Wednesday, May 29, 2019 9:34 am
By Emeka Arinze
Today marks the twentieth year of uninterrupted democratic government in Nigeria. The journey to this dispensation started on May 29, 1999 when the then military government of General Abdusalami Abubakar handed over power to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, after years of pro-democratic struggles, following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, believed to have been won by the late business mogul and politician, Chief MKO Abiola.
However, the Federal Government under President Muhamadu Buhari, last year, recognized June 12 as the nation’s Democracy Day and made it a public holiday to be observed annually. The first June 12 Democracy Day will be celebrated this year. While May 29, henceforth, will remain as the inauguration day for elected president and most governors, June 12 will be marked as Democracy Day. Thus, Buhari is being sworn-in today for his second term, while twenty-nine governors are being inaugurated across the country.
It would be recalled that before the advent of civilian rule in Nigeria, the country was governed by military leaders that usually came-in through coups. General Yakubu Gowon ruled the country from 1966 to 1975, which gave birth to the thirty months civil war, giving way to the revolutionary but ephemeral regime of General Murtala Mohammed from 1975 to 1976. General Olusegun Obasanjo came first as Military leader from 1976 to 1979.
Thereafter, the country was returned to civilian rule with Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Dr Alex Ekwueme as President and Vice respectively from 1979 to 1983, when General Mohammadu Buhari/Idiagbon regime over threw the civilian government and cleaved unto power. General Ibrahim Babangida ruled the country from 1985 to 1993 and General Sani Abacha overthrew him and ruled from 1994 until he died mysteriously in office in 1998. General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over in 1998 and returned the nation to civil rule in 1999.
The current democratic dispensation, the fourth republic, began with Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, returning as civilian President from May 29, 1999 to 2007. Umaru Musa Yar’dua was sworn-in as President of Nigeria on May 29, 2007. However, he died in office on May 5, 2010, while his former Vice, Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, took over as President till May 29, 2015. The incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, was sworn-in on May 29, 2015 and was re-elected in the February 23, 2019 Presidential election.
While we thank the founding fathers of civilian rule in Nigeria, let us use the platform of the twenty years of civilian rule to reflect on our political journey so far and ask ourselves whether we have arrived democratically. There is no doubt that we have made some modest achievements. We have more universities, hospitals, new roads and phones to talk with one another and many more, but the simple truth is that a cursory look at the nation’s democracy balance sheet shows that we are still far from being there.
Our politics is still corrupt. We buy votes and deploy thugs with rifles to disrupt voting in our opponents’ strongholds. We openly rig election these days with reckless abandon. Many things about our democracy are quite undemocratic. The selection process is very faulty. Looting, embezzlement, corruption, stashing away of funds is at its highest ebb.
This is probably why Nigerian politicians fight for positions and want to capture power by all means. Hence, our politics is still a ‘do or die’ affair. This is why we are having so many election cases at the tribunals. There is urgent need therefore to sanitize our electoral system and make it more transparent and democratic. We need electoral reforms to redefine our leadership selection process. We should stop this pretence on being democratic whereas we are not. It is time we tell ourselves the home truth and stop playing the ostrich.
Our civilian rule, bedeviled by massive corruption, hunger, starvation, money laundering, cronyism, favouritism, selfishness, impunity, unemployment, infrastructural decay, insecurity and bastardization of democratic principles, cannot be said to be a democracy in the real sense of it. Surely, our democracy will remain a hoax and “Opium of the masses” when innocent Nigerians are unduly witch hunted, killed or made to commit suicide as a result of social frustration and deprivation.
The current 1999 constitution is the making of the military juntas. Military cannot be dictating what will be happening in a democratic set up. Thus, there is need for a National Conference backed by the law. Equally, the current Presidential system of government should be reviewed to skew towards the wishes of the masses. That is democracy. There is also the need to review the revenue sharing formula.
On the other hand, time has come for all Nigerians, both the leaders and the led, to close ranks and give our civil rule a human face. We must shun all tendencies that can truncate or ridicule the democratic principles as democracy still remains the best form of government. This is the way we can stand up proudly and boldly among the comity of democratic nations.