RULING PARTY vs. GOVERNING PARTY
To rule and to govern both connote the exercise of power by leadership. But the contexts in which such power is exercised are substantially different.
To rule, according to the 6th Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is described as ‘having control over a particular group, country, etc’; while according to the same reference, to govern is described as ‘having the right and the authority to control something such as a country or an institution’.
From these descriptions, it is obvious that to rule, one does not have to secure the permission of the ruled by way of their willing conferment of the right to exercise power. It brings to remembrance the years of military autocracy when governments came to- and were removed from- power not by the ballot but by bullets. And because their right to exercise power was not people-derived; they ruled, not minding the rights and aspirations of the citizens. Under their ruler-ship, might was right.
On the other hand, to govern requires that leadership secures the right and authority to exercise power by the willing conferment of such right by the led. It requires that citizen’s rights and aspirations are given due recognition and are legally guaranteed. It is not premised on the autocratic norm of might being right. It paints the picture of what obtains in a democratic environment worth the name.
In summary, while ‘ruling’ is synonymous to dictatorial autocracy, ‘governing’ is akin to participatory democracy.
So, if what we have had in Nigeria since 1999 is a democracy, why the prominence of the word, ‘ruling party’ in our national political lexicon?
Here, it has become traditional to refer to the political party which forms government at the federal or state level as ‘ruling’.
But, how can a political party which came to power by the people’s willing conferment be said to be ruling? If ruling connotes the dictatorial tendencies of unfettered and unaccountable control, how can it be used to describe an important institution of democracy such as a political party?
Looked at more closely, does the description of parties in government as ruling not highlight the internal contradictions in our practise of democracy? Does it not betray a secret longing of Nigeria’s political leadership for the allure of autocratic, unquestionable, and totalitarian powers enjoyed by the military leaders of yore?
Does it not inform the conception, by leaders of political parties, of their status as perpetual and unending?
Does it not explain why parties and party leaders would become unavailable to citizens while in office, in the years between the elections, knowing that they do not really need the electorate to get back into office?
Does it not explain why some party leader would confidently assert that his party would “…rule Nigeria for the next 60 years”?
Referring to whichever political party in government as ‘governing’, as against ‘ruling’ would help reinforce the participatory democratic reason for its being. It would help reinforce the need for leaders to be accountable to the citizenry and transparent too.
When a political party recognises itself as ‘governing’ and not ‘ruling’, it would be conscious of the need to keep its communication line with the citizenry open; knowing that from the citizenry its powers to be came and to it the same powers must return at the conduct of credible, free and fair polls.
A ‘governing party’ would be more conscious of the rule of law, starting from diligent compliance with its own rules and regulation and then with the provisions of the Constitution, the grund norm of the country.
A ‘governing party’ would be conscious of the fact that its term in office is tenured, and would thus have to warm its way into the hearts of the citizenry with statesmanlike service, that being the only way to guarantee its continued stay in office.
Many other democratic ideals that should manifest in a truly democracy-oriented political party will be the lot of the Nigerian political experience when we consistently remind any party that forms government that it is ‘governing’ and not ‘ruling’; that it is the servant of the people and not their lord.