Home / Visitor's Corner / Toby Writes: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF MY FOREBEARS


After so much controversy which my last week’s article generated, as several people called for my head for daring to advocate that democracy should be discarded as a form of government in Nigeria, I feel it’s expedient to take my supposition a bit further. Most times a sizeable number of people endure abuse because they believe they do not have a better choice if they leave the comfort zone of their oppressors. However, history has proven over and over again that there is always a better island if one is willing to risk leaving the succor of the shore.

Therefore, I strongly believe that, whilst the rest of the world (most nations) are under one form of constitutional democracy – be it Parliamentary Democracy, Presidential Democracy or Communist Democracy – it will be politically unfair to believe that any nation that is not governed by any of these forms is headed for the rocks. I do not believe that the list of better forms of government is exhaustive once we leave the periphery of these democratic forms. To me, if Jesus tarries, I believe better forms of government will always suffice and efface as far as the principle of Changing Men in a Changing World remains.

While we spirit our mind over this principle, it is noteworthy we look at one form of government that was in existence in a former world, one which the colonialists subjugated and supplanted their form of democracy with their system of indirect rule, which later metamorphosed into Parliamentary democracy and much later, Presidential democracy. This world is no other than the pre-colonial Igbo land which was a republican state before the advent of the white man.

For the benefit of those who must have forgotten, Republicanism is a system of government in which there is no monarch, president or clearly recognized head. Though there are several interpretations and meanings to the term ‘Republicanism.’ However, the afore definition still falls within its scope. An Igbo expression, Igbo ewe eze (Igbos do not have king or central authority), lays credence to this republican claim. Before the coming of the white men, most Igbo communities were governed by the council of Ndi-ichies (Elders). Their decisions, with the divine guidance of the chief priest, serve as the final ruling to any matter of the land. I believe this republican setting was beautifully captured in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine.

Unlike democracy, to be a member of this decision-making body, one is not elected but one has to be, first, of a ripe age (obviously married), a man of impeccable character, a respected member of the community and an achiever (a warrior, a deep thinker, a man who is able manage his household or a fruitful worker). A man of questionable character can hardly be found in this august body. When a temperate youth begins to show prospects, he is seen as a potential member of this illustrious body. Hence the Igbo adage: If a child washes his hands, he will dine with his elders. I believe the character of Emenike and Okonkwo exemplified this expression in the books, The Concubine and Things Fall Apart respectively.

This simply means, the elders look out for youths who are disciplined, hardworking and discrete; they indirectly train such youths by drawing them close, so the youths will be skilled in the ways of the land, process of administration and the nitty-gritty of the unwritten judicial laws. This informal education is a process of refining a naïve citizen in preparation for future civic assignment.  These elders believe this onerous task of leadership and decision-making rights cannot be exercised by everybody. Thus village layabouts, weak men, average minds and thieves are not considered for this future responsibility. I believe this is among the reasons why Okonkwo’s heart bled as he observed his son Nwoye grow into a weak boy, indifferent to manly activities. More so, it is why Ekwueme’s father wanted Ekwueme to disassociate himself from the village clown Wodu Wakiri, and also show less interest in music.

What I have tried to underscore here is that our forebears recognized early that every matured member (by age) of a community cannot be allowed into a leadership position or be a member of decision-making process, all in the name of equality. They understood the imbalance in the human system and psychology, thus, making them to conscientiously select their future decision makers. Yes, every married man was the head of his family, and whatever he said in his family was law. However, when it came to the general assembly, the decision of the council of elders was supreme. And, it was in this general assembly that the crowd was expected to close their mouths – irrespective of the fact that you were the head of your own family – and listen to counsel of the council of elders.

Of course, if this system is subjected to the realities of our modern time, people will object to its strictness, not because of its discountenance to freedom of expression, right to elect their leaders, but also because it does not give room to womenfolk to be part of this august body. While I quickly admit that women should not be left in the backseat in any form of government, I still firmly believe that not all humans should be allowed to express their minds, all in the name of democracy.

For example, a man who is a debtor has sold his rights, without knowing, to his creditor; whatever his creditor says, he will quickly line up with it for fear of being hounded or disgraced. Also a family which has allowed another man to be their sole benefactor will always see the man as a god, even if they are told that the man makes his money from the public’s purse.

These scenarios and many more play out in our society, showing that human beings may look free but they are not really free. And as such, whenever you give them the liberty to express their franchise or right, it will – out of prejudice – be in favour of their benefactors, not really because the said person is good, but for the fear of losing the benefactor’s goodwill.

To tie up these points, I believe it will be profitable to bring out some points from the timeless book of all time. Paul, in his first letter to Timothy – an epistle which I unapologetically believe is a guide to sound leadership – Chapter 5 Verse 22, told him not be in a rush to lay hands on anyone in dedication to the Lord’s service. If you go back to Chapter 3 Verse 10, you will find the reason. Paul opined that they should be tested first, and if they passed the test, they were to serve.  Now, take a read-through from verses 2 – 7; Paul rolled out the parameters for testing such a man. Such parameters include: he must be able to manage his family, make his children obey him in respect, he must not be a drunkard or a violent man, he must be sober, self controlled and orderly, ad infinitum.

I believe this is the point where some of us will be quick to remind me that Paul was talking about a church leader (I think is high time we stopped seeing the Bible as a mere religious textbook and see as human instructional manual). This is the point I’ll answer them with: in Jesus definition, a church which stands for the body of Christ are human beings. Some will ask again, you are talking of ordinary men and not leaders. I will also be quick to add, what do you expect when you give ordinary men the right to select their leaders? You have indirectly made them thin leaders over an affair which some of them lack the discretion and grounds to exercise, all in the name of fundamental human rights and equality before the law.

Therefore, I hold this truth to be self evident: if all humans are streamlined, filtered and selected before they are given the right to elect, to speak, in a general assembly, I doubt we would have ever come to the stage of discussing irrelevant things like whether gays should be allowed to marry, or whether little underage children should be given out in marriage.

In essence, what I am saying in clear terms is this: even the act of being an electorate is a serious leadership position, therefore everyone should not be one because the said person is above 18 and a citizen of a country. Before any should be considered as one, I believe the person should at least get to the standing of what it takes to join the council of elders which is not really different from Paul’s enumeration save for the man must be a man of one wife part.

We will keep taking one step forward and eleven steps backward, if we allow this our idea of democracy to continue. If we feel it, will be tedious and cumbersome to modify, then in no mean words I say like my friend Gimba Kikanda: May GOD save us from us. For my friends who question my use of the scriptures to always analyze political matters, I leave them with this Pauline assertion. All scripture is inspired by GOD and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults and giving instructions for right living.

May GOD open our eyes of understanding.

Written by Tobe Osigwe, @OsigweTobe

About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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  1. Ikolondigbo!!!I celebrate уσυ….nyc work as usual.

  2. Nice article, has a bit of everything. It really brings into focus different controversial issues plaguing our country today. Unaddressed issues. Heaven helps those who help themselves at the end.

  3. I just couldn’t ignore this!

  4. no system is perfect, and the problem is humans. no human system will ever be perfect because humans are by nature imperfect. if we look at those republican system, you advocate, you will see many flaws.

    what we strive for is to make the best use of whatever we have, and for now, the best form of government is still democracy. when we shout freedom of speech, it means everyone has a voice, and as such, we will see someone shouting on the top of his voice, that which we would spend our lives shouting on the top of our voice against. he has his right, so much as we have ours.

    we believe that we have the best opinion, so those another. we feel it’s our belief that is the soundest, so does another. we want to be right and the other wrong because we are convinced of the ‘truth’. herein lies the basic human flaw, a psychological blind spot which is at the centre of every strife and war.

    even in bible times where the supposed best government practice was in effect- theocracy. God raised up judges and ruled through them but still it was written ‘in those days there were no king and every man did what was right in his own sight’.

    there will never be a perfect system of human government ….

  5. Always impressed with what this guy has to say. Nice one. But I still think allowing democracy to play a major role in present day government is essential so as not to trample on anyone’s right ,giving each and everyone a voice to speak, no matter how appalling their opinions might seem to be. It’s now left for the ruling body to seive the better and implement such into rule for the benefit of all.

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