DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA, CURSE OR BLESSING?
INTRODUCTION: A knife they say has two sharps mouth, the irony of Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999 has been and will continue to be a subject of discuss for many writers, authors, researcher etc. Nigeria is now enjoying the longest period of civilian rule since independence in 1960. The first civilian republic ended in a military coup in 1966, ushering in a devastating civil war and several more military governments. In fact, during the 33-year period from 1966 until the fourth republic came into being in 1999, civilians only governed for four short years. Historically, therefore, the dearth of democratic experience has created enormous challenges to institutionalizing democracy in the Nigerian fourth republic. Nonetheless, it is critical to recognize the fact that the trend over the past decade, and especially since 1999, is modestly positive. Despite a legacy of brutal authoritarianism under General Abacha’s military misrule, the civilian government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has, to its credit, made some significant improvements. Its economic reform program has won the qualified praise of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); civil liberties, freedom of the press, and an independent media are much improved.
The durability of civilian rule since 1999 and the rejection of the third term constitute unprecedented achievements. To be sure, pessimism and cynicism are widespread in evaluating Nigerian democracy. The cynics from the late 1990s, however, would have never predicted that Nigeria would now be poised to hold its third civilian election cycle. Nor would they have predicted that the president
The rejection of the third term. Again. The democratic principles underlying electoral alternation appear to have gained widespread acceptance among the political elite.would be blocked from assuming a third term by a national legislature bold enough to buck the Africa-wide trend of altering constitutions to allow extended executive terms. civil society organizations (CSOs). ethnic diversity. the enormous size.. Abdulsalam Abubakar handed over Nigeria to a democratically elected civilian government. was driven by an alliance of grassroots activists. he courageously did on the 29th of May and thus marked Nigeria`s third attempt at democracy since the fall of the Tafawa Balewa regime on 15th January. Indeed. and elected representatives. moreover. the fact that Nigeria survives as a united. When compared against perilous situations of neighboring states (e. in addition to overcoming the authoritarian legacies of colonial and military rule. Chad.g.
NIGERIAN DEMOCRACY: THE JOURNEY SO FAR
In 1999. 1966. democratic nation-state is no mean achievement and should be a cause for celebration. Congo). all of these trends are very positive for the deepening of Nigerian democracy. Evaluating the trend line of Nigerian democracy requires a critical yet realistic perspective about the many barriers confronting Nigerian democrats. Sudan. Civil society actors and the legislative and judicial branches of government are now asserting their constitutional powers more frequently in spite of having been silenced by decades of brutal military dictatorships. Today therefore we are celebrating
. Ivory Coast. underpinned by an even deeper consensus on democracy as the only acceptable form of government in Nigeria. and political complexity of Nigeria would daunt even the most talented and committed democratic reformers. This. the now white-beard Gen.
The media. Dr. Distinguished personalities like the veteran politician Tanko Yakasai.What have been the challenges?. being the fourth of the realm. delve into our political sphere though in a non – partisan manner. 2009. given the circumstance. Ibrahim Shekarau. The BBC Hausa Service for instance.Thirteen years of democracy in Nigeria without a hitch. There is then therefore no doubt that this is a moment for sober reflection. I find it necessary to. Gov.
. In a debate captioned: "10 years of Democracy in Nigeria: The journey so far. representatives of the PDP and the ANPP and a host of other participants made their immense contributions. the firebrand Abdul – Kareem Dayyabu. Head. This very debate is very important because it forms the principal building block of my assessment as all the participants agreed on one thing despite the differences in thought that exists amidst them. all the participants at the debate in Mambayya House. Junaidu Mohammad. BBC Hausa Service have played commendable roles in helping Nigeria assess the journey so far. simply to make an attempt at assessing Nigeria’s journey in the democratic vehicle in the last ten years. has contributed in no small measure in trying to help Nigeria and indeed the international community assess Nigeria’s democratic gains in the last ten years. had organized several debates and invited stakeholders of ranging thoughts to make clear their thoughts as to the journey so far. the dividends of democracy have yet surfaced on the nation`s horizon. they landscaped a turf that was definitely tough. Director BBC World Service and Jamilah Tangaza. Kano. where I was a spectator. agreed that though the country had remained an indivisible entity under the democratic setting. On the 28 th of May. Peter Horrocks.
Given this. And a political party that was not formed on the basis of any ideology only entails the formation of a platform where politicians join only to clinch on to one seat or another. There has to be a platform for aspiring candidates. There is corruption in the economy. somehow we usually go into inventions and omissions. I am not without my personal perception. These. and food security. And we all know that to ensure a free and fair election. There are no roads. everyone accepted. standard schools and standard healthcare delivery system. so many conditions must be satisfied.Everyone agreed that at present there is erratic power supply. Abraham Lincoln says. Democracy. chaos in the polity and brouhaha in our arts. However. The benchmark for the formation of a political party is the coming together of people of the same ideology to form a
. When our present political parties were formed. which in the end never augur well. We are a caricature in the comity of nations because we have only succeeded in deceiving ourselves in the last ten years. is the formation of a government of the people. Those who are peculiar with the history of this country will attest that we are fond of doing things in haste and in the course somewhere. A biased election organising body entails the emanation of a non – democratic environment as the wish of the common man would never be pondered. as to the reasons behind our travails. The duo institutions of political party and election organisng body in a democratic atmosphere are as important as the democratic system itself. it is then right to identify that the key to democracy is a free and fair election. for the people and by the people. security of lives and property. the political party and an unbiased election umpire to oversee the conduct of elections. they were not formed on the basis of any ideology and this is where we erred.
the economy would be healthy. In fact. That is why internal democracy is lacking in all the fifty-three political parties country. With the constitution. There would be good road networks and effective transportation systems. When all the parties in the country assume this modus operandi. a political party should ab initio. This circumstance would not only give a party the opportunity to organize free and fair primary elections but would also go further granting it the chance to form a formidable electoral force ahead of its campaigns. having presented their best to the electorate.
. with proper elections. a legal party Executive Council is certain and hence internal democracy feasible. Surely enough. Some of the parties cannot identify their four walls. There would be security of both lives and property. having been formed on an ideology. Ceteris paribus. some have multiple leadership. a competent team will be given mandate. The right people will be in charge of the government of the day and thus good governance would take its place. which every member must honour and respect. a free and fair general election would only wait for time to unfold events as no stakeholder will connive with the election umpire and or security agencies to rig in any candidate. All the parties. In a resume. Certainly.common front. political parties do not serve the purpose of a political party and hence the locus standi. where there is ideology there is principle. have its manifesto and a constitution. some do not even have name. A standard healthcare delivery system would evolve. A competent team would be in charged of the power sector and there will not be black out. because of their weak foundations. Education would be free. would allow the election process to take its proper course.
By allying and strengthening the power of the northern Muslim aristocracy. In 1939. too.All these would have been achieved had it been our political parties were properly placed. being made up of over 250 ethno-linguistic groups. each with dominant (majority) and subordinate (minority) ethnic groups. but integration among them was minimal because Britain’s policy of “indirect rule” sustained and even magnified differences between them. Formally. Christianization. has integrated previously fragmented groups in the Southeast and in the Middle Belt or North Central zone of Nigeria. The
. But as I once told a senior colleague during a return trip from Wase to Bauchi. unlike in construction. is critical for grasping the difficulty of achieving consensus in a complex state like Nigeria. NIGERIAN DEMOCRACY: THE CURSE-BLESSING SYNDRONE Nigeria is the most populous African state and one of the world’s most ethnically diverse societies. Religion. on the other hand. and established commodity marketing boards which were later used to fund the political projects and parties from each region. Administrative policies and translations of the Christian Bible contributed to formation of new ethnic identities and new educated middle classes in the southern provinces of Nigeria where the modern nationalist movement was born. For example. there cannot be underpinning to serve as a remedy to our situation. the solution to all Nigeria’s problems lies in our political leaders resolving to work in the best interest of the nation. colonial policy reduced traditional checks and balances. but this affiliation has not translated into political solidarity with the Muslim groups of the far north. And unfortunately. from 40-50 percent of Yoruba are estimated to be Muslims. and severely limited access to Western education in northern Nigeria. these groups were agglomerated into a single political unit in 1914. the British carved out three regions.
Its size. Critics say the 1999 constitution concentrates too much power in the central government. there is no shortage of potential cleavages or flashpoints in Nigeria. Nigeria was divided into three semi-autonomous regions. each composed of many nationalities with few common cultural experiences and even fewer incentives to act collectively as a nation.politicization of religion is nothing new in Nigeria. Thus. but that smaller and smaller political units were linked to the federal power structure in a top-down distribution
. Indeed. the tendencies for centralization meant that power was not dispersed. limited internal communications. ethnic diversity. Catering to the demands of constituent groups created incentives for ethnic mobilization around various new and imaged primordial identities. it is not surprising that Nigeria has struggled with refining federal powers and obtaining “buy in” from its constituent groups who demanded the creation of more states and more local government associations (LGAs). some of the elder interlocutors interviewed by the Assessment Team noted that there was less inter-ethnic conflict under colonialism because the administrative units were more mixed. however. The perennial challenge for the Nigerian federation. but has become more pronounced since the introduction of the Islamic (Sharia) criminal code in the 12 northern states after the 1999 election. At the same time. The arrangement that each of the 36 states must have a minister in the Cabinet has further undermined appointments based on professional merit. This has been attempted primarily through the multiplication of administrative units. By the time of independence in 1960. cross-cutting alliances and cleavages render it a difficult country to govern under the best of circumstances.” has been how to transform the array of competing ethnic and religious groups into stakeholders. known as the “National Question. As the world’s fifth largest federation. especially with regard to the control of police and the appointment of judges.
such that no individual can occupy the summit offices of the federation for more than two terms. Moreover. IN DEMOCRACY WE ARE BLESSED! Given the structural barriers to democratization represented by the oligarchy. and 2) in regional terms. Such alternation is so far defined 1) in personal terms. legislators felt compelled to consult with their constituents and to vote as the public wished (84 percent were against the third term amendments).2 even though the presidency was reportedly offering $1 million bribes to each member of the National Assembly who voted in favor of the amendment package. For perhaps the first time since 1999. The concept of a Nigerian nation appears to have taken root. civil society and the public itself had roles in defeating the president’s third term gambit. in that government offices must be rotated at the federal level among the six informal “zones” of the nation. it is all the more remarkable that progress is nevertheless being made on a variety of fronts. The May 2006 defeat by the National Assembly of the third term initiative was the culmination of a number of positive trends in Nigerian democratic development. text messaging and web sites.of resources and opportunity. Private
. and among the senatorial districts and local government areas at the state level. Second. is the evident consensus among elites and the public on the principle of alternation of power. This arrangement creates a balancing network of alliances and relationships that prevented any single faction or group from becoming dominant. signifying their growing influence in national politics. These roles were facilitated by new technologies of communication. a key foundation of democratic governance. cable TV. such as cell phones. as discussed in the next subsection. but it aggravated conditions in the oil-producing states of the South-South zone.
On the other hand. Nigeria’s international financial reputation has also significantly improved as a result of its agreement with the Paris Club of 19 official creditors to settle its external debt with the group. Upon completion of its payment in April 2006.television companies provided live coverage of the debates in the Assembly. The National Assembly and Supreme Court are playing more active roles and starting to become more effective in asserting their constitutional prerogatives in the face of a dominant executive. In exchange for a payment of $12. including the World Bank and the private sector. and newspapers published lists of which legislators were for or against the measures. The reform package was approved by the IMF as a condition of endorsing the debt deal. human rights activists. much remains to be done. and greater freedom for civil society advocates. The broader economic reform program that conditioned the debt elimination deal is known as the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS). Nigeria has now been taken off an international credit blacklist and is able to borrow on favorable terms again. and the independent media. affirmation of freedom of the press and other civil liberties. the police routinely torture detainees. and security forces harass elected officials.4 billion. Nigeria became the first sub-Saharan African country to completely eliminate its Paris Club debt. and the IMF enacted a two-year Policy Support Instrument (PSI) in October 2005 that includes
. Positive changes since 1999 include an improvement in the human rights situation (see Section 2.2 below). when Nigeria was temporarily expelled from the Commonwealth as a result of human rights violations. The country still owes some $5 billion to other lenders. few prisoners appear before judges. While the Government of Nigeria (GON) has overcome the international pariah status that dated back to the mid-1990s. the Paris Club countries agreed to forgive the $18 million remainder of the $30 billion debt held by Nigeria.
the population stood at less than 20 million. or the maintenance of public security.
. Meanwhile. such as the provision of public utilities (electricity. Given the scale of petro-revenues and the potential of Nigeria’s natural resources. In the early 1920s. The IMF completed its first review of Nigeria’s PSI in April 2006 in which it endorsed government policies to date. the population has soared even more rapidly. water. and education. most of whom are gaining political consciousness within a context of frustration and hopelessness. THE CURSE: STILL VISIBLE: The positive trends cited above do not erase the abysmal record of the Nigerian oligarchy. the number of citizens was estimated to have doubled to 40 million. In the 45 years after that.ongoing IMF monitoring of progress made in the reforms. Explosive demographic growth helps to explain how the Nigerian state became so distanced from the needs of its people. health. The World Bank ranks Nigeria as among the world’s poorest countries. have actually declined despite a windfall of oil revenues. social services such as education and health. By independence in 1960. when the first federal arrangements were conceptualized by the British. such as life expectancy. The nature of demographic change is even more worrisome than total population figures would indicate. the oligarchy’s failure to address the most minimal of the majority’s basic human needs can be construed as criminal negligence. Only 40 percent of Nigerians have access to electricity. to an estimated 137 million in 2005. demographic trends are bringing massive numbers of young Nigerians into the political sphere over the next 10 years. with the vast majority of the population living on less than $2 per day. sanitation). Most citizens suffer from grossly inadequate state services. Most social indicators.
It is becoming widely accepted that for this new generation. The first census to be carried out since 1991 took place in March 2006. which means there is a massive demographic bulge approaching adulthood amidst a dearth of opportunity or hope. most estimates place over 40 percent of Nigerians under the age of 15. conditions and prospects are worse than they were for the youth at independence in 1960. legitimate census. with Nigeria having one of the highest urbanization rates in the world at around 5. Moreover. and misuse of security forces to intimidate candidates has lowered public expectations for the 2007 election. Rising violence. religious.3 percent per year in a country that is still mainly agrarian. and geographic cleavages to gain leverage in the inter-elite competition for resources. Electoral registration assumes a reliable.however. assassinations of candidates. but questions regarding origin were omitted to reduce controversy surrounding the distribution of political representation and economic resources among states.
. Members of the oligarchy manipulate ethnic. more advanced weaponry.
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