At the 17th edition of the Daily Trust Dialogue on "20 Years of Democracy: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities," held on Thursday, January 16, 2020, the two decades Nigeria's democratic experience was dissected. The speakers at the event - former Vice President Namadi Sambo, Senator Kashim Shettima, Governor Kayode Fayemi, Rep Lynda Chuba-Ikpeazu and other dignitaries - were united around the fact that democracy has come to stay. Democracy, the process of recruiting Nigeria's leader every four years through the ballot box, has endured for 20 years, since 1999 to date. However, the end product of democracy, which include economic development, improved standard of living and better social cohesion have not been realized.
The mood at the Dialogue, and perhaps, of the nation, was captured aptly by a former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in his remarks on the fact that while democracy was being celebrated, the majority of Nigerians were unhappy.
Chief Oyegun said, "I dare to even say that there is hardly a single administration in... 20 years that has not left office unpopular and unheralded. We have never asked ourselves the question 'why are our people getting increasingly unhappy with their governors within those 20 years?' Why are they getting poorer, why are they losing hope, those are the questions I think pose a threat to our democracy because today we are beginning to hear rumblings that we didn't hear before. Amotekun is just one of them which shows a general feeling of enough is not being done in certain areas and this has been a growing syndrome in the last 20 years. What have we missed between government and the people? What should we be doing as government, as leaders that we are not doing? Why is it that our people are losing hope, losing faith in us, and hope in the nation?"
The former APC chairman's thought-provoking questions may actually be rhetorical. Nigerians are unhappy, poor and disillusioned because of the growing rate of poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and general economic downturn. Multiple indices have shown that about 100 million Nigerians are living below poverty line. Unemployment statistics by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2018 showed that "unemployment rate was 23.1 percent, the underemployment rate was 20.1 percent, and the combined unemployment and underemployment rate was 43.3 percent." It was projected that by 2020, unemployment rate could jump to 35 percent of the population.
Again, insecurity is worsening in the face of the fact that the 1999 Constitution highlights security as one of the fundamental objectives of government, as captured in Section 14 (2B), which says, "the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government." On a daily basis bloodshed by Boko Haram, bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers, cultists, and from communal conflicts send fears into the minds of Nigerians. The state and regional security outfits emerging all over the country testify to the failure of the current security arrangement to provide safety for innocent Nigerians.
We urge government and stakeholders in the current democratic experiment to implement the resolutions made at the end of the Dialogue. It challenged those in power to evolve economic policies and strategies that would boost the economy, create jobs and reduce poverty. Without means of livelihood, Nigerians would remain unhappy in spite of elections. Other recommendations that we align with include the need to make governance more inclusive, such that more women, Nigerians with disability, and minority groups are brought into governance. Also, government was challenged on the need to ensure freedom of expression, and obey the Rule of Law, two basic pillars of democracy. Government should also reflect on the need to revamp the civil service to such a state that it can drive developmental agenda, and to urgently embark on electoral reforms. Elections being conducted in Nigeria currently lack integrity.