Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Is Nigeria a viable democracy?, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

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Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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Nigeria has indeed come along way in its experiment with democratic governance. The country has steadily covered almost twenty years of uninterrupted journey in civilian rule, even if under the stranglehold of muscular military elite, a group that spent most of Nigeria’s postcolonial history keeping a tight rein on power.

Our journey in democracy is however not without hiccups and false starts that continue to rear their ugly heads. There are indeed some palpable gaps in the way we practice our politics. First, our experience under the sway of the military has created a situation in which the psyche of Nigerians is almost completely militarized. This has visibly permeated the way we do our things as a nation. Even our political culture, our democratic regime, so to say, is everywhere encrusted by authoritarianism, the type that is characteristic of military rule and African dictatorship. The idea of public sphere, Jurgen Habermas communicative space, which is defined by robust media culture, healthy debates, consensus building, civility, tolerance and respect for rights, is gradually eluding the country.

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The transition program to democracy that started in 1999 was designed in order to give room to vested interests and political jobbers littering the entire place to manipulate the processes. From the onset our democracy was carefully orchestrated or tailored to suit specific political interests, in particular, the interests of military establishment. This could be fathomed right from the point in which the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was conceived, packaged and imposed on the country by military apparatchiks. There wasn’t appreciable input into that constitution making process from the people. With the benefit of hindsight, we could recall how President Olusegun Obasanjo exploited the obvious lapses of that Constitution to his own advantage. The other problem with the 1999 Constitution was in how the local tier of government was muzzled up. Local governments were manipulated, and made to serve the whims of State governors. Furthermore, we have in this country witnessed other blatant weaknesses from the attempts of governors to manipulate the entire democratic system, especially where issues of representation into the different organs of governance are involved.

We must also not forget that the Nigerian military is thoroughly schooled in power politics. In fact, the military elite have understood the geopolitical dynamics of Nigeria much more than our usual run-of-the-mill politicians. The average Nigerian politician is mostly concerned with what some Nigerian politicians and the tabloid press vulgarly referred to as the politics of stomach infrastructure. The politicians that dominate our political landscape today do not care with issues of principle and ideology, or indeed any notion of rendering selfless service to the people. Hence the aberrant democratic culture gaining upper hand in our clime. Are we then in doubt that unprincipled men and impulses are everywhere imperiling our democracy? Can we in all honesty contest the fact that our democracy is flagrantly defying the normative? Is our democracy really in conformity with standard practice, such standards that are commonly found in other matured democracies? Exactly, what monster did the military bequeath to the nation in the name of democracy?

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As the saying goes, the devil’s is always in the detail. It was therefore in the actual practice that the problems of the current Constitution are revealing themselves. And the National Assembly, an organ vested with powers to do something about the shortcomings of our constitution, are not taking this component of their work serious. President Obasanjo’s tenure has recorded his attempts to rule on the basis of extra-constitutional measures, such as seen in the way he was insisting to have his way all the time, whether what he wants complied with the provisions of our Constitution or not. His dictatorial approach to issues had obviously constituted his style of leadership. His draconian approach had considerable trickle down effect from the way some of his State governors handled the affairs of their States. We also witnessed how the same Obasanjo muzzled the leadership of the National Assembly at will. In fact, the frequency with which he had changed the leadership of particularly the Senate was akin to the same manner he used to change his wardrobe.

During the tenure of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the ruling party became so overbearing. PDP as a ruling party had virtually emasculated all other political parties in town. The result was in the mammoth impunity and corruption that marred President’s Jonathan’s tenure. In any case, it was the excesses of PDP government that had eventually sealed the fate of the party in the run up to the 2015 general elections. Now, fast forward to the new APC government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. Although this is a government that popularized itself on the change mantra during the 2015 electioneering campaign, there is however little to showcase in terms of qualitative and quantitative changes in socio-economic life of the downtrodden. President Buhari has unilaterally jerked up petroleum pump prices without a whimper from the people. He has also devaluated the Naira by almost double the rates he met it. And despite the goodwill and patience shown by ordinary Nigerians, there is nothing to indicate that our battered economy is picking up. Nigeria is now sliding back to the debt trap of the so-called global neoliberal economic reforms that created most of the social crises that gripped the country for about two decades.

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Nigeria’s problems are rather becoming more complicated under the leadership of President Buhari. Social conditions of the people are fast deteriorating. Human suffering, hopelessness, disillusionment and angst are percolating the length and breadth of Nigeria. More so, unemployment rates are soaring with the decline of manufacturing sector, trade and commercial activities. Violence and insecurity have become the order of the day. Worst of all, there is no sign on our horizon to abate these problems anytime soon. As a matter of fact, all the problems that President Buhari promised he would tackle in the country have clearly overwhelmed him. He is completely lost as to the best way out of the mess. Instead, the problems have just kept piling. He is right now behaving clueless like President Jonathan before him. The scariest thing about the current predicament is that President Buhari does not seem to have enough people of good will around him, people that are quite up to the task of handling the suffocating problems of the country. The worst enemies of the regime are comfortably nesting under the auspices of Mr. President, and, from all indications, he is doing nothing about it.

In this precarious situation, both the APC and PDP politicians are pretending that all is well with the country as they continue with business as usual. Our politicians are behaving like an ostrich that has its head buried in the sand, thinking that it will be saved from the inevitable. In the midst of all this, these people that call themselves politicians are messing themselves up the more. The art of political chicanery is right now elevated to an article of faith. There is hardly a single State of the federation where the politicians are behaving well. Instead, they are doing everything possible to rock the boat. The political process in the country is everywhere in total mess. In this season of elections, all they are concerned with is winning elections by all means, fair and foul.

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Similarly, both serving and former governors are behaving like garrison commanders operating at the war front. In Kano, for instance, Kwankwaso who once charged the APC of lack of internal democracy is now operating like a feudal lord in the PDP he took over from Malam Ibrahim Shekarau who now decamps to PDP. Even before the air clears, he parceled the PDP gubernatorial ticket to his son-in-law, and National Assembly position to his other sibling. So much about political propriety and party democracy! Anyway, this act is generating lots of hot air amongst even the most ardent followers of Kwankwaso. In Zamfara State, the governor has in his own wisdom decided to ignore all other candidates that declared interest to vie for the exalted political office in the State. But things seemed to be falling apart for a nascent political dynasty that was instituted by the governor’s, benefactor, Ahmed Sani Yarima. Nobody is quite sure of how this dicey situation is going to play itself out. But there is some level of miscalculation on the part of the governor as he zeroed his nomination on his Commissioner of Finance. In Lagos State, it was the strongman of Yoruba politics that is, as usual, fishing in dangerous waters through his unilateral attempts to deny an incumbent the right to contest for a second term.

As things are unfolding, and considering the aloofness of the party leader to the unhealthy politicking going on, it is beginning to appear that APC will ultimately become the biggest casualty in the 2019 general elections. Already, the party is looking more like the PDP it accused of political impropriety and corruption. At this juncture, can we really claim that APC is different from PDP? I’m just asking a rhetorical question!

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