Exactly 15 years ago today, Nigerians heartily welcomed the restoration of democracy in the country, as the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo regime was inaugurated at a colourful ceremony in Abuja, the nation’s capital. The euphoria that greeted the return to democratic rule in the country after 16 years of military rule was palpable.
The government formed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999 was widely Our democracy at 15: The pains, the gains wounds and soothe the frayed nerves of the Nigerian people that had been badly jarred in the years under military jackboots.
The principle of government of the people, by the people and for the people, which democracy encapsulates, was expected to bring about a renewed commitment by the expectations for good governance. The Obasanjo government thereafter declared the May 29 inaugural date the nation’s Democracy Day, which has been celebrated as such since 1999.
Fifteen years have gone full circle since the return of democracy to Nigeria. It is, and the three PDP governments that have been at the helm of our ship of state between 1999 and today. To put it simply, it is necessary to ask if Nigerians are better off today than they were at the outset of this democratic journey on May 29, 1999. We also need to determine if our democracy is on the right track, and if it has all the hallmarks of a system of government that is truly representative of the voice and interests of the people.
To begin with, there are, indeed, a few things to celebrate concerning our democracy. For one, we have managed to sustain democratic governance in the country till this moment, and kept our hitherto restive, power-loving and adventurous military chiefs within their barracks.
Even though three states in the North-East geo-political zone of the country are under emergency rule on account of the Boko Haram insurgency, the states still have their democratic structures in place. Nigeria has had successful transitions from one democratic government to another, as Obasanjo handed over power to the now deceased Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua following his election as president in 2007, while Goodluck Jonathan was sworn into office after winning the 2011 presidential poll.
Nigeria has also remained one country, and there are remarkable pockets of good governance and improvement of living standard in some states. There is, in addition, an improvement in the quality of our elections, and it appears that there is a greater commitment to adhering to the rule of law and the rulings of the courts by the Jonathan administration than we had it in the Obasanjo years.
In spite of these gains, however, it is incontrovertible that the state of affairs in most parts of the country today is several miles apart from what many Nigerians expected from their hard-won democracy of 1999.
Having thrown off the yoke of military hegemonists at that time, the expectation of Nigerians was that we were well on our way to building a stronger, safer, more prosperous and more united country. We had expected remarkable infrastructural development and a greater commitment to the welfare of ordinary Nigerians, especially the youths.
But, at the risk of sounding unduly pessimistic, Nigerians have met with monumental disappointment on these counts. Nigeria is neither safer, stronger, richer nor more unit- ed than it was in 1999. We have little infra- structural development or other remarkable achievements to point to. And, that is put- ting the situation in the country today rather mildly, and kindly, too. To be frank, security in many parts of the country today has gone to the dogs. Terrorism in the North and growing criminality in other parts of the country are threats to the safety of ordinary Nigerians.
Thousands of lives have been lost to the Boko Haram insurgency.
In spite of the seeming endless optimism of President Goodluck Jonathan and his economic managers, a country that cannot secure its citizens or deal decisively with rampaging killers that are daily questioning its authority in large swathes of the country, cannot be classified as strong.
Nigeria is one country. We cannot have a strong South, a weak North and a North-East under the jackboots of bloodthirsty insurgents. It will also be foolhardy to continue to celebrate a strong economy in the midst of rampaging poverty and growing unemployment, with corruption walking on all fours.
At no time in our history, except probably during the Civil War between 1967 and 1970, has Nigeria been as disunited as we have it now. Gaping schisms along tribal, regional, economic and religious lines are daily widening in the country. Insurgents in the North-East are insisting on Islamic rule; some interests in the North are demanding the return of the presidency to the region; some Yoruba
interests in the South-West have started beating the drums of regionalism, while some Niger Delta militant groups are saying it is either Jonathan for another term in 2015, or no nation at all. A situation in which different contending interests will not allow for the rule of the majority, or consider the positions of others under our federal system of government, is a recipe for cataclysm and a danger to our democracy.
There is no sign at all that the North/South, Christian/Muslim divides in the country are about to close up. On the socio-economic front, we have growing time bombs of youth unemployment and disenchantment. Fifteen years into our democracy, the promises to stabilize electricity supply and construct the Second Niger Bridge are still in the realm of hope On democracy itself, although our elections are getting better, they are still not always representative of the wishes of the electorate.
The very fact that we still need a N7 billion national conference, when there are supposed
representatives of the people in National Assembly, attests to this fact.
Significantly, today’s Democracy Day is the last that will be celebrated with Goodluck
Jonathan at the helm of the nation’s affairs, unless he wins another term of office in 2015. And, that coming election is the very reason why all Nigerians need to sit up, to put our democracy on a sound footing. This is the time for us to look at democracy ideals and strive to have a true government of the people, by the people and for the people; a government that is run by the wishes of the overwhelming
majority of the people, and not one in which the leaders in both the Executive and the Legislature feed fat on the nation’s resources, leaving the citizens pale, drained and listless.
The 2015 general elections present, for Nigeria, another opportunity to put aside religious, tribal and regional sentiments to elect leaders who can fulfill the people’s expectations.
There is no arguing the fact that we have not got it right yet on the leadership question. Yet, democracy needs leaders who will shape the aspirations of the people and positively affect the lives of all citizens.
Today’s Democracy Day celebration offers us yet another chance to renew the hope that is fast fading in our democracy. It is not too late to get it right. Let us look inwards and determine where we went off the track. This is the time to have a bi-partisan approach to the problems of the country. It is necessary
that we look at the bigger picture and strive to restore the universal features of democracy, which include a constitution that truly derives from, and serves the best interest of the people; adherence to the constitution and rule of law; respect for the rights of all citizens and the nation’s component parts; and an unflinching commitment to the welfare of all Nigerians.
President Jonathan at the Interdenominational Church Service to mark the 2014 Democracy talked about plans by evil forces to bring down his government, and by implication this democracy. We must not allow that to happen. It is necessary that we sustain our democracy to consolidate its benefits. Let us share the president’s optimism that the Boko Haram insurgency will soon be behind us. But, we must urge necessary action to make this happen. We wish all Nigerians a Happy Democracy Day. The commitment of all of us to keeping our democracy on track to ensure that it yields the desired dividends to the nation will go a long way in determining if, by May 29, 2015, we will have occasion to celebrate another Democracy Day.