Nigeria regained democracy exactly 13 years ago today, after the military had ruled for 15 consecutive years. It was not an easy decision to return power to the people as the media and the organised civil society fought hard and prevailed.
When former president Olusegun Obasanjo declared May 29 every year to be marked as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, not many people understood him. Now it has become obvious why a country like ours needs to remind itself of when the peoples power prevailed and to cherish and celebrate it.
Owing to the re-birth of democracy in Nigeria, quite a lot has happened to us. But most importantly, Nigerians have had the opportunity to determine their fate, while the free world has also accepted our country as a free and responsible country that can be associated with.
Since 1999 when the Democracy Day was declared, Nigeria and its constituent states have seen the good and bad of politicking, the Nigerian way. Interestingly, lessons are being learnt and the frontiers of democratic landscape are being expanded. Clearly, the hope for a mature democracy is already in sight. But we cannot fail to note that there are more challenges ahead.
Over the years, the political class has tried to blow out of proportion the gains made in the practice of democracy in Nigeria. They have glorified the provision of some projects as democracy dividends on the one hand and failed to meet the aspiration of the average person on the other. Yet democracy is about people.
It is common knowledge that the concept of democracy pre-supposes that the people have the opportunity to elect their leader and change those leaders as and when due through constitutional means. It also has to do with the access to livelihood, security, peace and justice among others. But the recourse to strikes and protests on so many issues should worry the country.
Perhaps, one of the issues that Nigeria may need to deal with, if it must attain genuine democracy without further losses, is the need to truly review the constitution of the country. Apart from the feeling that the constitution did not emanate from the people and could not represent their true interest, parts of the constitution are being observed in the breach.
Some of the contentions are that while the constitution refers to the country as a federation, the practice is something else. If Nigeria is a federation, there should be fiscal federalism; the ownership of land should not be vested in the Federal Government and the petroleum Act should have been repealed since.
Over the years, Nigerians have appeared to be the most disgruntled people. While individuals complain, the ethnic groups, all cry marginalisation. The ethnic groups fight over which should produce the president instead of looking for who could serve the country well. Of course, every group is more inclined to taking from Nigeria than contributing to its growth.
Nigerians cannot in any righteousness expect democracy to flourish in an atmosphere where politics bows to ethnic, religious and sectional interests. It is even more so where elections are still flawed. It is true that in some areas people cannot as little as dare to open their doors during elections, talk of vote. Even worse is the situation where the judiciary is used to decide who rules.
As we join millions of Nigerians to celebrate the Democracy Day and to congratulate everyone for the successes recorded so far, Nigerians cannot afford to keep quiet over the issues that endanger our hard earned democracy. But more importantly is the need for political and civic education for the people in order that politics becomes a common denominator for all.
This is, perhaps, where the need to employ the use of the Freedom of Information Act has become rather imperative. Like the electoral reform, the FOI law must become useable and people-friendly. Sadly, very few people in authority have seen it as their duty to make these laws workable.
Only recently, the discontent of Nigerians also played up as agitation for the creation of more states and local government councils. Coming at a time a number of existing states and councils are not viable, the true desire of the people can been seen – how to draw more federal allocation to themselves. There will be no end to the scramble for the cake at the federal level.
Incidentally, a statesman and former Secretary-General for the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku had suggested that the way to a stable and democratic Nigeria was in the adoption of the existing geo-political zones as states or regions for the due administration of the country. This has actually attracted support from many quarters.
Nigeria is growing, at least in population and the expectations of its people. But the near-total collapse of some infrastructure needed for a national development cannot support democracy. The perennial problem with electricity, roads and other social services will always exact a drawback on the due implementation of democracy.
Meanwhile the attitude of the ordinary Nigerian, especially with regard to contributing or sacrificing for national development remains a huge task. Only recently, there was a national call for people to let go of the petroleum subsidy, there was a national protest. Now the call for power tariff review is being mis-understood. Nigerians cannot continue to do things the same way and expect a different result.
Finally, Democracy was demanded and fought for by Nigerians and was not given. Nigerians, therefore must insist on retaining it, growing it and improving it at all levels for the good of everyone in and out of power.