Tam David-West, former Minister of Petroleum and Energy, a professor of virology, has said Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, goofed for saying the United States of America (USA) is the oldest and greatest democracy in the world.
In an interview with Newsmen in Ibadan, at the weekend, David-West said Nigeria started practising democracy long before United States, and added that he has studied the practise of democracy in the US and found out that real democracy is not in operation in the most powerful nation of the world.
Soyinka was reported in the media to have said Nigeria has a lot to learn from the US, being the oldest or greatest in the practise of democracy in the world.
But, David-West does not agree. He said Soyinka was completely correct when he said Nigeria should learn from the US because there are a lot of things Nigeria can learn from the country. “But, he spoilt a good case when he said the US is the oldest democracy.”
David-West said the 1979 Constitution, drafted by 50 eminent citizens, was more rigorous than the 1787 Constitution of the United States, which was drafted by 55 people.
The preamble to Nigerian constitution, “We the people of Nigeria,” he said, indicated that sovereignty belongs to the people.
His words: “Soyinka said United States is the oldest democracy in the world. It is absolutely false.
“If there is no adult suffrage, there is no democracy. Democracy is people’s rule. By this, I mean, in a democracy, every legally qualified adult must be given the franchise to vote.
“In a system where somebody is an adult by law but is disenfranchised based on race, gender or social position, you have no democracy.
“In America, up till today, some Black men cannot vote. I studied in America and I was discriminated against, even from a church. I went to worship in a church on a Sunday, they said I should go to a Black church. That was in 1965 or so. In getting a flat, I was discriminated against….
“So, discrimination in America is still going on today. America did not allow Negroes to vote in the 1940s. But, not all Negroes are still voting till today. So, for Soyinka to say America is the oldest democracy, that is not true at all.”
Justifying why he took a swipe at Soyinka, David-West said: “I am doing this, not as a parade of intellectualism, but, to keep the records straight for the public, especially when clearly untrue statements are being made by very great people.
“I don’t want the people to just believe. Ordinarily, when a big man says something, we have a system that respects age and position. Whenever a big man says something, we will respect it.
“First, this is not to pick on my friend, Soyinka. I still respect him. Any Nigerian that does not respect Soyinka should go and get his head examined. Soyinka has every right and credential to be highly respected, and I do respect him.
We are very close. In fact, when he was released from detention, I was among the first to visit him in his house in Ibadan. I was in his house when he came.
“Also, when he launched his book, The Man Died, at Convent Garden in London, I was in London, as a Commonwealth Fellow; I was there at the launch. I invited him for a lunch the following day and he came. We had the lunch together and we discussed greatly. So, he is a man that I respect. But he has to be more careful at times, though human being can make mistakes.”
David-West noted that democracy started in Greece and the word, democracy, was coined from two Greek words – people’s role, and added that “even in Greece, there is no strictly democracy. Then, during the time of Pericles in the fifth century Before Christ (B.C), he wrote based on democracy in Greece. But then, only 25 percent of the people voted.
“America is not the greatest democracy, even the Athens, where democracy started are not practising real democracy. In democracy, any legal adult would have the franchise to vote. Nigeria was doing that long time before America.
“Democracy believes in popular sovereignty. The people are sovereign. Our constitution in Nigeria says sovereignty belongs to the people. In democracy, sovereignty belongs to the people. The people should decide what the government should be. So, where you don’t have popular sovereignty, there is no democracy.”
David-West also enjoined people that have been defining democracy according to the definition by Abraham Lincoln without reference to a great American politician, Daniel Webster, who defined democracy in 1820s before Lincoln’ definition of 1963.
“We always quote Abraham Lincoln that he defines democracy as ‘Government of the people, by the people and for the people.’ He was actually referring to sovereignty of the people. But what we don’t underscore is that it is not the idea of Abraham Lincoln. He got the definition from a man called Webster.
“Webster defined democracy long before Abraham Lincoln. Webster said democracy is ‘The people’s government, made by the people and answerable to the people.’ Webster gave the definition in 1820s, while Lincoln gave his definition in his address on November 19,1963.
“I have a book to show that Lincoln read the definition given by Webster. He did not plagiarise it, but he modified it. So, quoting Lincoln’s definition for democracy without reference to Webster, is a great disservice to the great politician,” he stated.
David-West further noted that the principle of electoral college and popular votes in the United States has completely destroy America as a country practising democracy, saying in democracy, popular vote is very important. But in the US, he said, there is a clash between popular votes and electoral college.
He cited some examples of clashes between popular votes and electoral college. One of the cases he cited was the 2016 presidential election in which Hillary Clinton of The Democrats polled more than three million popular votes, but lost to the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, based on electoral votes.
In spite of his assertions of David-West, are things working in the US than Nigeria? He answered: “In America, they have checks and balances in their constitution. The judiciary checks both the executive and legislature. The other two – executive and legislature, also check each other.”
“The checks and balances entrenched in American constitution are very valid. Each arm of government cannot go beyond their limit. And the Americans respect their constitution. If you are playing Nigerian anthem, some people are walking away, some will even sit down. In America, when they are playing their anthem, they would stand up and place their hands on their chest. They love their country.”