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Deepening Nigeria’s Democracy

By Jerome-Mario Utomi   
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Among many other benefits, the recently celebrated Democracy Day on Friday 12th June, 2020, offered Nigerians the opening to again listen to the President Muhammadu Buhari’s national broadcast, gave some the opportunity to romanticize with recent developments in the country, and connects those interested in sharing their ideas/opinions of the past one year with the rest of the public.

Specifically, some Nigerians acknowledged that the nation has within this period under review advanced appreciably in some areas and developed ability to solve pressing problems, and promoted ideals and dreams about democracy. There is, however within this time, the position which I had not only considered as a strange logic but left me lost in the maze of high voltage confusion. It centres on the claim by some commentators that neither Mr. President nor his handlers should be blamed for the present predicaments confronting the masses even when the nation is now so fragile and divided along ethno-religious lines that it is difficult to build consensus around important things that matter for our progress. This assertion they argue is based simply on the fact that no leader is held to perfection in formulation and execution of policies.

But the most rewarding use of that day was that it offered me the opportunity to again reflect on the documented efforts by Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Executive Director, Spaces for Change that unraveled factors that nourished political activism in the country way back in the 80s and 90s.

That refreshing encounter offered me two sets of interrelated but opposing insight about the advent of democracy in Nigeria and its present appalling state.

Going by the report, in the 80s/90s, civic space was completely closed and something had to be done to forcefully open the doors of democratic expression and engagement. Then, activists acted out of the deep commitment to free up the civic space, and many of them paid severe price for it". The second reaction from this report relevant to the present discourse has to do with the puzzle; now that we say we have democracy, do citizens enjoy these rights? Can somebody travel from Abuja to Kaduna or Rigasa without fear of being kidnapped, killed or shot by bandits? The right to life, in particular, now has a question mark. Can somebody facing such threats claim to have the right to life? The issues we advocated for many years ago haven't been resolved and still beg for meaningful solutions.The document submitted that this is not what democracy should look like. We cannot promote democracy in an environment where human rights are not respected.

Without any shadow of the doubt, Mr. President’s Democracy Day speech did so well to support the above position that there is something troubling about the nation’s democratic practice.

Take as an illustration; Mr. President informed Nigerians of the FG’s continued implementation of accountability and transparent policies through the Open Government Partnership and the transparency portal on financial transactions, noting that government has strengthened auditing and accountability mechanisms so as to ensure that rules and regulations are followed strictly. The Anti-Corruption Agencies, he added, have secured more than 1,400 convictions and also recovered funds in excess of N800 billion. These monies are being ploughed into development and infrastructure projects.

Yet, the latest signal from the Transparency International says something different. The 2019 report published January 2020, by the Group’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), a flagship research product which measures the glimpse of perceived corruption in the public sector of surveyed countries is a proof that the FG may not be walking the talk. Out of the 180 countries that were surveyed worldwide, the result saw Nigeria slip from 144th to 146th on the pecking order and fell by 26 points, a minus of one when compared to its score in 2018 and now ranked 32 out of 49 countries in the sub-region. It did not end here. The report points to the fact that its score of 26 is way below the global average of 43 and the 2019 average score of 32 for the sub-Saharan Africa region.

In the same vein, President Buhari again told Nigerians that the FG is, and will continue to work to reduce social and economic inequality through targeted social investment programmes, education, technology and improved information. Adding that the nation’s Social Investment Programme has continued to be a model to other nations.

This is coming from the number one citizen at a time when our mind eyes see that current happenings on the nation’s political space which covers a broad range of socioeconomic challenges-poverty, poor health facilities, poor sanitation, poorly funded education sector, environment and social injustice, has made life in Nigeria quoting Thomas Hobbs, become nasty, brutish and short. With many now calling for restructuring of the nation or holistic implementation of the 2014 National Conference report to ensure more inclusiveness as agitations for the death of Nigeria cannot go away when nepotism and sectionalism continue to be evident in the manner of political patronage and distribution of our common patrimony as currently obtained.

Against this backdrop, the question may be asked; as a nation, what do we make out of this reality? How do we build on this still tentative experiment called democracy? How is the nation going to quench the tension and suspicion between the government and the governed? Or must we as a nation allow the useful and the useless like good and evil go on together allowing our nation to reap the fruit that comes in the nearest future?

How can the nation integrate development minded Nigerians into public offices-those that can identify the nation’s challenges and opportunities, appraise the options the nation has for moving forward, and the intellect/skills to make decisions that will get the nation going? Is there, or should there be a strategy in public offices governance system that will help enshrine diligent exercising of the economic, political and administrative authorities to manage the country’s affair at all levels within the rule of law, and in such a manner that delivers maximum dividends to citizens?

To find answers, the nation needs to look and make one strategic decision. Nigeria needs as leaders, people with good judgement and interpersonal skills to move nations forward; the experience and expertise of the activists of the 80s/90s who are the real heros of democracy but for yet to be identified reason(s) currently watch the nation’s affairs from the political galleries. Men/women that participated in challenging, questioning and through the process breath democratic ideologies into the political sphere called Nigeria. They need to share with the present administration the wisdom of their own experience.

As noted in a similar intervention a while, I still hold an opinion that as the nation celebrates, getting the likes of Olisa Agbakogba, who is the founding father of the Civil Liberty Organization, Clement Nwankwor, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, Femi Falana, Richard Akinnola and other Nigerians blessed with the spirit of the late Chief Gani Fawehinimi and other development minded Nigerians should be crucially important to the present administration.

The point is clear. They fought for the right to organize, the right to free expression, the right to assemble freely, the right to free movement and ultimately, the right to development and the right to life. They forced the military to leave.

Jerome-Mario Utomi, ([email protected]), is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.