The critical position Ni
geria occupies in the comity of nations, largely due to her human and natural resources clearly marks her out as a giant in the sun. Her population and abundant mineral resources, especially in oil and gas, no doubt, make the country relevant within the global community.
As the largest and perhaps, the fastest growing economy in Africa with very large market and biggest democracy in the black world, her stability in polity, economy and security remains critical to the rest of the world.
It is against this backdrop that May 29, every year is observed as the National Democracy Day, a day set aside by government to pause and ponder on our democratic sojourn and chart the way forward for our democracy.
Today marks the 15th year of civil rule in Nigeria and the puzzle remains the same: is Nigeria making progress or is it one step forward, several steps backward?
While some pundits agree that 15 years in the life of a person, institution or country may not be enough to truly assess the true state of affairs, others contend that one and half decades was sufficient to put in place the basic fundamentals and foundation for democracy to thrive and be sustained, having passed through long periods of military despotism.
Dr Andrew Efemini, Head of Philosophy Department, University of Port Harcourt contends that Nigeria still has a long way to be classified as a fully democratic society as, according to him, the basic ingredients for such classification are still elusive.
Efemini, former Chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), UNIPORT chapter, said that a country where majority of her citizens are marginalised and alienated from decision-making and public policies cannot be seen as truly democratic.
In Nigeria, he explained, all public policies are tailored to suit a clique of persons, while the vast majority remains impoverished without access to basic necessities of life: education, housing, health, potable water, among others.
“As a patriotic Nigerian, one will naturally wish the country well, but the challenges: fears, insecurity, marginalization and corruption constitute major impediments to national development.
The university teacher, however, said that the current National Conference initiated by President Goodluck Jonathan provides a unique opportunity and window for Nigeria to retrace her history and address our inadequacies as a people belonging to the same geo-political entity foisted on us by the imperial masters.
Dr Efemini explained that the crisis of confidence manifesting in various spheres of our national life was crafted by the British colonial authorities to suit their interest.
He contended that the end of military rule in Nigeria does not and cannot mean access to democracy or democratic dividends. “In real democracy, the people must be the major determinants of public policies which shape the well-being of majority of the citizens”.
For him, the bane of Nigeria’s development is both historical and political, occasioned by faulty foundation bestowed upon the country by Britain.
The activist argued that from the inception of the country, Nigerians do not have the much-need unity of purpose and commonality, as their diversity and differences are quite obvious. According to him, Nigerians are in fact strange bed fellows.
“We have divergent people with defective federalism. Our federal structure has contradictions which only a functional, effective and operationable Constitution can correct. “Once we get the right constitutional foundation, every other thing will follow”, he said.
He stressed the need for Nigerians to support President Goodluck Jonathan and encourage the National Conference to give Nigeria the right constitution that could make the desired change. His position, to many Nigerians may be right.
For Efemini, democracy is not about provision of infrastructures and institutions alone, but about strengthening our institutions to ensure desired results and optimal performance.
In Nigeria, he explained, education is virtually free unlike in United States of America where government does not have any business establishing schools, especially universities. The university teacher stated that only military universities are the ones set up by federal authorities in America while the rest were established by individuals and the private sector.
On insecurity, he contended that the problem of Boko Haram is purely political and not class-oriented as the terror group is not class-oriented rather destabilising it is to destabilise the country through coersion.
Another activist, Clinton George agrees with Efemini. “Nigeria needs radical constitutional reforms which the National Conference has provided the platform,” he said.
George said that without Constitutional reforms, we may not achieve much in the next few decades. The 1999 constitution, he asserted is defective and cannot guarantee sustainable democracy. “The sustainability of our nascent democracy will depend on how well we appreciate the essence of the fundamentals of co-existence in a fragile society that does not have common heritage”, he asserted.
Fifteen years of civil rule after a prolonged military dictatorship has been characterised by challenges and pitfalls, some which tend to destabilise the country crafted by Lord Lugard in 1914 through the Amalgamation proclamation.
Such challenges, include terrorism, abuse of office, corruption, politics of exclusion and ethnicity, insecurity, poverty, illiteracy, among other vices which tend to jeopardise our democracy.
A Port Harcourt-based Niger Delta activist, Pat Odum in his views noted that Nigeria’s democracy may hit the rocks if our leaders, the political elite do not apply sufficient wisdom in tackling various challenges facing our democracy. For us to attain political and economic greatness, he said our leaders need wisdom, fear of God, and above all shun corruption.
Indeed, our leaders at the three tiers of government should ask themselves if the populace is better today than they were 15 years ago when the military steped aside to usher in civil rule.
No doubt, one and half decades of democracy may have provided us the unique opportunity to walk freely, associate freely, express ourselves freely by calling on leaders names without being arrested, but democracy, indeed, entails much more than that.
To some, the standard of living may have improved marginally, but a situation where majority of the populace are still living in abject poverty without access to basic necessities of life cannot in any way be said to be democracy at work.
As we celebrate Democracy Day today, the followers and leaders must dig deep to further deepen democracy in our clime and that is the only way to achieve sustainable democracy and give real meaning to May 29 which Nigeria has come to accept as National Democracy Day.
As Chinua Achebe in his book: The problem with Nigeria, posited that the greatest challenge facing the country is 60 per cent bad leadership and 40 per cent foolish fellowership.