For many years, I have developed a strong culture of reading a hard copy of at least one national daily every day; even this digital age with the proliferation of online media has not discouraged this culture of mine. This morning, when I left home in search of a Newspaper to begin the day with, I suddenly remembered it was Democracy Day and therefore just discarded the idea. Why? Because, today’s dailies would be filled to capacity with sycophantic congratulatory advertorials by favour seekers and politicians to their fellow politicians, many of which have little or nothing to do with true democratic ideals.
When I read some weeks ago that the Inspector General of the Nigerian Police reportedly refused to honour the invitation without any tangible reason of the Nigerian Senate, I kept wondering whether we still have a functional democracy in this country. If the Chief Law Enforcer of the nation can do that in a democracy regardless of the motive or justification, one must have every reason to be pessimistic. The parliament of any nation, no matter how bad it is, is the heart of its democracy and when it is so brazenly disregarded and disrespected, you can only wonder what future holds for such a democracy.
Granted that our National Assembly has sapped itself of so much honour and respect over the years to warrant such a treatment, but it is still constitutionally the most critical organ of our democracy and hence should still retain the minimum respect and power to summon even the president at any time, not to talk of any of his subordinates or appointees. Respecting the National Assembly is quite different from respecting the personalities that makes its composition. By the way, isn’t it a sign of a failed democracy that we continue to have doubtful personalities as legislators and without the trend appearing to be stopping any soon?
One major activity that preceded this year’s Democracy Day commemoration was the ruling APC’s ward, local and state congresses. I didn’t pay much attention to be able to give a general verdict on the nationwide exercise, but I am privy to enough information to conclude that no proper congresses took place in my local government. The process was so undemocratic that there was no proper competition and organization; those who were favoured were simply returned 100%.
First, what happened in my local government is not something uncommon; infact, it is the regular practice in almost all other local governments across the nation. However, the worrying part of it is how we keep normalizing undemocratic practices across virtually all political parties in the name of democracy which we claim to be celebrating every year. One cannot actually recall when last a major political party in Nigeria actually held a proper, transparent, honest and competitive ward to national congresses devoid of impunity, imposition, interference and outright violation of party and INEC rules.
Sometimes, one wonders, how many of the Nigerian presidents, governors and legislators that served from 1999 to date would even come close to occupying those seats if true democracy was really practiced in Nigeria? If political parties operated on internal democracy, how many people would have emerged as candidates in the first place? How many true winners have been denied victory by the shameless elections of 2003 and 2007? If the rule of law was truly operational over that period, how many of them would havecompleted their terms?
As we celebrate our 19th democratic anniversary, the Nigerian government is yet to decisively and satisfactory respond or tackle the local and international concerns of alleged military atrocities and excesses in their operations not only in the North East, but also across other locations in the country. We are still battling with allegations of state abuse and disregard of court orders in this celebrated democracy. Our prisons are seen as centres of human rights abuse with no consequences. These are some of the many things we ought to reflect on at times like these.
What exactly do we celebrate every year? Are we celebrating genuine progress towards democracy or are we just celebrating an end to military rule? From 1999 to date, how much have we improved in terms of freedom of speech, internal party democracy, transparency in governance, separation of powers, enduring electoral reforms, justice for the common man, equity and social justice and so many other democratic ideals? What parameters have we developed to assess ourselves and the progress we are making or not making democratically?
While we celebrate this so-called democracy, we must remember that it is still largely the amount of money you have that mainly determines your success in elections; people win elections without any manifesto; party officials at virtually all levels are not elected but selected; godfathers are still the movers and shakers of politics; majority of Nigerians are still largely politically ignorant without any effective mechanism for voter education in place for the foreseeable future; election offenders and fraudsters are still not punished; local government elections are still a sham; there is no level playing ground for non-incumbents against incumbents; our courts are largely seen not to be doing justice to electoral disputes; our electoral laws are still at the mercy of senators who are more partisan than patriotic; a theoretically independent electoral commission and so many other unaddressed issues.
This year’s democracy day as usual has been all about elected and appointed officials and politicians reeling out their achievements in office which have been carefully crafted by aides. These are many of the achievements they keep repeating every year as if they are reading from the same speech. Though such a thing is not unexpected as the day coincides with their milestones in office, but the real spirit of revisiting our progress in upholding democratic ideals individually and collectively shouldn’t be completely neglected in favour of self-praise-singing.
Celebrating 19 years of consecutive civilian rule in a country with a history of long term military rule is not out of place, but it must go beyond declaration of public holidays, delivering lectures and speeches, organizing thanksgivings or sponsoring billions in the pages of newspapers. It must be a critical reflection of how that civilian rule has given people more equal opportunities, responsible freedom, timely justice, political hope, sustainable prosperity and a better future.
The reasonable expectation is not that our democracy should be perfect after just 19 years, but how much are we doing to fix the basics. What are the efforts made over these years and what fruits are the efforts yielding? If we are to be taken serious, we must start taking actions on how to truly minimize the undemocratic practices and principles in our nation before the next Democracy Day.