Wariboko: Election by lottery: A new approach to Nigerian democracy

Nimi Wariboko, Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics at the School of Theology at Boston University, writes:

Electioneering is warfare in Nigeria. Billions of naira are invested in campaigns and conducting elections. War and money have not yielded wise leaders for the country. Is it not time for us to generate creative ideas on how we can peacefully and cheaply select citizens for offices? I suggest that we complement our system of election with lottery. We reserve one-third of all seats in the state Houses of Assembly, House of Representatives, and the Senate for delegates to be filled by lot. Every four years, we put the names of all eligible citizens in a given constituency in a computerised urn or other mechanism and pick out a winner to represent his or her constituency at one level.

I offer this proposal based on seven reasons. First, it is more cost effective to operate than the rigged system we run now. Second, this will partly break the power of the cabal and godfathers that handpick candidates for us at every election. Choosing candidates by lot levels the playing field for both the rich and the poor.

Third, the proposed system is more just than the current one. It opens up leadership opportunities to those who will ordinarily not be permitted to come near governance of our country. Four, this new system will give ordinary, poor, or middle-class Nigerians a chance to represent their constituencies without first amassing wealth or stealing public funds to finance their campaigns and settle political gate keepers.

Five, what have we got to lose? The performance of our “duly” elected officials is worse than that of any group of persons we will randomly picked from the streets. The candidates we select by the lottery system cannot be worse that our present crop of politicians. Six, in many holy books of the world’s religions, divine wisdom or strategic information from the gods has been obtained or revealed by lot. All the Nigerians who pride themselves as prayer warriors will now have their work cut out for them. Let us unleash their energies to pray to God or gods to pick the right candidates for us.

Finally, my proposal is more “democratic” than the current electoral system. It is aligned with the founding theoretical idea of democracy itself. The foundation of democracy is in fact the lack of any foundation. Any serious research into the debates about democracy in ancient Greek easily reveals that the Greeks understood democracyto depend on sheer contingency of equality. This is a radical notion of equality that does not allow access to power to depend on any form of hierarchy or discrimination based on birth, seniority, wealth, intelligence, virtue, or strength.The rule by the demos means that all are equal before the law and by nature. This is the scandal of democracy. This is why both Plato and Aristotle were not advocates of democracy. Plato preferred knowledge as the basis of choosing leaders and Aristotle preferred virtue.

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