‘In 20 years, Nigeria hasn’t made tangible progress in economic, electoral reforms’
Dr. Jude Momodu is an Associate Professor of Peace and Security Studies at the Centre for Peace and Security Studies, Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola, Adamawa State. In this interview with TOM GARBA, he speaks on the democratic experience in the country in the past 20 years.
HOW would you rate the 20 years of Nigeria’s return to civil rule and why?
Nigeria’s return to democracy on May 29 1999, after a long military interregnum, ushered in an atmosphere of freedom and the hope that Nigeria would be great again and that the rights and freedom of Nigerians that were trampled upon under the 34 years of military dictatorship would be respected under a democratically-elected government. Some visible gains have been made in the 20 years of the country’s return to democracy. Chiefly among the gains is that since the beginning of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, democratic transition has occurred seamlessly six times. This is an achievement for the country. Also, in the area of infrastructural development, the country has improved with the aviation and railway sectors revived. The political space has also been liberalised with Nigerians having more political freedom to participate in the process of governance as well as express their views within the limit of the law. However, the hope and aspirations of Nigerians in the Fourth Republic are increasingly becoming dashed due to factors such as political corruption, financial corruption, electoral violence, retarded infrastructural development, impunity and disregard to the rule of law, massive unemployment, high incidence of poverty, among other social, economic and political deficits that the Nigerian state is grappling with.
In specific terms, are there certain missing links in democratic practice that you can point to?
Yes, there are. For instance, Nigeria has had six seamless democratic transitions. In spite of this, politicians and the electorate are yet to imbibe the right democratic ideals that are necessary for deepening or consolidating on democracy. Such ideals include freedom of choice, respect for the rule of law, tolerance, accommodation, delivering the dividends of democracy, employment, improved infrastructure, good healthcare, qualitative education, among others. The very fact that we have had six periods of democratic transition does not translate to success in our democracy. Another missing link in our democratic experience is that governance is not translating to improvement in the material well-being of many Nigerians. The people or Nigerians are cut off or alienated from the governance process. They are prevented from actively participating in the governance process through deliberate policies and laws made by the executive and the judiciary.
Have the authorities, at different times, taken serious measures to create or nurture institutions that grow and deepen democracy in Nigeria and how would you assess that if there are?
Yes some have made attempts. In 1999/2000, former President Olusegun Obasanjo championed the review of the electoral laws and in 2007, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, accepted that the election that made him the president was marred by fraud and massive violence. He, therefore, promised to reform the electoral process. He set up the Justice Muhammed Uwais-led committee to reform the Electoral Act. After his demise, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration upheld the Uwais committee’s report and the National Assembly passed it into the Electoral Act. This bold step introduced some sanity into Nigeria’s electoral process.
Do you believe this country is doing well in critical areas like the economy, electoral reforms, fight against corruption and adherence to the rule of law?
To be candid, I do not think that we have made tangible and the desired progress in areas of the economy, electoral reform, fight against corruption and adherence to the rule of law. We have a government that does not respect the rule of law and on many occasions, the government has disobeyed court orders. Corruption is still being perpetrated in high places and in the inner circles of government. Elections have become ‘electoral wars’ marked by violence. Notwithstanding, however, we are not doing badly in the fight against corruption. So far, four former governors have been jailed by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, although, the fight against corruption appears to be one-sided and against the opposition and perceived enemies of the government of the day.
What needs to be done?
The federal and state governments need to demonstrate the political will to address the numerous challenges facing the country. First, the government must pursue to a logical conclusion the electoral reform with a view to tackling the inherent weaknesses in the current Electoral Act and the electoral process. The Federal Government needs to add more vigour to the fight against corruption by giving the anti-corruption agencies the necessary funding and moral support to arrest and prosecute those considered untouchable in the ruling party as well as the opposition party.
On the economic front, the federal and state governments have to come up with very innovative policies that will help to re-jig the economy and create jobs for our teeming youths. Government must also respect and obey the rule of law.
How would you assess the economic and political elite who have kept the country prostrate?
The economy is in a bad shape. There is deficit of strategic thinking at the highest level of policy making in our economic sector. The economy is in the hands of corrupt politicians and the economic policies are made by the same class of people who have vested interests in the economy. The government should appoint the right persons with the requisite expertise as ministers of finance, economic planning and leadership at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The economy also needs to be deregulated.
What is the future of the country in the light of the frightening challenges?
Government must continue to create platforms for dialogue among the various interest groups. I also think that it is time for us as a country to agree to restructure our country and government politically and economically. The present structure can no longer sustain the country. Our population is growing and more and more people are being trapped in the poverty and unemployment net. Government must also demonstrate the necessary political will to address the increasing challenges facing the country.