Democracy: Still a long way to go

LAST Saturday, the country marked Democracy Day with stark contrasts between officialdom and the people. This followed President Muhammadu Buhari’s official recognition of the imperishable sacrifices of Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election whose hangover the country still grapples with 22 years into the restoration of civil rule. While state governors across the country issued statements celebrating 22 years of unbroken civil rule, a section of the populace took to the streets protesting bad governance. Instructively, even the citizens who chose to stay within the confines of their homes either out of fear or because of obvious lack of interest in the expression of dissent did not do so by virtue of satisfaction with the state of affairs. Thankfully, although there were reports of altercations between security agents and the protesters, the protests were largely civil and peaceful.

It is fair to recognise that over the years, federal and state governments have made efforts to improve the lots of Nigerians. However, by any yardstick, the standard of governmental performance  in the country has been decidedly poor, which is why a case can be made for civil rule rather than democracy as the system currently operative in the country. This year’s Democracy Day events were particularly striking because they came in the context of widespread angst and disappointment among the citizenry largely on account of the pervasive poverty and insecurity in which the country is mired. Going by reports in the media, hyperinflation has hit the prices of food items and household products across the country, with the development effectively pushing many more Nigerians into the poverty trap. Densely-populated states like Lagos, Kano, Oyo, Kaduna, Rivers, Katsina, Bauchi, Anambra, Jigawa and Benue, with a combined projected population of 121 million residents are being daily pressured by the soaring prices of staple food items and household commodities even as major cities like the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which boast millions of inhabitants are in the throes of deprivation.

Beyond the euphoria of recognising June 12, other elements of democracy, including respect for human rights and stable political systems and governance institutions, are still missing. Against this backdrop, it came as no surprise that a group comprising mainly Nigerian professors in the diaspora, in a statement on the state of affairs in the country titled Nigeria is ours to make, flayed President Muhammadu Buhari’s preference for heavy-handed and bellicose approach to public issues, submitting that “this attitude is proceeding in the face of widespread insecurity, lack of economic opportunity, especially for young people, widening state-society disconnect, leading to deepening disaffection, growing immiseration, and socio-political ills too numerous to count.” The group, quite rightly in our own view, expressed support  for “the broad principle of restructuring in so far as it is meant as a holistic national conversation and makeover to address, and where possible repair, undeniable historical injustices, unhealed historical injuries of war and colonial and postcolonial political configurations, socioeconomic inequities, and sundry structural imbalances.” We agree that a more equitable constitution stands to improve the discharge of these duties, but the task of stemming the tide of widespread insecurity, political disorder, and lack of economic opportunity cannot wait.

There can be no joy in the fact that going by the submissions of statistical agencies, Nigeria is the world’s least electrified population, the global capital of poverty, and one of the most terrorised countries. In particular, the insecurity in the land is mind-boggling, as nomadic herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists of all hues have virtually wrested control of vast swathes of Nigerian territory from the constituted authorities. President Buhari, while not short on public assurances, has not quite lived up to the expectations of his office. Last week, he threw shades at two governors in the South-West governors zone over their handling of the farmers-herders clashes rocking the region. According to him, “Two governors from the South-West came to tell me that the cattle rearers in some of the forests were killing farmers while their cattle were eating their crops. I told them to go back and sort out themselves.”

Following the event, he proceeded to Lagos to, among others, inaugurate the security equipment procured by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, including 150 vehicles, four high-capacity troop carriers, 30 patrol cars, and two anti-riot water cannon vehicles for the use of the police as part of efforts to strengthen security responses across the state. The move by the Lagos State governor is commendable, and other state governors must follow suit and ensure that criminals of all hues get their just deserts. But it is one thing to invest heavily in security, as the Lagos State government has apparently done, and quite another for state governments in the country to be allowed to float their respective state police formations. We urge the governors of the 36 states to liaise with the National Assembly and make state policing universal in the country. In the meantime, the president needs to give support to state governments in the South-West zone to procure AK-47 rifles and other necessary materials for the region’s security outfit, Amotekun. The country is still a long way from achieving democracy and what the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, called Life More Abundant.

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