By Josephine Babatunde –
After 22 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria, there are certainly good reasons to celebrate, but there are also many good reasons to reflect and ponder over the failure of leadership at all levels, particularly at the centre, which, during these years, resulted in numerous missed opportunities, crashed hopes and unfulfilled aspirations.
One of the tenets of democracy is that it entails accountability to the governed, as well as freedom and liberty, especially freedom of expression, and political participation, among others.
It was against this background that Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora warmly welcomed the transition programme of General Abdusalami Abubakar, which finally ushered in democracy on May 29, 1999 after many years of military incursion in politics. The elections conducted in 1999 also witnessed large turn-outs of voters – possibly because the people expected that their votes would count and that those truly chosen by the people would emerge as leaders as opposed to the practice of leaders emerging through the instrumentality of election rigging in the past.
It must be remembered that the 1999 general elections in the country took place at the time Nigerians were still in the throes of putting behind them the bitter experiences of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
The June 12, 1993 presidential election, it will be recalled, was adjudged to have been the freest and fairest in the annals of Nigeria’s presidential polls. The election, conducted under a two-party system, was also adjudged to have been won by the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Moshood Abiola (of blessed memory). Remarkably, both Abiola and his running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, were all Muslims. Sadly, however, the junta, headed by General Ibrahim Babangida, decided to annul the election just as the electoral body, the National Electoral Commission (NEC), chaired by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, was about to declare the final results.
Data collated by Professor Humphrey Nwosu-led NEC showed that Chief Abiola won the June 12, 1993 presidential polls though he was never formally declared winner nor was he sworn into office by the military government of Ibrahim Babangida. Instead, Abiola was later imprisoned by the Sani Abacha’s military regime as he struggled to actualize his mandate. He died in prison in 1998.
Successive governments – from Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), Umaru Yar’Adua (2007-2010) and Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015), had ignored calls for Chief Abiola to be honoured and for the federal government to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day. The annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election had raised a serious political uproar with its attendant dislocation of the socio-economic fibers of the nation. It also brought the country to unimaginable contradictions and structural decay.
Even after almost 15 years of the return of democracy, the bitterness and the deep wounds inflicted by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election were still to heal. There was therefore the need to heal the hurt and to appease the despondent sufferings of the segments of the Nigerian society so that all would cheerfully come on board for the growth and development of the nation. There was the need to correct the perceived injustice and assuage the feelings of those who felt they had been unjustly treated, politically.
It was, perhaps, in an attempt to redress this injustice that the All-Progressives Congress (APC)-led government of President Muhammadu Buhari laboured vigorously toward setting the country on the path of true democracy where justice, equity and fairness are seen to be done to appease the aggrieved parties.
On June 6, 2018, however, President Buhari not only recognized the sanctity of June 12, but also conferred Chief Abiola with the highest honor in the land. The acclaimed winner of the election was posthumously awarded the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), while June 12 was declared as “Democracy Day.”
While it would not be out of place to posit that one enduring legacy of this administration, is the unalloyed recognition of June 12 as the country’s “Democracy Day,” it must however be stressed that beyond mere declaration and recognition of June 12 and the principal characters in the election, Nigeria’s democracy and democratic ethos need to be fine-tuned to meet up with the 21st century challenges of modern democracy.
Consequently, as the nation marks this year’s “Democracy Day,” it is imperative for President Buhari to deliberately initiate pragmatic policies that would address the failure of leadership at all levels, particularly at the centre, which, during the past 22 years of democracy, resulted in numerous missed opportunities, crashed hopes and unfulfilled aspirations.
It is indeed disheartening that the past 22 years of democracy were replete with absolute disregard for the rule of law, large-scale violation of human rights, monumental corruption, mismanagement of the nation’s economy and decay of infrastructure. This scenario certainly calls for greater concern, especially as the next general elections in 2023 draw near.
There’s the urgent need for the government to ensure that elections in the country are seen to be free and fair. The government must also ensure that the Electoral Act is signed into law ahead of the 2023 general elections. Beside this, the clamour for e-voting must be integrated into the country’s electoral re-engineering process.
Above all, there’s the need for an inclusive, people-oriented Constitution to be put in place to ensure that the votes truly count. In other words, the objective of President Buhari should be to ensure genuine popular participation and inclusiveness in future elections in Nigeria. The process of constitution alteration is on under the Buhari administration. It is an opportunity that the President would not allow to slip through his fingers. This is because he believes in building legacies. The recognition of June 12 as “Democracy Day” and declaration of the day as a national holiday is just a tip of the iceberg in the confetti of legacies that would mark the terminus of his administration and exit into a deserved retirement.
But if President Buhari fails to courageously rise to the occasion and do the needful, a significant opportunity to etch his name in gold would have been missed, but I doubt if this is what he craves for. He realizes that there are more to do beyond the June 12 recognition.
Another area that should attract President Buhari’s attention is political party administration. As one commentator once lamented, the political parties, the very critical elements in the socialization process towards the ideals of democracy, are themselves, particularly the ruling parties, purveyors and distillers of undemocratic behaviours.
Equally worthy of the President’s attention is Local Government administration. He must take more than a passing interest in ensuring that the third tier of government is rescued from the selfish grip of state governors who seem to derive some sort of impish satisfaction in emasculation of the local governments and seizing of funds that are due to them, otherwise the principle of the separation of powers in a democracy would remain under serious threat
Furthermore, as we mark this year’s “Democracy Day”, President Buhari must encourage the National Assembly and, indeed, Nigerians, to achieve an all-inclusive constitution amendment. He can do this by ensuring that Nigerians are actively involved in the ongoing constitution amendment process as a way of exercising their sovereignty thereby conferring the new constitution with the needed legitimacy.
Another small but highly significant area that should concern President Buhari is the voting rights of Nigerian citizens in the Diaspora. The strategic importance of this segment of Nigerians cannot be overlooked. Besides the need for the Diasporic Nigerian citizens to participate in choosing leaders for their country, the fact that they remit millions (if not billions) of Dollars home is a huge boost to Nigeria’s foreign earnings; and therefore, beyond economic contribution, they should be contemplated within the much-talked about inclusive political arrangements that the administration is working round the clock to emplace before the 2023 general election.
▪︎Ms Babatunde sent in this piece from Ikeja, Lagos.