By Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
(Democracy Day Lecture at the International Conference Centre, Abuja).
It is a great privilege for me to stand before you on this auspicious day of marking what the freedoms associated with democracy means to us. I want to particularly thank Mr. President for deciding that we invest this day in celebrating those who made the sacrifice to bring us here, and what we have been able to as a nation use this opportunity to achieve. I believe he will be marking his third year in Office by tomorrow. As it is said in Hausa: the song is sweeter to listen to from the mouth of the composer. I believe he will be able to tell us as a nation what these there years as system has meant to us.
As I reflect over what brief comments I will be making today, we have to invest it in the service of democracy, to remind us as I have said myself of what these democratic rights mean to us. We talk about how fragile they are, and to use this day to deter tyrants and rebuild leaders where ever they maybe, and to make a rallying point for peace and unity which is embedded in our national creed. If I succeed in doing that; then I would have scored myself as being successful.
First of all, if you look at the concept of democracy from the loose; but very shrewd definition given by Abraham Lincoln as the government of the people, by the people and for the people, it doesn’t begin to make sense until you know the essence of the government of the people which is in the Declaration of Independence of the American people.
You talk about we hold this truth to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, they are endowed by their creator with some certain definite rights. Among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Then you’ll begin to know that the meaning of democracy is just to secure these rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
For some of our citizens who wonder whether they are in the position to invest their liberty in the pursuit of happiness, I want to say they shouldn’t despair, as there is hope for the living. That fully in the course of history, the rich and powerful have always interchanged places with the poor and vulnerable. So there is hope, and every reason for all, Nigerians to celebrate this democracy.
As a matter of fact, in order for us to secure these rights, the framers of our constitution allocated governmental powers among three equal branches of government, the Executive, the Legislature and The Judiciary. The three greatly working together makes it extremely necessary for compromise and consensus in governance. Whenever you see a democracy that is working; check it very well, it is consensus and compromise that drives it. Of course this democracy that we all cherish is very fragile, and as such we can’t take it for granted. That is why I thanked the President for making us all come here to remind ourselves of the fragility of our democracy.
Nowadays democracies hardly die at the hands of men with guns, what truncates democracies globally is the election of leaders with dubious allegiance to democratic norms. There’s this timely warning contained in the pages of history, I think it was an Irish orator named John Philport Curran who penned down these lines, that “it is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
I believe that this statement is true as it was then, and as it is today. But in order for us to harness the blessings of freedom, you must pay the price.
Any generation that has gone to sleep would have awaken to the rude shock that the Courts and other democratic institutions have been weaponized against them, and as much they have become subjects, instead of citizens, where obeisance to the government is demanded as against the government fearing the people. That must not be the case with our own democracy, and for us to ensure that our democracy survives, we have to be eternally vigilant.
Let me also talk about tyrants, despots, those who threaten democracy, enemies of open society. As a matter of fact we don’t have to dig too deep down moral lanes to be able to fetch some moral lessons to warn them, as history is an open book to them. It doesn’t matter whether they are dictators who came before Hitler, to dictators like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, name them, Sadam Hussein, Mumar Ghadhafi, a certain charging has ended their lives.
And it would be wrong for us to think that we can do what they did; and not see what they saw. As a matter of fact the beauty of democracy is in forbearance. Those of us who are true democrats here will exhibit light in the way and manner in which we carry out institutional prerogatives with forbearance and with grace, those are true democrats.
In rounding up, I want to remind us of the wish that is contained in our national anthem, which is Peace and Unity. A united Nigeria will be a peaceful Nigeria. So I want to end by making this rallying call to all Nigerians, be it in the South, West, North and East, across all divides to unite for the common good for the pursuit of our future and the advancement of our people. I believe that nothing is impossible in the united, peaceful and democratic Nigeria, HAPPY DEMOCRACY DAY and I congratulate us all, thank you.
●●Hon. Dogara is the Speaker, House of Representatives, Federal Republic of Nigeria