Dealing with the hiccups in our democracy

DEMOCRACY, which allows people to elect and replace their government, is one of the greatest political inventions ever witnessed. It ensures that all constituents are adequately represented in government. The voice of every citizen matters in a good democracy. Hence, the potential of democracy to improve the social and economic wellbeing of all Nigerians created high expectations as the Fourth Republic commenced in May 1999. Regrettably, Nigerians’ wishes are far from being realized. The dividends of democracy are yet to emerge. It is time we revitalized critical institutions in order to make our democracy work. Thus, the roles of the following institutions are examined with a view to improving on their performances in our emerging democracy: political parties, National Population Commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the judiciary, national and state legislatures, and the executive. How has each of these institutions fared?

The two dominant political parties, APC and PDP, have demonstrated appalling failure to adhere to the tenets of internal democracy. Their party apparatchiks, acting as godfathers, often frustrate primary elections in order to give nominations to their favoured candidates. This has led some of the aggrieved contestants within theparty to challenge the eventual candidates in court.The imposition of candidates at the party level has often had adestabilizing effect on them.Nigerian political parties must correct this anomaly by serving as a platform of equal opportunities for all members. The winners of transparent primary elections must be adopted and promoted by their parties for general elections. Every political party must eschew violence before, during and after  elections. All parties must cooperate with the electoral officials to ensure free and fair elections. Losers must readily congratulate winners without overburdening our courts with unnecessary litigations. This is how it is done in advanced democracies. We must be prepared to adopt global best practices in our democratic journey.

The National Population Commission has an important role to play in the electoral process. The Commission must produce credible census figures for Nigeria. This will enable us to have reliable demographics of every electoral unit. It will be easy to prevent fraudulent registration of voters. Again, the age distribution of each state will help us correct the problem of underage voters.

Considering the rate at which the courts have been overturning the results declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, one can conclude that the electoral agency has performed abysmally. Its activities are marred by poor preparations. A case in point was the postponement of the February 16, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections on the day of the election. The electorate were frustrated and this reduced considerably the number of voters that participated in the election a week later. The frequency of declaring some elections inconclusive has also fueled the opinion that INEC officials are complicit in a number of electoral disputes that have arisen. It is therefore imperative that the Commission hires competent and well motivated personnel for the perfect conduct of elections. No expense must be spared in training and retraining electoral officials. In addition, the chairman and other executives of INEC may need to understudy similar agencies in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. All hands must be on deck to ensure that our elections are free and fair.

The judiciary  is very important in a democracy. Its role in the interpretation of law and dispute resolutions cannot be overemphasized. However, certain factors are beginning to make people lose confidence in the country’s justice system. Some of these include the allegations of corruption against some judges as evidenced by their arrests and prosecution.The preponderance  of courts of equal jurisdiction to give countervailing judgments on same cases. The imbalance in the structure of the Supreme Court to the degree that the Chief Justice is always appointed from the North. Also, recent judicial decisions on electoral matters are causing people to doubt the soundness of court judgments. We need to retool the judiciary. Brilliant professors of law should be given the opportunity to serve as judges in all the courts. Law academics will be able to adjudicate disputes with the aid of their robust research background. Nigeria did this earlier when the late Taslim Olawale Elias, law professor and dean in University of Lagos, was appointed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria in 1972. His tenure was so successful that the International Court of Justice noticed his unassailable contributions. As soon as he left the position in 1975, he was appointed as a justice of the World Court and he rose to become its president. Such jurists can still be head hunted from our universities to help rescue the judiciary.

Our National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly should collaborate on how to expedite the amendment of the Constitution. The power to make subsequent amendments should be given to the people by allowing them to participate in referendums. Consequently, the citizens will be able to facilitate the restructuring of Nigeria. It is important that the country transforms into a truly Federal System in order to meet the aspirations of all federating units. The instrumentality of referendums will make this objective possible. Often, the majority of Nigerians see the president as the government. If things are properly done, the president is praised. If the results are otherwise, the president is reprimanded. Therefore, the executive under the leadership of the president must put national interest above all else. Policy formulations and implementations must speed up poverty alleviation, job creation, renewal of infrastructure,  and security of lives and property. The approach to education must ensure that no child or region is left behind. Health services must compete with the best in the world. The attainment of these lofty goals will give us the Nigeria of our dream. The evidence of a functional democracy in Nigeria will become incontrovertible.

  • Professor Osunyikanmi is of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko Ondo State.

 

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