Will Nigeria's Democracy Survive?


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Will Nigeria's democracy survive?




Col. Abubakar Umar (rtd)




When General Patrick Aziza pronounced General Obasanjo guilty of treason against the late General Sani Abacha and sentenced him to die, little did Obasanjo know he would come out of the four walls of prison without facing the barrel of guns of stern looking soldiers ready to take aim and send him out of this planet. Was the sudden death of General Sani Abacha and the quick arrangement by Abdulsalami Abubakar and Babangida to hand over power to the general a blessing or a curse for Nigeria? 1999 to 2003 will ever be remembered by the suffering Nigerians and those unfortunate children born in this period.


The failure of the Nigerian democratic system following the intervention of the military in January 1966 poses a serious doubt about the Nigerian politicians’ understanding of democracy. Nigerian leaders claim to possess the knowledge of politics. Such knowledge was set in the 1979 Second Republic constitution. Democracy, whether it is failing, succeeding or in transition, will be better explained by understanding the parameters in Nigeria.


It is the parameters, their strength or weakness that enhances or hinders the functioning of democracy. Most democratic governments, particularly in the Third world have been crisis- ridden and unstable, because among other things, they lack the capacity to meet the economic frustration that accompanied independence. The rising unemployment, corruption of the political class, unprincipled competition for power and status by individuals and groups lead to inefficiency in government and private profit-making. Why then have the political actors perceived and interpreted the Nigerian politics as a democracy?


But how do we conceptualise satisfactorily the present society and its limitations? In the transition to democracy, there must be an effective mechanism based on the understanding of the nature of Nigerian social problems. In our past experiences, our democratic institutions have shown that government is hardly neither responsive nor accountable to the desires of the majority of Nigerians. There have been little concern on the part of the rulers for the welfare and advancement of the individual and social justice.


To sustain and maintain democratic values, there must be support for massive political education of groups and individuals in the society in order to enlighten them about the limits of political practices. If such political education is not encouraged and promoted, political conflict may again take place outside the rule of the constitution. Both the stability of government and its basis of legitimacy to rule could be questioned and threatened.


In Nigeria today, democratic values have been destroyed by the main actors who are the military, emirs and religious leaders. It is unfortunate that the emirs who collaborated with the colonialists to destroy our economy are today seeking relevance in the constitution of JNI and ACF. Most illegitimate governments in Nigeria have always patronised them or the religious leaders to openly recognise their governments; they have been relevant in oppressing the masses and creating a large illiterate exodus of youths from the rural to the urban areas, while the religious leaders have become the spokesmen of government always to be seen parading government lodges. The problem has been compounded by government interventionist posture by becoming unduly involved in the building of mosques and churches. This promotes ethnic and religious intolerance.


For the military in Nigeria today, we can rightly say Nigeria cannot be governed without the military, given the realities of the country. one may even be tempted to pose the question, could the military, a non-democratic organisation have promoted the transition to democracy? Returning to the barracks after decades of military rule may have increased the efficacy of the officer corps to the extent of diluting their sense of professionalism. The army is already feeling a sense of professional idleness and political restiveness. It is a well- known fact that an idle army is a potential threat to the stability of civil rule, and to individual liberties and freedom.


The ultimate task of a good government is the welfare of the people. The Nigerian economic situations since independence from the colonial masters have not shown any remarkable improvements. We have degenerated from one crisis to the other. The question now is, how do we increase our productivity and become economically self-reliant?


Curtailment of population growth will encounter serious religious obstacles especially from the Muslim clerics in the Sharia states, whose income is dependent on the illiterate children who litter the streets begging for alms. Nigeria is facing a declining agricultural sector, unemployment abound and the ever- increasing rural - urban migration is creating a pitiable sight that is evident everywhere. Babangida’s regime came up with SAP, and borrowing from the IMF compounded the already existing problems. There is an endless litany of economic woes.


The indigenisation policy by the late General Murtala Mohammed and the curtailment of the monopoly of the multinationals on our economy by General Buhari was expunged by the administration of General Obasanjo/Atiku who took delight in selling off all the industries that provided gainful employment and technological know-how to Nigerians. The banking industry is monopolised by the elite Nigerians who have clearly replaced the multinationals by floating new generation banks with the sole aim of controlling the Nigerian economy. These banks have contributed nothing significant to the development of Nigeria’s economy. These banks have the power to manipulate the central bank to their own advantage. They siphon economic surplus and create avenues for hard currency transfer, thereby significantly devaluing the naira. Indigenous construction companies owned by the elite in the society engage in atrocious and unfair trade practices. They indulge in contract inflation and payment through the new generation banks owned by the elite in the society. The oil sector is not helping matters despite our monotype economy. the multinationals and the Nigerian elite have collaborated and destroyed this sector. As a matter of fact, they have sold our oil industries. Nigeria now depends on oil importation, than exportation. we hardly refine crude in Nigeria.


The Nigerian communications infrastructure has since been killed and buried; the new alternative the government has produced, which was declared as one of the dividends of democracy at Abuja Eagle Square is the GSM, which is beyond the reach of the common man. The airline sector has given way to elite indigenous airlines; the same story applies to the rail services first managed by the Indians and later under the control of an elite late major general who bamboozled the country into believing that the Chinese could do the trick.


The education sector is no different despite the huge revenue allocated to it. Government institutions have been deliberately paralysed to make way for private institutions owned by the elite in the society. It is of no surprise to see able-bodied Nigerians selling petrol in the streets. it is also no surprise to see the mass exodus of able male and female children from the Northern part of the country in state capitals as far as Lagos traversing the streets begging for alms.


The UBE programme, which is supposed to alleviate these problems has been ignored by some state governments who prefer the political support of the emirs and the religious clerics. It is of no surprise when some state governors purchase limousines for these emirs at exorbitant prices of up to N50m while some of the vehicles are valued at N11m.


Finally, I will relate what is taking place today with an observation from General Obasanjo himself in his book, "My Command" He wrote in page 174 "If political stability is threatened, the atmosphere within the military may change for good or for ill and the task of military leadership in a pluralistic society like Nigeria may then become difficult." After all, the political graveyards are filled with the broken careers of politicians who had failed to recognise and respond to the will of the people.


July 2003


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