A former Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Tam David-West, has faulted the recent claim by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, that the United States of America (USA) is the oldest and greatest democracy in the world.
David-West said contrary to Soyinka’s assertion, Nigeria started practising democracy long before United States, saying that the literary doyen goofed for making such comment.
Soyinka was quoted in the media as saying that Nigeria had a lot to learn from the US, being the oldest or greatest in the practise of democracy in the world.
Reacting however, David-West said he agreed with Soyinka when he said Nigeria should learn from the US because there were 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.”
Speaking with Sun, the elder statesman said, “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.”
“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.”
“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.”