Nigeria ready for democracy or, put in another way, are Nigerians ready for democratic consolidation? These questions are germane and imperative considering where we are at the moment.
The question, are we ready for democracy, makes sense because what we have had since 1999 is not democracy but autocratic civil rule. It has been nothing other than the rule by godfathers, mobsters and former unrepentant dictators who seem bent on controlling Nigeria from the frontlines and puppet strings after their years in power. The term, democratic consolidation, is relevant to those who think we are in a democracy, and as such, we need to move to the next level of the democratic agenda.
But we are not in a democracy because democracy is about human rights and development. For human rights, we have witnessed a little improvement compared to the days of the military dictatorship, but we are not there yet as we have moved forward and then backward in a one step forward, and another step backward movement. It has just been about the movement in a barber’s chair that leads to nowhere but movement on the same spot. And this is not where we are supposed to be.
The Peoples Democratic Party had its chances for 16 years to set Nigerian firmly on the path of progress and development. However, it chose to bungle the opportunity when it elected President Olusegun Obasanjo and other succeeding presidents from the party. Members of the party did not understand democracy but were focused on personal aggrandisement and driving the arrogance of power to new heights while deriving the perks of office to the maximum available. It is admitted that Obasanjo engineered some reforms, but his score was poor overall. He delivered so little with so many opportunities to excel and change the Nigerian landscape.
Obasanjo was a man who had the opportunity the first time between 1976 and 1979 and secondly for eight years between 1999 and 2007 to change the history of Nigeria. But he chose to blow the opportunity on the arrogance of a megalomaniac. And the greatest disservice he did to Nigeria was not to allow genuine primaries at the presidential and other levels within the party, coupled with his desire to subjugate the legislature. Thus, Obasanjo set the stage for the denigration of internal democracy in our political parties.
Enter, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who did not rule long for us to have enough time to properly assess his style of governance. His key highlights were his 7-Point Agenda and his profession to the rule of law. But there was evidence that he did not understand governance at the highest level, being someone who never desired or aspired to rule or lead Nigeria, but was only invited by Obasanjo to assume power. He was a reluctant and unprepared President who was struggling with his ill-health, at the same time, trying to understand federal governance challenges as well as setting his agenda of governance. Unfortunately, God called him back and not much changed. The confounding part of his regime was the fact that he sought to revise a number of President Obasanjo’s agenda even though they came from the same party and he was handpicked by the same Obasanjo. And the issues he revised and failed to agree with Obasanjo and delayed policy implementation were the few good points of the Obasanjo regime.
President Goodluck Jonathan came as a self-professed breath of fresh air, with so much euphoria about his education, being the first person with a doctorate to rule Nigeria. His amiable personality and the fact that he comes from a minority group all made him a hot cake. There was a wildfire of goodwill and expectations from Jonathan. Unfortunately, the lethargic comportment of the PDP also enveloped him as he could not control the corruption, excesses and the mischief from his party and they ended up crashing the goodwill of the party on the altar of the All Progressives Congress. But the ascendancy of Jonathan was against the zoning formula of the PDP, which had agreed to the rotation of power between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among the six geopolitical zones. Since Yar’Adua did not complete his tenure which was interpreted as the turn of the North, the expectation was that another Northerner should have succeeded him. Thus, the groundswell of opposition to President Jonathan was beyond his sins in power but fuelled by a desire for return to the original power sharing formula.
The APC benefitted from the prevalent mood in the country and promised to be different. Specifically, President Muhammadu Buhari benefitted from this mood and got elected into power. Incidentally, we have been on the APC change agenda for over three years but the more things change, the more they remain the same. Indeed, in many sectors, there has been retrogression. Nigerians wanted change, yes, we got change, but not in the direction we desired. We are simply at the point of total stagnation, with the leadership not coming forward with any new ideas of governance. They are simply using the old ideas of the PDP with little or no polish but implementing them in the most crude and barbaric of ways.
Nigeria now witnesses its President and Attorney-General of the Federation justifying disobedience to court orders which was rare in the PDP days or at best, in the memory days of Prof Yadudu as Gen Sani Abacha’s Attorney-General. We now witness killings by herdsmen with impunity while the President asks us to pray and refuses to do anything about protecting the right to life. We now have a presidential spokesman who is impunity personified with the effrontery of asking land owners to forfeit their lands or be killed by herdsmen who evidently are above the law. We have a President who hails General Yakubu Gowon for introducing the National Youths Service Corps while keeping mum on his Minister of Finance who allegedly lied on oath and falsified exemption document to show that she did the youth service when in actual fact, she did not serve. Just like in the Obasanjo regime, the anti-corruption agencies have been turned into vendata machines to chase the President’s political opponents out of town under the guise of a war on corruption.
There has been no progress, at least the kind of progress comparable to the quantum of resources and opportunities available to the country. According to a report by the Brookings Institution, data from the World Poverty Clock show that Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world, now with a collapsed economy which grows slower than its population. Make no mistakes about it; we need a change of leadership. But it is up to Nigerians to decide where the pendulum will swing and that decision needs not be restricted to the two dominant political parties. Nigerians should shine their eyes, as they say.