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Buhari and the quest to deepen Nigeria’s democracy


“I don’t know the name of the chairman of Elections Canada but I know the name of Nigeria’s chairman. This is because in Canada it is so taken for granted, we have had elections for 150 years and there has never been a controversy of the results at the national level, the system works well.”

That is the Canada High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Perry John Calderwood speaking at a lecture on the ‘Fundamentals of Democracy in Canada’, which took place at Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo.

His concern was what looked like a culture shock to him that there could be so many hullabaloos over elections in Nigeria and this boils down to the fact that the country’s democracy seemed to be or rather revolving around elections and grabbing power at all costs.

The blame really may go to the government and the governed. Take for instance, the simple task of appointing a replacement for Prof. Attahiru Jega whose tenure as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) expired in June 2015. Jega handed over the reins of the Commission to Ambassador Abubakar Wali.

In a surprise move, the government announced Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as the acting Chairman of the Commission, prompting a gale of opposition as well as amplifying the controversy over the appointments so far made then by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Beyond that and as rightly observed by the Canada High Commissioner to Nigeria, there is more to democracy than elections.

“We have to keep in mind that democracy is more than just elections. Elections are important but democracy also means respect for the rule of law (not tolerating corruption) and respect for human rights and transparency in government.”

“In Nigeria, powers shifted to the opposition and I saw that as a healthy development and a big step towards consolidation and strengthening of democracy in Nigeria. Nigeria is a democracy like many other democracies. No democracy is perfect. But it is healthy to have a dynamic opposition party,” he stated.

Going by this, how has democracy fared in the last one year? Has democracy, in principle and practice been deepened in Nigeria?

The ball was set rolling by former President Goodluck Jonathan when in the midst of uncertainties and heightened tension and fear, he called Buhari then presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), conceded defeat and congratulated him on his victory even when the final votes have not been collated and counted.

Kudos to Jonathan for the act itself, a rare feat on the African continent, did not only ensured peace and prevented a post-election crisis in Nigeria but also has actually deepened the practice of democracy in the country and by extension in some parts of the continent where the noble footsteps have now been followed.

Assessing the impact the Buhari-led aministration has had in deepening democracy in Nigeria, Dr. Kayode Eesuola of the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, claimed that the absence of a clear-cut policy of governance right from inauguration to date, has not boded well for democracy.

In particular, he said that there was no policy statement in Buhari’s inaugural speech on May 29 and that such policy statement was lacking during the 100 days in office, which has remained the same even as the administration celebrated one year in office.

Speaking on Channels Television programme News at 10, he said that what could pass on, as a good aspect of the administration was the fight against corruption, but stressed that this in itself was not a policy but a programme of government.

According to him, the welfare of the citizens should come first above every other consideration in government’s articulation of programmes and policies.

Similarly, the university don said that there should be a template of ensuring that the corporate existence of Nigeria was in place, insinuating that the contrary was the case presently.

He argued that all the contradictions that have been bedeviling Nigeria, were still with us as a country and that this was not good enough. As a way out, he advocated recourse to the 2014 national conference report.

“We need to go back to the 2014 national conference report. The president should revisit it and ensure that it was fully implemented,” Eesuola stated.

The Buhari Presidency also received knocks in the area of respect for the rule of law, obeying court orders and alleged impunity especially in the fight against corruption.

An area that has attracted much criticism was the President’s comments in his maiden media chat on national television network. The following were his response on continued detention of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) former National Security Adviser and Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) despite court orders granting them bail.

“If you see the atrocities these people committed against this country, we can’t allow them to jump bail. What of the over two million people displaced, most of them orphans whose fathers have been killed? We cannot allow that …

“The one you are calling Kanu, do you know he has two passports – one Nigerian, one British – and he came into this country without any passport? Do you know he came into this country with sophisticated equipment and was broadcasting for Radio Biafra?”

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana was particularly irked that Buhari who rode to power through the premise of respect for the rule of law and the quest to curb corruption, could engage in acts that tended to promote impunity.

“He has a duty to ensure that all organs and officials of the government operate within the ambit of the law,” he stated then, cautioning that the President should not allow overzealous security personnel to engage in impunity and other acts that could embarrass the government.

Similarly, Human rights lawyer, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa said such comments from Mr. President were capable of undermining the judiciary, causing anarchy contrary to the tenets of democracy.

His words: “Under Section 287 of the 1999 constitution, all persons exercising judicial, executive or legislative power must have respect for the order of the court. It is not proper for the president to choose which order to respect or to obey. Given that the president assumed office through the rule of law, it is totally uncharitable to be humiliating the judiciary openly in a presidential chat.”

But some other decisions of President Buhari have actually helped to entrench democratic norms in the country.

For instance, the President’s deft decision to hand over to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo when he proceeded on a five-day vacation in February earlier in the year, was seen as an institutional process capable of strengthening and stabilizing the country’s polity.

Besides, the action is believed to have set a precedent particularly for the Governors at the state level that only those worthy to replace an office holder should be the deputy or vice president.

The import of Buhari’s action according to Dr. Remi Aiyede of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, should not be lost on the nation given what the country passed through during the period late President Umaru Yar’Adua was indisposed.

“We had a serious problem with regards to pronouncing an acting President especially under the regime of President Yar’Adua. Even when he was ill and he had to move out of the country, he did not hand over. So it became a major issue that was supposed to lead to constitutional crisis because the constitution did not provide for a situation where the President did not follow the procedure that he was supposed to observe before leaving the country,” he stated.

“I think it is a good gesture and a mark of leadership that the president officially handed over even when he was going for just five days leave. So I think that it’s an example that is worthy of emulation,” he added.

In particular, Aiyede said that the state governors have to learn more from Buhari’s action because the aberration has become more or less the norm at the state level.

The administration has also received kudos for ensuring that the due process was followed in the passage of the 2016 Appropriation law; taking Nigeria away from a pariah status; the President’s decision to work with any leadership that emerged from the National Assembly, among others.

“What I mean by saying Nigeria was a pariah state is that before now, the level of corruption was very high that nobody was ready to risk his investment in Nigeria. The cost of doing business was so high that most international businessmen didn’t want to come here. Who is coming to invest in a country where there is insecurity? These are the twin problems that Mr. President has addressed”, the Minister for
Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed stated.

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