Sunday, September 18, 2016

Nigeria’s democratic culture and development challenges

"The implementation of the Goals must be underpinned by a strong and active civil society that includes the weak and the marginalised. We must defend civil society's freedom to operate and do this essential job. On this International Day of Democracy, let us rededicate ourselves to democracy and dignity for all." — UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

September 15 of every year has been earmarked by the United Nations as International Day of Democracy. The theme for this year’s celebration which took place last Thursday is “Democracy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.  According to the information gleaned from the website of the UN, ”In September 2015, all 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development -- a plan for achieving a better future for all, laying out a path over 15 years to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. At the heart of the Agenda are the Sustainable Development Goals, which call for mobilising efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Nigeria in a couple of weeks from now, precisely on October 1, will roll out the drums to celebrate her 56th independence anniversary. Indeed, the country has had a topsy-turvy democratic culture that has been interspersed with military adventurism in governance. In fact, for a cumulative 29 years of the 56, military junta held sway. Even after the return to civil rule in 1999, two out of four presidents we have had are former heads of state. I mean ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who was Head of State from February 13, 1976 – October 1, 1979 and the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari who was Head of State from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985. Thus, military has had a great influence on our polity.

In Nigeria all the indices and indicators of democracy are present. Since the return to civil rule in 1999 we have been having periodic elections and as at the last count in 2015, we have had five general elections – 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. We have the three arms of government – executive, legislature and judiciary – in place. The principle of separation of powers and checks and balances are also in operation. The Nigerian fourth estate of the realm, the media, is one of the most vibrant in Africa. With the advent of new media, free speech has been taken to another level with citizens holding government to account and demanding for good governance using both the traditional and social media platforms.

Furthermore, the principle of rule of law also found expression in Nigeria. The three core tenets of the principle viz. Supremacy of the constitution, equality before the law and fundamental human rights are also observed to some degrees in this clime. Nigeria also has civil society members which have been doing incredible works in various communities, both urban and rural, providing support and succor to people. Among several things, with funding assistance from international donor partners, they have been offering wide range of capacity building initiatives to both state and non-state actors inclusive of government’s Ministries, Department and Agencies.

In spite of the semblance of democratic culture in this country, it is still a long way to democratic consolidation. The performance of our democratic institutions still leaves much to be desired. Despite running a multiparty democracy with up to about 30 political parties accorded due registration by the electoral management body, our political parties have failed woefully to perform their critical role of political socialisation, public policy formulation and credible leadership recruitment. Political elites in Nigeria are highly fragmented and are a self-serving bunch.

 At elections, they do everything to undermine the electoral process including engaging in all forms of sharp practices and malpractices. They induce voters and other stakeholders like the poll officials and security agencies with money in order to gain undue advantage. They also orchestrate violence all in a bid to win elections. Our electoral process is highly volatile because of the adoption of the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ by Nigerian brand of politicians.   In government, these politicians have been a disappointment. They have largely failed to deliver on their campaign promises. Many a time, the populace continually asks and hopes for democracy dividends which never came.

The democratic space in Nigeria is still not wide enough. The women, youth and persons with disabilities are still highly marginalised. The percentage of these vulnerable groups in elective and appointive positions is still infinitesimally low. Though there are policies drafted to enhance participations of these marginalised groups in government; however, these policies have been observed more in breach. The Gender Policy, Youth Policy and Policy on PwD are mere paper tigers. The advocacy for affirmative action to be adopted to bridge the gap and redress injustices done to these vulnerable groups has been largely unsuccessful. In order to ease the participation of these groups in the electoral process, there have been strident calls for independent candidacy and proportional representation principle to be inserted in our electoral laws. This has been ignored.   

Nigeria, unlike many democratic countries of the world, has two electoral management bodies. They are the Independent National Electoral Commission and the State Independent Electoral Commissions. While the former is responsible for all federal and state elections, the latter is saddled with the conduct of local government elections. These two institutions are at various levels of independence. While INEC is faring better in times of administrative and financial autonomy, SIECs on the other hand are tied to the apron string of the governors. INEC since 1998 has not failed to conduct periodic elections unlike SIECs which are starved of funds to conduct local government polls. As I write this, more than half of the 36 states in Nigeria have failed to conduct local government election as at when due. As against the express provision of section 7 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, many of the LGAs are governed by sole administrators or caretaker committees. This is an aberration!

Nigerian judiciary, especially at the lower echelon – magistrate and high courts – has been a source of worry because of high level of miscarriage of justice going on at that level. Many have alleged widespread corruption in judiciary and this is a bad omen for democratic consolidation. Nigerian legislature, both at federal and state level, has not lived up to their billing. At the state level, the parliament operates like an extension of government house. They are so pliable that they operate at the whims and caprices of the governors. At the centre, both the Senate and House of Representatives have been enmeshed in all kinds of corruption and certificate forgery controversies; including the recent budget padding brouhaha in the 8th House of Reps. Executive lawlessness and culture of impunity have been the norm at all levels of government in this country.   Little wonder there have been persistent calls for the restructuring of the country to make it efficient and effective. I do hope this will be urgently addressed so that the country can achieve sustainable development goals targets set last year at the UN General Assembly.

Jide is Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.