Salvaging Nigeria’s Democracy

Happy Democracy Day!

I believe It’s an important milestone worth celebrating. Do you think so too?

Since 2000 until 2018, May 29 has always been celebrated as Democracy Day in Nigeria. The significance of celebrating Democracy Day in Nigeria is that it is a remembrance of the day the military handed over power to an elected civilian government in 1999.

Nigeria, since independence in 1990 have experienced about 5 military coups. So Nigeria’s Democracy Day is a public holiday to commemorate the restoration of democracy in 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected and took over office as President, ending the multiple interruption of military rule.

But in 2018, The President Buhari-led administration declared that Democracy would now be celebrated on June 12 every year. This was done in favour of the June 12, 1993 elections that was declared to have been won by MKO Abiola but wrongfully annulled by the Military Head of state, Major General Ibrahim Babaginda.

Nigeria’s democracy though perceived to be in its infancy has experienced numerous challenges. Democracy, a form of government in which the people govern, has in recent time in Nigeria perceived to be a rule “without the people”.

The most common definition of democracy I learnt as a high school student was by Abraham Lincoln – the government of the people, by the people and for the people. To put it another way we can say that a government comes from the people; it is exercised by the people, and for the purpose of the people’s own interests. 

But do you think Nigeria’s democracy is really “people driven”?

As I write this, I am a student of the School of Politics, Policy & Governance by FixPolitics Initiative established by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, a former minister of Nigeria and former World Bank Vice President.

In the school, we recently had a debate with the quote “For Forms Of Government Let Fools Contest Whate’er is Best Administered is Best. Nigeria’s Democracy in view!” and in that debate my group was selected to oppose the motion and to defend the existence of Nigeria’s democracy.

My colleagues on the other side upheld the motion arguing that It makes no difference if a nation is governed as a republic or a monarchy or some other form of government, what is most important is how well a country is managed and administered. In other words, the quote suggests that the effectiveness of a government is not determined by its form, but rather by how efficiently and effectively it delivers services and meets the needs of its citizens.

Some even argued that maybe Nigeria needs to return the power to govern to the military or try other forms of government. I don’t know what you think.

Many seem to have lost faith in Nigeria and even the just concluded 2023 elections cannot be far from the conversation. Election is an important pillar of democracy. Elections should provide citizens the platform to choose from several candidates or parties without any restriction. The people must be free to decide who they wish to use their right to vote for. But the trends in Nigeria’s elections have had some negative turns.

For example, because I am from Delta State and voted in Delta state in the just concluded elections, I decided to do a study of the electoral data in the State and honestly, the turnout of voters over the years depicts what could be called democratic backsliding or decline.

See the below chart of elections in Delta State since 2011 compiled from INEC.

I agree that if we bring all the data together about Nigeria in the last few years, it may show that Nigeria is not and perhaps haven’t made progress in a while, but should we throw away the baby together with the bathwater?

While I agree that the quality of governance is important, I also believe, as in the debate, that forms of government are as important as the quality of governance. Perhaps we need to regularly remind ourselves what democracy offers.

As an individual, I believe the major reason democracy is questioned and threatened is the level of progress we have made as a country based on the kind of leaders we choose as citizens judging from the long battle for Fuel Subsidy removal, the poor economic metric, the rate of unemployment and the poverty. 

All of these are good reasons to ask if democracy is really working for us.

But the reason I defend democracy: it is a system built on accountability, transparency and participation.

Democracy still holds the records as the most effective system for promoting accountability. For instance, In Democratic Nigeria, we have records of former governors who were impeached on alleged corruption, mismanagement of public funds, etc. No military government or monarchy system of government offers that.

Secondly, democracy still holds the records as the most effective system for promoting transparency. Under a “good autocrat”, your voice may still be silenced.

A typical example is BudgIT, a Nigerian civic organisation that applies technology for citizen engagement but you will agree that they may not be able operate in a non-democratic system because what they do is simple take complex government budgetary information and make it pretty simple for you and I to understand what and where public funds are spent.

If we must hold our leaders accountable, transparency is paramount and as a country as well, through the signed 2011 Freedom of Information Act, we can demand transparency, which is what only a democratic system provides.

Lastly, democracy still holds the records as the most effective system for promoting citizens participation. I’m sure you can still remember EndSARS. It was simply citizens calling for an end to police brutality that was being ignored by public leaders.

In democracy, If the government doesn’t do something about public issues, citizens can push them to do something about it and bring about change.

All over the world, no system is perfect but i strongly believe that democracy is the only platform where, “WE, the people” have a voice so therefore we should strengthen our democracy to ensure that “WE, the People” are able to participate in decision-making and hold our leaders accountable (good or bad), ultimately leading to a more just and equitable society.

Here is why I wish you, Happy Democracy Day!


Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *