Twenty years later, it is clear as day to most Nigerians who think about the matter that the country runs a civilian regime but not a democracy. On the surface, the country parades all the paraphernalia of democracy. There are elections at intervals. Persons get into the executive and legislative arms of government based on such polls. In practice, however, those elected on the platform of democracy have reduced governance and its processes to mere civil rule.
At Federal and State levels, Mr President and the Governors act in the manner of the military rulers of our recent past. There is growing intolerance of dissent, as exemplified by incarceration of journalists on holding charges for upwards of six months and more without trial or attempts to smuggle in legislation to stifle free expression of opinion. There is blackmail of opposition. It is worse in the states where the governors act as Lords of the Manor.
One consequence is the closing of the public space and increasing citizen apathy. The voice of civil society has gone mute on various issues on which individuals and groups sailed forth with loud and reasoned opinions, even under military rule. Timidity born of dread of the intolerance of government at all levels walks the land.
As classical political science theory, the four critical elements of democracy include the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; upholding and protection of the human rights of all citizens; observance of the rule of law; and a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
Ancillary pillars are the freedom of assembly and speech; inclusiveness and equality; membership; consent of citizens; voting; observance of fundamental rights.
It is saddening to note that participants in the current government are rolling back the progress of democracy in Nigeria. They have pulled down the ladder they climbed on their way to the Presidential Villa and various government houses. They rode on the wings of an enabling democratic environment where they could oppose the sitting government sometimes with outlandish claims and in very obtuse language.
The then-candidate Muhammadu Buhari called on President Goodluck Jonathan to resign on account of perceived failures. On the contrary, the call by Senator Enyi Abaribe on President Buhari to resign over the admission of inability to manage the country’ security situation elicited extreme hostility from federal government officials. The treatment came even though the speech had the protection of legislative immunity for being spoken on the floor of the Senate. Ango Abdullahi of the Northern Elders Forum received worse dismissal from the Presidency because his group spoke against the performance of the presidency.
Increasingly, therefore, in Nigeria, there is the absence of opposition critical to the sustenance of democracy. Citizen apathy means we do not have Political Action Committees that aggregate the views of citizens that they channel through political parties. No groups or associations are leading advocacy on critical issues at federal or state levels. Nigeria still runs bureaucracies based on and supportive of the structures of the military-era governments with a veneer of civilian dressing.
Rather than grow, democracy is shrinking and stultifying. Debate and discussion are muted and not focused on the pursuit of egalitarian principles. The Nigerian public space has now reverted to the analysis of ethnicity, nepotism, corruption and all the issues that groups and individuals fought against many years ago under military rule.
The Diaspora is conflicted. President Donald Trump has sown confusion in the minds of those in the United States with his visa restrictions. They and the others need to contribute to the debate, discussion and advocacy on Nigerian democracy to save it from dying.
Professional associations are the bastions of the middle class everywhere. Their views count. Nigeria’s professional associations must rise and speak up to ensure the infusion of democracy into our current civil rule. It is a socially responsible and professional call to duty.