Nigeria's Nascent Democracy At 18

President Muhammadu Buhari speaking on Democracy Day
29 May 2018

TODAY, 29th May 2018, marks the 18th anniversary of Nigeria's second return to democracy. It is also our Democracy Day, which is observed as a public holiday throughout the Federation.

Since the Federal Republic of Nigeria had, at Independence on 1st October 1960 chosen the democratic model of governance, the celebration of Democracy Day is doubly significant and justified by the fact that, for the first time in our history, democracy has survived for 18 unbroken years. Even the military has adopted the mantra that military rule has become unfashionable and unacceptable. So much has happened which, in the past, would have given the military easy excuse to seize power.

Nigeria existed under dictatorship for 74 years (when the 46 years of British colonialism and 28 years of indigenous military rule are combined). It is not surprising that our political class still exhibits a lot of dictatorial reflexes at the various tiers of governance. The "strong man" syndrome still holds sway. Very little effort is being made to strengthen our institutions which will bring out the beauty and essence of our presidential democracy. There is a lot of infighting between the Presidency and the National Assembly.

The situation is worse at state level where state governors have neutralised the Houses of Assembly through impunity and made it impossible for them to act as checks and balances. Governors dip their hands into state treasuries just as they like. The local government has been virtually obliterated as a tier of government. Governors either unconstitutionally appoint "caretaker committees" or conduct fraudulent elections through the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs) which, invariably, award victories to ruling parties.

The most worrisome threat to our nascent democracy is the frequent desecration of our courts and assaults on officers of the Judiciary. The Federal Government's "sting operations" on some judges in October 2016, the attack on a judge, Justice Ayodeji Daramola in court in Ekiti in September 2014, the locking of the courts in Rivers State in 2014, the recent gun assaults on a court in Port Harcourt, frequent disobedience of court orders by the Muhammadu Buhari government and others, are indicators that we still have a long way to go in our practice of presidential democracy.

We are, however, encouraged by the fact that in the past eighteen years, Nigeria made a giant stride in successfully transferring power from one political party to another at the Federal level through a peaceful election in 2015. This feat gave Nigerian democracy a new pedigree which, we hope, will be sustained in 2019.

The task of strengthening our democratic culture and enthroning good governance to enrich the lives of the people is a task for all Nigerians. We must work harder at it.

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