Which Way for Nigeria’s Democracy?


Nigeria’s current democracy is 15 years old but with the myriads of problems facing the country, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is: will it survive longer?

By Olu Ojewale  |  Jun. 9, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

THIS time ought to be a celebratory period for Nigeria. For the first time in history, the nation has enjoyed an uninterrupted democracy for 15 years.  But the mood in the country is sombre and does not favour any elaborate celebration as Nigerians observed the obligatory May 29, Democracy Day as a public holiday with hope and trepidation. In his Democracy Day broadcast, President Goodluck Jonathan said he had ordered a low-key celebration in deference to the mood in the country, but noted that the longest period of 15 years of democracy had been a blessing to the nation rather than a curse. He thus, paid tribute to those who fought for the actualisation of the current Fourth Republic. And in line with the state of insecurity in the country, Jonathan said: “We must remain united to win the war against terrorism. Christians, Moslems, farmers, fishermen, herdsmen, teachers, lawyers, clergy or clerics, the rich, the poor and Nigerians from all sections of the country must work together with our security agencies and armed forces to overcome the terrorists who now threaten all that we hold dear. The war against terror may be difficult, but the days of peace will come again. Terror is evil; nowhere in history has evil endured forever. The menace of Boko Haram will surely come to an end. I believe that because of your prayers, your courage, hard-work, faith and sacrifice, we will ultimately prevail over the terrorists and all other evil forces.

“We are a strong, resilient and courageous people. We will continue to partner with the civilised world, to confront international terrorism and every other challenge that comes our way with patriotic zeal and determination. Fellow Nigerians, yes, we have challenges but we will surely overcome. Nigeria is our country. Nigeria is blessed. We will all collectively protect, defend and develop this country for ourselves, and our children.” In the same broadcast address, the president said he had given an approval for a full military action against the insurgents.


While a number of states opted for a low-key celebration like the federal government, both Delta and Niger states asked people on  that day to pray  to God for the return of peace to the country so as to allow for progress and development. At the federal level, Labaran Maku, minister of information, said the day would be used to showcase the achievements of President Jonathan in the past three years. “We believe that the president needs to be congratulated and we did so because we believe what he has done in the last three years is a miracle if we look at the challenges, clear bottlenecks that were placed on his path by some of us the citizens of this country,” Maku said, adding that it was clear that Nigeria under Jonathan had done better than most countries in Africa despite the challenges confronting the nation. The minister insisted that the killings, kidnappings and vandalism being recorded in parts of the country were planned to frustrate Jonathan and his administration. Despite these, however, Maku said the president had been able to improve the nation’s economy with his various reforms.

Indeed, the state of insecurity has successfully overshadowed any kind of celebration that may have been planned for the 15 years of uninterrupted democracy in the country as threats by Boko Haram insurgents continue to dominate public attention and national discourse. In the past few months, the Islamic fundamental group has been persistent in their nefarious activities and wanton killings, largely in the northern part of the country. For instance, in the past one month, about 1000 people have been killed in various parts of the North by the insurgents. However, the major one that has gripped the whole world is  the kidnapping  of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, Borno State, on April 14. The inability of the Nigerian security services prompted international military assistance from the United States, Britain, China and France among others to help the country to rescue the girls. More than 40 days down the line, the fate of the abducted schoolgirls still hang in the balance just as Boko Haram insurgents continue to operate with reckless abandon. All these have put the country in global spotlight as an unstable country and a dangerous place to be. While efforts are being made on many fronts to stem the tide, President Jonathan has noted that “all the gains of the past 15 years of democratic governance in our country are threatened by the presence of international terrorism on our shores.” According to the president, the insurgents have not only been distracting the government, it has also halted development programmes and ruined the economy in some Northern parts of the country.

In the current budget, the government has earmarked N968 billion for the military to fight the insurgents and thereby denying funds to some crucial developmental projects and poverty alleviation programme that would have benefited the larger society. Indeed, President Jonathan who has, in no small way, demonstrated his intention  in action, if not in speech, to contest for a second term in office, at the inception of his government in 2011, introduced what he called a transformation agenda that would eliminate infrastructural decay that had been foisted on the country by military regimes of more than three decades after the nation gained political independence in 1960. Since the return of democracy on May 29, 1999, successive civilian administrations, starting with former President Olusegun Obasnjo, have been battling with the elimination of infrastructural decay, poverty alleviation and some endemic social malaise that have been the lot of the country.


On his part, Jonathan decided on the transformation agenda which includes the building of infrastructure such as electricity, transport, fixing of education, poverty alleviation and fighting corruption to bring the country to the standard whereby every citizen could enjoy the dividends of democracy. Through the programme, the Jonathan administration has been able to do a number of things on energy, road network, transportation and agriculture, among others. But those efforts appear like a drop in an ocean because Nigeria is still ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world according to a recent World Bank report. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, made the disclosure at the International Monetary Fund, IMF/World Bank spring meetings on April 10. The World Bank boss stated that Nigeria was one of the top five countries that had the largest number of poor. Nigeria, he said, ranked third in the world while India ranked number one with 33 percent of the world’s poor. China placed second with 13 percent of the world’s poor, followed by Nigeria where seven percent of the world’s  poor live. He said that Bangladesh had six percent share of the world’s poor while the Democratic Republic of the Congo has five per cent of the world’s poor population.

Kim said: “It is imperative not just to lift people out of extreme poverty; it is also important to make sure that, in the long run, they do not get stuck just above the extreme poverty line due to a lack of opportunities that might impede progress toward better livelihoods. Economic growth has been vital for reducing extreme poverty and improving the lives of many poor people. Yet, even if all countries grow at the same rates as in over the past 20 years, and if the income distribution remains unchanged, world poverty will only fall by 10 percent by 2030, from 17.7 percent in 2010. This is simply not enough, and we need a laser-like focus on making growth more inclusive and targeting more programmes to assist the poor directly if we’re going to end extreme poverty.” Categorised as living in abject poverty are those earning less than $1.25 a day and which Kim said their numbers would have to decrease by 50 million people each year until 2030.

Apparently abashed by the disclosure, President Jonathan said the World Bank was wrong and misleading. He insisted that, “Nigeria is not a poor country,” adding that: “our problem is not poverty, our problem is redistribution of wealth.” The president’s statement was apparently political because all the indices have shown that Nigerians are very poor. Experts say that in real terms, Nigeria’s recently recalculated 2013 Gross Domestic Product, GDP, of N80 trillion, equivalent to about $510 billion, makes the country the largest economy in Africa, and well ahead of the $384 billion recorded by South Africa in 2012. This puts Nigeria as the 27th largest economy in the World Bank rating, ahead of Austria, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates. And based on the African Economic Outlook account, the country’s economy grew at 7.4 percent in 2013 and will continue to post real growth rates of over seven percent for 2014 and 2015. However, given the population of Nigeria, the growth does not make either the people or the country wealthy. This, perhaps, makes the World Bank to still categorise Nigeria as lower middle income. It added that the country’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to meet the basic social needs of the world’s poorest by 2015, had been “disappointing, with indicators in many areas resembling those in the poorest countries in Africa.” The study has thus, shown that 60.9 percent Nigerians are still poor despite governments’ efforts and increased oil revenues. This, perhaps, is one of the reasons the federal government has been trying to increase power generation in the country with the hope that it would provide job opportunities for about 41 million estimated jobless Nigerians. According to government figure, power generation on which an average of $3.5 billion is spent annually, has risen only from 3,200 megawatts in 1999 to less than 5,000 megawatts peak in recent times. Railways are archaic, with available tracks stagnating at 3,556km despite billions of naira spent on dodgy Chinese contracts.


Nevertheless, President Jonathan has identified industrial revolution as one of the ways through which he could lift Nigerians out of poverty. Jonathan made the disclosure while inaugurating the Presidential Advisory Committee on Industrial Revolution Plan in the Presidential Villa on May 13. He said with proper planning, industrial revolution would remove 200 million Nigerians out of poverty the same way China lifted more than 500 million of its citizens out of poverty. The president commended the organised private sector for a successful outing on the World Economic Forum on Africa, which took place in Abuja early in the month, adding that no country would ever be prosperous only by extracting and exporting its raw materials. He said to accomplish industrial and economic growth, Nigeria must do things differently by starting to add value to its resources through research development. For the nation to industrialise, President Jonathan said the Nigerian Industrialisation Revolution Plan must serve as the catalyst. He said that the committee must serve as a platform to get the inputs of the best industrialists in the country, because the existing investors in Nigeria were best placed to articulate the expansion of strategic industrial sectors. The president expressed confidence that the plan would quicken the industrialisation of Nigeria and create many more jobs and wealth for its citizens.

Another bane of Nigeria’s development, especially under the democratic rule, is corruption. John Magbadelo, deputy director of reforms at the ministry of petroleum resources, on Thursday, April 31, 2013, said in Abuja that processes in the federal service “are riddled with corruption,” and that the country lost over $400bn to corruption over a period of 33 years between 1966 and 1999. “The cancerous rot which has continued to impair the growth potentials of this country seems to have defied every therapy. It was estimated that Nigeria had lost to corruption as much as $400 billion between 1966 and 1999. Yet corruption in Nigeria preceded 1966 and has continued ever since even beyond 2007 with greater ferocity and intensity,” Magbadelo said, at the public presentation of a book entitled, “Anti-corruption Campaign in Nigeria (1999-2007): The Politics of a Failed Reform” written by David Enweremadu, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan.

Based on perceived and factual evidences, Nigeria is regarded as one the most corrupt nations on earth. Each successive government since the enthronement of democracy has been regarded as corrupt which prompted the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to establish the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to fight corruption in the country. But in recent times, President Jonathan is seen as being soft on corruption. For instance, it took more than three months to sack Stella Oduah as minister of aviation following  alleged purchase of two armoured cars for N255 million. In the past few months, there have been allegations of the missing N20billion oil money from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation account and alleged reckless spending of N10 billion of public fund by Diezani Alison-Madueke, minister of petroleum, to charter private aircraft. A lot of people have criticised the president for treating the allegations with kid gloves. This probably prompted The New York Times in an editorial to conclude that: “Jonathan leads a corrupt government that has little credibility.”

Tam David-West, former minister of petroleum resources and a social critic, holds a similar view. He has repeatedly said Nigerians should not expect any serious fight against corruption from the Jonathan administration. Speaking in an interview, the retired university don and professor of virology, said his earlier posture that President Jonathan was incapable of fighting the scourge of corruption had been vindicated. “I have said it over and over that Jonathan cannot fight corruption. Not that he is corrupt but he condones corruption. So far, every Nigerian knows that corruption is the greatest evil slowing down the growth of this country. Corruption is the greatest malaise that is reducing Nigeria’s image. That is why we need someone with the willpower and capacity to honestly fight corruption,” he said.


David-West stated that many corrupt cases in the country and the inept manner they were handled had shown that President Jonathan lacked the courage to fight corruption. He cited the Siemens bribery scandal, the alleged missing N20billion oil money and the N10 billion chartered jet scandal involving Alison-Madueke, saying the President had done nothing to convince Nigerians that he was committed to  fight against corruption.  “Goodluck Jonathan has even compounded his case by saying stealing is not corruption. If stealing is not corruption, what is corruption?” he said.

Again, President Jonathan believes that reports of corruption in Nigeria have always been exaggerated and thereby taking a big toll on the image of the country. Speaking at a meeting with the Nigerian community in Namibia in March, the president noted that the sensationalisation of corruption in the country has stigmatised its people. He said though his administration would not condone the menace, using big stick would not be a solution to ending corruption. Rather, he said, government would continue to strengthen relevant institutions in order to tame the monster.  He called on every Nigerian to resolve to do the right thing and support the government in its efforts at building a new Nigeria. According to him, if the citizens extend their cooperation to government in the fight against corruption, the nation would be completely transformed in the next 10 years. He said: “The green passport should be a symbol of honour, respect and dignity, not humiliation.” He stressed that Nigeria is a great country and with certain definite steps the administration was taking, the country would take its rightful position in the globe. He assured the Nigerian community in Namibia that with all the political tension being created by the opposition in the country, he would not play politics with the development of the nation.

Indeed, the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, has not been making life easy for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that brought Jonathan to power. Since the merger of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, and a splinter of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, which gave birth to the APC in 2013, the PDP seems to have got its match. The APC which formally got the approval of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on July 31, 2013, has been a formidable opposition to the ruling PDP government headed by President Jonathan. It has held the government responsible for every bit of the problem facing the country from unemployment to the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram insurgents. The party has been able to heat the polity a number of times since its registration.

That notwithstanding, there appears to be no difference in party ideology and structure between the APC and the PDP. Little wonder they seem to react to issues the same way. But the success of the party in the federal elections, analysts say, will depend largely on the ability of the party’s big personalities being able to put their egos aside, allow internal democracy through which an acceptable candidate would be chosen as its presidential candidate.

As the 2015 general elections draw nearer, President Jonathan has seen the need to give Nigeria an opportunity to draw a peoples’ constitution based on constant agitations in various parts of the country. However, the country has a volatile issue militating against its unity more than ever before. After the country returned to civilian rule in 1999, some Nigerians criticised the previous military regimes for tampering with the regional structure, which has stymied its growth and further polarised the polity. Besides, they accused the military of foisting a constitution on Nigerians that could not possibly work for its development but regression. They argued that the regional arrangement had brought about development and rivalries among the federating units. But with the current state-structure, communal clashes between ethnic groups fighting over land and resources have risen. “The system is inefficient and has fanned the flames of disunity and violence in the country. We need to reconsider our whole political structure,” Adigun Agbaje, a professor of political sciences at the University of Ibadan, said in an interview.


One way of resolving the socio-political imbalance in Nigeria, it had been variously suggested, was to hold a national dialogue. This, President Jonathan succumbed to in his national broadcast of October 1, 2013. The conference formally started work in March. But Jonathan is not the first elected president to try this path. Obasanjo tried it when he initiated the national political reform conference which lasted between 2005 and 2006. The conference failed as it tilted towards amending the constitution to allow the president to run for a third term in office. Nevertheless, during the debate of the recommendations of the conference, the National Assembly voted to maintain the two-term presidential limit.

For fear of having a hidden agenda, the national conference met with suspicion, especially because of its timing. The announcement was made while the president was undergoing the most turbulent challenge to his authority in the PDP. For instance, in September, 2013, seven governors from the ruling PDP broke away to form a rival faction of the party. Earlier in the year, the APC emerged as a counter force to the PDP while  some members of his cabinet had been  embroiled in scandals. “Why is the conference coming at just about 15 months to the next general election?” Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and a chieftain of the APC, asked, adding: “Nigeria has never been this divisive in its 53 years of existence, yet President Jonathan now considers a national conference because of the apparent division in his party.” Although the APC as a party did not send any delegate, the conference appears to have succeeded to recommend some far-reaching reforms that, if accepted, would give the nation a new lease of life. Some of the issues like citizenship, immigration, rights of the minorities, religion and other related matters, topped discussions as the conference started deliberations on the recommendations of its sub-committees on Wednesday, May 21. Some of the delegates made further recommendations on the submissions made by the committee. Areas where further inputs were proposed included citizenship rights and census, amongst others. Chris Abongaby, representing North East, suggested that critical indices for population documentation such as religion, tribe and language ought to be captured by the conference for demographic purposes.

Abongaby also suggested that citizens, who settle in any part of the country for a period of 10 years and meet up their civic obligations, should be allowed to enjoy full benefits as indigenes.
“Critical indices on population documentation like religion, tribe or language should be captured in the conference recommendations. The indices were omitted in the 2006 census and the committee on citizenship, immigration and other related matters still did not capture it in its recommendations,” he said.

Northern minorities at the conference similarly, have cried out for help from oppression and depression facing them in the North, saying the powerful elite and groups have systematically, over the years, marginalised and taken away the rights of the minorities in that part of the country.


The minorities also complained of denial of indigenship certificate and issuance of settler certificate to indigenous Hausa and Fulani Christians in some northern states. This, they said, had directly denied them access to employment in federal, state and local government services as well as in the security agencies. The memorandum submitted to the Conference states: “The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates that no citizen of the country shall suffer or be subjected to discrimination or disadvantage on grounds of class, ethnicity, religion, gender or disability. But in the Northern states, religious discrimination has become institutionalised by the federal, state and local governments. In northern states there is confiscation of missionary and community schools by federal and state governments. Promotion and building of almaajiri religious schools by the federal government constitutes official government discrimination against Christians in Northern Nigeria on the basis of religion.

Whatever the outcome and contrary to perception of sceptics, Nigerians at the conference are working tirelessly to cement the unity of the country and enhance its strong points rather than weakening the structure. Besides, whatever the shortcomings of the current political dispensation, Nigerians believe that democracy has been entrenched in the nation’s political system in the past 15 years and it would unimaginable to contemplate another form of government. Mike Ozekhome, senior advocate of Nigeria and a delegate at  the national conference, said though the 15 years of democracy had not brought  much development to country, there should be no cause for alarm because things would soon be better. “I agree that it is not yet an Eldorado but you have to realise that big democracies, like the United States,  have practised democracy for are  more than 200 years  and yet the system is not perfect. What we need to do is build institution and work towards making things better,” he said in a radio interview. Mohammed Garba, national president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, said while congratulating the nation for the 15 years of uninterrupted democracy, that what the nation needed more than anything else now is the spirit of patriotism. “We don’t have another country as our own, so, we must protect Nigeria and support our leaders and criticise them where necessary,” Garba said, adding that though the system is not perfect, it could be made better through constructive criticism.

For Lanre Ogundipe, former NUJ national president and a member of the national conference, said Nigerian politicians have performed below expectations. “What we have had is a token of what people expect from our politicians. They should tell us what they have been doing and what they are doing with our money… Sentiments should be put aside. Look at the people they are presenting to us. What is their track record? What is their antecedent? Are they trustworthy? Can they deliver? The future of this country lies in the truth. But Nigerian politicians are not truthful,” Ogundipe said, adding that the only way we could be hopeful of getting adequate dividends of democracy would be when Nigerian politicians rid themselves of corruption, ethnic and religious bigotry.


Speaking in the same breath, Muda Yusuf, director-general, Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Lagos State, said in an interview that although he supported the celebration of 15 years of democracy, the values were yet to be delivered by Nigerian politicians. “Democratic values are not yet fully imbibed that is, the value of transparency; the value of accountability; the value of the rule of law and the value of free enterprise. The citizen’s participation is very weak. Even as citizens, we are not given the kind of value, the kind of benefits we should gain from democratic process,” Yusuf said. But he blamed the electorate for not holding politicians accountable. He said: “As citizens, once we have voted in elections, all of us virtually go to sleep. So, what we have been experiencing, is all sorts of impunity, and that makes us not to have the kind of quality governance that we should have under a democratic process.” Besides, he said, the Nigerian democracy was still a work in progress and it would take a while for the country to have the kind of democracy that would work for it. But he warned: “As citizens we also have to take our destiny in our hands and hold our leaders to account. As citizens we should be more active in democratic process. We are not active at all; that is why our leaders do what they like with us.”

But Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, is rather dismissive of the whole idea of celebrating the 15 years of uninterrupted democracy in the country. He asked: “What are we going to celebrate? Is it the budget Jonathan has just signed? Is it the abduction of more than 200 girls by Boko Haram insurgents that we are going to celebrate? Is it the incessant killings, kidnappings all over the place. My brother, as far as I am concerned, we don’t have a democracy yet in this country.”

Whatever political divide that one may belong to, it is certain that Nigeria’s democracy is still a work in progress, but whether it will lead to the Promised land is what nobody can beat his or her chest for now.

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