Photo Credit: Nigerian Eye

19 Years of Democracy

I believe that one of our limitations, as a country, is the inability to tell our positive stories. We should learn to tell the positive narrative of our existence because we do have some achievements to narrate. If we do not tell our good stories, others will tell only our bad stories. Even if they don’t, we are very good at telling our own bad stories.

This week, we celebrate 19 years of the Fourth Republic. Nigeria has broken the jinx of the breakdown of democracy witnessed following only six years of the First Republic, four years of the Second Republic and a Third Republic that General Ibrahim Babangida crash landed on take-off. Yes the Fourth Republic has survived for 19 years and even offered the world the positive democratic achievement of alternation of power between the ruling party and the opposition. I believe that one of our limitations, as a country, is the inability to tell our positive stories. We should learn to tell the positive narrative of our existence because we do have some achievements to narrate. If we do not tell our good stories, others will tell only our bad stories. Even if they don’t, we are very good at telling our own bad stories.

It’s actually very difficult to tell positive stories today because the reality is that as a country we have under-performed in relation to our resources, human and natural. Nigeria has suffered massively from decades of reckless and debilitating corruption, selfishness and bad governance that has undermined our ability to reach the heights we should have attained. We have failed to reverse the culture of impunity that has assured generations of leaders that they could rule and ruin Nigeria in the confidence that the end game is only stupendous wealth for themselves and misery and poverty for the majority. We have failed to confront our weaknesses and learn to severely sanction our leaders who engage in mega looting and the transfer of our wealth abroad to build other economies, while ours remain underdeveloped.

In his democracy day address, the president recalled various policy measures his government has put in place to stem the tide of corrupt practices and argued that they are yielding remarkable results. They include the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Whistle-Blowing Policy and the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit set up with a mandate to validate controls, assess risks, prune personnel costs, ensure compliance with Public Financial Management reforms and which has helped to identify and remove over 52,000 ghost workers from the payroll of the federal government’s ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). He added that the fight against corruption through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has resulted in the recovery of billions of naira, as well as forfeiture of various forms of asset.

Democracy thrives when public safety is provided by the State. One of the greatest weaknesses of our 19 years of democracy has been rising insecurity. There has been a sharp rise in the volume and spread of violent conflicts in Nigeria over the past two decades. In recent weeks, we have even been hearing about the glide towards civil war again…

This week, three former governors had their impunity challenged and have started facing the accountability principle. The EFCC secured the conviction of a former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, who was jailed for 14 years by an Abuja court for corrupt practices while in power. Then ex-governor of Kaduna State, Ramalan Yero was remanded in prison custody after being docked by the anti-graft agency. Finally, another former governor and current “distinguished” senator, Jonah Jang of Plateau State, has just been released after spending one week in prison custody on the directive of the court, as he is tried for corruption. These cases are important because governors have been acting with total impunity, ruining the finances of their states and remaining above the law. It would be recalled that former Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State in 2007 obtained a court judgment restraining the EFCC from investigating or prosecuting him through a perpetual injunction. The jinx that governors are above the law is thus being broken.

Democracy thrives when public safety is provided by the State. One of the greatest weaknesses of our 19 years of democracy has been rising insecurity. There has been a sharp rise in the volume and spread of violent conflicts in Nigeria over the past two decades. In recent weeks, we have even been hearing about the glide towards civil war again, if preventive measures are not taken to stop the violence. In his democracy day address, the president said that his administration is addressing the growing insecurity in the country. Once again, he repeated the claim that the Boko Haram insurgency has been degraded, leading to the re-establishment of the authority of government and the release of many captives. He also declared that the unfortunate incidences of kidnappings, herdsmen and farmers clashes in several communities, which have led to high number of fatalities and loss of property across the country, is being addressed and the identified culprits and their sponsors shall be made to face the full wrath of the law. The problem is that the trend has been going on for years and Nigerians have not seen culprits being arrested and punished. There are so much conspiracy theories in circulation about the motivations for the violence and killings, that the State has to perform its responsibility and significantly improve public safety in Nigeria.

The other challenge we face is on the economic front. In spite of promises, the Nigerian economy remains in a poor state. The rate of unemployment/underemployment remains very high and although agricultural production has increased considerably over the past two years, our agriculture essentially maintains technologies of the 19th century and any year that the rains fail, agricultural production plummets. Our greatest economic failure has been the complete dependence on petroleum revenues, which, moving forward, cannot provide the basis to run our society. There is an imperative for the structural transformation and modernisation of our economy. Every government since independence has promised this structural transformation but it is not happening. There are signs that the Buhari administration is persistently driving increased agriculture production and is pushing us to eat much more locally grown rice, wheat and sugar, but there is no clear strategy to improve the technology of agricultural production.

To deepen our democracy, we need to address the damage being done to our politics by hate speech and the growing industry of fake news and conspiracy theories attributing murderous intentions to ethnic and religious groups. Finally, the issue of re-inventing a new political class committed to issue-based politics is the pathway to democratic consolidation.

It is clear that one of the most important factors exacerbating the crisis in the country is the forthcoming 2019 election, which is only a few months away. Party primaries are due to commence in August and politicians are positioning themselves for the contest. Some of them are creating reductionist narratives that attribute the violence in the country to political motives. Some people, for example, are interpreting the farmer-herder conflicts as an attempt by the president’s ethnic group, the Fulani, to kill Christian farmers and confiscate their land. This is a disservice to our democracy. We should be careful about drowning the reality that both Christians and Muslims are being massacred in the growing violence, which is a statement about State weakness.

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To deepen our democracy, we need to address the damage being done to our politics by hate speech and the growing industry of fake news and conspiracy theories attributing murderous intentions to ethnic and religious groups. Finally, the issue of re-inventing a new political class committed to issue-based politics is the pathway to democratic consolidation. Yesterday, the president signed the not to young to rule bill into law, an important measure that would encourage younger people to enter the political arena. Many of the young, however, have learnt the ways of their elders and the way forward is to seek young people who are also democrats engaged in issue-based politics to continue the struggle to deepen our democracy and ensure that public resources are used for the public good.


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