By Abiola Owoaje
On November 8, 2007, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution for a particular day to celebrate and propagate democratic ideals, towards achieving its goal of establishing a democratic world order in international pursuits. Subsequently, September 15th has been observed as the International Day of Democracy.
The global attraction to Democracy is largely hinged on its capacity to ensure the smooth implementation of fundamental human rights and freedom. Hence, the International Day of Democracy seeks to celebrate the system of values democracy promotes and encourage all member-nations of the UN Charter to maintain open democracy and empower citizens to make decisions on issues affecting various aspects of their lives. Indeed, the United Nations strongly believe that member-nations, including Nigeria, must support human rights actively, if the dream of global peace and development are to be achieved.
For nearly 60 years after independence, the Nigerian democratic experience has largely been in fits and starts, interspersed by spells military regimes. The First Republic can be deemed to have commenced with independence in 1960, although the nation actually acquired the status of a Republican State in 1963, with the enactment of the Republican Constitution. However, on January 15th, 1966, the First Republic was brought to an end by a military Coup, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.
After a long military interregnum, with a Civil War in-between, Nigeria once again returned to democratic rule in 1979, with the emergence of Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari as the President. Unfortunately, the military struck once again on December 31st, 1983, with Major General Muhammadu Buhari as the head of the military junta. The coup effectively brought the Second Republic to an end.
The Third Republic was a Stillborn, aborted by the then military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, who annulled the June 12th, 1993 Presidential election, widely believed to have been won by Chief Moshood Kahimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola.
After a short-lived Interim National Government (ING) and another spell of military dictatorship, the Fourth Republic was birthed in 1999 and represents Nigeria’s longest run at Democracy. The country returned to democratic rule through the elections that brought in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in April 1999. He was followed by Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who came in 2007 but, unfortunately, died three year later on May 5th, 2010. His Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan completed their tenure and also won the 2011 Presidential election. Interesting, the 2015 elections marked the first change of power from one party to another, with the emergence of President Mohammadu Buhari.
As we celebrate this year’s international day of democracy, the National Association of Seadogs (NAS) Pyrates Confraternity, congratulates Nigerians and the Nigerian government for steadfastly keeping the fire of Democracy burning in the last 19 years of the Fourth Republic. Although the challenges have been enormous, the collective will of Nigerians has proven stronger than the divisive forces.
We also urge the Government to work harder towards strengthening the democratic pillars consisting of the people, political institutions, rule of law, security as well as majority rule and minority rights.
From the popular definition of Democracy as, “Government of the People, by the People and for the People”, it is clear that the citizens are the centre-piece of any democracy. While the people confer legitimacy of power through their votes, the elected government is also expected to meet the needs and aspirations of the people. Consequently, obnoxious policies that do not take into consideration the realities of the times, like the recent hikes in Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) pump price and electricity tariff, are clearly anti-people and therefore, undemocratic.
Political institutions, including the Independent National Electoral Commissions (INEC), political parties, pressure groups, the arms of government, mass media and civil society groups also need to be strengthened in the drive towards deepening our democracy. A loss of confidence in the integrity of our electoral umpire is unhealthy for our democratic advancement. Neither is the attempted passage of the vexatious Social Media Bill and the scurrilous attempts at restricting media coverage of the National Assembly, which the Nigerian Guild of Editors aptly described as “primitive, undemocratic and blatantly anti-press and anti-people”.
We, therefore, urge President Buhari to revisit and sign the 2019 Electoral Reform Bill presented to him before the 2019 general elections and equally provide a conducive environment for free press and civil society groups to flourish, in the interest of democracy.
Equality before the law is non-negotiable in a democracy. The laws of the land are supreme and above all citizens. The rule of law, therefore, demands that the law must be obeyed under all circumstances and according to the laid down procedures, no matter who may be involved. Nobody should be given neither preferential nor detrimental treatment in the application of the law. It is in consideration of the supremacy of the rule of law that we believe that the recurrent disobedience of court orders granting bail to Nigerians in criminal proceedings initiated by the Federal Government and the detestable invasion of a Nigerian courtroom by the Department of State Services (DSS) in a bid to effect the re-arrest of human rights activist and journalist, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, and other such acts, are major obstacles on our claim to democracy.
Human security whether defined as Freedom from Want (access to a minimum threshold of food, water, health care, shelter, education, and work) or Freedom from Fear (national or territorial security) are essential components of democracy. Therefore, the threat to such human security in Nigeria, occasioned by the worsening activities of Boko Haram and marauding Herdsmen, portend great danger to the survival of Nigeria’s democracy. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2020, Nigeria currently ranks third on the list of most terrorised countries in the world, just behind Afghanistan and Iraq. The ranking places Nigeria ahead of Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Yemen, The Philippines and DR Congo, in that order.
Meanwhile, Nigeria has just overtaken India, to become the world’s number one contributor to deaths of children under the age of five, a development that came two years earlier than estimated.
Democracy is intrinsically a government by the majority, in which the will and wish of the majority are executed by the government. However, democracy thrives where, while the majority rule, the rights and views of the minority are also respected and expressed. Hence as the popular saying goes, the majority will have their way but the minority must have a say, be they ethnic, religious or gender minorities. The President must, therefore, do more than the tired rhetoric of “bringing the perpetrators to book”, towards finding a lasting solution to the ethnic and religious tensions in places like Kaduna, Plateau and other affected parts of the country.
We believe that as the largest democracy in Africa, Nigeria should be the torchbearer and pacesetter, towards the propagation and entrenchment of democracy across the African continent and beyond. This year’s celebration, therefore, offers the nation another opportunity to reflect on the imperatives towards deepening and elevating democratic governance in Nigeria.