BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Nigerians bemoan nation’s ‘democracy with uncertainties’

In voices laden with regrets, some Nigerians have come to a sorry assessment that leaderships have failed the citizens, and that what is being celebrated today as Democracy Day is a mockery of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

They said it was a shame that twenty-three (23) years after the return of Nigeria to civil rule, the country has continued to lag its peers in all departments of indices to determine progressive nations.

According to them, from the signs already emerging ahead of the 2023 general election, there are no indications that the country would make any progress.

In the last twenty-three years, Nigeria as a nation has become poorer than she was in 1999. The citizens have become poorer also as the country now holds the unenviable record of the world poverty headquarters.

While blood was flowing in Owo, Ondo State last Sunday, following the massacre of over 40 worshippers, Mr. President still hosted a dinner that night. In other climes, a nationwide mourning would have called as soon as the news broke. Government has since lost its contract with the people.

According to those who spoke with BusinessDay, those who died in 1999 shortly after the nation’s return to civil rule after seeing the excitement that attended the inauguration of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, would be sad about where the country is now if they were to see what is going on today.

Ogadi Ejimofor, a human rights activist, said it was regrettable that Nigeria had gone 100 steps backward from where the country was in 23 years ago.

“It is true that we say that the worst form of democracy is better than any military regime, but it appears that is not the case with Nigeria’s experience. Can you point at anything that happened during the military for which we condemned those regimes then that is not happening today?

What has changed in the last 23 years? People are still being killed extra-judicially, even more today; freedom of speech, association and all sorts of abuse of power and disobedience of rule of law are the hallmark of government we have today. Can anybody in all good conscience say this is democracy?” Ejimoffor said.

According to him, “We have come to a point in this country that all the elections are shambolic. Look at what happened at the presidential primary elections of the PDP and APC. With what happened, you can imagine what to expect in 2023. It is about the power of money, no more the voices of the electorate, or the will of the people. Can you call this democracy?”

Kenneth Okon, a Political Science lecturer, expressed concern that the true meaning of democracy has been lost in Nigeria.

“When you say you are in a democracy, it means you are in an orderly society where the rights of every citizen are respected without encroachment. But here we are, people are being abused by those who should maintain the law in society. What are the things that are prevalent now?

We have bad leadership. We have to change the constitution; it is favouring a section of the country, it is disadvantageous to others. There is corruption and lack of good leadership; the people in power lack the experience and competence to lead the people. Let’s change the constitution, create a platform for us to discuss. Let us talk and then we can know where we are going. Let’s restructure the country, then we would have federating units and the regions can function on their own.

Read also: US shows how to restore confidence in Nigeria’s democracy

A lot of things are wrong in the country and when you raise your voice people will shout you down, Government is insensitive and listens to no advice. They see every dissenting view as if you are an enemy. If you ask me, Nigeria is not a democracy,” Okon said.

Okon also pointed out the high level of insecurity in the country, which seems to have defied government’s efforts.

“I think what has happened to us is that we are so much attached to tribe. We are very tribalist, and policies are made along that line- to favour some people against some others. Some people are treated a first class citizens whereas some others are third class citizens in a country where the Constitution prescribes equality of all citizens.

A situation where laws are activated if a person from one side of the country falls foul of the law, but it is left dormant if another person from a favoured part of the country does the same thing or even worse, that is not being fair, and that is what is happening and it is worse in the last seven years,” he further said.

Today, while the Federal Government and the Buhari administration is rolling out the drums in Abuja to mark the so-called Democracy Day, there are many Nigerians being held in various detention cells by bandits and terrorists. Many villages and communities are being overrun by motorcycle riding bandits, who are having a field day killing and maiming citizens.

While merriments will be going on in Abuja today, many victims of Boko Haram and ISWAP attacks are languishing in various hospitals across the country, particularly in the North. Government is celebrating democracy at a time when families are mourning the disappearance of their loved ones. People are missing in Nigeria in droves under the watch of the government, whose major task is the protection of lives and property.

Chekwas Okorie, the founding national chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who returned to his post a few days ago, in an interview with BusinessDay on state of the nation, said: “At independence, the country started with a quasi-federation where the regional governments as federating units enjoyed reasonable latitude to develop and grow at their own pace. Revenue allocation formula was based on 50percent by derivation.

“The regions contributed to the federation account and explored and exploited their comparative advantages. Competition by the regions was healthy. It was at that period that Eastern Nigeria was recorded as the fastest growing 3rd world economy.

“Before the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war, civil servants from the regions were reluctant to accept postings to the federal civil service because they considered the condition of service better at the Regions.”

According to him, “The military intervention in governance from 1966 reversed everything and put Nigeria in the reverse gear following the concentration of power and governance at the centre, thus practically destroying the fabric of our federalism as we knew it. The imposition of the highly vexatious and obnoxious 1999 Constitution by the Abdulsalam Abubakar military government worsened the Nigerian situation.”

Okorie further said: “All subsequent Federal Governments have been bedevilled by the problems of disunity, suspicion and lack of patriotism arising from lop-sidedness of the political structure of the imposed constitution which the framers of the document mischievously inserted near impossible conditions for its amendment.

“Ironically, even some of the leaders that conspired to give Nigeria the 1999 Constitution have joined to raise the alarm that Nigeria is faced with the danger of disintegration without the moral and political will to support the restructuring of the country.

“It is only a national dialogue convoked, funded and supported by the Federal Government that can restore Nigeria on the part of stability, unity, peace, growth and expansion of our economy. Nigeria still holds a great promise but this will depend on the sincerity and patriotism of its leadership at all levels.”

Wunmi Bewaji, a former minority leader House of Representatives, said Nigeria was presently at the crossroads.

“Go to the street and speak to Nigerians and hear what they would say,” he said.

Bewaji said: “It is for us to discuss; you cannot rule the people like a conquered territory. Nigeria is a republic; may be, Muhammadu Buhari has forgotten two things are outstanding in our name; the word federal and the word republic. The word federal means there are component units, they came together to form Nigeria in 1914.

“Of course, we know, for example; we have Yoruba and Igbo land and they have their territories. Anybody can settle down in Lagos, that does not mean Yoruba land is not Yoruba land, or Igbo land is not there if you can and settle there.”

Lamenting the slow progress that Nigeria has made over the years in civil rule even in the electoral process, Olisa Agbakoba, senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said: “Nigeria is an illiberal democracy, and an illiberal democracy doesn’t use ideology which is why, if you look at all the candidates, I am not sure whether they have not been in more than two or three parties since 1999. That’s why I don’t know the difference between the parties. So, ideology is meaningless to them. You don’t expect that issues will drive the voting process at the elections. There could be other considerations.”

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