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Monday, 1 June 2009

Nigeria: 10 Years on, Country Toasts to Democracy

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Omololu Ogunmade


Lagos — Today is a significant day in Nigeria's political history. For the first time since its independence in 1960, Nigeria will celebrate ten years of uninterrupted democratic practice. The decade has witnessed a historic successive change of government.

Previous democratic dispensations had always come to an abrupt end shortly after the commencement of the second tenure of each democratic government. But these ten years of consecutive civil rule, in the opinion of many, has shown that democracy has finally come to stay in Nigeria and, hence, it is worth celebrating.

Although, the system has been characterised with perceived impunity among political actors, this dispensation has also witnessed the sustenance of various democratic institutions, such as the legislature, whose members have always emerged through periodic elections and have helped in the policy-making process, as well as serving as checks on the other arms of government.

It is, however, glaring that the system is still flawed by electoral malpractices. Yet, it is a different scenario entirely from the military era when people did not have a say whatsoever in choosing their leaders.

The current system is suffering from three major ailments: internal undemocratic system within the existing political parties, corruption of the electoral process as well as the abuse of court process.

These three predicaments, which have hampered the free flow of the democratisation process, are authored by the ambition of the politicians to ascend positions of authority by any means.

Besides, the culture of impunity in this decade of civil rule has witnessed the unconstitutional impeachment of three governors by their states' houses of assembly.

In this category was the case of Senator Rashidi Ladoja, former Oyo State governor, who was impeached by 18 of the 32 lawmakers in the House on January 12, 2006, without constituting the required two-third majority to carry out such a sensitive action.

A similar episode was the ouster of the former governor of Plateau State, Chief Joshua Dariye, who was impeached by six of the 24-member House on November 13, 2006, despite a substantive court order which had dissolved the panel of enquiry set up by the House to investigate the allegations against the former governor.

The third episode of the illegal impeachment was witnessed in Anambra State, when incumbent Governor Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), was impeached at 5am, against the constitutional schedule of the House's activities on November 6, 2006.

The exciting aspect of this fleet of unlawful impeachment exercises, however, was the prompt intervention of the judiciary which nullified the alleged legislative recklessness and returned the three victims who accordingly served out or are serving out their respective tenures.

Also, a major concern in the polity today is that the country, unlike the case in the previous republics when opposition parties had significant participation in the system by winning elections in their areas of strength, this system appears to be tilting towards a one-party state, where the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is accused of wanting to capture the 36 states of the federation.

But even as imperfect as our civil rule may be, it has been a marked departure from the trend during the military regimes when notable fundamental human rights of the people such as freedom of expression as well as freedom of the press were violated with impunity.

Between 1985 and 1998 for instance, when Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha held sway as dictatorial heads of state, a number of newspaper houses were proscribed, while a number of journalists were killed, brutalised and jailed.

The hostile environment created by the military regimes forced some media platforms to go underground before they could sustain their publications.

But the trend has largely changed in this dispensation. Even though there have been occasional attacks on the media by the government of the day, no media organisation has been proscribed, while brutality of journalists has reasonably reduced.

In the same vein, freedom of expression was anathema during the military administrations. Nigerians who dared to utter their opinions against the perceived despotic rule of the moment had their lives on the line.

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Sespite the myriad of inconsistencies prevalent in this system, it is the views of observers, that the current democratic system is still evolving. It is also the opinion of many political enthusiasts that the instability characterising the system might have been largely averted if the First Republic had been allowed to run. Optimists argue that the impunity prevalent in the current system is the fall-out of the military interregnum of the previous years.

It is believed that if this dispensation is allowed to run for decades to come, Nigeria would mature in democratic practice.

The judiciary has not been a disappointment in this dispensation as it has at different occasions moved to right the wrongs perpetrated by politicians by restoring stolen mandates and jailing some corrupt politicians.

The conclusion of many is that no matter its imperfections, Nigeria's democracy is worth being given a try. And many will conclude that the atmosphere of freedom alone is worth toasting to

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