29 May 2014

Nigeria: Memories of May 29


THE trite debates about its importance apart, May 29 frightens politicians - it annually reminds them of how close they are to leaving office or worse still, the nearness of the mandatory renewal of their electoral mandate.

Being in the best position to know how well they have not done, politicians dread May 29 for the constant memories it casts of the eclipse of their office. For those outside the power loop, it is the day of hope. They aspire to power to corner their piece of the common wealth.

For administrations that have failed to engage with the people, May 29 is a frightening reminder of the unfulfilled promises they made, swearing to the Constitution on inauguration day. How many of them still remember they swore to the oft-forgotten Section 14 2(b), possibly the most profound section of the Constitution?

Section 14 2(b) states, "The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government." Do politicians act as if the people's security and welfare is the purpose of government? Which actions of governments have shown the importance of the people? How do governments relate to the people? Has democracy improved lives of Nigerians? Is the country more democratic today than it was in 1999?

Ordinarily, May 29 should be more than the selfishness many politicians have wrapped round it. On this day, 15 years ago, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, handed over power to an elected civilian administration. Ever since, Nigeria has managed 15 years of uninterrupted civilian administration: two and half times the six-year duration of the post-independence civilian administration, and almost four times longer than the 1979-post military government of President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari.

The apparent structures of democracy apart, our governments, in most matters, have assumed the authoritative nature of the military. The separation of powers the Constitution intended is a mirage. In most States, Governors act with imperial finality. They are addressed as Executive Governors, a title that is alien to the Constitution. When they embark on their frequent travels, they shut down their States. The organs of government stall in their absence. They are accountable to nobody as the State Houses of Assembly depend on them.

One of their most decisive actions is the death of local governments, which governors executed by conducting elections when they wish, and determining candidates. The Presidency is not different. It invests its powers in more politics than governance; it has been the rule since 1999.

Politicians in executive positions have promoted undemocratic imposition of party officials in their bid to control their parties and manipulate the "democratic process". The ordinariness of May 29 results from undemocratic practices of the past 15 years.

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