Nigeria’s 13 Years Of Democratic Rule: The Gains, The Pains
Tuesday last week, Nigerians rolled out the drums to celebrate 13 years of uninterrupted democracy. It also coincided with the first anniversary of President Goodluck Jonathan’s inauguration. Since the time of Obasanjo, May 29 every year has been set aside as Democracy Day, to commemorate the day the military under General Abdulsalami Abubakar, wilfully handed over power to the civilian government of Olusegun Obasanjo.
In a nationwide broadcast marking his first anniversary in office, President Jonathan highlighted the highs of his administration and urged Nigerians to give him a chance. President Jonathan also identified that the problems of the country as insecurity, unemployment, lack of will to develop the potentials which abound in the country, insatiable appetite for imported good and the propensity of few of the elite to resort to foul language and violence in their quest for power. He however assured Nigerians that the country was being steered in the right direction, giving a sector by sector assessment of the economy, promising that in no distant time, visible changes will touch on the life of the average Nigerian.
The president said the credit rating of the country has been stable in the face of global downturns, which have adversely affected other economies. He said for the first time in Nigeria, the external reserves this month hit an all time high of $37.02 billion while commitments to foreign direct investment into the country have hit N6.6 trillion which he described as an indication of the confidence that investors globally have in the economy.
Nigerians from all works of life have been giving their verdict on what 13 years of unimpeded democracy has left Nigeria with. To many Nigerians, it has been a mixed bag of the good and the bad, but there seems to be a convergence of opinions that despite the many shortcomings of democracy, there is still room for improvement and thus hope for a better tomorrow.
To former governor of old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, he does not like talking about Democracy Day, because according to him he does not see democracy being practiced in Nigeria. “What is happening in Nigeria has nothing to do with democracy. It is just civilian rule. Democracy pre-supposes that we take part in governance. The aggregate interest of the Nigerian people is not taken into consideration when decisions and policies are being made. Rather, the government listens to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and World Bank,” he explained. He said, for example, withdrawal of fuel subsidy came when government was yet to conclude consultations with labour organisations as well as private and public sector stakeholders. “The minimum wage now is N18, 000 a month and that even, is grossly inadequate. But with this withdrawal of oil subsidy, a large part of the employees at the lower rank will find it difficult and impossible to survive because they now pay more for services. Nigerian worker will be left with nothing because the N18, 000 minimum wage he receives has been eaten up by inflation. So how can the Nigerian citizen survive?”
Dr Emman Usman Shehu, the director of the International Institute of Journalism, IIJ Abuja shared the same view with Balarabe Musa in a chat with Newsworld. He said, “We don’t have democracy in Nigeria. The system we have been having in Nigeria in the past 13 years is ‘lootocracy’. It is a government that comes in by arrangement to sustain the looting of the country’s resources. Whatever way you want to call it, the military arranged a system that some of them were benefitting from, awarding oil blocs to themselves, awarding juicy contracts and juicy appointments and so on and so forth.”
He was of the view that even when the military were in power in Nigeria, the technocrats who assisted them to run the government were civilians. From 1999 to date, has the situation of the average Nigerian changed going on democratic principles. Do you have security? No. Do you have employment? You go to school and come out and join the job queue, whereas all the campaign promises from 1999 to date are just promises without fulfilment.”
To Dr Nosike Agokei, a management consultant, 13 years of unbroken democracy has not translated into meaningful macro-economic stability for the country. He said while the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has made some commendable efforts, there is no good news yet, because according to him inflation rate has gone up astronomically. “As we speak, the average inflation rate is between 12 and 13 percent, which is not good enough for an economy such as ours,” he said.
Agokei, who is a well-travelled consultant, said “not long ago, we were told that efforts were being made to reduce or bring interest rate down, but it has hit the rooftop. In some cases, interest rate is at 22 percent plus and with other charges; it is pushed to about 25 and 26 percent or 27 percent in some cases. Who can invest in such an environment?
Regarding infrastructure, he said it has been a disaster in the last 13 years with all sorts of promises by successive governments and huge sums of money sunk into developing infrastructure. “One can safely say nothing has been achieved and the poor state of infrastructure has impacted on other areas, thereby worsening the situation in the operating environment.
Also, refineries have not really worked in the last 13 years, in spite of huge sums of money spent on turn around maintenance, TAM. The poor state of refineries is a significant contributing factor to the high cost of petroleum products,” he stated. He said though the government has talked about a transformation agenda, which is anchored on Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, not much has been achieved, yet billions of naira has gone down the drain.
The chief executive officer, Mediacom and Advertising Agency, Dr Ken Onyeali-Ikpe, noted that successive administrations have failed to develop sports. “Government has in the last 13 years merely adopted a cosmetic approach, rather than putting necessary infrastructure in place. Sports management and administration in a capitalist economy like ours is supposed to add value to the lives of the athletes. Effective sports administration is supposed to be put in place with infrastructure so that multinational companies can latch on that in terms of sponsoring of the athletes. Unfortunately this is lacking. Unlike in other countries where sport is seen as big business, sports is still seen as a social activity and thus run as such. And when this is the case then we should not expect corporate bodies to commit their resources to where they don’t stand to gain anything.”
Onyeali-Ikpe observed that sports has really suffered a great setback in the last one year of President Jonathan’s administration. “The last one year of President Jonathan in office has witnessed so many problems which range from corruption, insecurity, social, economic and other problems. And when you consider all these, you will not be surprised that sports is one of the least items on his agenda,” he said.
For Babatunde Osiloja, a senior lawyer, the success story of Nigeria’s democracy is a mirage. When elections are not free, when votes are rigged and when you go to the tribunal, the judge says you are wrong and then you ask for his head, is that democracy? We are not yet there. We are simply not yet there.”
However, Ebenezer Babatope, former minister and PDP chieftain, does not see the gloomy side of the 13 years of democracy. He praised President Jonathan for keeping the country one in the face apparent threats to the unity of the country. “The fact that his government has continued to show interest in the continued unity, peace and progress of Nigeria shows that he is on the right course. He is never emotional or sentimental in tackling national issues. I think I love that because this country needs a president and a head of state that is very mature in the handling of national issues. He has faced crisis with equal strength. The riot in the Niger Delta, militancy and the Boko Haram issue he has handled them very well. He has called for dialogue. He is waiting for them. We must all continue to support him and we must all continue to pray for the peace and unity of this country.”
Perhaps the greatest achievement to date is that despite the challenges, there is unanimity of opinion and consensus that democracy has come to stay. To a large extent the key indices that sustain a democracy – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly – are largely respected.