16 Years Of Democracy: The Travails And Triumphs
IN The Beginning The struggle to return the country to democratic governance after many years of military rule characterized by maladministration and ineptitude was not a tea party.
Several attempts by the political class to wrestle power from the military junta had failed. Such attempt under General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, which was progressive at a stage became stalemated, following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election adjudged the fairest and freest in the country’s political history.
Not even the exit of Babangida and the entrance of late General Sani Abacha as the new Head of State could quell the protests that trailed the annulment of the presidential election. It was an ample opportunity lost. Abacha came with his own political agenda of transmuting from military dictator to civilian president under the guise of a stage-managed democratic process.
Handy and ever-ready to assist Abacha in his political perfidy against majority of Nigerians were some all-government-in-power politicians. Each passing day, hope dimmed. The height of despair was achieved when the five registered political parties aptly described by the late Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige as the “five fingers of a leprous hand” strangely adopted Abacha as their presidential candidate.
While some of those who were opposed to Abacha’s transmutation agenda were hounded into exile, others were persecuted and killed, sparing only those who were government allies and foot soldiers.
It was a tortuous and dangerous era in the quest for democratic governance in Nigeria by Nigerians. But in the face of the obvious challenges, the political class led by mostly Second Republic politicians persevered and continued the agitation for the enthronement of democratic governance in the country unabated.
The untimely demise of General Abacha in office in June 1998 ushered in a new dawn in the struggle. General Abdusalami Abubakar, who succeeded Abacha, hurriedly registered three political parties, namely Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD). This paved way for the disengagement of the military from governance in 1999.
The PDP was formed in 1998 by a group of politicians known as G-18 that later transformed into G-34. The group was later joined by other groups such as the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDP) Solidarity Forum. They started by organizing a summit in 1997 under the auspices of the All Politicians Summit to discuss the way out of what was fast becoming a festering dictatorship. The meeting was led by the Second Republic vice-president, Dr Alex Ekwueme.
Ekwueme, undeterred by the brutish antics of the regime, continued rallying key political figures of different ideological persuasions under a new platform called Institute of Civil Society. Other members of the group include former governor old Kano State, late Abubakar Rimi, former governor of old Plateau state, late Solomon Lar, former governor of old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo, Tony Anenih, Don Etiebet, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Atiku Abubakar and others.
Alliance for Democracy had in its fold politicians mainly from the South-west region, while APP had politicians mainly from Northeast/ North Central axis.
The three political parties contested the 1999 general elections with the PDP winning in 21 states, APP in nine states, while AD won in six states in the southwest region. Before the 2003 general elections, three more political parties were registered, namely All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) and United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP). By 2007 general elections, crisis had torn AD apart with the remnants forming the Action Congress (AC).
From then onwards, there had been proliferation of political parties, with most existing only in briefcases of the promoters who use them to make money during elections and disappear into oblivion after elections.
Also lacking in most of the parties especially those of them in power are clear ideology, manifesto and internal democracy, which has been the bane of true democracy in the country in the last 16 years.
Across the political parties, from the ruling PDP to the APC and others, there was no much difference. It had been all about the political survival of the political class and how they will remain relevant in the system at the expense of others; a situation that has raised serious question on whether there has been any principled or patriotic politician in the last 16 years of the country’s democratic governance.
Before INEC deregistered 28 political parties some times in 2013, the country had 63 political parties with only about five making any impact in the political space. While many may argue that the country’s constitution guaranteed freedom of association, the proliferation of political parties in Nigeria has not advanced the country’s democracy.
Of note in the last 16 years is the first successful merger of political parties, namely Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to become the major opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC).
It is an unprecedented political feat since Independence. The party has also scored another first by being the first opposition party in the country to win the presidential poll against the ruling party PDP. As it is now, it is becoming obvious that the country is gradually heading towards a two-party system.
The Political Class
It may not be wrong for one to say that the political class who fought for the return of democracy in the country sixteen years ago did not make enough sacrifice to entrench or inculcate democratic norms and values in the system.
Most of them who served successive military governments were handy to be used by the retired military generals to hijack the party’s electoral process that threw up the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Obasanjo, former Head of State, was not a foundation member of PDP, but was sponsored by some retired military generals in connivance with their civilian allies in the party to ensure his emergence as the presidential candidate at the Jos Convention in 1998 against all odds. This development was against the expectation of Nigerians and majority of the party stakeholders, but they seemed to be helpless because they had been compromised with financial gratification by the ex-military generals.
That was the beginning of money politics, godfatherism, and crises in the PDP and other political parties in the country today. It was the development that ushered in desperation, manipulation, assassination and other vices in the polity. Many believed that the development was the foundational and persistent problem of the country’s democracy till date.
The only difference is that some political parties like APC managed its intra-party crisis that arose from the 2015 party primaries to achieve overwhelming victory in the just concluded polls.
In the last 16 years, the country has witnessed five general elections: 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 and 2015. Expectedly, there should be improvement, but from one election to the other, the situation has degenerated, casting doubt on the future of the nation’s democracy.
In most of the elections conducted so far, the people’s votes have not counted. Though, there was tremendous improvement in 2011 and 2015 elections, the elections of 2003 and 2007 appeared to the worst of it all. It exposed the ineptitude of the national electoral commission following the deluge of litigations that trailed the outcome of the elections. Till date, it is becoming obvious and difficult for the electoral commission to get accurate voters’ register for Nigerians.
The situation is not different in the state electoral commission that seems to be an appendage of the state government, which they use to arrange council area election at will.
Despite INEC acclaimed success in the just concluded general elections, many are of the opinion that the elections were characterized with hiccups, manipulations and other irregularities to the advantage of a political party against others.
Despite some hiccups and obvious challenges in the last six years of democracy in the country, there has been smooth and consistent transition of political power from one government to another since 1999. There has been way out of the hiccups without the truncation of the democratic process and governance. It is a very big plus for the country especially the political class considering that countries faced with similar experiences in the past were unable to survive it.
In the last 15 years, power has been transiting from PDP president to PDP president, but today it will transit from PDP to APC. For the first time PDP was defeated by the opposition party, APC.
Many Nigerians have described the development as a sign of democratic progress and change that will strengthen the country’s democratic process.
In the last 16 years, governments at national and state levels have presented and signed annual budget with bloated figures and improper implementations. In most cases, budget for recurrent expenditure is always higher than the one for capital projects.
While billions of Naira has been generated from crude oil and other resources, less developmental projects have been executed by the successive governments. In the face of this, several government officials have become overnight billionaires without anybody or agency questioning their sources of income. Today many outgoing governors are bequeathing heavy debts and unpaid salaries to their successors.
The development has left critical infrastructures such as roads, hospitals, education sector, unemployment, and others across the country unattended and deteriorating since 1999. Also littered across the country were abandoned projects, some of them have been paid for, but not executed.
Many have attributed the situation to too many government appointees, but those in power have argued that such appointments are means of creating employment in the face of overwhelming unemployment situation in the country. No wonder the desperation by all and sundry to be in government or remain in government in power.
Also some phony contracts have been awarded to allies and associates of political leaders as a means of raising money for elections. Major highways like Lagos-Benin-Ore road, Lagos-Ibadan road and others are today for the first time since 1999 receiving adequate government’s attention. These roads and others have been always been budgeted for since 1999.
Many believe that just like in the days of military, budgetary allocation has remained an annual ritual in the country since 1999.
Governments had always bandied figures and statistics on speedy economic growth and progressed made, an average Nigerian has not felt the impact, except those of them in the corridors of power with easy access to public fund. The country has not fared well in the development of critical infrastructures in the last 16 years.
Endless Probe/ Committees
Since 1999 the members of National Assembly seem to have abandoned the business of law making which is their major constitutional responsibility to engage in endless probe of virtually every incident.
Several probes such as the power probe, privatisation probe, subsidy probe, aviation probe and others, have been conducted by the National Assembly without any of them seeing the light of the day.
There has been allegation and counter-allegation of giving and receiving by those under probes and members of National Assembly. The Senate since 1999 is gradually becoming a retirement haven for ex-governors as they have continued to increase in number in the Senate since 2007.
The situation seems to be worse at the state level where the State Houses of Assembly members are like the state governors’ errand boys. Many believe it is because they were mostly handpicked by the state governors during election they dare not challenge the governor’s decision. Even during the last constitutional amendment before 2011 general elections, they voted against their autonomy.
Apart from the legislature, the executive arm of the government at the state/ national levels have since 1999 continued to set up different various committees to work for the governments.
Such committees’ recommendations have never been implemented by the governments, thereby raising questions on why public funds should be spent for such committees without the implementation of their recommendations.
The 16 years of democracy in the country has been characterized by massive corruption at all levels of government. Till date the situation instead of abating is on the increase. The outgoing president has once said that stealing is not corruption.
What has emboldened those involve in the corrupt practices is the failure of the anti-graft agencies and successive governments to bring the culprits to book. As a result of this, accountability and transparency is lacking at all levels of government.
Towards the 2007 general elections, the then chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Mallam Nuhu Ribadu revealed that majority of the state governors that their second term will expired in 2007 were corrupt and would be prosecuted.
Apart from former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori who was freed in a Nigerian court, but was later convicted in London court and former governor of Bayelsa state, Chief Deprieye Alamaesieghe that was convicted, other ex-governors have been standing endless trials till date without no clear headway.
Some are them are ministers and Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria today. There have been mind-boggling revelations and disclosures of corrupt practices among civil servants, individuals, government officials, contractors, and others which at the end nothing will happen to them.
Some of those indicted in the subsidy fraud are still walking free on the streets today. Since 1999, corruption has been celebrated, and encouraged by successive governments.
It has permeated the entire gamut of the society and is gradually becoming a tradition in the country. Governments, every Nigerian including the judiciary appeared to be helpless or compromised. The monster has eaten deep into the system. It is obviously the bane of progress and development in the country since 1999. Unless something urgent and drastic is done to tackle the menace, the country is doomed for it. This is because money still determines everything ranging from party primaries to elections, down to electoral cases and others.
Under the military it was highly compromised and their plight was understandable. Under the democracy, it is expected to be the last hope of a common man. With the return of democracy since 1999, has judiciary remained the last hope of a common man in Nigeria? Your guess is as good as mine dissecting 16 years down the lane.
While the sector has recorded some substantial improvement with some landmark judgments, its role in the fight against corruption has left much to be desired. It is obvious the sector has been infiltrated by some corrupt agents. There have been cases of miscarriage of justice, and allegation of bribery and corruption against judges.
The climax of such allegation was the quarrel between the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysuis Katsina-Alu and former President Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami. It exposed the undercurrents in the judiciary which has been a subject of suspicion.
Ever before the crisis of confidence that rocked the leadership of the sector, there have several cases of delayed justice, trading of justice to the highest bidder. Though the National Judicial Council (NJC) have on several occasions wielded big hammer on some corrupt judges. Some of them have raised the alarm that they were victims of circumstances.
In the last 16 years, the level of insecurity across the country has not abated despite huge yearly budgetary allocation to the security sector. The situation has assumed a very dangerous dimension in recent times as kidnapping and terrorism took centre stage before this year’s general elections. Today, the country is still the cynosure of the international community with the abduction of more 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State that are yet to be found.
Despite the progress the security agents have made in the fight against the insurgency before the just concluded elections, the insurgents have continued to kill innocent Nigerians especially in the Northeast region.
While some successes and achievements such as the signing into law the Freedom of Information Bill, freedom of speech, privatisation of the power sector, successful conduct of the general elections and others have been recorded, it is clear that the country’s democracy still has a long way to go.
With APC led federal government on the saddle now, all eyes are on it to see if its change mantra will truly manifest in governance.