• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Can democracy deliver in Nigeria?

June 12, 31 years after: 25 years of democracy

Democracy, with its promise of freedom, equality, and representation, has frequently been celebrated as a guiding light for nations aspiring toward progress and prosperity. In Nigeria, a country bursting at the seams with diversity, resources, and potential, one cannot help but wonder: can democracy really deliver the goods? Given that Nigeria is the big fish in the pond of African countries and holds an influential role in the continent, the journey towards democratic governance in Nigeria is a big deal, not just in their own backyard but also for the neighbouring lands. However, the path to democratic success in Nigeria has been an uphill battle, throwing a wrench in the works and leaving the system’s ability to deliver tangible benefits to its citizens up in the air.

Read also: How democracy crumbles: The Nigerian case

Nigeria has had a political and military regime change every few years, interspersed with brief periods of civilian government, ever since the country’s 1960 independence from British colonial authority. 1999 was a significant turning point in Nigeria’s history as the country turned over a new leaf and launched itself towards a stable democratic government. Hopes of transparency, accountability, and inclusive government accompanied the idea of democracy. But for many Nigerians, the achievement of these goals still seems like a far-off fantasy more than 20 years later.

A major thorn in the side of Nigerian democracy is the rampant issue of corruption. Despite pulling out all the stops to tackle it, corruption continues to be a thorn in the side that chips away at the effectiveness of democratic institutions, shakes public faith, and puts a damper on socio-economic progress. The poor handling of resources, feathering one’s own nest with funds, and turning a blind eye to responsibility have set the stage for a never-ending dance of poverty and inequality, leaving millions of Nigerians feeling left out and disenchanted.

Furthermore, the Nigerian political scene is a hotbed of ethnic and religious tensions, which often steal the spotlight from the democratic process. Politicians often play both sides of the fence, stirring the pot and throwing fuel on the fire, making the divide even wider and hindering the creation of a united front. In such a dog-eat-dog world, the ideals of democracy face an uphill battle in laying a solid groundwork, as political loyalty is often swayed by tribal or religious ties rather than by merit or policy.

Similarly, the rampant occurrence of fishy business and rough and tumble poses a big hurdle to the soundness of Nigeria’s democratic institutions. Pulling strings in elections, playing mind games, and flexing muscles chip away at the credibility of elected officials and erode trust in the democratic system. Without the presence of level playing fields and fair elections, the true essence of democracy goes up in smoke, leaving behind nothing but smoke and mirrors where powerful factions pull strings for their own benefit.

But to dismiss democracy as unsuited to Nigeria’s circumstances in spite of these difficulties would be throwing up the towel too soon. In the face of difficult circumstances, there are rays of optimism because of the Nigerian people’s unwavering commitment and steely will to demand democratic reforms from their leaders. Civil society organisations, activists, and the media are the bee’s knees in uncovering corruption, pushing for political reforms, and encouraging civic participation. Their endeavours are hitting the nail on the head, showing how a vigilant and active citizenry can be the driving force behind positive change within a democratic system.

If given a fair chance, Nigeria’s youthful population, eager to learn and full of potential, also holds the key to democratisation and economic prosperity. In order to create a strong foundation for democracy in the future, it is imperative that young Nigerians be given a leg up via education and political engagement.

Finally, assessing whether democracy can effectively function in Nigeria is a whole different ballgame. Although the road ahead is filled with bumps in the road and hurdles to overcome, the silver lining of a thriving democracy is too crucial to turn a blind eye to. It is of utmost importance for Nigeria to face its democratic deficits head-on, address the root causes of corruption and inequality, and strengthen its institutions to make sure that democracy works for all Nigerians, not just a chosen few. Only when democracy comes into full realisation can it truly deliver the goods of freedom, equality, and prosperity for the people of Nigeria.

Tosin Afeniforo is a sustainable development practitioner and PhD scholar in Italy.