Our democracy experiencing major setbacks, Nigerians warn
A former senator from Abia State and one-time state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Emma Nwaka, has said that Nigeria’s democracy has experienced major setbacks in the last six years, but quickly added that despite this, democracy remains the best form of government.
Nwaka noted that even in advanced democracies of the world, governance remains a work in progress and keeps undergoing fine-tuning until something close to the ideal is achieved, adding: “Be that as it may, it is important to bear in mind that the bad batch we are experiencing is no more than a phase that shall soon come to pass. The crucial question would be whether Nigerians have learnt the lessons to say, ‘never again to a sectional leadership in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.”
Nwaka, a legal practitioner, said this informed his support for a national dialogue being advocated by the 17 Southern states governors, alleging that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has deepened ethnic cleavages in the country by its winner takes all posture.
“To move forward, we just have to restructure, such that each of the six geo-political zones in the country will be largely autonomous in managing its affairs and resources. The bane of our democracy today is over-centralisation.”
On his part, former Abia State chairman of the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) and one-time 1997 Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief Don Ubani, described the period between 1999 and last year as the longest period democracy has endured in Nigeria.
According to him, unlike the First Republic that lasted for less than six years and Second Republic that fizzled out in about four years, the Third Republic that started from 1999 till date has been an exception.
He noted that out of the 22 years that democracy has been practiced in Nigeria since May 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in charge for 16 years (1999-2015) while the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been ruling the country since May 2015 till date.
“For the 16 consecutive years PDP held sway in power, Nigerians felt comfortably secured travelling from one part of the country to another. Their security was generally guaranteed, except in the later years when a gang of Islamist fundamentalists reared its ugly head in the name of Boko Haram in the Northeast of the country.
“Also for that 16 years, the economy of the country was reasonably managed as experienced competent bureaucrats and technocrats were brought in to manage the nation’s economy and there was economic stability,” he added.
He noted that the PDP-led Federal Government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan never made discrimination based on ethnicity and religion a policy that drove their administrations.
He stressed that the national cohesion achieved by the PDP administrations attracted foreign investments into the country.
“In the case of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected in 2015, the story has completely taken an inglorious twist as nepotism started from his first day in office and has been the driving force of his administration.
“Instead of fulfilling his promise to exterminate Boko Haram insurgents within his first 100 days in office, insurgency, terrorist Fulani herders and kidnappers have almost taken over Nigeria,” he said.
Ubani condemned the growing burning of police stations and offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission by gangs, saying it was a disturbing development.
“There is palpable fear as recently expressed by the spokesman of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, that the APC-led Federal Government might be the sponsor of many acts of terrorism in the country in order to hide under that cover not to conduct election in 2023.
“The state of the nation today is abysmally low. There is crisis of confidence all over the country. The situation has gotten so bad that southern governors have united under one umbrella to ask for the restructuring of Nigeria.
“I am in full support of the declarations and demands of the Southern governors. For Nigeria to be saved from imminent collapse, President Buhari has to change from being president of the Fulani to being president of Nigeria. He should also hearken to the voices of Nigerians who insist there should be a national dialogue,” he advised
National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralphs Nwosu, also said: “We lost the essence of democracy; freedom of choice is the hallmark of a free society and a true democracy. It is beyond comprehension that a system meant for a people to choose, develop and advance of their own volition has become such a corrupted and convoluted practice of unbridled brinkmanship, power-tussle and brigandage in an unregulated territory. We certainly are on the reverse side of democracy and jaundiced darkroom. We are in a troubled system that elevates hate, bigotry, poverty, corruption, marginalisation and criminal abuse of power, greed and gluttony.
“Our elections have been turned to theatre of the absurd with compromised election management officials entrenched in odious arrogance and demeaning dance in collusion with the three arms.
“As is well known, hypocrisy and grandstanding will never privilege any people. President Buhari may be excused for his ill health. But Governor Nasir el-Rufai, Bola Tinubu, Adams Oshiomhole and the likes of Lai Mohammed and Isa Pantami, who were identified public intellectuals, prodemocracy activists and concerned professionals and many of todays gladiators have become public embarrassments and big disappointments. It is deeply worrying how people degenerate once they have power. The label of APC and PDP strong men does not equate to statesmanship that every public officer craves.
“The good thing about democracy is that the people owns the power and they cede it willingly for a fixed time. Nigeria has another chance in 2023 to recast its democratic trajectory. As the national chairman of the ADC, the 100 per cent assurance I can give is that once Nigerians are willing to part with the past and embrace the symbolic warm handshake, the DNA replete of responsibility, inclusion, radical transparency, diversity values, mindful creativity and endurance, our country will receive full healing and gain a superpower status within 20 years. That is the ADC promise.”
Activists Blame Political Leaders For Nation’s Woes
SOME civil activists have also blamed the political leaders for the challenges bedeviling the nation, saying they did do enough within the period under review.
The activists include the Imo State Coordinator of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), Chibundu Uchegbu, and an Imo-based social critic, Chief Fidel Onyeneke.
Uchegbu said: “In Nigeria’s 22 years of democratic rule, there is stability only in the democratic structures like using the voting process to elect leaders, having elected governors, president and legislators including voting out the incumbents.
“But other vital ingredients of democracy have not been felt. These include respect for human rights, respect for rule of law, services to the people – security, adequate health care and standard education.
“For democracy to make impact on the people, there must be transparent electoral system including introduction of the electronic voting system, poverty must be addressed, confidence must be restored in the judiciary and the wide gap between the rich and poor reduced.”
Speaking in the same vein, Onyeneke insisted that Nigeria’s political leaders have not sufficiently governed responsibly.
His words: “Well there has not been military interventions; there has been continuity, but that is not to say that there is the best in Nigeria. What matters is not how long; what matters is how well. They have not justified it. We have been talking about lack of electricity, lack of good roads, corruption everywhere. Our political leaders have not been ruling responsibly enough for the people to appreciate it. Our leaders must do well in making sure our institutions work.”
Also baring his mind on Nigeria’s democratic journey in the last 22 years, a businessman, Dr. David Edochie, said: “We started very well and the trajectory was good, but as of this moment everything has collapsed and we have not fared well in the recent time.”
He noted that the environment has become so volatile for investors to come in, resulting in economic downturn and high poverty rate in the country.
“There is so much fear across the country; people no longer move freely like before for fear of being kidnapped. Our farmers no longer go to the farms due herdsmen attack and armed bandits.
“Since 2009, the Northeast has been hit by security challenges. Boko Haram in their bid to establish an Islamic state following a strict interpretation of Islamic law has waged a deadly insurgency.
“The violence has killed thousands of people and forced more than two million from their homes. The violence has spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition against the armed group.”
On where he expected Nigeria to be by now, Edochie said the country ought to be in the league of developed countries, stressing that the nation does not lack human capital.
“As of today, Nigeria parades the best brains across the world. But because the system has not been encouraging, our bright minds in various professions, especially in the medical field, are leaving the country to other countries in search of greener pasture. More so, where they can fully utilise their potential,” he stated.
Edochie lamented that, “the democracy we practice is still underdeveloped, crude and deeply flawed. Elections are almost always fought like wars – riddled with tensions, violence, mass rigging, thuggery and intimidation in a polity obsessed with ethnicity, religion and regions. Leaders, mostly inept, are routinely imposed through large-scale malpractices while the use of money to buy votes has become the order of the day.”
He noted that at the heart of the euphoria for democracy was the belief that people would be better governed and become more prosperous, regretting that after 22 years of democratic governance, the lot of the average Nigerian has not improved in any profound sense.
“For all its wealth –human and natural- Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is among the lowest in the world. With the current exchange rate, the majority of the citizens are living on less than a dollar per day. The poverty level keeps soaring high, while jobs are in short supply for the teeming young population.
“As we celebrate 22 years of unbroken democracy, we must remind our elected officials, at all levels of government, of the need to focus on the people, their safety and welfare; the optimal allocation of scarce resources and the effective implementation of policies for service delivery.
“Until we begin to do all these and more, Nigerians will find it difficult to maximise their potential and our democracy will continue to be imperiled,” he noted.
To a former president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee, Nigeria’s democratic space has been shrinking.
According to him, the country has been witnessing intolerance of opposition and press freedom lately, adding that the current government appears not ready to correct its mistakes.
His words: “I am not one of those who feels that we have achieved democracy yet. I will say that we have had unbroken civilian rule. I will also say that increasingly, the democratic space is shrinking regrettably and appears to have been so in the past four or five years now.
“We have seen more intolerance of press freedom, intolerance of opposition, which is not good enough and that has had the effect of polarising us the more. More people are questioning the whole basis of the unity of Nigeria because they do not seem to have space in that Nigerian canopy any longer. They believe that some people are getting far more than their due share and that they are being marginalised and I think, it is regrettable. People like me can compare what is happening now to the worst military dictatorship; it tells a very sad story about where we are. So, where we are cannot be called a democracy.”
While speaking on where Nigeria should have been by now in terms of democratic governance, he cited the example of Rwanda, which after fighting a devastating civil war, succeeded in putting its house in order and has been consequently thriving.
“Go to Rwanda and see what they have gone through and see where they are and where the economy has been; see the liberty of citizens. There is the issue of inclusion. There are more women who are in parliament than men; there are younger people who are in positions of responsibility; there is more inclusion of the youths. But we are still at a stage where the old people are talking on behalf of the young people and increasingly, there is that distance between the youth and the elderly population, which is sad and ultimately threatening the security and stability of the young country,” he added.
Mitee said he fears for Nigeria, noting that “any person who does not entertain genuine fears might either be a stranger in Nigeria or is dreaming because clearly, Nigerians are going the way of not feeling Nigerian.”
He continued: “It is believed that each day, they are not getting what is making them not to feel Nigerian. They ask questions like: Why should I be in Nigeria? What I am getting in this so-called unity? That is what is frightening and threatening the issue of security, agitations about those who say they want to leave the country. I am not sure that those agitating genuinely want to leave but there is need to renegotiate the basis of our unity.
“This government should be able to know whether they are the last that would claim to have governed Nigeria. We are not seeing any signs of correcting their mistakes. And for the governed, we cannot continue like this. All over the world, people got their rights by being vigilant and struggling for their rights. So, we need to rise and fight for our rights.”