A journey into the jungle of democracy in Nigeria
A land blessed with vast cultures, endowed by nature’s beauty with natural and mineral resources, groomed in love, unity, and peace. Diversified yet not divided; different ethnic groups but one in way of life; attacked but not defeated; bold like a lion, gentle like a dove; a great nation, envied by many; a target for loot by foreign countries. The people not knowing how blessed they were jostled for the unknown life all in the name of democracy.
This was the case of Nigeria, which came under British control in 1861; made a British colony in 1914, gained independence in 1960, and became a republic in 1963. All this was accompanied by ethnic strives, which led to military coups on different occasions; entangled in a civil war which led to the loss of lives of her citizens, and a lot more.
In search of a better way to promote peace and unity among her people, ventured into a forced kind of marriage called democracy in the year 1999. And since then, to date, she finds it hard to understand what democracy entails.
Brief History of Nigeria’s Journey through Democracy
Nigeria gained independence on the 1st of October 1960 from Great Britain. Afterward, Nigeria fell prey to the first of so many military coups on the 15th of Jan 1966, and then, a civil war. Nigeria is therefore an emerging nation-state, and we must be sure not to overlook the important difference between emerging democracies (which often are found in newly emerging states) and established democratic regimes existing in states with long traditions of uninterrupted sovereignty.
For most of its independent history, Nigeria was ruled by a series of military juntas, interspersed by brief moments of democratic rule, for example from 1979 to 1983 with Alhaji Shehu Shagari. The last major military ruler was Gen. Sani Abacha who died suddenly in 1998. His successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar promised a transition to democracy and as promised, a new constitution was adopted on May 5th, 1999. Elections were held and retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who had previously governed Nigeria as a military ruler, was elected the new president.
This is why a military coup may not be seen as a democratic regime. So until 1999, Nigeria was not a democratic state.
Let’s take a speed boat to 2011 when Nigerians participated in what were arguably the most credible and transparent elections since the country’s independence. United State Agency for International Development, USAID capitalized on this positive momentum to improve elections by supporting the organizational development of political parties and the independence of the electoral commission, and by increasing civil society input into electoral and constitutional reform dialogue. In 2015, the Independent National Electoral Commission working with civil society organizations – which ran parallel vote tabulations – helped usher in the first peaceful, democratic transition of power between two parties – from PDP to APC.
Before the 2011 and 2015 elections comes the 1993 election. This election according to history is the freest and fair ever in Nigeria. Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, chosen by the social democratic party (SDP) contested against National Republican Convention (NRC) candidate, Bashir Tofa. All tribes ethnic, and religions come together as a nation to vote. Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, a businessman from the southern part of Nigeria, born in the year 1937, was declared the winner of the 1993 election.
But did he preside over the nation?? No!
Not until 1999 that Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as the elected president of Nigeria. And ever since then, Nigeria become a fully democratic nation, which gives birth to the 1999 Constitution.
The end of military rule brought about a new era of regular elections as well as the return of civil liberties, a free press, and an end to arbitrary arrests and torture – although human rights violations still occur regularly.
Nigeria also began a long campaign against the bureaucratic and military corruption that had paralyzed its economy and severely tarnished its international reputation. It has been almost 24 years since Nigeria become a democratic nation, but has it been better than the military regime?
This is one of the common things in the so-called democratic government in Nigeria. But is this truly what the 1999 Constitution is all about??
For example, on the 20th of October, a few numbers of Nigerians were killed during a peaceful protest. A peaceful protest that is meant to kick against the alarming rate of police brutality in the country. This cause a lot of crying and wailing in many Nigerian homes, and the life of many promising Nigerians are cut short.
Is peaceful protest not permitted in a democratic nation??
Are we practicing Democracy as coined by Abraham Lincoln??
What exactly is Democracy
Democracy may be a word everyone is familiar with, yet it is a concept misunderstood and misapplied.
This definition rings all sorts of bells. Doesn’t it? It’s a cool definition, easy to remember and recite. Perhaps what makes this definition so iconic, is the fact that it was coined by one of the founding fathers of American Liberty, Abraham Lincoln himself.
It’s a system of government that gives the masses the power to choose their rulers as well as the needed means to check their excesses. The government is meant to be there to represent the people, manage their resources, and provide them with some basic needs. The election of the person to be in power is meant to be determined by the citizen. The citizen is to exercise their legal right on Election Day by voting for the candidate of their choice. They are free to elect anybody they think has their best interest in mind.
In a democratic system, citizens hold some level of power and authority, and they participate vigorously in the decision-making and processes of their government.
According to the Universal Declaration On Democracy, on 16 September 1997, in Cairo (Egypt’s Capital).
Categories of Democracy
Democracies are divided into two basic categories,
In a direct democracy, all citizens, without the involvement of elected or appointed officials, can participate in making public decisions. Such a system is only practical with comparatively small numbers of people in a community.
In a representative democracy, citizens elect leaders to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the public good. In the designation of the citizens, such leaders can deliberate on public issues thoughtfully and systematically. This requires an investment of time and effort, which is often impractical for the vast majority of private citizens.
Democracy is a system that ensures accountability and gives freedom of expression and participation. It strengthens the cohesion of society and enhances national tranquility, as well as creates a climate that is favourable for international peace. It is also the only political system that has the capacity for self-correction.
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Nowadays, people see democracy as a system that should lead to development with the belief that democracy is a government that gives room for popular participation. It is believed that the practice and principles of democracy if well followed can help in changing a society positively to greater heights. Many countries that practiced democracy are well developed because democracy leads to development.
As a form of government, democracy is the best way of achieving these objectives.
Nigeria and Democracy
Democracy has been proven over time as the most accountable form of government. Many discussions and meetings are always involved. This in turn influences the quality of decision-making in a country.
It is of no doubt has a lot of advantages but some countries still find controversies about it. In the case of Nigeria, it is a top-notch talk in different media houses, newspapers, magazines, and lots more. Yet, there are no changes in the criticism that has been made.
Nigeria is a diverse West Africa Country. It is home to 36 states and has an estimated population of about 216.7 Million. It is the most populous country in Africa. It is also a patchwork of distinctive ethnicity, regions, and languages. Nigeria possesses a variety of resources, some of which have not yet been effectively exploited.
Nigeria’s leaders are elected by the citizens, which means Nigeria operates a representative democracy system.
Let me give you an analogy
Nigeria is a kind of country where the queen of England sits in the comfort of the Buckingham palace, controls the caliphate in Sokoto, and then the caliphate controls what happens in the Aso-rock in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. That is how complex it is. We could all attest to this. Almost everything that makes Nigeria a nation is situated in the north, starting from the Nigerian military which is the heartbeat of every nation. Those in the southern region of the nation keep agitating daily for equality.
The British colony knowing quite well that Nigeria is the economic back-born of Africa tries everything within its jurisdiction for Nigeria to operate under this failed system of government to manipulate Africa as a whole.
This is the situation of Nigeria who was lured into a system of government that was not favorable for her. For over years since democracy came into place in Nigeria, there seems to be an unending hunger for ethnic equality and peace. But we can put an end to this if certain measures are implemented.
Is Democracy in Nigeria truly a work in progress?
There are roadblocks to a strong democracy in Nigeria at all levels of government. Conflict—triggered by political competition and communal, ethnic, religious, or resource allocation rivalries — poses a major threat to democracy. Corruption pervades the daily lives of Nigerians. Many government institutions do not adequately engage with citizens or the private sector and lack the capacity to carry out their mandates. Furthermore, civil society lacks both the capacity and the resources to effectively engage with the government and advocate for change.
Nigerian democracy can be a work in progress if we start to work on the right things. This can only be achieved when Nigeria has the right set of leaders, not leaders concerned with their bellies but leaders with a vision and futuristic mindset. The first step towards achieving any goal is to realize what the problem is and why it is failing.
Factors Affecting The Democracy of Nigeria
- Geopolitical brother-ism:
Tribalism for one is a major factor that determines whether an electorate will be voted for at the polls and not the fact that the individual is qualified enough to be considered.
Nigeria is made up of several ethnic groups majorly consisting of Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa to mention but a few. These several ethnic groups differ in culture and belief systems which makes it harder for cohabitation. Not forgetting that Nigeria has about 371 different tribes which brings much more diversity.
The practice among those in power is that they choose to favour their family members, people of their tribe or ethnic group, by providing jobs for them at the expense of others who are not of the same family – this is pure nepotism.
Here is another example
Most people in the Northern part of Nigeria believe in feudalism. Let’s imagine a Nigerian home where the power is vested in the father. In this case, the father only shared it with the kids and wife if he wishes. What kind of behavior do you expect from a male child raised in this kind of home, If not the replication of what is being practiced in their home?
In the Yoruba system, there is always someone called Afobaje (this means the one who put the king in power. Some will say a Kingmaker). In this system, power is always shared between some specific people and family.
Lastly, Leadership roles are assigned based on ‘brotherhood’ or ‘godfatherism’ but to what end?
How then are these leaders supposed to be patriotic if they are only in the interests of their godfathers?
In the mid-19th century, Karl Marx wrote that
You can agree with me that religion has done more harm than good to the unity and peace of this great country of ours. On one hand, it seems to unite us, and yet it ruthlessly divides us on the other.
For example, if you are Christian, it doesn’t stop there; you are either Catholic or Protestant. Don’t let me get started on the numerous Protestant churches with unique doctrines.
Throughout the country, since 1960 there has been a report of one killing or the other. One religious crisis or the other from Jos to Maidugari; from Ondo to Anambra. And the worst part is, after each report, we pray in our different forms and go about our daily business like it never happened, not knowing what town will be hit next. It is a vicious cycle indeed.
If there is a system where people of different religions are being thought the other religion and highlight the striking difference, then the issue of religious fanaticism could be solved.
Do you think this will work? Share with us.
- Lack of Accountability
There is no transparency and accountability in the political system in Nigeria and corruption has become the norm.
At the helm of affairs, only one person is saying that he will fight corruption. Every other person around him is silent about it, and some of them are corrupt.
Some of those in the past administration who are known to have looted the government treasury when they were governors or held other political positions, have changed to the ruling party and are serving in the present government to avoid being punished or arrested.
The one body responsible for tackling government crooks is little more than machinery in place to keep government opposition members in check. The same goes for the bodies we have in place for internal and external security of the State, they are little more than uniformed government thugs at this point. This action has silenced opposition members.
Though we know that some huge amounts of money have been recovered from leakages in the system and corrupt past political office holders, there is silence about those who have defected from the opposition party to the ruling party. This is not good for our internal democracy.
There is continuing abuse of public funds. Those who have their hands in the public treasury, from local government to state government up to the federal level, run, control, and hijack the ruling party. They have become godfathers and kingmakers. They have bought over our traditional rulers. This does not augur well for our democracy, so with this among many others, it’s undoubtedly true that democracy in Nigeria is a work in progress.
This issue is not just about our leaders. Even the citizens aren’t playing their part.
This quote seems to allow us as individuals to question ourselves deeply. Accountability is not something foreign that can only be imported via foreign exchange, but it is an entity that dwells in us and our daily lives. How are we our brothers-keepers? In our places of school, work, or homes.
For example, if on our way to work, we witness an accident on a major road, how many of us are willing to put our resources to aid those unfortunate victims to get the fastest and safest health care?
We can attest to the fact that half of the individuals present are there to display their videography skills rendering no help whatsoever; a quarter is there to use the available opportunity to acquire whatever belongings of the victims as a free bonus for their feigned concern and in the same vein; some are present to witness what will be the latest topic of discussion in their various points of meeting.
We blame the faultiness of our dear nation on the leaders. In truth, they have a part to play but how have we played ours as people?
- Misappropriation of Funds
Compared to the state in which this nation was handed to us by the colonizers and now, I believe it is safe to say that Nigeria has grown in downward and backward progression.
The Elite is only after the weight of their pockets and sending their families abroad to the best of the best.
Corrupt figures and government brigands with an undeniable track record of pillaging the government treasury have become sacred cows. Revered as Godfathers who win elections and claim power at will, a means to an end focused on acquiring more wealth and power for themselves.
The nation’s most prized treasures are forced to leave the country to make an impact on the world because, in their mother’s land, there’s not enough electricity for them to see their future. They’ll expend all their energy going to get water just for a bath and that’s of course if they survive the woes of Malaria and all childhood illnesses.
- Politicians’ greed for power
Somehow, somewhere down the line, the Nigerian political climate has become personality-based. There is a certain cutoff, a sort of level one has to operate on to be given the chance to sit on the metaphorical ‘table’.
Elitism at its finest in a system where the common man is supposed to be in charge.
Some politicians are contesting elections just to have more money and power. How does one describe a condition, whereby aged politicians are still assembling wealth they don’t need?
However, the contrary is the case in Nigeria. How has the nation been allocating its resources since 1999?
Why should N1 Billion be allocated for the president’s kitchen annually? How come an oil-producing nation like Nigeria has spent trillions of Naira to subsidize the importation of fuel while other countries that are not blessed with oil have not spent up to that amount? This is a serious threat to Nigeria’s democratic government.
The ruling party in Nigeria is not doing anything different from the past government. For years, we have been yearning for internal democracy, but we are still very far from it. The central government and its 36 states have abandoned their manifestos and promises are not kept.
There is no strong leadership, and decision-making is so slow – a process that can take months, even years. Even the legislature banters and talks over extended periods just for the sake of reaching a single decision. So we are having many crises and controversies all over. Decision-making has become the bane of development in the country.
Political parties are not inclusive or participatory enough. Nigerian politics is personality based. People want to exercise authority and dictate what happens in government.
Politicians do not take care of those who elected them into power and reached out to them or carry them along. They acquire the power to deal with their opponents and solve their personal problems. They are not there to make history for themselves or make policies that will affect the lives of the people.
Less I forget,
Nigeria’s Judicial system is unbalanced and in disarray. It’s only the lower class that gets justice because they cannot afford it. The elites are above the law. Most of the court pronouncements and convictions are conflicting.
While a man who stole N23 billion from a police pension fund was given two years behind bars with the option of a fine of N750,000 by Abuja High Court (Vanguard Newspapers, Jan. 29, 2013), an individual who stole a Governor’s GSM phone, would spend eight harrowing years behind bars without an option of a fine!
Where is the justice?
- Illiteracy and poverty
Illiteracy and poverty are the biggest problems facing democracy in Nigeria. Imagine you are the owner of something but you are unaware of its ownership, definitely someone who doesn’t own it will take it. They may make you labour to get a share of what is yours. No wonder they say knowledge is power. Due to a lack of knowledge of what democracy entails, some Nigerians are apathetic
Furthermore, many Nigerians have a rigid mentality based on what has happened in the past. I know a woman in my community who was opportune to vote during the 1993 election, she went through a lot of stress on the election day before she could vote for the candidate of her choice, but later in the day, the election was disapproved. She made a vow ever since then that she is not going to engage in any voting for the rest of her life.
Who is losing the most?
Will Democracy truly work in Nigeria or is it just a forced marriage
As you can see, the Nigerian experience with democracy is a can of worms that is in every way as nasty as the name implies, now, this begs the question.
Is this truly the system for us?
As a pun-star I know would say,
This is the case when it comes to the confusing playing field that is called bureaucracy – an excessively complicated administrative procedure in government.
Take the United States of America for example, the world’s golden standard in terms of democracy; they were immigrants on foreign soil, having castaway their previous lives and identities in search of a new one, the so-called ‘American Dream’.
They were united in their cause to fight off the British colonial masters because they sought to impinge upon this dream of theirs. Yes, they were foreigners on foreign soil, but there was a common goal to pursue here, and in this, they were united. This unity helped them withstand the test of time, long after their war for freedom with the British up till they found the perfect system, a democratic system, that worked for them.
This same method of trial and error has been put into play in other countries, each tailor-fitting a democratic system that works for them.
For example Singapore with its unique parliamentary system of single constituencies, group representation constituencies, and nominated members of parliament. Also South Korea with its provision for only one tenure for the head of state as well as a legislative selection process involving popularity (in terms of voting) and allocation.
All around the world, different democratic societies have chosen what works for them.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, we are stuck with an archaic model that has failed to check all the needed boxes in terms of implementation.
Nigeria is a boiling pot, literally at this point.
In a system that is supposed to be a government of the people, for the people, and by the people, the above facts ask the pressing question:
Who exactly are the ‘people’?
In a country that puts tribal interest before so-called ‘national interest’ who are these people?
Who thought it wise to marry the disunited country that is Nigeria together with the lofty system, one much dependent on unity, that is democracy? Who did, and what was their Justification?
There are a lot of questions that come with the Nigerian problem. Personally, I don’t even think I can ask them all.
Oh! I almost miss this
I cannot but mention that we have seen a forced marriage work well in the days of our fathers. We heard of the stories of how our forefather was joined with a woman he didn’t know until the day he was to get married to her. We also heard that the marriage worked well for them. In fact, there is an argument today that the marriage of those days lasts longer than the ones we have today. Well, this is still very much of a debate.
Back to Nigeria! How do we make this forced marriage work?
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Possible solutions to the issues affecting Nigeria democracy
- Nigeria’s constitution is supposed to be changed to meet the needs of every sector of Nigeria’s economy.
- Politicians need a new orientation and also need to be more educated.
- Political parties need to be formed on ideologies and principles.
- Electoral bodies need to be truly independent in their policies and practices.
- Electoral bodies must not be biased but be fair with everyone.
- Nigerian politicians must do away with money politics.
- Democracy in Nigeria must be free of violence and thuggery.
- Nigerians must avoid tribalism, sectionalism, and religious affiliations.
- Also, there is a need for political education in the nooks and crannies of this nation.
- There should be the implementation of legal standards and condemnation of unconstitutional government policies.
It has been a long ride. So here is my final thought as I drop my pen!
Although elites dominate the political structure, civil society organizations are becoming a voice for democratic reform. Their efforts to push for inclusive governance have been successful in many ways, but they lack the capacity and resources to carry out their functions fully.
International bodies such as “USAID” work directly with a diverse representation of Nigerian civil society and media organizations, building their internal management capacity and strengthening their ability to engage with the government on issues of fiscal accountability, budget monitoring, and transparency within extractive industries.
The youth are also more aware and intentional about who becomes the president in 2023 and beyond.
Rome is not built in a day. Democracy is Just about two decades old in Nigeria and I believe it will improve as time goes on as long as we continue fighting for its survival. Nigerians who believe in democracy should also continue to address the factors that might be against democracy’s effectiveness
Do we have the potential? Yes, we do.
Do we have the resources? Of course, we are richly blessed!
Our failure to look forward to looking after our collective instead of individual good is what hinders us from seeing the diamond in the rough that we are.
The Nigeria we have today stands upon what our predecessors have built, and only we can build what our successors should enjoy. The problems we have today are not foreign, and neither are the solutions to these problems.
When should these problems be resolved? Now! Where? Here and with whom? You and I.
Until we realize that we are our country’s problems, I am afraid that these problems can never be solved.
Long live Nigeria!
- Rexaquilla Ezeugo Okeugo-Okwu
- Grace Igwe
- Nwanja Kelechi Obasi
- Olusola Ajibola
- Deborah Uwanna
- Ibrahim Mojola Mary
- Abdulkabir Habeebah Ozavize
- Idowu Paul
Curator: Quadri Micheal (a.k.a Mikelomaa)