway.

And what about the youth, women, people living with disabilities, the rich and the poor, marginalized communities, religious groups and the LGBTI to name a few — how do you accommodate them all in the same government and ensure that all of them are represented according to population ratio vis a vis the rest?

What science do you employ? If you reward each group with a set of special solutions unique to them, you’re soon confronted with a problem of balance and application. The economic reforms proposed in the BBI are a great example. By proposing tax breaks for a major group you reduce the tax bracket and eat into much needed domestic revenue. 

The only way to avoid this is by punishing another group which will have to contribute more taxes to make up for the deficit: and that will affect their productivity. On the other hand, what stops non-beneficiaries from registering companies in the name of young people just to avoid paying taxes? At the end of the day, we are back where we started — a stagnant economy with so much to spend on and so little to spend.  

There is also the small matter of the Constitution which protects individual rights, speaks against discrimination and allows every citizen to run for political office. How do you navigate all this, well, unless of course, the scheme is to do away with these fundamental rights? Unless the Constitution is amended, any law or binding policy that undermines these simple dictates is unconstitutional. And in the same manner, unless they are legislated, all the lofty proposals of the BBI may be discarded when it is convenient because they don’t have legal standing. It’s a conundrum. 

I believe in equality of opportunity instead which means that each individual in the society is empowered and afforded an equal chance to compete for available opportunities. That way you eliminate the problem of identity politics and reduce the chances of people being rewarded for anything apart from their contribution.

The Constitution already envisages it when it talks about equity as a governing principle. Those who are disadvantaged, let them be enabled so that they can compete on an equal platform and have an equal say in government. It is the basic idea behind free-market economics and democracy that has served the developed world so well and continues to stand the test of time. 

That is not to say that I totally disagree with the President and the BBI as far as the Executive is concerned. I mean, the motive might be ill but the logic is certainly sound. Solutions are supposed to be tailored to fit the unique characteristics of the societies they govern and to this end, Nigeria is a befitting example. 

While a constitution is “supposed to address the history and ethnological realities of the nation,” the American and British models which she had employed had failed. Nigeria is a resource-rich multi-ethnic society which is dominated by three tribes that are territorially exclusive and larger in size than many countries of the world. Because of these factors, her post-independence history has been dominated by separatist agitations, political upheaval and coup-d’etats. 

To curb this trend, Nigeria employed a zoning concept which seeks to formalize a pattern whereby the geo-ethic origin of the national leader alternates from one election to the other. The Presidency, Vice Presidency, Premiership, Deputy Premiership, Senate Presidency and Speakership of the House of Representatives would be rotated between the North and the South. Furthermore, the country would be divided into six identifiable regional groupings (North-east, North-West, Middle-East, Middle-Belt, South-West, South-East and Southern Minority) for purposes of power-sharing.

Although imperfect, the rotational presidency was widely welcomed as the one thing that would keep Nigeria together and indeed, in spite of a few hiccups, Nigeria has been largely peaceful elections since. There are many more examples, but the message is that if democracy is to succeed in Kenya and indeed in Africa, we must acknowledge the reality of ethnicity and employ a government model that takes advantage of rather than ignores it.(

The author is a constitutional lawyer

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