29 May 2013

Nigeria: What Manner of Democracy?


Nigeria could well be marking the birthday of its Fourth Republic, which its failed political leaders have christened "Democracy Day". It is the 14th anniversary of Nigeria's return to civil and participatory governance. The streak of unbroken rulership and civilian-to-civilian transition since 1999 should ordinarily attract a celebration. But a large majority of Nigerians would agree that this is not the democracy they bargained for. The electoral process has been riddled with ballot snatching, ballot-box stuffing, arson, killings and other back-door mechanisms such as imposition of candidates, lack of internal party democracy and money politics. The past 14 years has been characterised by skewed leadership recruitment process, abuse of human rights and preferential treatment for people in the corridors of power to the detriment of the majority.

Our socio-economic milieu has been debased by leaders who lack the conceptual and interpretative understanding of what makes democracy the beautiful maiden that countries around the world woo and keep.

After 14 years of "democracy", we can no longer blame the military for the lack of the basic ingredients necessary for democracy strengthening and deepening. However, the military hangover had tended to imbue operators in the executive arm with a superiority complex. The executive has, even under a democratic setting, carried on as if they were some "dictatorial democrats". The civilian inheritors of the executive arm have influenced the judiciary and turned the civil service into a puppet used to strangulate the will of the people and practically turn the common wealth to personal estates. Efforts geared towards wresting power have been fiercely subverted by the use of state terror machines and resources. For their part, members of the legislature have determined their own incomes: every quarter, each receives N45m - N100m as "constituency allowance"! But the judiciary, which had collaborated with the politicians to stab democracy at the back, seems to have awoken from slumber with the landmark judgements that upturned powers undemocratically derived in Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states, among other courageous verdicts in many other federal constituencies and senatorial districts.

Democracy has its principles and the earlier our leaders internalise these, the better for the nation. Winning elections through judicial processes is an aberration. If leaders learned to play by the rules, we would have less of the security challenges foisted on us. The economy would not only roar on paper and through projections, but the desire for good governance through infrastructural development would be met. The moment we strengthen the capacity of our parliaments to perform their core functions and oversight unfettered, deepen the competence of our judiciary and purge it of corruption to adjudicate without fear or favour, reform the public sector in terms of service delivery, and liberalise trade and business environment, a day like this would have greater meaning. Furthermore, we need to sensitise our people on the need to hold government into account, entrench free speech and minimise meddlesomeness in the media coverage of the political space. To engender trust in the electoral system, elections must be transparent, free, fair and just.

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