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Nigeria @ 55: Time to Strengthen Democratic Institutions

nigeria @55

“Formidable democratic institutions form system of quarantine for tyrannical desires.” — Friedrich Nietzsche 

In 1960, the Great Britain surrendered baton of leadership of Nigeria to her citizens which culminated into Nigeria’s independence as a sovereign nation born with yet unfulfilled aspirations to enthrone a country that represents the waning dreams of our founding fathers. 

William Tyler, American writer, exemplified this school of thought in his patriotic quote as follows: “I believe in United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign nation of many sovereign states; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.” 

It is incontrovertible as the truth that no nation can manifest its destiny if these democratic principles as highlighted by Tyler are not entrenched via strengthening of its democratic institutions. Nigeria cannot attain its place in comity of nations if democratic virtues continue to elude her as a result of absence of strong democratic institutions. 

Since independence, Nigeria has evolved through many regimes both military and civilian governments, long stay of military regimes in the country’s political space weakened Nigeria’s democratic institutions—which are hallmarks of democracy as a system of governance by the people; of the people and for the people. 

Imagine where our democracy would have been if it was not truncated severally by successive military regimes from 1966 till 1999 when rebirth of democracy was witnessed again in the country’s socio-political atmosphere. 

Imagine how many Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senate Presidents, Speakers, Governors, Deputy Governors, Senators, House of Representatives members, State Assemblies members would have transcended the nation’s political cosmos, which would have enabled deepening of democratic ethics and values—as foundation of formidable democratic institutions if previous democratic dispensations were not aborted in the past. 

There is no argument that protracted years of military reign dealt a big blow on the growth of Nigeria’s democratic institutions like legislature both at the state and federal levels.

In 1999, when the ship of democracy berthed again on the nation’s political shores, many cynics were of the opinion that our nascent democracy would not last more than a decade as a result of weak democratic institutions bequeathed to us by long tyrannical rule of soldiers who overstayed their welcome in the corridors of power. 

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo—ex-military Head of States became Chief beneficiary of third coming of democracy in the country when he emerged President of Federal Republic of Nigeria under Peoples Democratic Party, PDP that held power for sixteen consecutive years, until recently when it was defeated by newly found the All Progressives Congress, APC in an election adjudged credible, free and fair which prompted the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan to concede defeat to his rival President Muhammadu Buhari. 

One of the three arms of government, legislature—which epitomises the bedrock of democracy and democratic institute suffered greatly during eight years of Obasanjo regime which saw the Upper Legislative Chamber of Senate produced five Senate Presidents at the whims and caprices of the President. 

In fact, Senate President became one of the political appointees of President Obasanjo who he fires at his beck and call using corruption allegations to force him to resign, thereby paving way for the next puppet Senate President sponsored by the Executive arm to emerge. This overbearing influence of the Executive continued till Senators decided to call a spade a spade by electing a Senate President who was independent of The Presidency in the person of Senator Ken Nnamani; Enugu-East.

The historic election of Senator Ken Nnamani as Senate President without input of Executive did not only strengthen democratic institute of which National Assembly represents, but went ahead to ensure legislative independence vis-a-vis separation of powers that ultimately nailed ill-fated Third Term Project.  What would have become fate of Nigeria’s young democracy if Ken Nnamani was a puppet Senate President under President Obasanjo’s control?  

Nigeria would have become another ugly example of Zimbabwe and Cameroon where Presidents Paul Biya and Robert Mugabe toy with their countries Constitutions like village meetings minutes books to perpetuate themselves in the office against the wishes of their people. National Assembly leadership experienced turbulent periods under Obasanjo’s Presidency as a result of his anti-democratic tendencies exhibited as retired military General.  

Immediate past Senate President, David Mark was able to lead the Red Chamber for eight seamless and crisis-free years not only because of his political maturity and dexterity that helped him to navigate through the proverbial banana peels in the Senate but as a result of the “body languages” of former occupiers of Aso Rock Villa—former Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan who entrenched rule of law and principles of separation of powers that created conducive environment for legislative business to thrive in National Assembly. 

Even when Hon. Aminu Tambuwal became Speaker of House of Representatives against permutation of his then the PDP, President Jonathan did not fight him with corruption allegations, rather as a true democrat he respected independence of legislature. Jonathan Presidency never appointed anyone without constitutional confirmation of the Senate unlike what Nigerians are seeing now where legislative arm of government is being excluded in the day-day running of government.  

The on-going travails of Senate President Bukola Saraki can be seen as anti-corruption fight by gullible political neophytes who are not deep-rooted in political matrix of this part of Universe. True democrats and advocates of strong democratic institutions vis-à-vis separation of powers view it as an attempt to weaken the National Assembly cum legislative arm of government using fight against corruption as smokescreen to rubbish office of Senate President who incidentally doubles as Chairman of National Assembly. 

This ignoble plot to allegedly annex legislative arm by the Executive via installation of a docile and pliable Senate President if Senator Saraki is forced to resign would erode democratic gains Nigeria’s nascent democracy has made so far. 

In the spirit of objectivity and patriotism, this writer supports unbiased, holistic and apolitical fight against this dreaded monster called corruption but information at disposal of discerning and political conscious Nigerians shows that this is unholy battle between proponents of tyrannical rule and defenders of democracy—as embodied in philosophy behind legislative independence. 

Nigerians who are ardent believers in strengthening of our democratic institutions should be courageous enough to ask these thought-provoking and mind-illuminating questions: why is that Legislature becomes first casualty any time democratically elected government is toppled by military coup plotters? 

Why is National Assembly always experience turbulent and frequent change of leadership whenever we have former military Head of States as civilian President?  

Are we still having hangover of long period of military rule on the nation’s democracy? Is this a case of a leopard not changing its spots? 

How would we sustain this democracy if Senate Presidents are removed at the whims and caprices of the President? 

Where is principle of separation of powers as enshrined in 1999 Constitution as amended? 

Why is it always when the Executive arm is not comfortable with a setting Senate President that corruption allegations starts cropping up against occupier of that seat? 

Only well-thought-out answers will assuage agitated minds of keen observers of on-going shenanigans meant to weaken our democratic institutions thereby enthroning dictatorship. 

As we celebrate fifty-five years of nationhood, it is time to entrench and strengthening our nascent democracy via strong democratic institutions. 

Nwobodo Chidiebere, Political Analyst writes from Abuja.

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