New Telegraph

Random Musings: Nigeria and Our Brand of ‘Democracy

In 18 days, Nigeria will be celebrating 25 years of unbroken democratic governance following the advent of the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999. Incidentally back then millions of Nigerians watching President Olusegun Obasanjo making his inaugural address to the nation after his swearing in at the Eagle Square in Abuja had high hopes of a bright future for themselves and the nation.

Just like their counterparts 39 years earlier when the Union Jack was lowered and the green-white-green flag of the newly independent nation of Nigeria was hoisted at the Race Course in Lagos they also had high hopes of a better life under the governance of their fellow citizens. But sadly, if the truth must be told it has not been Uhuru for a vast majority of Nigerians whose lives have not been massively impacted positively since both occasions. Barely six years after our freedom from Whitehall, the failure of the political class to get their act together led to the first foray into governance by the military on January 15, 1966.

For the next few decades, we had the men in khaki in and out of power with the politicians taking charge briefly from 1979 to December 1983 before they finally returned to their barracks 25 years ago. Since then the nation has had five pres- idents with each one of them promising the people so much and yet leaving the stage with a majority of Nigerians still wondering whether they will ever reach the Promised Land! On May 29 the nation’s fifth president in the Fourth Republic, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu will be celebrating the first of his four year term with predictably mixed reviews.

The former Governor of Lagos whose catchphrase during a campaign stop in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, “emi lokan (it’s my turn)”, although spoken in Yoruba, caught on across the country, has so far shown that he is not afraid of taking tough decisions which he believes are in the best interest of the nation. During his inaugural speech last May, he made his very first policy statement which was to end the decade’s long sub- sidy on fuel.

Catching many, including his close associates and advisers unawares with the announcement, the President was to later in France on the sidelines of the two-day financing climate pact summit, tell a be- wildered nation why he did it. Tinubu said Dele Alake and Wale Edun left out the vexed issue of subsidy from the speech handed over to him for delivery on the occasion. He said: “And then, Wale Edun and co, we started debating, putting my speech together without the question on subsidy.

I got to the podium, I was possessed with courage and I said ‘Subsidy is gone’.” He further discussed the decision to end the fuel subsidy, saying: “They thought it was a joke of the century until I called the NNPC. We are tired of feeding smugglers, making a few people rich, and subsidising the next-door neighbour.

“I met with the president of the Benin Republic, everybody is equal now, and we are friends. We are conjoined twins joined by the hips, how we will separate each other is with this fuel subsidy. Let us see whether we will survive or not, but we are going to survive you.”

And thus without recourse to democratic structures of having ministers and advisers in place to run the policy, fuel subsidy was abolished just like that – and the nation is still coming to grips with the fallout with the cost of goods and services going sky high. However, this is not to say that had the President consulted the same outcome would not have been reached but at least that would have put a semblance of having followed democratic tenants. Another area in which our application of the principles of democracy has come under severe scrutiny is the way elections are conducted in the country.

From national to state to local govern- ment polls, the process often assumes the spectacle of a war with virtually all the parties and candidates guilty of one form of infraction or the other. Last year’s general elections are still fresh in the memory with the build-up one of the most frenzied in recent times with the possibility of upsets widely expected.

Although at the end of the day the two major parties and their presidential candidates in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Tinubu and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar placed first and second with 8,794,726 (36.61%) and 6,984,520 (29.07%) votes respectively; the fact that Peter Obi and his Labour Party (LP) came third with 6,101,533 (25.40%) showed that the coun- try was ready for a third force to challenge the established parties. The former Governor of Anambra State caused a major upset when he took Lagos State in the presidential poll with 582,454 (45.81%) votes to push Tinubu to second place with 572,606 (45.04%) in the state he has dominated since he governed between 1999 and 2007. However, despite the widespread criticism of the performance of the Inde- pendent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the national poll, what goes on at state elections and within the parties puts a dampener on the real practice of democracy in the country.

For instance roughly three weeks after the APC held its guber primary in Ondo State, many of the contestants are still up in arms after Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa was declared winner. Already the Senator representing Ondo South, Jimoh Ibrahim, has approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, to seek the nullification of the poll claiming the April 20 exercise was marred with a lot of ir- regularities. Sadly this is the same scenario that plays out in all the primary elections of the parties – especially in states where the party in question is strong. What about local government polls? In virtually all cases it is the party in power in the state that sweeps all the elective positions as were the recent cases in Oyo State, where the PDP scooped all 33 LGs and in Gombe where all the chairmanship seats in the 11 local government areas of the state was won by the APC.

Predictably the parties that won the elections were “free and fair” whereas for those that lost they were “rigged”. However, even though we largely do not follow the generally accepted defi- nition of democracy, which is: “of the people, by the people, for the people”, we have so far been managing to get by. Hopefully, by the time we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fourth Repub- lic, we will be practising democracy in the true sense of the meaning!

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