As Nigerians mark the country’s fourteenth year of return to democracy, there are probably good reasons to celebrate, but there are just as many good reasons to deliberate on the turn of events so far to rue those years.
If the longest stretch of civil rule in Nigeria’s history calls for jubilation, the failure of leadership at all levels, particularly at the centre, resulting in numerous missed opportunities, crashed hopes and unfulfilled aspirations, demands only one thing: sober reflection.
The return to democracy after many years of military rule, characterised by absolute disregard for the rule of law, large-scale violation of human rights, monumental corruption, mismanagement of the nation’s economy and decay of infrastructure, has not brought much of the desired change. If anything, the system has changed, but not the attitude. The personnel has changed, but the vices continue. Elections have held, but hardly has there been genuine popular participation and inclusiveness.
Democracy entails accountability to the governed. It also entails freedom and liberty, especially freedom of expression, political participation among others.
Despite Nigeria’s claim to the values of liberal democracy, the jury is still out on how the nation has practicalised its tenets in the last 14 years.
As for its rewards to Nigerians, there is no doubt that this has been abysmally low.
With the return to civil rule, expectations of Nigerians were high. Against the background of the impunity of the past, they expected the rule of law, where all are equal before the laws of the land; against a tale of election rigging in the past, they expected that votes would count and those truly chosen by the people would emerge as leaders; against massive human rights violation, they expected the veneration of rights; against a history of assassinations even by the state, they expected to see respect for lives and dignity of man; against a background of poor social services, they expected to see working health centres, well-equipped schools, uninterrupted power supply and well-paved roads. After 14 years of civil rule, these expectations have, at best, remained forlorn hopes.
Today, a baggage of contradictions has emerged. At its birth, the so-called democracy was compromised through unofficial pacts that not only threw up reluctant or unprepared leaders, those arrangements also shackled the emergent rulers to interests other than noble. Precious time necessary for governance was spent on seeking power for its own sake with the new leadership undermining the political parties or platforms that bought them into office.
With such absolute disregard for its leadership and the emergence of President and governors as godfathers with executive powers and the party machinery in their palms, it was no surprise that manifestoes meant nothing. This trend remains a blow to the goals of democracy and the process of nurturing it in the country.
This development has further compounded the problem of election rigging as desperation for power has turned politics from being a contest of ideas to a life and death game in which the killer, of men and ideas, is the winner who takes all. Fourteen years on, it is hardly possible to point to a totally free and fair electoral exercise ever held.
In some cases, discerning observers of Nigeria have made the point that the country has gone far below the standard it set for itself. With political parties bereft of ideological underpinnings, coherent programmes, supremacy of the congress and internal democracy, nothing edifying could be expected from the men thrust into office on their platforms.
While the current government basks in the euphoria of an economic growth, averaging more than six per cent a year in the last two years, all is not well with the economy. Growth in macro-indicators does not translate to development and is not so convincing in an environment of abject poverty. A major source of concern has been the need to diversify the national economy.
Fifty-three years after independence and 14 years after a return to civil rule, the goal of economic diversification has remained a mirage while successive leaders bicker over the sharing formula amidst avoidable leakages. Current global trends portend ill for the Nigerian economy. As more energy sources are being discovered, it is only a matter of time for earnings from oil to plummet.
Even as reliant on proceeds from crude oil as it is, the economy is further gravely undermined by bare-faced and monumental corruption at its commanding heights. The country’s war against corruption has been haphazard and a pandering to agencies of global governance rather than a conscientious project. Existing anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), are now seen as ineffectual having themselves been inexorably caught in the crime. Their efforts are selective and largely phony. The war against corruption, nothing more than a circus before now, seems to have simply stopped.
While Nigeria labours for breath under bureaucratic overweight, political corruption, and a shaky economy, the country is now being asphyxiated by Islamic insurgency in the north. Sectarian in character, it has further deepened the ethnic and religious cleavages in the country. In response, the incumbent administration has had to declare a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
These dissonances have meant impoverishment for the people of this country. Unemployment soars amidst obscene display of opulence by the political elite. Of course, there is growing disillusionment among the teeming population, which some believe fuels the prevalent insurgencies in parts of the country.
On this fourteenth anniversary, it is not too late for Nigerians, especially the leaders, to change and make democracy work for the people. And the job is simple: stop stealing from the common wealth, spend the people’s money on them, reduce cost of governance, entrench the rule of law, create abundant employment opportunities via production, respect the rules of the democratic game and let a culture of service reign.
Source: The Guardian
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