Nigeria’s Polity And the Need For National Cohesion
The issues of sustaining Nigeria’s democracy as well as justice for all parts of the country are again at the front burner of national discourse, as intensified by agitations by different groups in the country, claiming to be fighting for self-determination. This development though had been on, was equally propelled by the celebration of this year’s democracy anniversary and the coincidental rumours of coup plot which the Nigerian Army debunked frantically as false.
Nigeria has had unstable political system, with longer periods of military regimes. This was the situation from 1966 after independence to first republic in 1979 and the botched second republic in 1983, until the last military administration of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Unlike his colleagues, Gen. Abdulsalami was an unambitious military leader. This is evidenced from the fact that he sincerely organized a smooth transition to civil rule through general elections in 1999. Nigerians participated massively in the 1999 general elections with keen interest and joy that democracy will return to the country.
Indeed, Nigerians from all works of life and class expressed joy that at last a true transitional programme to enshrine democracy, has come again. Politicians, civil and media activists at that time minced no words in expressing hope for a better Nigeria.
Truly, a new civilian regime emerged, with former Head of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic in May 29, 1999.
The development made the electorate reposed confidence in Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, aka OBJ, especially given his achievements as Head of State, and his military prowess that could help handle the nation and check military incursion into politics. But many Nigerians did not hesitate to caution OBJ against dictatorship, given his military background.
From the start, the Third Republic under Chief OBJ, promised a better deal for Nigeria. The administration embarked on drastic reforms and programmes through privatization policies, notably in the telecom sector.
However, some Nigerians attacked the OBJ regime for dictatorship, lack of respect for the Rule of Law, human rights violations, victimization of political opponents, selective anti-corruption crusade, lack of transparency in privatization of petroleum and electricity sectors and high profile politically motivated assassinations that occurred in country.
Labour, on the platforms of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), civic and political activists as well as the press embarked on series of protests to express their anger against the leadership styles and programmes of the OBJ regime.
The OBJ administration was characterized with bickering between the Executive and the National Assembly, and between the President and his Vice, Atiku Abubakar over appropriation bills, unbudgeted expenditures, impeachment threats and OBJ’s third term bid.
The bickering and third term bid which nearly led to sudden amendment of the 1999 constitution, once again put the nation’s unity and the nascent democracy on the verge of collapse, if not for opposition from the press, political activists and politicians.
Deterred by the wild protests, OBJ conducted transition to civil rule, the first civilian to civilian transition in the country in 2007.
The elections brought late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to power. For the first time, a person from the minority but resourceful Niger Delta region emerged at least as vice president of the country. This gave the region and even other marginalized tribes a sense of inclusion.
With the swearing in of late Yar’Adua and his Vice, Dr. Jonathan, hopes was rekindled that real democracy will take roots in Nigeria. Nigerians at that time expressed hope for better democracy that will be people-oriented.
The Yar’Adua government indeed, portrayed discipline, respect for the rule of law, human rights, peace, unity and development, anchored on a 7-point Agenda.
Sadly, the Yar’Adua Administration’s efforts were curtailed by his ailment, frequent medical trips abroad and demise, which again put the nascent democracy under threat. Indeed the controversies of whether the then Vice President Jonathan should act as acting President and later President shacked the foundation of the nation’s democracy and ethnic cohesion.
The controversy was ended by a resolution of the National Assembly based on the Doctrine of Necessity, which made Dr. Jonathan substantive president. He was thereafter sworn into office as president.
The ascension of Dr. Jonathan to the throne raised the hope that Nigerian’s unity and democracy would be sustained. Nigerians described the resolution of the National Assembly as a good omen to the country.
Ahead of the 2011, many Nigerians clamoured for Dr. Jonathan to contest as President. He contested the PDP primary election, won and finally won the general election across ethnic and religious divides. This development was a beacon of hope that the nation’s unity and democracy will not be truncated as it was done in the early republics by the military.
The new administration under Dr. Jonathan, at that time, continued the philosophies and programmes of the late Yar’Adua’s regime. These include respect for the rule of law and the Seven Point Agenda which was however reduced to five points.
The administration of President Jonathan played its part to provide infrastructures in power (electricity), health, road and bridge construction, education, telecommunication, banking and economic sectors through reforms and other programmes. But its greatest headache was how some politicians, sections of the press and some Nigerians could have been made to perceive it as haven contributed its quota to national development.
Thus, the Jonathan Administration, ended peacefully in what some analysts believe was an electoral revolution in 2015, even though Dr, Jonathan and his aides have countered such revolution claim in their treaties on the election that could have caused violence. Luckily, the tension that was doused by former President Jonathan’s concession to defeat by the APC’s Mohammadu Buhari to whom he handed over powerful peaceful in May 29, 2015. It is the second civilian to civilian transition which helped to keep Nigeria’s democracy and the country one once again.
Since assuming office, incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari has concentrated on his three point agenda, with emphases on security, economic reforms, agriculture and anti-corruption crusade. So far, the administration could be said to have tackled the Boko Haram insurgency in the North to an impressive level, recovered looted funds and given bail outs to states for arrears of workers’ salaries but some Nigerians still want more as promised in the APC’s “change” campaign. Some Nigerians also want the security recorded in the North to be achieved in other parts of the country where insecurity reigns.
Efforts of the Buhari administration to bend over backwards to realise its campaign promises, were unfortunately affected by the economic downturn which has lasted two years, half of his tenure.
Although insurgency got abated in the North, fresh threats of eviction given to Ibos by some Northern youths have attracted fresh threats by Eastern and Niger Delta agitators seeking fair deal or withdrawal from the Nigerian Project. All these are fresh threats to the nation’s democratic polity and continued co-existence of various groups.
Despite all the travails of the country, it is hoped that any untoward crises could be amicably resolved as is customary of Nigeria. Thus instead of the blame game and vilifications that have become the other of the day, Nigerians and all groups are expected to join hands sustain the polity and national unity.
However, that could be best done by restructuring the country’s polity to true federalism to allow states, local governments and communities have right to control their resources so as to promote competitive and sustainable development in the country. Doing so as well as implementing other recommendations of the national conference report issued in the era of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the potent solution to sustaining democracy as well as national cohesion in Nigeria. This is the time to so do.
ENIDENEZE ETETE is a Media Practitioner/Public Affairs Analysts