16th July 2024

Nigeria’s Fate After 25 years On Democracy Path

What Nigerians can only celerate today is political stability. The country has achieved civil rule. It appears that democracy is still a tall order in the long journey to nation-building, development and prosperity. But, with more commitment, it is attainable.

There is the eclipse of ideological politics in this current dispensation. There is hardly a demarcation between or among the political parties and their leaders. They are mere vehicles for seeking power.

Nigeria’s Fourth Republic has produced five presidents-Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2003), Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua (2007-2010), Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015), Muhammadu Buhari (2015-2023) and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who was sworn in last year. Three of them-Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Tinubu-are former governors.

Obasanjo, in his second coming, was the product of the rainbow coalition of retired Generals. He also imposed Yar’Adua on his party. After he passed on, his deputy, Jonathan, filled the vacuum, only to be booted out six years later after violating the zoning convention. Yar’Adua would have turned the country around, if he was not suddenly hit by the blow of fate. Buhari, after three failed attempts, gained power, following the new North/Southwest synergy. Tinubu has been described as the first real democrat in the saddle. Eyes are on him.

After 27 years of military rule-1966 to 1979 and 1985 to 1999-Nigeria, African most populous country, achieved freedom from its neo-colonial soldiers.

The exit of military rulers underscored, what the eminent political scholar, Bayo Adekanye, once described as the voluntary liquidation of self-acquired power.

The last battle for the soul of the country was spearheaded by the pro-democracy forces under the banner of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The target was not achieved. The historic June 12,1993 presidential election won by the proscribed Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Chief Moshood Abiola, was not de-annulled. The military Head of State, Evil Genius Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was adamant. The symbol of the titanic struggle later died in mysterious circumstances in detention, five years after he was captured by the maximum ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha.

However, after Abacha died in mysterious circumstances, his successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, hurried implemented a transition programme for transfer of power to civilians.

The foundation was porous. The 1999 Constitution foisted on the country was suspect. The legal luminary, Rotimi Williams (SAN), observed that the document lied against itself. The constitution sustained the features of unitarism in a supposedly federal country. Up to now, full devolution of power is hanging, with the power-loaded central government, in some instances, treating the federating units that are coordinate with it, as an appendage.

Although the military abdicated power, it attempted to come back through the back door, in a decoy, as it invaded one of the political platforms, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and succeeded in installing its preferred candidate, General Olusegun Obasanjo, as president, with the support of conservative lackeys and confederates.

On May 29, 1999, Obasanjo was sworn in as the second elected president, 20 years after he voluntarily relinquished power to President Shehu Shagari. Being from the Southwest, his ascension fulfilled the zoning criterion as the basis for power rotation among the six geo-political zones.

The 1999 struggle for power showed that Nigeria, though a highly heterogeneous nation-state, had lived to its antecedent as a two-party country, reminiscent of the SDP/National Republican Convention (NRC) tango and Nigerian National Alliance(NNA)/ United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA) fight. In 1999, it was PDP versus Alliance for Democracy (AD)/All Peoples Party(APP).

An experienced leader, Obasanjo tried to put the country on the path of stability, in his own way as a soldier, by sending out of the military those political soldiers who had aided, abetted and profited from coups. But, like a typical soldier that he is, the president never fully adjusted to any democratic style, both as national leader of his ruling party and Commander-in-Chief. The president never initially gave serious thought to constitution review in aid of democracy. Legislative/Executive relationship was characterised by tension during the learning process under the nascent democracy.

He was in charge throughout; never lazy at reading memos, highly knowledgeable about the country and desirous of making impact, but never adapted to the rules of democratic game.

The anti-graft bodies-Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and ICPC-were set up to tackle theft, graft and sleaze. Towards the end of the administration, they largely became tools for witchhunting opposition figures.

Obasanjo consolidated his hold on power, and in a bid to overcome the pain of electoral rejection by his zone, the Southwest, he initiated a political earthquake that swept five AD governors out of power. Only former Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos, now president of Nigeria, survived the onslaught in 2003.

In 2004, Obasanjo set up a constitutional conference in Abuja. An atmosphere of peace pervaded Nigeria. Each time there is national conference, it is the harbinger of harmony in the entire landscape.

But, the initiative hit the rocks. The report was sacrified on the altar of third term, which was obvious, yet franticaly denied by the power that be.

The test came in 2007. The poll became a do-or-die.  The electoral umpire under Prof. Maurice Iwu performed poorly. It was a classic case of electoral terrorism as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared winners as losers. Apart from the presidential election, governirship polls in states were hotly contested. The protracted battles shifted from the ballot box to tribunals. The stolen mandates were retrieved. That is why off-season governorship elections are conducted in seven states-Osun,Ekiti, Ondo, Imo, Anambra, Bayelsa and Kogi.

Yar’Adua owned up, acknowledging that he rode to power on the back of a severely flawed election. He moved swiftly to address the ballot box debacle by setting up the Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms. Far-reaching recommendations were made by the wisemen. Not all the suggestions were implemented by successive administrations.

Before he passed on, Yar’Adua lifted the ban on local government allocation in Lagos. He set up the amnesty programme, which restored a measure of peace in the Niger Delta. He returned some federal properties on Lagos land to the state government. He refrained from ruling with an iron hand, unlike his predecessor, benefactor and godfather.

Nigeria faced a curious constitutional challenge orchestrated by the political class as illness took its toll on the good leader. After a serious battle led by the civil society that has been in slumber and battling with identity and role crises after the 1999 handover, the doctrine of necessity was invoked. Jonathan became acting president. He eventually succeeded his boss.

In 2011, backed by Obasanjo, his coach, Jonathan won the presidential election. To observers, though he was as gentle as a dove, his leadership was uninspiring. His rival at the PDP presidential primary,Atiku Abubakar, described his administration as clueless. Neither was the former president able to focus on economic improvement, tackle insecurity and reinvigorate the anti-corruption war.

Yet, his party was ebbing away. Some powerful forces had an axe to grind with him. Up came the nPDP, which collaborated with the opposition to draw the curtains on the party’s dream to occupy Aso Villa for 60 years.

Jonathan, like Obasanjo, set up a national conference in Abuja. Tinubu described it as a Greek gift, predicting that it will lead to no where.  The former president also sought to penetrate the Southwest, but he took a wrong route. His contacts lacked mobilisation prowess.

Unable to properly study, understand and interpret the political climate, Jonathan plunged into the river of 2015 election and his administration was swept away. Zoning is a factor in Nigerian politics and leaders can only ignore that reality to their peril.

Experienced leaders of like-minded legacy parties saw the loopholes as they returned to the drawing board to restrategise. They resolved to put their house in order. The defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a tiny group in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and nPDP decided to fuse together to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Again, they accorded respect for zoning, which is germane to the development of a sense of belonging by the geo-political zones. The forces queued behind Buhari and ended the 16 year-rule of the PDP.

Buhari was re-elected in 2019. He recorded some feats in the rail-sub sector. The hand of his presidency was not heavy on the states. Slowed down by illness, his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, acted for him. He was not as firm as previous leaders and there was no proper coordination of government activities. Many of the problems inherited from the Jonathan were passed to his successor.

Two global factors also retarted anticipated speed. Buhari’s time coincided with the global economic recession and Nigeria, as part of humanity, suffered from the scourge of pestilence-Corona Virus.

The 2023 succession battle was fiercely fought in the two dominant parties, APC and PDP, during the primaries and on poll day. The third vehicle, Labour Party (LP), only became a place of refuge for a PDP defector, former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, who trailed behind atiku of PDP at the poll.

Today, Tinubu is battling with the challenges he inherited from the preceding administrations-economy, banditry, corruption, and  disunity. Through the implementation of his Renewed Hope Agenda, he is trying to make a difference as he repositions the country on the path of development, stability, progress and stability.

How has Nigeria fared, 25 years after? Coup is now oldfashioned. But, there are threats of seccession here and there, although Nigeria survived the prediction of some foreign agencies that it would disintegrate in 2015. Police brutality led to EndSARS protest, with government losing critical infrastructure, particularly in Lagos State, to rampage by hoodlums who hijacked the protest from legitimate protesters.

The resolution of the national question is crucial to peaceful coexistence. In ensuring national integration, President Tinubu is approaching challenges as a man with a national outlook; detribalised, a bridge builder and a statesman.

He has given hints about an inclination towards devolution of powers through his support for state police, decentralisation of rail transport and even the push for local government autonomy. There is need for a thorough brainstorming between the Federal Government and states on financial and administrative autonomy for councils, beyond the current litigation.

Nigeria has not been the same since 1999. Its population has increased geometricall although census remains problematic. The country now boasts of more tertiary institutions, more roads and more communities are springing up.

But, job for graduates are scare, if not elusive. Nigeria lacks a productive economy, a situation aggravated by lack of stable electricity and dead refineries. Manufacturing sub-sector is on its knees because of the ‘unease’ of doing business. Unless these hurdles are resolved, investors may be reluctant to think about Nigeria.

Fuel subsidy has been removed. States now have more money, but its impact is not felt by the people. Palliative programme has flopped. Hunger and poverty are increasing. Hungry people are angry people. Nigerian economy is on crutches. Without robust productive activities, the Naira cannot be strengthened against the dollar.

In response to the clamour for inclusion, more youths and women are now in government. Not all of them are living to expectation.

Electoral reform is an unfinished business. In particular, concerns are raised about internal democracy in political parties and efficiency of the electoral commission during the periodic elections.

Two factors that now tend to shape elections in the country are ethnicity and religion, often manipulated by political elite for personal interest. There is need for more political education and enlightenment by political parties, patriotic religious organisations, civil society groups, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the media.

Indisputably, corruption has grown in leaps and bounds, with the state, in most cases, and as Dr. Pius Okigbo once rightly remarked, becoming the greatest corrupter of society.

The battle against corruption has to be total. It has to also be taken to the courts, where some judges try to pervert the course of justice through frivolous ex-patrate injunction.

The state, as Tinubu has insisted, must be run, based on the rule of law. That is why the law and the constitution should be respected always. That is why the courts,  the last hope of the common man, and defender of the defenseless, should be above board all the times.

Nigeria has become Tinubu’s burden. Speed is important. Public support is also essential. The administration should not lose focus. If the Renewed Hope Agenda is implemented with fidelity, Nigeria would have maintained a clean break from the part and Nigerians will savour a new lease of life.

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