Sustaining Nigeria's Democracy: Public Libraries as an Indispensable Instrument in Anambra State.

Author:Nwofor, Florence Amaka
Position:Report
 
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INTRODUCTION

The etymology of the word "Democracy" comes from Greek words "demos" meaning "people" and "kratos" meaning "power". In Greece the people met in one place to make laws for their community but today because people can no longer gather like that, they practice representative democracy where members of the society are elected to represent the society in the council, legislative or parliament in decision making and legal issues. Democracy implies that the citizens must participate in governance through their freely elected representatives and promotion of basic rights of citizens (Omotala, 2009). This form of governance by elected representatives is referred to as Democratic Republic or Republican government (Jemo: 2008), Democracy is a global phenomena which is practiced in various countries of the world. Jega (2006) as cited by Mbah (2007) indicated the following constituent elements of a liberal democratic tradition:

* Representation: "freedom to choose". People choosing their representatives through periodic "free and fair" elections.

* Participation: getting involved. "People being involved in choosing representatives and in determining their affairs"

* Responsive and representative/accountable governance: delivery of services that efficiently and effectively satisfy the needs and expectations of the people; which maximize pleasure and minimize pains to a greater number of people.

* Equality before the law; rule of law, fairness and justice.

* Transparency and accountability in public conduct.

He categorically maintained that the level of Democracy of a political system was dependent on the extent to which it allowed the freedoms to exist. Eliagwu (2004:20) as cited in Mbah (2007: 152) agrees with him on these basic features of a democracy while Guaba (2003:425) as quoted in Mbah (2007:153) explained that for democracy to be sustained certain principles, mechanisms and institutions must be maintained. They include government by consent, public accountability, majority rule, recognition of minority rights and constitutional government. Democracy is a government in which policies and actions are to a larger extent determined by the general will and popular majority. The beauty of democracy is made apparent in the observance of the rule of law. Today, democracy which is a global phenomenon has become the yardstick for measuring good governance in the various geographical locations/countries including Nigeria and other African countries. In fact, the Western democracies, the USA, the World Bank have insisted that one of the conditions for obtaining assistance and aid for Africa is the level of application of democratic principles and ideals. According to Nnoli (2003) Democracy as a form of government entails the freedom of the individual in many respects-political freedom, equality among citizens, justice in the relations between the people and the government and the participation of the people in choosing those in government. Stressing this "freedom" further Jemo (2008) states that citizens in an ideal democracy are entitled to equal protection of their persons, possessions and rights, equal rights of political participation; freedom from undue interference and domination by government. Freedom within the ambit of the law to belief/views, to expression, of association, to work and live where they choose, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, of worship/religion. Political freedom and participation implies that they will be free to choose their representative (electoral choice) in a process characterized by free and fair elections and the electorate can question government decisions through their elected representatives (rights) in parliament without fear of intimidation. Basic features of democracy could be summed up as: there must be free and fare elections, recognition of majority rule and minority rights, existence of political parties, constitutional government (rule of law), and participation of private organizations without government interference.

Democracy in Nigeria

Democratization is the total processes involved in the entrenchment of the culture of democracy-liberalizing the political space, institutionalizing the voting rights, permitting dissent, allowing negotiation among plural groups, associational life and respect for human rights. It is these lofty ideologies that Nigeria set out in 1960 to entrench and consolidate after independence. It is obvious that democracy is shaped by historical forces and the contemporary socio-economic circumstances of each country (Mbah, 2007:151). The five democratic objectives for Nigeria as cited by Agbodike (1992:253) include:

* a united, strong and self-reliant nation.

* a great and dynamic economy.

* a just and egalitarian society.

* a land of bright and full opportunities for all its citizens.

Nigeria, a heterogeneous, multiethnic and post colonial new nation emerging into democracy still bore the trappings of the British colonial past which to a large extent shaped the democratization process. She adopted the parliamentary system expecting nation building, economic development and political stability but as was the case of the bulk of post colonial states in Africa the democracy experiments in Nigeria has proved a woeful disappointment (Onyishi, 2007:193; Choiruzaad, 2001.)

In fact, the country has witnessed so much economic and socio political problems resulting from the lip service paid to issues pertaining to democracy. Mbah (2007: 149) points out that Nigeria's democracy lacked the socio cultural and political nexus required for its sustainability. Genuine democracy is good governance for all the people which inspires confidence in the populace (Okunna, 2011:80). Mbah (2007) and Onyishi (2007) reiterate that democracy in Nigeria is not moving towards this end. The nascent democratic dispensation in Nigeria has been characterized by lack of respect for the basic rights and freedoms of its citizens. Governments have been tyrannical with their usurpation of the rule of law and infringement of the rights of the citizens who live in abject poverty. The democratic progress which has been made are crippled by severe structural problems like corruption, weak law enforcement, lack of respect for citizens rights, liberty and participation which are essentials of a successful democratic process are lacking. There is mockery of electoral laws, exclusivity, elitism, executive highhandedness, disdain for popular debate of public issues and antidemocratic features of arrogance. Our political framework is inundated with brazen show of uncivilized attitudes of uncultured and ill mannered politicians who rig elections, steal ballot boxes falsify results, bribe the electorate (Onyishi 2007: 199). Political parties force candidates on the electorates since there are no independent candidates. The legislature and law are foisted with money bag politicians who do not make laws to benefit the citizens but themselves, the orgy of looting and embezzlement is scandalous. The government is not accountable to itself or the citizens. Transparency has been thrown to the wind. Intolerance, downright personalization of public positions abound, sit tight in power syndrome, annulment of free and fair elections, questionable impeachment of elected officers from power, total abuse of office by political class and public office holders, politics is now a family affair running from parents to children and siblings to siblings, personal agrandisement and godfatherism is the order of the day. The judiciary is not independent. The moribund political structure calls for an immediate transformation to avoid chaos and disintegration of the Nigerian state (Mbah, 2007).

This situation has degenerated to a level where the citizens show apathy and lack of concern in the political system. This apathy Okunna (2001:78) pointed out could be attributed to the people's lack of access to the relevant information to enlighten them on goings-on in their society to enable them participate in the public debate as required for the operation of democracy. The role of the librarian and other information gate- keepers such as (the press), become very indispensable in providing and making information accessible to ensure free flow of information and developing an informed citizenry. Jemo (2008) emphasized that there is need for the citizens to be equipped with the right information to participate in the democratic process and eradicate social problems. But how can this be for a country which until recently did not have freedom of information (FOI) law. A bill which value in advancing the practice and ideals of democracy is incotestable (Ogunshola; 2011).

Public Libraries

The UNESCO Public Library Manifesto (1995) states that "the public library shall in principle be free of charge and services should be provided on the basis of equality of access for all regardless of age, race, gender religion, nationality, language or social status". In order to provide equality of access, specific services and materials must be provided for those users who for whatever reason cannot use the regular services and materials e.g. linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, in hospital or prison. Public libraries are publicly funded libraries open to anyone who wants to use them. Adimorah (1983); Kerslake and Kinnel (1998), Agbodike (1992), Osuigwe and Udeze (2010), Osuigwe, Jiagbogu and Udeze 2011 indicate that public libraries reflect their social, economic and political environment. The information age emphasizes the empowerment of all through access to and use of information and considering the fact that it is only the informed citizen that can participate in democracy effectively, the public library which mission is to facilitate access to information and resources in a variety of media to its community serves as a veritable instrument in this respect. Its objectives for Africa as stated by the UNESCO...

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