19 years of civilian rule
AT the point of Nigeria’s return to democracy 19 years ago, some sceptics had wondered how feasible it would be to predicate sustainable democracy on the twin foundations of poverty and corruption which plagued the polity then. The sceptics were not swayed by the general excitement over the prospect of a new democratic order. Nineteen years on, not only is the polity still afflicted by worsening cases of poverty and corruption, the country’s democratic credentials are virtually in tatters. Indeed, it is doubtful that democracy is being practised in the country, let alone being entrenched. According to Amnesty International (AI), for instance, the figures on human rights abuses and security breaches are on the rise and there is a lot of misery in the land.
Those who thought that democracy would pave the way to development must have been astonished at the turn of events in the past 19 years. The statistics reeled off by government agencies reveal a bleakness in the national life. More children are out of school than ever before, social infrastructure is still crude; unemployment keeps rising and, in the past few years especially, many of the country’s youths have left their fatherland in droves. In utter desperation, they regularly embarked on dangerous odysseys across the Sahara, journeying to Europe in search of an elusive “better life.”
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Democracy is really about representation. However, Nigeria’s version of it has only estranged the citizens from their representatives. While the citizens are mostly living without the basic things of life, their representatives are gorging on the surfeit available to them. With the economy in the doldrums, it has been virtually impossible to improve the lots of workers either in the public or private sector. But while the expectations of the people have generally not been met, public officials, politicians and political actors in the various arms of the government have almost always obtained more than they need to live rudely opulent lives. The citizens they govern scrounge for a living.
To be sure, there is something to be said for the relatively peaceful, safe transfer of power in 2015 from the ruling party to an opposition comprising smaller allied parties. There was no untoward incident even if the ‘change’ trumpeted by the victorious party has remained elusive. The government has refused to improve the quality of life of the people despite all the promises made on the soapbox. The various administrations that have come to power since 1999 have not performed satisfactorily by improving the quality of life of the people. Worse still, nothing suggests that attempts are currently being made to do the needful. A vibrant democracy ought to bring good governance to the people in 19 years or at least suggest that progress is being made in that direction. Sadly, the contrary is the case.
The country is supposedly celebrating 19 years of unbroken democracy, but it can only be conveniently said that it is celebrating 19 years of civilian rule out of which, rather tellingly, two of the arrowheads have been former military Heads of State. With the preponderance of abuses of the tenets of democracy by virtually all the parties in the country, both internally and externally, in the field of play, it would be a travesty to refer to the Nigerian experience as a democracy. Although a perfect democracy may be a concept at a high level of abstraction, it still has to be seen that the available institutions in the country are democracy-friendly enough to adapt to the tenets of international best practices. Without that, such a reference to democracy can only be delusional at best.
What the country is celebrating today, therefore, is the 19th anniversary of uninterrupted civilian rule, not democracy, and certainly not civil rule. The various administrations since 1999 have not been very civil towards the citizenry. The situation is particularly worse in the current dispensation, as evidenced by the series of human rights abuses and disobedience to court orders. If the established democracies across the globe have challenges, it says a lot about the dynamics of human existence and it would be naive to expect any kind of perfection from the crude and inchoate arrangement in place in this clime. But that is not to ignore the possibility that efforts can indeed be made to advance the cause of democracy and make life and living easier for the people. This is possible and it is not rocket science.