Gen. Buhari and Nigeria’s democracy

We are internationally recognized for corruption, inefficiency, business uncertainty and infrastructural decay. For 12 years the PDP government has failed to tackle all these problems in spite of the resources at their disposal. We can and we must reverse these trends. The first step is for Nigerians to vote PDP out. They are finished! They have passed their “sell - by date”…if their aspiration to govern Nigeria for the next 60-years or 200 years is pure, why are they unable to guarantee something as fundamental and basic as security of life and property? CPC Presidential candidate for April elections, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, at the north-west flag-off campaign, Kaduna on 2nd March, 2011.

I have curiously followed the campaigns of the major political parties for the April elections. The presidential rallies have been wonderful. Wonderful in the sense that many Nigerians have died for either a just cause of projecting their beloved candidates, or died for a wicked cause from attempt to sabotage the freedom of other citizens to their associations. There have been dramas in the states as citizens fight themselves in the name of attachment or loyalty to one party or the other.

Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, no Nigerian citizen who truly wishes well for Nigeria would argue to be contrary to his assertions. It is still fresh in memory that throughout the periods he served the nation in the past, he distinguished himself and made history. He made the change that he wishes to display in a democratic atmosphere.

Gen. Buhari considers himself to be on a rescue mission – a mission that aims to reposition Nigeria – because according to him, never before have Nigerians seen such bad leadership in their national life. As he puts it, the country's life is literally falling apart in all fronts: in security, in education, in the economy, in healthcare system, and youth employment; yet the people in power are openly canvassing a desire to rule Nigeria for 60 or 200 years!

A man who has been in the political scene since the return of Nigeria to democracy cannot be taken for granted or mistaken to be unaware of the democratic underpinnings in the country. Having contested the 2003 and 2007 presidential polls under All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) when he was believed to have lost, not for his unacceptability by the people, but for flawed electoral processes, the crowds he pulls in the present dispensation have volumes of assertions and attestations.

I would secure Nigeria better and manage it better is a key promise he makes. He believes that the young Nigerian people deserve much better deal than what they have been getting, because unemployment, deprivation, poverty, hopelessness and insecurity have been part and parcel of the nation's young men and women.

He acknowledges that it has pleased Almighty God to bring many ethnic nationalities under a common destiny called Nigeria, thus the need to evolve institutional ways to getting along. This Nigeria is still the same country where we used to sing: “though tribes and tongues may differ in brotherhood we stand!” No doubt this multilingual composition of Nigeria has been one of our problems – north/south dichotomy – if not the greatest problem facing the nation.

Liberty, freedom and democracy come at a price. Nigerians must have the tenacity to stay the ground and put forth a sustained collective resistance to fend off the razzmatazz of political adversaries who because they are bankrupt of ideas use force and intimidation.

Our democracy can be seen as being run without democrats while elections had been held without the electorate having much say in the process. Nigeria has, within the last three decades, for instance, earned $500billion from oil revenues; but because of misappropriation, more than 70% of Nigerians today still live on less US$1 a day.

Nigeria is yet to pass the irreducible minimum test of democracy. This test demands that, first, elections into office not just hold but be seen to be free and fair, and be conducted and supervised by an independent electoral body that is assisted by an impartial security apparatus for maintaining peace, order and security. Second, it demands that the judiciary be impartial and independent. Third, it demands that there must be in place elements of good governance to ensure full accountability. Fourth, it demands that smooth, democratic transitions to handover be sustained over at least three consecutive elections.

The big mistake of Nigeria's past leaderships has been failure to build strong and stable social system to provide the kind of atmosphere that democracy needs to take root and flourish. The ruling elite is quite guilty of deliberately promoting the social fragmentation that creates, feeds and reinforces religious and ethnic identities to the exclusion of civic and national identities.

In the past decade, the leaderships have been accused of categorically instituting and bequeathing to the nation a do-or-die attitude to win elections, an attitude that treats the pursuit of office as a matter of life and death, leading to authoritarian governance that is at variance with the spirit of cooperation and consultation which are necessary components of democracy.

Nigeria needs a government from a successful democratic effort to guarantee freedom of operation for the opposition and for civil society organizations. In a democratic set up, the opposition and civil liberty groups defend people's basic rights and protect the pillars of democracy. They also struggle to address the issues of gender participation and pluralism.

This has been lacking in Nigeria. There has been interference in every functionary of democratization: in the conduct of the business at the National Assembly, in the judiciary and electoral processes. There has been failure to implement the national budgets as they are passed. It is quite unimaginable how former president Obasanjo did all what he did against democratic norms and values and went away scot-free. There was unhealthy and undemocratic tendency as the ruling party controlled the legislature, and individual legislators from the opposition parties were compromised and co-opted.

More unfortunately, the judiciary appeared not to be in focus for the reform project. Existing facts depict that without a reform of judicial attitude to election petitions and appeals, all the orchestrated effort at enhancing the credibility of our electoral process may not yield a positive result.

Our elections this time must be free and fair. But this largely depends on the people's disposition to them. If the electorates want them to be so, they must be ready to defend their votes. Much will also depend on the success of civil society organizations. As watch dogs for democratic governance, civil society organizations are new to Nigeria, and therefore their effect is still marginal. While it is growing, the growth has been attended by many problems.

But perhaps the most important key to successful governance and sound economic management is an efficient public service; and one of the more obvious reasons for the ascendancy of corruption in Nigeria has been the absence of such a service.

There is still a widespread belief in Nigeria that because of the lack of professionalism, corruption and partisanship of some of its members, the Nigerian press is open to abuse by its practitioners and by its proprietors: that it has been shallow in its coverage, selective in its exposures and often banal in its commentaries. However, the Nigerian press has fought for enthronement of democracy in Nigeria.

Over the years, this service has undergone several reform programmes of doubtful value, all of which seemed aimed at compromising its political neutrality, permanency of tenure, impartiality and expertise. For Nigeria's democracy to survive, Nigerians only need to choose their leaders by themselves in free and fair elections. Such chosen leaders by the people must respect the rule of law and protect people's basic civil liberties. There must be a free market in operation with a strong civil society operating and then a peaceful handover of power.

As things stand today, our democracy is still immature because 12 years of continuous and stable democratic rule would have pushed Nigeria to greater heights. That is why it is so crucial that the forthcoming general elections succeed.

Gen. Buhari has said much and many Nigerians believe that he is not a power or violence monger, at least, by himself. What he should not say is the time he will stay in office, because if he does well in the first four years – if he wins – all Nigerian patriots will want him to continue.

Again, he should not reveal all his strategies to fight corruption because the corrupt citizens who are mostly the politically and economically powerful in the society will begin to strategize to counter his plans. To uproot corruption or to reduce it to the barest minimum in Nigeria must be his first agenda. If only this is done, all sectors will be functional as the money allocated to them for development will be utilized. So, Nigeria will become a developed nation.

Gen. Buhari has urged the Nigerian people to judge him by his past actions and consider who is best for the country's leadership, unlike President Jonathan who seems to have been giving assurances that he has already won the elections. His assertions to this before the Church were widely reported. However, all humans are not angels.

But as our Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka would say, “If Buhari wishes to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the citizenry whom he has so cruelly wronged, he should first scuttle his ambitions, then place whatever following he has garnered in the meantime at the disposal of a consensus candidate among the opposition. To insist on another taste of power, after such a history of gross abuse of power is an insult to any nation that values freedom and human dignity. Buhari should sit with the opposition and coordinate strategies to defeat the most unscrupulous act of political gerrymandering that, we all know, is about to be inflicted on the nation by a desperate incumbent seeking for a clone to secure his exit from power.”

Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]

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Articles by Muhammad Ajah