Though Nigeria has witnessed development and arrested development in its democratic journey, it deserves commendation because this is the first time the country will reach this milestone. As the late elder statesman and pragmatic politician, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once observed, the worst civilian government is better than the best military administration.
In terms of successes, we have recorded very few. A number of infrastructure developments have been put in place. We now have more roads and bridges even though some of them are in a state of disrepair. More railways have been constructed in different parts of the country.
Besides, Nigerians now have more freedom to air their views on the state of affairs in the country without necessarily being afraid of such obnoxious decrees as Decree 2. There have also been instances where people’s freedom has been infringed upon. The executive arm of government, sometimes, chooses the court order to obey, subjugating the rule of law to a nebulous concept called national interest. This is, however, nothing compared to when the military was in power.
We have also had successful transition from one civilian government to another. For the first time in the history of the country, an incumbent President was defeated in the 2015 general election. And despite the shortcomings of the civilian administrations, the military has remained subordinate to civilian authorities till date.
Nigeria’s first military coup interrupted our democratic march in 1966. The military ruled until 1979 when it handed over to the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. This was again truncated in 1983 when the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari took over power from Shagari following a coup. In 1985, the Buhari regime was toppled in another military coup. The military ruled until 1999 when the Abdulsalami Abubakar-led military government supervised an election that ushered in the civilian government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. In 1992, the military experimented on diarchy, with elected governors, state Houses of Assembly and National Assebly but with a Military President. Since 1999, the nation’s democratic experiment has been on course.
However, we have witnessed some reverses and still have a long way to go if we must achieve the dreams of our forefathers. Never in the history of the country has the nation been so divided along ethnic, political and religious lines than now. There is tension everywhere as nepotism and exclusivity have beclouded our leaders’ sense of political equity. Agitations for self-determination have heightened in some parts of the country.
Due to nepotism and exclusivity, the spate of insecurity in the country has escalated. The insurgency in the North East has festered. Bandits and kidnappers have taken over the major highways. Many people have lost their lives and many others maimed. The situation is so bad that the President has asked for external help. The onus now lies on the security agencies to defend the people and the constitution. No doubt, the major problem we have is mediocrity and uninspiring leadership. There is need to rethink how our leaders emerge. The nation’s leadership recruitment process must change.
We need an electoral body that is truly independent. Most of our elections have been characterised by rigging and other forms of manipulations that call to question the victory of some of the candidates. To minimise the pitfalls of the past, we urge the National Assembly to expedite action on the passage of Electoral Act Amendment Bill. The bill, when passed and signed by the President, will go a long way to check incidents of rigging and ensure that only those voted for emerge as leaders.
We have performed woefully in some areas of development. In the power sector, things have moved progressively worse. A lot of money has gone down the drain as a result of flip-flop policies. Manufacturing and many other sectors need power, but many industrialists have ended up spending a lot to provide their own power. This translates to high cost of goods and services.
Also, the economy is in a parlous state. The present administration has continued to accumulate national debt. In 2017, the debt profile was N21.725 trillion. By March 2019, it reached N24.95 trillion. Last year, it rose to N33 trillion. Today, we are still borrowing more. The rate of inflation is over 18 per cent. Unemployment is at all-time high. And the rate of poverty is the worst in the world. With extreme poverty growing by six people every minute, it has been estimated that over 80 per cent of Nigerians live below the United Nations (UN) poverty threshold of $2 per day. Simply put, we are not managing the economy prudently.
To make our democracy endure, there is need to observe basic tenets of a democratic culture. There is need to practise true federalism. Calls for restructuring should be looked into because we cannot have a federal system where 68 items are on the exclusive list. We must also tackle corruption, which is a major blight on the nation’s progress. Government must also tackle the economic problems by curbing profligacy in government, diversifying the economy and providing the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Education and health care should also be revamped. Our democracy will endure if we have these problems straightened out. Countries that started this nationhood journey with us have gone far ahead of us. We have a lot of catch-up to do.