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Democracy in Nigeria: Trends and major challenges

13 November 2014, 18:26

On May 29, 1999, the end of military rule brought about a new era of regular elections and the return of civil liberties in Nigeria. Any volunteer handover of government from military to civilian leaders is unusual. Nigeria's was, arguably, unique. Since then, there have been significant improvement in the transition to democratic governance in the whole of the country.

Fifteen years of hindsight offer an empirical basis for greater optimism about the durability and performance of democracy in Nigeria. Despite the wave of democratisation in the country being partial and potentially reversible, and skeptics identifying important vulnerabilities, our democracy have lasted longer and tried to perform better than initially expected.

However, it is of crystal clarity that most Nigerians are yet to enjoy the full dividends of democratisation because the importance of democracy has not been well served in the country.

Abraham Lincoln's simple, concise and universally recognised definition of a democratic government as: "the government of the people, by the people, and for the people" emphasizes the nitty-gritty of democracy, which is all about the people. Hence, a democracy is built on the equality of the people; the freedom of these people to associate with one another for the realisation of their ideals and the defense, promotion of their interests. It is leadership that is centred on the people and does not lose them.

Also Read:Democracy and development in Africa

In Nigeria, the reverse is the case. Democracy is centred on the elites and does not lose them. Our leaders tend to forget the words of Wael Ghonim that "the power of the people is much stronger than the people in power". They tend to overlook the fact that the essence of leadership is service to the people.

In a bid to satisfy their whims and caprices, our leaders emerged with this erroneous view that the principles of democracy are not universal, but subjective depending on the environment. This view was exemplified by Olusegun Obasanjo, in the Elements of Democracy, when he opined that:

"Democracy as concurred in the West may not suit our peculiar circumstances and needs. As such, our conceptualisation of democracy must take due cognizance of our lived reality and whatever structure and institutions that would sustain democratic practice must reflect the peculiarities of our (Nigerian) environment."

At this juncture, certain questions run through the mind of any rational being: Is democracy really subjective? Is it necessary to subjugate the people in order to produce this so-called home grown democracy?

The contrary notions of Obasanjo and other like-minded Nigerian leaders have promoted political maladroitness, led to a great deal of improvisation, and proven to be a root cause of our economic and political malaise. Two major problems seem to be the remnants of such erroneous assumptions, and have remained at the base of our dwindling democracy.

Political Godfatherism and corruption

POLITICAL GODFATHERISM hinders the success of our democracy. At first, Nigeria had ideological godfathers who offered leadership ideas and expertise which they shared with their brilliant protegees. Their vision was based on enforcing a philosophy of governance for the purpose of development. In recent time, and in the wake of our modern democracy, godfathers are politically clueless set of people lacking the wisdom and ideas to impart. These new godfathers assume their positions because of their enormous wealth. They perpetuate the evil in their business oriented mindset by "investing" into politics and expecting a return of "profit".  At the detriment of the citizenry, they rely on unscrupulous means to satisfy their excessive thirst which is almost insatiable. Some of such debased godfathers and their
sons are: Chief Chris Ubah - Dr. Chris Ngige, Dr. Olusola Saraki - Alhaji Mohammed Lawal, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu - Alhaji Rasheed Ladoja,
Sir Emeka Offor - Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju.

In the words of Paul Ogugua (Ph.D), "the only contribution which this class of godfathers has made to our democracy includes the emergence of such citizens that prefer money to their conscience".

CORRUPTION has become a norm in Nigeria. It has eaten deep into our politics and is a serious impediment to the development of our country. Commenting on the intensity of corruption in Nigeria, John Odey asserts:

"Today in Nigeria, corruption has become a structural sin so contagious that it hardly leaves anybody without a smear. And since the country has been justifiably stigmatised as a den of corruption, all Nigerians, both the guilty and the innocent, have been paying costly for it. Everywhere in the world, Nigerians are generally feared like mad dogs, dreaded like criminals, cautiously approached like dangerous snakes and watchfully avoided like lepers."

Also Read: Jesse Jagz hates Nigerian democracy

Whilst we can acknowledge that the depth and outcome of corruption in Nigeria is really as severe as Odey has noted, it suffices to say that the most destructive factor in our government (democracy) is corruption. Whenever one listens to political news on Nigeria, one notices that corruption is the main cause of our dwindling democracy.

Little wonder an Afro Barometer survey report, as documented on www.worldpublicopinion.org, states that:

"84% of Nigerians said they were happy with their country's democracy in 2000. In 2005, only 26% were satisfied. The 2000 poll took place shortly after Nigeria ended 15 years of military rule with the election of president Olusegun Obasanjo, whose popularity declined over his two-terms in office with his government beset of corruption scandals."

Consequently, stalling attitudes threaten the culture of democracy in Nigeria, and under performing democratic government have engendered these attitudes.

But does this mean there is no hope for the future of democracy in Nigeria? No, not so.

As an incurable optimist, I believe that since democracy can be firmly established in Ghana, Botswana and Mauritus, it can work in Nigeria. These aforesaid African nations have made steady progress towards deepening and institutionalising participatory and inclusive governance. Expatiating how we can achieve this in Nigeria will be a discourse for another day.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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