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Monday, 1 June 2009

Nigeria: Pains, Gains of a Decade of Democracy

Ademola Adeyemo

28 May 2009

Lagos — On May 29, 1999, the then Military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over the reins of power to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of that historic event and uninterrupted democratic rule in Africa's most populous country. Ademola Adeyemo in this report examines the gains and pains of one decade of civil rule in Nigeria

In his farewell speech on May 28, 1999, the then Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar declared that it was time for the military to return to its constitutional role of defending the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty. According to him, "We must, forever, resist and renounce the seduction and temptation of political power and office. We must subject ourselves completely to civil authority. This is a sacred duty to which we must bind ourselves. It is our best guarantee to earn and retain the respect of our people. It is also your best chance for earning the approbation of the rest of a fast, changing world, in which new political and social values are transcendent."

With the speech, Abubakar put an end to the long years of military rule from December, 1983, which had exposed Nigeria to coups and counter coups which had also rendered attempted democratic rule abortive.

Also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his acceptance speech titled "Restoration of confidence in government" said he was aware of the widespread cynicism and total lack of confidence in government arising from the bad faith, deceit and evil actions of the past administrations". He then promised to implement quickly and decisively, measures that would restore confidence in governance.

He then went ahead to list as his administration's priority, the issue of Food Supply, Food Security and Agriculture, restoration of Law and order with particular reference to Armed Robbery, and to Cultism in our educational institutions, Exploration and Production of Petroleum , Education , Macro-economic policies - particularly, Exchange rate management, Supply and Distribution of Petroleum Products , The Debt Issue, Corruption, Drugs, organised fraud called 419 activities, and crimes leading to loss of lives, properties and investment, poverty alleviation among others.

Obasanjo spent eight years before handing over to the incumbent President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua who came out with a Seven-Point Agenda listed as Power and Energy, Food Security and Agriculture, Wealth Creation and Employment, Mass Transportation, Land Reform and Security.

Opinion leaders are generally happy with the civilian rule on the ground that it is the only form of governance that can guarantee improved economy like what obtains in some other countries and also guarantee the triumph of the will of the people through genuine representation at all tiers of government as enshrined in democratic tenets.

This belief no doubt, was responsible for the political stability in Nigeria from May 29, 1999 to date. Unfortunately, Nigeria's democratic progress was marred by corruption, electoral malpractices, nepotism and lack of patriotism on the part of the leaders.

According to Chinedu Akuta, the Coordinator of Support Option A4 Group "Sincerely speaking, the only gain we have got in the past 10 years of democracy in Nigeria is simply that we have had a civilian regime. Besides it has not been truly civilian in the true sense of it". Many analysts believe that Nigeria's 10 years of uninterrupted democratic rule should have been able to solve the problems of inadequate basic needs of life such as good roads, good health amenities, quality education, improved wages for workers, restructuring of petroleum sector, uninterrupted power supply, genuine electoral reform, freedom of information, equitable distribution of wealth, justice and fairness and even the resolution of the restiveness in the Niger Delta region without recourse to military offensive. If these have been achieved, today would have called for the clinking of glasses and the rolling out of drums. But, ten years after the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, the nation's experience is that of a mixed grill, an admixture of tears and laughter.

Analysts are of the opinion that the ten years of self-governance in Nigeria has not impacted positively on the lives of the people as leaders have not delivered the democracy dividends to the people.

According to the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), there is nothing for Nigeria to celebrate as it marks ten years of civil rule.

CNPP National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, in his assessment of the decade, used best practices, known indices, core ingredients of democracy and the primary purpose of government- security and welfare of the people, clearly enunciated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. After his evaluation, he concluded that democracy is vanishing in Nigeria. He said that Nigeria is dangerously sliding into a one party state and that the ten years can be classified as 10 locust years.

"It is our considered view that indeed Nigerians cannot in all honesty claim to be practicing democracy, when the people's votes do not count, nor do we have government by the people and for the people; that at best we can claim that we are under civil rule."

"Conducted random sample of citizens across the country showed that there was nothing to rejoice, when they are not part of decision making and their votes do not count.

Okechukwu claimed that responses of Nigerians to CNPP questionnaires on how the country has fared show that this is not the democracy Chief M.K.O. Abiola, General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, Bobo Nwosisi, Bagauda Kaltho and dozens of Nigerians died fighting for.

The opposition political parties said that Nigerians regret that in spite of over N85trillion realised between 1999 and 2008, through unprecedented oil receipts; the state and Federal Government cannot fix the decayed infrastructures such as roads.

Former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwemeka Ezeife in his assessment, described the past ten years as "a decade of civilian rule but not democracy." "Ten years, that is a whole decade, is a very long time indeed. On that, we should get agreement. But when we assess how we have fared, there may be some disagreements. You don't expect people who made some billions from the system to accept that we have fared poorly. By the way, how would anyone expect those that have made and are still making billions from the system to accept that we have fared poorly? They make the billions from the weaknesses and defects of the system", Ezeife said.

He further stressed, "I believe we have been moving; great movements. The only problem is the direction of the movement. Yes, we have been moving, making progress, backwards; easy to show. You talked about democracy. Democracy is associated with elections. How have the elections gone since 1999 till date? The 1999 election was disputed, but it was vastly better than the 2003 elections. People shouted foul about the 2003 election but that was infinitely better than the non-election of 2007. Each election has been worse, more flawed than the one before it. We cannot be getting to democracy by running further away from it.

So, in my view, it has been 10 years of civilian rule, not of democracy."

Also, Chief Sunny Azubuike Okogwu in his opinion described the 10 years of democracy in Nigeria as full of "autocracy, authoritarian democracy, aggression, force and dictation."

Assessing President Yar'Adua's two years administration, Okogwu said "In two years, PDP did not tell us what they ask the president to do. The president waited for one year and there was no assignment given to him by the party and had to announce a self appointed project, the seven-point agenda. The country has remained static and everybody knows that there is a storm on the seven- point agenda. So, the president needs help to refine the agenda, transform them and make them practicable. What I am saying is that our president is trapped."

But Senate Spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze , Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Information said that all is not bad for the decade of democracy in Nigeria. "It has been good but that does not mean that there have been no challenges especially in the areas of infrastructure and poverty eradication. Of course, there is no country where poverty has been wiped out totally.

"But the fact that you have reduced poverty this time does not mean that there cannot be factors that can come up later to change the equation. Look at America for instance, after the meltdown, the unemployment rate rose and it happened across the globe.

It doesn't mean that the political office holders working in America have not been delivering but these are dynamic things that keep changing with time and so is Nigeria, I believe we have the duty to provide what we need and that our people also have a duty to provide a purposeful, content-driven followership. "

Senator Eze also said that the leaders cannot be totally blamed for the woes of the nation, rather he said that since democracy thrives more on the vigilance of the followership than on the vision of the leadership, the vision of the leadership must be completed by the vigilance of the followership.

"When the followership is inactive or lackadaisical, the tendency is that the checks and balances that have been imputed into the system would not operate, and if they don't operate, of course, the executive could only be a reflection of what the entire country is".

Speaking further he said: "The point I am trying to make is that it is true that the leaders have not done all that our people expect, but it is also truer, that the people who expect these leaders to do so much have not shown that they are actually alive to their responsibilities or that they understand what they should do."

How many Nigerians even understand many of the laws that we pass here? For instance, look at the money bill that we passed, how many people have taken the appropriation act to say this project that was provided for this year in my constituency, that project is not being executed or is not done well".

The problem with Nigerians is that there are a lot of arm chair critics, people who don't even understand issues before they start commenting on them because one sad thing that has happened in this country is that the appetite for reading has taken a flight, people are no longer interested in reading, reaching themselves and getting knowledge, the result is that people comment on issues out of ignorant.

While also commenting on the nations ten years of democracy, The Prelate, Methodist Church Nigeria, His Eminence, Dr. Sunday Ola Makinde said that the Church has sustained democracy with prayers and fasting. According to the prelate, "Ten years of democracy is a learning process because the military had bastardized the democratic process for many years. So, these 10 years are for reconstruction and the church has been vocal. It has supported the government both spiritually and otherwise, for the progress of democracy.

"The church has also been vocal even on corruption but people expect the church to over-do things - just to criticise the government even when they are doing well. Even as bad as Abacha's government was, there were certain things that government did well. You don't throw away the baby with a bath water; it is wrong. It is not the way of Christ. Where there was need for Christ to commend, he would do so, and where he needed to condemn he did so.

He added: "The church is not just to condemn or criticise; we are also to provide solutions because most of our problems are spiritual, which need spiritual solutions as well. Since the 80s till date, there has not been stable electricity; the roads are bad; water is not there; there is starvation in the land due to corruption.

During the June 12 crisis, the country should have been turned apart, if not for the prayers of the church. What happened then was enough to really tear this country asunder. The incessant religious crisis in the North, where many Igbo and Yoruba tribes were killed, was it not enough to wipe out this country? And those involved in the killings were never brought to book."

He however said "But it is a pity that we could not manage electoral process; it is lamentable. Look at South Africa and Ghana even our neighbour here; they were able to hold credible elections. They should allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to be 100 per cent independent of the ruling government.

"Again, my fear about democracy is that we are gravitating towards one-party state and it is very dangerous for a nation. And this one-party, has its numerous problems. It's a divided party, that is, not cohesive. Even when Obasanjo was there, and now, too, most critics of the ruling party were members of the ruling party. It's a house divided against itself that cannot stand. That is why we have to address these issues critically and INEC that is being manipulated, is not INEC

We must have credible people to be in charge of the country's elections, people whose yes is yes and their no, is no. They must be either lawyers or retired judges because they know what the law says; not just anybody."

But Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, Catholic Archbishop of Lagos said that it is wrong to say that democracy exists in a state of injustice. Said he, "I wish our government can give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's but that is not the case. "

Also a Muslim cleric, Dr Shafaudeen Olagoke, President, Ajagun Esin Consultative Forum (AECF) and Spiritual Head, Shafaudeen in Islam, Ibadan, Oyo State said that Nigerian Muslims have played a prominent role in making sure that democracy thrives in the last 10 years by speaking up for what is right and condemning evil in all its ramifications.

He remarked: "As Muslim leaders, we have rebuked and corrected government when it is wrong. According to the Holy Quran, Chapter 38, verse 36-40, God himself shows us what democracy is, how to practice it and who should practice it. In verse 36, it is said that democracy is for only those who are focused, sincere and who make a conscious effort to run away from sin. In verse 38, democracy is a matter of consensus and dialogue not for dictators. While in verse 39, it states that political parties must be principled to the extent that they should give no room for aberration or indiscipline. Anybody that derails must be called to order.

"We have consistently pointed out the flaws in the way democracy in Nigeria is run. We spoke against all kinds of evil practices that are inimical to our development and against the principles of Islam. We abhor corruption and condemn it in all its ramifications.

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"What we see in Nigeria is a wide disparity between the rich and the poor. Muslims have been crying that the political parties are too many. What this nation needs is what is obtainable in the US - a two-party state. We have been sensitizing our followers to know their rights."

The Muslim cleric stressed that only democracy can offer Nigerians the kind of peace they need to move our nation forward. "With the dawn of a new era of democracy, the expectation of Nigerians was that democracy would take us to our Eldorado. But how wrong we were! The democracy we are seeing today is a disappointment. The entire basic infrastructure is gone. Government has failed where power is concerned.

"Democracy, as it is practised in Nigeria today, is fraught with all kinds of fraudulent practices. This has brought retrogression and under-development to us as a nation. It is sad that this is certainly not the kind of democracy that Nigerians bargained for," he added.

Source: This Day

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