• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Democracy Day? Stop celebrating a lie; Nigeria is not a democracy!

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Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s president, tripped and fell as he climbed the steps of the parade vehicle during this year’s “Democracy Day” event. Characteristically, Tinubu dismissed the incident, saying he “dobale”, that is, prostrated for democracy. But in truth, Tinubu’s tumble is a perfect metaphor for the state of democracy in Nigeria.

For, let’s face it, Nigerian democracy is so inherently wobbly that it is prone to tripping and falling. Indeed, Nigeria is not a true democracy at all, and to continue to celebrate a failed system instead of admitting and tackling the failure is to entrench and perpetuate a lie.

Sadly, there is a conspiracy of silence in Nigeria that allows the fetishisation of something called “Democracy” just to give the political class a fig leaf to pretend that they represent the people when, in fact, they mainly serve their own interests and those of their families, friends, and cronies, and when what is called elections in Nigeria is just a periodic celebration of collective powerlessness by Nigerians. That lie, that farce, needs a correction.

Read also: Nigerians react, as Atiku sympathises with Tinubu over Democracy Day fall

To start with, what does “Democracy Day” mean in Nigeria? Well, it stands for two things, both rooted in deceit. First, “Democracy Day” celebrates Nigeria’s return to civil rule on May 29, 1999, and, thus, marks, to date, 25 years of uninterrupted “democracy.” However, since 2019, “Democracy Day” has commemorated the June 12, 1993, presidential election annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime. For those who pushed for June 12, rather than May 29, as “Democracy Day,” the former sowed the seeds of “democracy” that Nigeria “enjoys” today. Yet, whether you take the journey from June 12, 1993, or from May 29, 1999, the truth is that neither represented true democracy.

Let’s start with the 1993 presidential election. What was democratic in politicians running for elections under parties created by the military, whose constitution and manifestos were decreed by the military? Yet, in their desperation for power, the politicians rushed unquestioningly into the two military contraptions – National Republican Convention, NRC, and Social Democratic Party, SDP – like sheep being led to the slaughter. Indeed, MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled election, joined the SDP just a month before securing the party’s ticket, and only after Babangida had disqualified several presidential aspirants, including Adamu Ciroma and General Shehu Yar’Adua, who won the primaries of the NRC and the SDP respectively.

 “Indeed, Nigeria is not a true democracy at all, and to continue to celebrate a failed system instead of admitting and tackling the failure is to entrench and perpetuate a lie.”

General Babangida was called, and cherished being called, “Evil Genius” and “Maradona” because of his uncanny ability to dribble and string along the politicians. And, indeed, at every stage of his “transition” programme, Babangida strung along the politicians, who followed every dictate of his regime like zombies. Blinded by inordinate ambitions, the politicians ignored J.F. Kennedy’s famous words that “those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

By the way, how democratic was Abiola himself? Wikipedia lists him among the “participants” in the 1983 military coup that toppled President Shehu Shagari’s government. Wikipedia says Abiola was the “business tycoon who financed the coup plot, according to General Babangida.” If that’s true, how democratic was he? How could someone who sponsored a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government be a Democrat? In his national broadcast annulling the election, Babangida said “there were cases of documented and confirmed conflict of interest between the government and both presidential candidates that would compromise their positions and responsibilities were they to become president.” Years later, Babangida told Arise TV that if Abiola had become president, “there would have been a coup d’etat that would have been violent.” Has anyone bothered to interrogate these issues? Can someone so self-interestedly in cahoots with military dictators be a Democrat?

Which leads to a related point. Why has no civilian government probed the annulment since 1999? In 2018, when President Buhari declared June 12 as “Democracy Day,” he said that “the unjust annulment was a huge elite conspiracy” and acknowledged the “clamour for a robe.” Yet, Buhari did not probe the annulment. Of course, a genuine probe would reveal that most of those parading themselves as Democrats today, some of them in Tinubu’s party and government, were actively involved in the conspiracy. Unfortunately, the failure to probe the annulment allows pseudo-democrats to prowl as true democrats and denies Nigerians the grand narrative of what they commemorate every year.

In his “Democracy Day” speech, Tinubu gave a distorted and jaundiced narrative. He listed “heroes and heroines of democracy”, including himself, and said they “won the battle against military dictatorship”. But that’s not true, except Tinubu is claiming that one of the “June 12 activists” killed General Abacha, who everyone believes died mysteriously. If Abacha had not died and had succeeded in transmuting into a civilian president, as he planned to do, aided and abetted by several politicians, there would have been no “May 29, 1999”, and no 25 years of uninterrupted “democracy”. So, it was God, sending the Grim Reaper, who saved Nigeria from Abacha, not the “June 12 activists”. They are opportunistic beneficiaries of “May 29, 1999” and the subsequent 25 years of uninterrupted “democracy”, not the harbingers of either of them.

Read also: Presidency says ‘no issues’ as Tinubu falls during Democracy Day celebration

Tinubu also hailed journalists who “mounted the barricades along with the pro-democracy activists.” But some of the journalists now in his government are tin-pot dictators. Recently, Bayo Onanuga, Tinubu’s spokesperson and one of the “pro-democracy journalists,” told labour union leaders, who led a national strike over the minimum wage, that they should “be thankful that Nigeria is not under a military regime.” As Anthony Ubani, executive director of #FixPoliticAfrica, put it in a piece published by this newspaper, Onanuga had an “atavistic longing for military rule” (BusinessDay, June 10, 2024). What about Tinubu himself? Well, he masquerades as a Democrat but behaves like an autocrat. Think of how he changed Nigeria’s anthem without national consultation, simply because a constitution imposed by the military allows him, with just 37 percent of the popular vote, to rule Nigeria like his personal fiefdom.

Which brings us to 25 years of uninterrupted “democracy.” Where is democracy? The election that brought in General Obasanjo as president in 1999 was fixed by the military. Babangida described himself and his fellow retired generals as the “military wing of the PDP,” and they made sure General Obasanjo became president. The two elections that Obasanjo conducted in 2003 and 2007 were massively rigged. They were so massively rigged that, in 2003, the Supreme Court cancelled the entire results for Ogun State, where Obasanjo purportedly secured 99 percent of the vote, and, in 2007, the Supreme Court nearly, by 3-4 votes, removed President Yar’ Adua from office. The 2011 presidential poll led to about 900 deaths in the North after Buhari rejected the outcome. In 2015, the world “camped” in Nigeria to prevent an apocalypse. Thankfully, President Jonathan conceded defeat. But last year’s presidential election was a total sham. INEC deceived Nigerians; Buhari abused his incumbency. So, Nigeria has had no true democracy in the past 25 years.

If you think that’s just my view, then consider what the Economist Intelligence Unit, or EIU, says about Nigeria’s democracy. The EIU’s annual Democracy Index has four categories: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes. In the 2023 Index, as in previous indexes, Nigeria was placed in the “hybrid regimes” category, meaning that Nigeria is even worse than a flawed democracy. In hybrid regimes, elections are never free and fair, and state institutions like the electoral body and the judiciary are never independent. That’s the “democracy” Nigeria celebrates every year. It’s a farce; it’s a lie!