• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Democracy imperiled, redefined in Nigeria

Nigerian-voters

Nigerians have blamed politicians for the inability of democracy to take root twenty three years after the return of Nigeria to civil rule in 1999.

Those who spoke with BusinessDaySUNDAY said that democracy had lost its meaning in the country.

They pointed to the cornerstones of democracy, which they said had been rendered inoperative by successive governments and administrations in the country.

Kenneth Arung, a Political scientist, told our correspondent that rather than taking root, democracy is receding in the country.

“If I still remember the elementary definition of democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ it then means that there is nothing like democracy in Nigeria. It is now government of the ruling class, by the ruling class and for the ruling class,” Arung said.

Listing what he described as the cornerstones of democracy, Arung said: “If you look at a good dictionary meaning of the tenets or cornerstones of democracy you would find them listed to include freedom of assembly, association, property rights, freedom of religion and speech, inclusiveness and equality, citizenship, consent of the governed, voting rights, freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty, and minority rights.”

According to him, “Take for instance, when the results of elections are not determined by the voters but by the connivance of politicians with electoral officers, thugs and the judiciary; where then is democracy? Many Nigerians are not sure if they would vote next year because they believe their votes would not count, despite repeated assurances by the INEC; is that a democracy? What we have is simply civil rule; we are not a democracy yet.”

In 2020, the world was shocked when Donald Trump, the then incumbent president of the United States of America, who lost to Joe Biden of the Democratic Party, contested the election result, the first time such happened in recent times in the country’s political history.

However, the situation did not get out of hand as the America’s fortified electoral system addressed it and Trump gave up.

While that buttressed the reason American democracy has been the model most countries are copying today, including Nigeria, it also tasks countries that have practised democracy for years now on sustainability of the ideals of democracy, especially free and fair elections, issue-based electioneering, and sustained dividends of democracy.

Considering the above, Nigeria has not fared well in her democracy, especially after close to 24 years the country returned to civil rule.

With conversations and electioneering based on ethnicity and religion, pundits are worried that rather than developing further, Nigeria’s democracy seems to be receding after close to 24 years of uninterrupted practice.

Read also: Controversies trail list of Edo PDP’s candidates on INEC portal

“There is a school of thought that keeps blaming the poor development of the country on military rules that interrupted democracy, but what about the 23 years of sustained civilian rule, the politicians have barely moved the country forward; you cannot blame the military for poor governance by civilians, who claim to know better in terms of leadership than the military,” Emeka Emordi, university don, said.

According to Emordi, a senior lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria has not sustained any gain made from the practice of democracy in the last 23 years because of the selfishness of the political actors, quest for power, among other challenges.

Looking at the first eight years after the return to democracy in 1999, Samuel Onikoyi, a Nigeria researcher and academia in Brussels, Belgium, noted that the country made progress in her democracy under Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, but lamented that the little progress was not sustained by subsequent administrations.

“It was under President Obasanjo that Nigeria had debt cancellation, the GDP grew and the economy was rebounding fast after the looting by the military because President Obasanjo tried to adopt democratic principles in his administration.

“It was under Obasanjo that Nigeria had the best set of ministers and the evidence was obvious with their efforts at fixing the country. But we lost it to the election of people with less passion for Nigeria and no regard for democratic principles,” Onikoyi said.

The researcher insisted that Nigeria’s democracy has been receding since the end of Obasanjo’s administration.

For Fatai Omidani, a political analyst, every indication points to the fact that Nigeria has lost whatever progress the country has made in her democracy in the last seven years of the present administration.

“The decision of Goodluck Jonathan to concede defeat at the 2015 presidential election was a huge progress for Nigeria’s democracy, but that feat cannot repeat with the mindset of the ruling party and the fact that many called him a weakling for conceding defeat, will the APC concede to the imminent defeat in 2023, no, the party will rather set the country on fire. So, we are not there yet in our democracy,” Omidani said.

Speaking further, the political analyst disclosed that the major issue with sustainable democracy in Nigeria is the selfishness of the political actors and quest to hold on to power at all cost.

“If we make little effort at practising democracy the way it should be, most of those representing us at the National Assembly and states, will not be there because they are not the best from their areas, they used money to buy their way into position and intimidation when money cannot buy the people.

“The fact that majority of our leaders today are not the best choices of the masses and democracy is a game of numbers, means that the system is rotten and that is the bane of our democracy and development today,” Omidani further said.

Looking at the issue from another perspective, Chijioke Umelahi, a former Abia lawmaker, thinks that ordinarily, the new Electoral Law should be celebrated as a huge gain for Nigeria’s democracy, but regretted that, like most good policies, implementation has always been the issue.

“With the new Electoral Law, one can beat one’s chest to contest and win an election if one has the credentials, but the moneybags will always find loopholes to take advantage of, and this ia why the president should insist on the implementation of the new law in the 2023 election, as his legacy to Nigerians, else our democracy will recede the more in the future,” Umelahi said.

Also, speaking from his experiences at the Abia State House of Assembly and House of Representatives elections, the Abuja-based lawyer lamented that high level of intimidation by thugs and state-sponsored security operatives has also contributed to the stunted growth of democracy in Nigeria, especially since 1999.

“In Abia, my state, the issues of ethnicity and religion do not come up because the state is 100 percent Igbos and Christians, but at the national level religion and ethnicity have been major deciders and also bane of Nigeria’s democracy. Until you tackle them, our democracy will keep receding. Imagine when an Idoma man, Birom, Igala, Ogoni and other minority tribes will become president when the three major ethnic groups are fighting to take turns in leading the country. Our democracy should have gone past that level to competence and credibility,” Umelahi said.

Ifekwe Obi-Okonkwo, a senior lecturer at University of Nigeria Nsukka, noted that for democracy to work, for sustainable development and for a progressive country, Nigeria should review her constitution and uphold it more than any interest, group or individual so that everyone is subject to the provisions of the constitution including politicians who think they are untouchable.

“The United States of America has enjoyed sustainable democracy for centuries now all because of her firm and inclusive constitution that is above every America and strong institutions that are empowered by the constitution to enforce necessary laws, including recovering of loots and jailing corrupt politicians.

“For now, our democracy is nosediving seriously, and if we want it to thrive for the interest of the masses, for peace and progress of the country, all we need is to go back to our constitution, amend where necessary to make it strong and ensure that the laws are implemented without prejudice, then nobody will steal public funds, politicians will be accountable to the masses and dividends of democracy will be obvious,” he concluded.

In their collective opinions, the pundits said that there is little to celebrate about the country’s democracy as ethnicity, religion, intimidation, vote buying, ballot box snatching and other electoral offences are increasing after 23 years of sustained practice of democracy.

For them, Nigeria needs to wake up to the reality of time, instead of citing the over a century it took the United States of America and other thriving democracies to stabilise.

“If we continue in this unprogressive manner, there may be no country to conduct election in the nearest future, we need to strengthen the laws to better our democracy now,” Onikoyi further said.

Kate Agu, a lecturer with a tertiary institution in the country, decried the state of affairs in the country, saying that she was not optimistic of any development in Nigeria’s governance system.

Agu said that a country, where politicians break rules at whim and get away with it and where a sitting government behaves as if it was in a dictatorship does not give any hope of early development, politically.

“We have been following the campaigns by different political parties and their candidates. What we are hearing in terms of reason for seeking the highest office in Nigeria is infantile. ‘It is my turn’; ‘I am one of you vote for me;’ religion, ethnicity, and other primordial considerations. These are, hardly, not how to be a democracy. It is the way that President Buhari has lowered the standard that every Dick, Tom and Harry thinks, ‘if Buhari can be a President, I can do better.’ I think that is where we are now, unfortunately,” she said.