One of the famous quotes of a former president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt is: “When bad men conspire, let good men combine.” It is debatable among the perceptible stakeholders the extent that aphorism has reflected in Nigeria’s renewed experiment with civil rule that began 22 years ago. The preponderance of opinions is that the good men have not been able to combine to checkmate the metaphorical bad men Roosevelt talked about.
At the inception of political dispensation on May 29, 1999, Nigerians had hoped for a new dawn of prosperity and national rebirth. It was assumed that though democracy might not be an end itself, the general expectation was the heralding of a remarkable difference in the welfare of the citizens. It was envisaged to be a season of healing and succour from the era of jackboot of the military rule characterised by a single command structure, all rights suppressed and the issue of accountability and transparency thrown to the dogs. That was then. More than two decades after the change of guard, a lot of Nigerians say the gains of civil rule seems still seriously skewed in favour of the odds. They are wrangled by perceived excesses of the main gladiators, compromising civilians and a sprinkle of former top military brass. From the era of former President Olusegun From 1999 to 2021, efforts initiated by successive leadership of the country from May 29, about 22 years ago, aimed at fixing infrastructure remain a work in progress. Lack of continuity or what many described as policy somersaults have robbed the nation of revamping collapsed public utilities critical for real economic growth and development.
Political parties that ought to galvanise the citizens for genuine democratic progression have become personalised by powerful power blocs with intimidating war chests. Internal democracy is put in abeyance in the choice of candidates for major elective offices at all levels. The highest bidder predominates in the political space, at the expense of principle, integrity and other global standard practices. This and other tenuous factors and issues have continued to aggravate ethnic tension, suspicion and distrust across board. The mechanism of power shift or zoning designed to strike a semblance of bond and compromise is often shrouded in a welter of controversies.
In spite of public outcry over the existing 1999 Constitution (as amended), the political class has been running rings on the raging demand for its amendment. Successive administrations have not been able to break the jinx since 1999, hence the current schism on the ongoing efforts by the National Assembly to amend the constitution. A similar cynism is trailing the fate of the Electoral Act 2010, which many organisations and groups, as well as individuals called for a quick amendment. The independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is also wants an earnest treatment of the matter to facilitate its ongoing preparations for the 2023 general election. The commission has proposed far-reaching reforms, with the hope that the amendments would be done to avoid perceived lapses in the nation’s electoral system in the past.
There are issues over the performance index of the National Assembly since 1999. Nigerians and other interests are not unanimous on the positive impact the members have been able to bear on governance and the general welfare of the citizens. The legislative arm is either perceived as too concerned about the welfare of its members or seen as promoting a mutual relationship with the executive arm of government that is too cold for comfort to buoy independence and democracy. in effect, the critical role of oversight function is being made to suffer, apparently evident in the amalgam of allegations of malfeasance and abuse in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
On its part, the executive is mired in controversies of overbearing posture, disrespect for the legislature and the judiciary in the scheme of things and in utter disregard for the principle of separation of powers. The attitude has further served as the veritable catalyst in the ceaseless clamour for restructuring and power devolution towards returning Nigeria to a true federal entity. But executive has shown any iota of seriousness and commitment to those demands, which most Nigerians believe holds the key to the stability of the country. According to them, the present structure is skewed against most of the ethnic nationalities that make up the country. They argue that it is the major source of friction because it is not founded on equity, justice, fairness and balance. To them, it is the main issue in the various shapes and forms of conflicts that have continually dogged the path of the country and have assumed a frightening dimension over the years. These include insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and other violent criminalities that have held the nation spellbound.
Activities of the INEC are central to the progress or otherwise in the nation’s democratic journey. The present leadership of the commission appears to be consolidating on some of the gains from 1999 when the first general election was conducted in the country. While it concedes that some mistakes were made; a few errors committed here and there, the commission has initiated moves to bond with the major stakeholders in the electoral process in the quest to clean up the system, raise the bar and institute an efficient and workable structure. Lately, however, the INEC has come under severe strains and pains following violent attacks on its facilities, especially in the South-East geopolitical zone of the country.
Part of the major gains of the country in the more than two decades of civil rule is the gradual institutionalisation of the fundamental human rights. Basic freedoms, including on liberty, association and speech are being upheld though with instances of attempts by the establishment to undermine them. The freedoms are manifest in the prevalent multi-party arrangement, frantic efforts by individuals to seek the enforcement of their fundamental rights through courts of competent jurisdiction and occasionally test of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) on the iniquitous, warped and skewed distribution of the powers of federal, state and inclusion of local government as the third level of government, which many acknowledged as an aberration. Even though stakeholders also acquiesce that there is an improved level of openness in government activities, many others insist that the battle against corruption has been cosmetic and salutary in impact. Whereas some alleged that the authorities dating back to 1999 used the war on corruption as political witch hunt, others said it has been used to institutionalise soft-landing for corrupt demagogues.
However, some prominent observers believe that the nation’s democracy was only passing through a phase after which it would be fully and properly institutionalised. One such eminent individuals is a top notch of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr Anthony Z. Sani. He said Nigerians need not fret over the current challenges confronting the country. His words: “These challenges the nation goes through are worrisome. But they are pains experienced by a growing tissue. Process of nation-building is never without pains. Recall there were times the challenges were so prevalent that America predicted there would be no Nigeria by 2015. That is why I agree with the father of Singapore, Mr Lee Kua Yew, when he says order, justice, liberty, common decency and prosperity for all, are not inevitable. These things are attained through ceaseless hard work by both the leaders and the led. I therefore see the challenges as natural concomitant of process of nation-building.”
According to the vice presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Mr Peter Obi, most of the crises bedevilling the country can be blamed on political leaders, who out of selfishness, have refused to use public funds for public good. he explained that the political leaders and the elites are the major causes of the problems confronting the citizens. he asserted that their desire for self-aggrandisement and lack of commitment to the progress of the country had continued to trigger the crises. He argued that if the leaders had sincerely invested in the key areas of national development, especially in the support of small businesses and job creation, the country would have been better and a safer place now. He added: “You cannot have an army of world’s poorest people and expect to go in and sleep peacefully at night. Millions of idle people in Nigeria do not know where their next meal will come from, because they are unemployed. We have, today, over 15 million out-of-school children roaming the streets. Each of these are a ready instrument of crisis in a nation. the political leaders have failed to do the right thing. That is why we have all sorts of crime and uprising in different parts of the country.” The way forward, he said, was for the leaders to shun corruption and looting of public treasury, as well as learn to sincerely use public funds for the good of the society.
The issue of restructuring vis-à-vis the much-vilified 1999 Constitution is another perspective that remains pronounced in national discourse. It is regarded as an underling factor, with implications for future elections in the country. For example, a prominent politician and lawyer, Chief Supo Shonibare said the existing constitution was antithetical to the ethnic heterogeneity of the country. Shonibare said: “We cannot ensure the political, economic, social and security of a nation state by continuing to operate a unitary system of government, it has proved to be disastrous and unworkable. No future president or governor can cure that defect, operating this unitary constitution. Our present rulers must not pass the buck. If they pass the buck, they will have ensured the nunc dimittis of our federation.” He advised the present crop of leaders to summon the courage by doing the needful to stave off danger. His words: “Our present rulers must not welsh on their responsibility for the constitutional decisions, only to pass on that responsibility to a succeeding or an alternate source of authority. We did not compel them offer themselves for service and the rulership position they now occupy. They collect humongous salaries and expenses to booth. It is an obligation for which posterity will hold them accountable. An election in 2023 will not cure the defect in our unitary constitution. As it will be dragging a divided federation into the process. It will be like rubbing salt into the injury.”
The trajectory of Nigeria’s history indicates a land of huge promises and opportunities. Experts said this is attested to candid views of foreigners that came across the people that occupied Nigeria in colonial times. One of them was a famous American author and traveller, John Gunther, who was quoted in 1953, as saying: “The most exciting country I have even seen in my life, extravagantly colossal and turbulent, and its politics are incandescent.” A celebrated author, politician, activist, scholar administrator, Mokwugo Okoye, captured the views of some world scholars and statesmen on the stature of the potential of the country in his ever-nourishing book: Storm on the Niger. The author also reflected his frank assessment of the immense potentials of his nation and the encumberances towards fully and maximally exploring them thus: “The temperature, soil and resources of the country are diverse enough to give Nigeria economic self-sufficiency were this necessary in conditions of the modern world, and the varieties in her tribal culture constitute a wealth of social experience that can be transformed into strength. Yet, in spite of these resources, the people, whose cheerfulness and generousity have impressed foreign visitors, live in want and squalor in a land of potential plenty—a tragedy repeated in nearly every African country today.”
In his broadcast to commemorate Nigeria’s 100 years as a federation, former President Goodluck Jonathan was incurably optimistic about Nigeria deploying its “pot of diversity” to attaining greater height as the hope of the African continent and indeed the Black race. According to him: “If, in our first century, we could build a new capital city, we can surely build a newer, stronger, more united and prosperous Nigeria in the next century that will be an authentic African success story. The whole world awaits this success story. With our sheer size, population, history, resilience, human and natural resources and economic potentials, Nigeria is divinely ordained to lead the African renaissance.”
Nigerians patiently await that period when their country will realistic embark on such journey.