In November, 1863,
former President Abraham Lincoln of the United States of America, USA, defined what has been termed the ideal definition of democracy, as “government of the people, by the people for the people.”
In other words, democracy is a way of governing in which the people control their affairs by participating in decision-making about how they are governed. This takes varied forms such as “direct” and “representative” democracy. Representative democracy is a system where the people participate in government indirectly by electing people to represent them.
The most common type of democracy in this 21st century is the representative one which experts believe is difficult to practice. Nigeria’s democracy can be described as representative in nature.
Why democratic system of government is preferred globally is because of the benefits that are inherent in it. Such benefits as decent standard of living, decent housing, quality healthcare, education, equality of persons, freedom of expression etc, are terms associated with the concept. Also, democracy guarantees certain fundamental rights as right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The question is, what type of democracy does Nigeria practice? Though it is claimed that Nigeria’s democracy is representative, it is generally believed that democracy does not exist in its proper form. Since Nigeria returned to constitutional government on May 29, 1999, it has always set aside that date as a day to mark and celebrate democracy. Some Nigerians have dismissed the celebration and described it as vanity.
This class of Nigerians agrees that democracy is not practised in the country. For instance, Justice Anthony Aniagolu once concurred with critics of Nigeria’s democracy and declared that the concept remained elusive because its key elements were still lacking.
Nigerians have been denied genuine participation in choosing their leaders through election since 2003. The economy is weak because of corruption. Insecurity, poor social infrastructure, visionless leadership, weak institutions have combined to make Nigerians poor and hungry.
The country has been characterized by bad governance, celebration of corrupt leaders and impunity. Lack of transparency in governance has caused severe barrier to social and economic development. As a result, democratic institutions have been greatly weakened.
However, not everyone believes that the last 16 years of democratic rule in the country has not achieved much. Some Nigerians think that the country has recorded remarkable achievements since the enthronement of democracy after many years of military rule. They said Nigerians now enjoy the rule of law, freedom of speech and movement as guaranteed by the constitution.
Senate Leader, Chief Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, is among those who believe that all is not bad about Nigeria’s democratic practice. While commenting on the democratic journey so far as the country marks Democracy Day during an interview with journalists, the eminent lawyer said:
“When we are doing an assessment of how the country has fared since 1999, I will like to categorize the assessment into tangibles and intangibles.
“The tangibles are those aspects people can construct with their senses, either with the sense of vision or the sense of touch. Then the intangibles of course are those imperceptible things you cannot see or touch.
“Now for the intangibles, I think the most remarkable is that this is the longest episode of our democracy in our post-independence history. We have had a number of episodes of democracy in our long years of military rule. 16 years unbroken is the longest that we have experienced and for me it is a major achievement and that we have achieved this long of episode without compromising any of the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution is again a major achievement.”
Indeed as Nigeria celebrates 16 years of democratic governance, the question many ask is whether the average Nigerian has benefited in any way? Has standard of living improved? Are the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians for dividends of democracy been achieved? These are questions that require clear and quick answers.
Of course, the answers to the above questions are in the negative. It still seems the country is under military rule with disturbing display of lawlessness, corruption and arrogance, especially by government officials and people in elective positions and offices at all levels. The apparent hangover of military mentality causes leaders to exhibit high-handedness and intolerance.
This clearly facilitates the high rate of corruption, poverty and unemployment which have been identified as the remote causes of insecurity and violent crimes in the country. Truly, there is little or nothing to celebrate because our hard earned democracy should engender good leadership and governance for the development of the country.
It is sad that since 1999 till date, Nigerians have never reaped the expected gains of democracy. Only little appears to have changed. This is seen in the very limited provision of infrastructure, education, health, telecommunication and other sectors of the economy.
At the dawn of the Fourth Republic, the expectation of Nigerians was very high. This included stable power supply. They equally envisaged a rehabilitation of schools, roads, hospitals and the environment. Indeed most Nigerians were gladdened by the re-introduction of civilian rule because they expected that it would create job opportunities and reduce poverty. Unfortunately not much has changed.
Government and leaders at all levels have to review their roles and conduct in the current democratic dispensation to provide Nigerians real democracy. The prevailing situation where some elected leaders live in affluence while about 70% of Nigerians remain in penury is no longer acceptable.
Only recently the World Bank rated Nigeria the third poorest country in the world with 7% of the world’s 1.2 billion extremely poor people. It is disturbing that this occurs while government and its agencies are exhibiting high levels of corruption and financial recklessness.
Despite the activities of anti-corruption agencies both locally and internationally, Nigeria remains rated as one of the most corrupt countries globally.
The in-coming Buhari administration must have to restructure our democracy to reflect global best practices. This entails that we adopt universal democratic norms into our national psyche. Indeed government and leaders must grant the right impetus for democracy to flourish in the country.