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Previewing Nigeria’s New Democracy Day

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Since 1960, Nigeria has been on a faltering democratic journey. Some believe that the series of military intervention into the political landscape of the country, the first occurring barely six years after Independence, has dealt a big blow to democracy in the country, influencing democratic practices, maintenance of peace and tranquility and Nigeria’s democratic trajectory.
The democratic journey was truncated many times (1966 – 1979, 1979 – 1983, 1983 – 1985, 1985 – 1993, 1993 – 1999) but the journey continued in 1999 with the election of General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) as civilian president of the country heralding the current Fourth Republic. Remarkably, the military handed over to the newly elected leader on May 29, 1999.
The presidential elections of June 12, 1993 which was widely adjudged to be the fairest and freest election in the country’s history was annulled by the then leader of the military junta, General Ibrahim Babangida and the acclaimed winner, late Chief Moshood Abiola, was never declared. Rather, he was arrested and imprisoned for declaring himself the winner and subsequently died in prison.
It is now 22 years into the Fourth Republic and the journey is still sauntering. To commemorate the democratic election of Abiola, the federal administration of President Muhammadu Buhari had, in 2018, declared June 12 Nigeria’s new Democracy Day as against the former date of May 29, which marks the day the military handed over power to an elected civilian government in 1999, symbolising the beginning of the longest continuous civilian rule since Nigeria’s Independence from colonial rule in 1960, and ending the many decades of military rule in the country.
Buhari’s action was in recognition of the fact that Abiola actually won the 1993 presidential election and was therefore entitled to be seen as such, even if post-humously. The late Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland was also conferred with the national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) in addition to having the national stadium in Abuja named after him.
The brief history is important in letting us know how the journey started and how it has been. But most importantly, it should help us assess the success of the movement so far and chart a way forward.  To do so, we may need to ask the basic question, ”What is Democracy?” Of course, there are millions of answers to the question but I like the definition by an American Sociologist, Larry Diamond. He described democracy as a system of government with four key elements: i) A system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; ii) Active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; iii) Protection of the human rights of all citizens; and iv) A rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
Can we comfortably say that these key elements can be found in the democratic practice in Nigeria? Can elections in the country be considered to be free and fair?  How about the killings, shootings, ballot box snatching, rigging and other crimes associated with elections in the country? In a truly democratic nation, the citizens participate in the election process, convinced that their votes will count and that, through the ballot, the necessary changes will be made in the society. Is that the case with Nigeria?
Another feature of democracy, according to Diamond, is protection of human rights of all citizens. Chapter five of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria deals with the fundamental human rights of citizens vis a vis the right to life, right to dignity of human person, right to freedom of expression and the Press, right to peaceful assembly, right to freedom of movement and many more. Are Nigerian citizens enjoying these rights? Last year, some Nigerian youth organised a protest against police brutality and other ills in the land. The #EndSARS protest was peaceful until the government allegedly infiltrated the groups with political thugs, leading to violence, massive destruction, looting, killing and many more.
 A similar scenario played out a few weeks ago in Kaduna State during the just-suspended Labour strike. The workers embarking on a legitimate protest over some scores they have to settle with the state government were seen being stoned by miscreants allegedly hired by the government all in a bid to shut the people up and put an end to the protest. The president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Waba, was even declared wanted by the Kaduna State Government. What about the ongoing feud between the social media giant, Twitter and the federal government which resulted in the ban of the microblogging platform in the country irrespective of the effect of such action on the citizens?
The issue of the protection of lives and properties of the citizens is also a big one. Human lives don’t seem to matter anymore in the country. People are being killed every day by bandits, killer herdsmen, unknown gunmen in different parts of the country, yet all the tiers of government whose primary responsibility is to protect the lives of the citizens appear helpless. Politics and other selfish interests seem more important to them than the safety and welfare of the people.
The issue of rule of law is a no-go area because, in Nigeria, it appears there is a set of rules for some people and another set for the rest people. Some have argued that the principle of rule of law, equality before the law, and separation has taken the back stage in the country. And I think this argument has some merit especially in view of the recent happenings in the country – the invasion of homes of judges, those in authority choosing the court ruling to obey and follow, the age-long denial of financial autonomy to the Judiciary which is the crux of the matter in the on-going judiciary workers strike and many more.
The truth is that democracy in the country which is currently under a serious threat can only be saved and entrenched when we as a people and government in Nigeria deliberately strive to adhere to the tenets of the popular government. The United States of America and other exemplary democratic countries in the world did not get to where they are today if rule of law and other principles that make democratic government tick and gratifying were jettisoned.
Suffice it to say that as Diamond’s definition of democracy indicates, the citizens have a big role to play in a democracy. They are expected to participate actively in politics and civil life. As citizens, we cannot continue to sit on the fence and allow a handful of people to determine our fate. The media, civil societies groups, various arms of government, academic institutions, trade unions, the youth, students, faith-based and traditional institutions all have roles to play in making our fragile democracy strong. Most importantly, we have to carry out our obligations as citizens. As John Kay admonished, “The people who own the country ought to govern it”.
Also Fernando Cardoso posits, “Democracy is not just a question of having a vote. It consists of strengthening each citizen’s possibility and capacity to participate in the deliberations involved in life in society”. 
Over the years, Democracy Day had been dominated by events marking the inauguration of the President and state governors during which they recount their yearly milestone achievements. Other than lectures, talk shows and street processions by pro-democracy groups which are often very few and far between, there is hardly anything in the form of celebrating attainments in democratic governance.
Being the first time the Day will be celebrated separate from the May 29 Inauguration Day, it is expected that more colour will be added to the occasion. But again, that is if the current security situation and the attendant movement restrictions in many parts of Nigeria permit.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Senate Sets Up Seven-Member Conference Committee On Electoral Act Amendment Bill

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The Senate has set up a Conference Committee to harmonize positions on the Electoral Act Amendments Bill.
President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan who announced this Wednesday during plenary, said that the  conference Committee will work with that of the House of Representatives in order to be on the same page on Electronic transmission of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
According to Lawan, Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, APC, Kebbi North  will be the leader of the team.
Other members are Senators Kabiru Gaya, APC, Kano South to represent North West; Danjuma Goje, APC, Gombe Central for North East; Uche Ekwunife, PDP, Anambra Central for South East; Sani Mohammed Musa, APC, Niger East for North Central; Ajibola Basiru, APC, Osun Central for South West and  Matthew Urhoghide, PDP, Edo South.
 Recall that of the seven members for the  Conference, while  only Senator Urhoghide voted YES Electronic transmission of election results, Senator Ekwunife was absent during the voting time and the other five members who are of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC voted NO for electronic transmission of election results.
The  Senate was before its annual recess thrown into confusion and uproar  as  Senators considered  the Report of the  Electoral Bill, 2021 which is a Bill for an Act to repeal the Electoral Act No.6, 2010 and enact the Electoral Act 2021, to regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory elections.

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PIA: Buhari’s Aide Tasks Southern Govs, Lawmakers On Amendments

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The Senior Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Senator Ita Enang, has asked the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) and members of the National Assembly to take advantage of the proposed amendment to the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) to change the Act on controversial issues of host communities development fund and the frontier basins exploration trust fund.
Mr Enang, a former senator, said members could propose amendments that could be consolidated with those proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He stated this while appearing on “Politics Today” a programme on Channels TV.
Mr Buhari had written the National Assembly on Tuesday seeking an amendment to the PIA on the administrative part of the law.
The letter dated September 16 was read by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives during plenary sessions on Tuesday.
The PIA, which was assented to by the president on August 16, was passed by the National Assembly under controversial circumstances in both chambers of the National Assembly in July.
The president seeks to increase the number of non-executive board members of the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority and the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory commission from two to six, to ensure representation of all geopolitical zones.
The Nigerian Governors Forum had in a communique after its 35th teleconference meeting in July expressed dissatisfaction with the ownership of the NNPC Limited and the issues of host communities and the frontier exploration trust fund.
The NGF recommended that given that the corporation is owned by the three tiers of government, the newly incorporated entity (NNPC Limited) should be owned by a vehicle that “holds th.e interest of the three tiers of government” – the institution that is currently positioned to carry out this mandate is the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).
The governors, in the communique, said they will address the issues using appropriate channels including the National Economic Council and the National Assembly.

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Deepening Constitutional Democracy

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One person who seems to be unhappy about the way the country runs its political parties is Mr Dan Nwanyanwu, the Chairman of Zenith Labour Party.
To him, funding of political parties should not be left at the whims and caprices of money bags, the president, governors or other elected officers of political parties.
He said that such would weaken the political system and make members mere spectators in their own affairs.
He recalled his experience when he gate-crashed in a meeting of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), presided over by the National Chairman, late Adisa Akinloye.
He noted that party supremacy was the in-thing, as the then President Shehu Shagari and his Deputy, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, sat where ordinary members of the party were all seated.
He stated that Akinloye, as the chairman and other party executives sat in a special seat provided for them.
Nwanyanwu said that in those days, there was equal ownership of the party, because members contributed and were unwaveringly committed to the party’s ideology.
The Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Mr. Leonard Nzenwa, stated that non-payment of party dues by party members, remained the core problem in deepening constitutional democracy in the country.
He said that political parties should be mass-owned, mass-oriented, mass funded and must be people-centred, stressing that it is the only way to ensure equality of members in any political party.
According to him, where it looks like few people put funds together to bankroll or fund any political party, such will remain a major problem to constitutional democracy.
Nzenwa who doubles as the Chairman of Action Alliance (AA), noted that funding of political parties by money-bags or few individuals, is a setback to constitutional democracy.
He observed that Nigeria is the only country where members of political parties would refuse to pay their party dues.
He said that in South Africa, the legendary Nelson Mandela, never claimed ownership of the African National Congress (ANC).
“Even in the days of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello, they never claimed to own their party as members pay their dues as and when due,” he said
The IPAC boss said that if today promoters of political parties are laying claims to ownership of their respective political parties, it showed the sad reality of the time.
“Even in America where we borrowed our democracy, no one claimed to own the party even as rich as former President Donald Trump is, at no time did he claim to own the party unlike what is obtainable in Nigeria,” he said
He said that the idea of certain individuals claiming ownership of political parties should be stopped, adding that such people used it as a vehicle to blackmail others.
Nzenwa noted that such abuse must be addressed through party structure, commitment of members to the party and high sense of responsibility.
“Hardly do members pay party dues, including my political party and this is because of non-chalant attitude of members, so the money-bags hijack the parties.
“Political parties cannot survive if members refuse to pay, because why we have problem in political parties is that members do not want to make commitment and do not want to take responsibility.
“Members are not sincere and that is why we have this issue because people keep jumping from one political party to the other once they see that there are going to get money there, there is no ideology whatsoever,” he stated.
The Publicity Secretary of Young Peoples Party (YPP), Mr. Wale Martins, on his part said that YPP members pay their monthly dues, which according to him, is what has been keeping the party going.
He stated that donations are also welcomed from members and highly spirited Nigerians, but added that, that would not confer undue advantage on them.
“YPP members pay monthly dues which differ from state to state; for instance, in Lagos members pay N1000 monthly, while in some other states, they pay between N500 and N100, while party executives pay N3000,” he said
Martins stressed that payment of dues create a sense of belonging, adding that it would further help to promote accountability.
Martins said that members were reluctant to pay their dues because money-bags had hijacked the political structure and members had given tacit support to those willing to drop money in a bid to control the soul of the party and dictate the pace.
Martins said that vote-buying, manipulation and other shenanigans are fallout of this ugly development, especially during party primaries to elect candidate that would fly the flags of the parties.
He also said that government’s withdrawal of payment of subvention to parties was responsible for hijacking of the political process by powerful individuals.
“The government used to give political parties subvention, but the sudden withdrawal of such subvention eroded their confidence and left members with no choice than to embrace money-bags,’’ he said.
The Executive Director, Adopt A Goal For Development Initiative, Mr. Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said that the country cannot deepen constitutional democracy without political party reformation.
He said that the reformation must guarantee internal party democracy and ensure that party members and officials adhere strictly to rules, guidelines and the constitution.
He noted that the products of political parties become the drivers of the nation’s democracy; hence, the country must focus on the basic foundation of ensuring the process of party membership conforms to best practices.
“We must ensure that few money bags and people in power do not undermine and appropriate the functions of political parties,” he said.
To get the best out of this democracy, Atoye stated that the country needs political parties that are funded by members and the public and not a few political merchants.

Ogunshola writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

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