See the Problems and Prospects of Democracy in Nigeria. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Democracy is a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament. Democracy is sometimes referred to as “rule of the majority”. democracy consists of four key elements: (a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; (c) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
Democracy has become a very common word in the 21st century, and it can be described simply as a form of government in which the people rule themselves. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
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Democracy gets this definition from its literal meaning which is a combination of two Greek words “demo” (people) and “kratos” (rule). Thus democracy can be said a scenario where everybody has the right and opportunity of taking up a representative role in positions of authority in a society. A position formerly reserved for members of the elite. Over the years there have been different interpretations and meanings given to this system of government, giving rise to terms such as British democracy, American democracy, Nigerian democracy etc.
The story of Nigeria’s democracy began on May 29, 1999, when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to former president Olusegun Obasanjo. Though democratic rule in Nigeria started right from after independence, it has been marred by military interventions and numerous years of military rule. It was only after 1999 that there was uninterrupted democratic rule in Nigeria.
However, after 17 years of continuous democratic rule, our democracy still has a long way to go, this is, to a large extent, due to the institutionalization of a culture of corruption in our government system at every level. Other major problems plaguing our democracy include imposition of the leaders on the masses by the elite based on personal interests, leading to a misrepresentation of the people; social injustice, which stems from an indigene-settler dichotomy; electoral irregularities; religious and ethnic manipulation; poverty, hunger and unemployment; amongst others.
PROBLEMS OF DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA
1. SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL INEQUALITY
Is a prominent and permanent feature of democracy particularly in Nigeria where democracy has widened the gap between those who have access to power and public funds and those who do not while democracy is synonymous with holistic development and aggregated growth in some climes; it is the representation of betrayal and in human deprivation in others.
Nigeria probably personifies the latter. While some countries aspire to and do indeed practice democracy for the socio-economic benefit of the generality of the people or at least as many people as possible; others, like Nigeria, make their own brand of democracy government of the few by the few and for the socio-economic benefit of the few.
Social injustice is another major blight on the Nigerian democracy. Social injustice in the form of marginalisation of ethnic minorities, and religious manipulation for political gain, all of which arises from the indigene-settler dichotomy.
Though Nigeria claims to operate a federal system of government, what is obtainable in reality is more of a central system of government, in which the states relies on heavily on the federal government, financially (in terms of allocations) and otherwise. This is one of the root causes of the indigene-settler dichotomy that is seen in Nigeria today.
There is phenomenal corruption at the level of politics and governance. The political class is unimaginably corrupt as well as the public bureaucracy which is also corrupt and ineffective in service delivery. The electoral process is an embarrassment and a threat to national survival. This negatively affects political freedom, transparency, guarantees and social opportunities.
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Corruption in Nigeria has become a kind of culture in the Nigerian public service, such that it is now accepted as the normal way things should done. The corruption in Nigeria is hydra-headed and multifaceted, manifesting in different forms and names. Some scholars argue that corruption in Nigeria started from the colonial period, and continued naturally after independence.
A political system ridden with corruption was the reason for the numerous coups and military interventions witnessed in the First Republic. However, some argue that corruption became ingrained in the mindset and culture of the masses during the military regime. It has become the norm in Nigeria for public office holders to loot and embezzle money meant for the public in private bank accounts abroad.
This has led to a deep mistrust of politicians by the Nigerian public. Another form of corruption in Nigeria is nepotism and favouritism, where political leaders prefer to appoint their friends, family members and their townsmen into available positions in the civil service. Which inherently leads to mediocrity in the various ministries and departments in which such people are appointed into and the dwarfing of the infrastructures of various government institutions.
Another problem of Nigeria’s democracy is the mentality that electoral positions can be used as private properties or entitlements. This stems from the imposition of the political leaders by members of the elite, candidates who are loyal to them, who will help them achieve their personal interests and agenda. This gives rise to a misrepresentation of the people by those elected into office. This phenomena is known as Godfatherism in Nigerian politics.
This is evidenced by the way in which the political parties conduct their primaries to select candidates who will stand for elections. Candidates are not chosen based on majority vote of any kind, but whomever the party leaders say should run, and who they think will more easily align to their manoeuvres.
Another way in which candidates are chosen is by the criteria of who is able sufficiently ‘settle’ the party leaders, either in cash or in kind. Thus, when these candidates are elected they end up serving these so-called Godfathers, instead of the people. This has also birthed the menace of electoral irregularities in Nigeria. This because most of the candidates that might be chosen by party leaders are unelectable, and in a bit to run elections at all costs they resort to various forms of electoral malpractices that is witnessed in elections.
4. RISE OF INSURGENCY
Boko Haram has become a disaster of un-imaginable proportion. The terrorist activities of the group has retarded socio-economic and political development of the country, especially in the north eastern region, hence it poses a major challenge to democracy and good governance.
5. LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY
The issue with democracy, in spite of the power of the people to control the decision-making process, is that there is no sense of accountability when the group makes a decision that turns out to be a bad one. Even particularly influential individuals in the group who may have persuaded the majority to vote for what led to the bad decision is free from blame because, ultimately, everyone in the group is responsible for his or her choice. People also tend to follow a crowd, and the citizens may vote for a party under influence of the majority, and not voice his/her true opinion.
6. SLOW RESPONSE
The democratic system in Nigeria can be slow to respond to important issues. Our present situation is a case in point. It is obvious that something must be done to reform our system of entitlements, for example, but there is no political will to do so. If we had a more autocratic ruler, that person could simply order the government to do something about the problem. But because we are a democracy and the voters are not sure what they want, nothing gets done.
7. LACK OF PARTICIPATION
Sadly in Nigeria, people fail to exercise their right to vote. Perhaps, they are reluctant to do it or are just less aware about the impact of their votes. Or perhaps they do not see it as a privilege and take the process less seriously.
PROSPECTS OF DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA
1. EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW
In democracy, all citizens are equal before the law. The idea that every single person should be treated equally before the law is a very noble one. In true democracy, political connections and nepotism would not count and all people have the same chance to be judged fairly.
2. IT PROMOTES CHANGE
This political system can promote changes in the government without having to resort to any form of violence. It tries to make citizens feel great and even provides them with a good sense of participation and involvement. Power is transferred between parties with elections.
The citizens decide who rule, as any elected government only has a certain term and then has to face elections again and compete against other parties again to regain power. This election system prevent over powering of the ruling party, as the ruling party has to work to keep its citizens happy or they would not be into the next electoral term. Therefore the citizens gain a sense of control over control over participating in the voting process, and by choosing their government.
3. IT BRINGS A FEELING OF OBLIGATION TOWARDS THE CITIZENS
The ruling authorities owe their success to elections by the citizens, so they would feel grateful to and socially responsible for them. This can serve as their motivating factor to work for the citizens, for they have
4. IT PREVENTS MONOPOLY OF AUTHORITY
Due to the fact that the government is bound by an election term where parties compete to regain authority, democracy prevents monopoly of the ruling authority. And, the elected ruling party would make sure their policies will work for the people, as they will not be able to remain in power after their term with bad records—they will not be re-elected. The right of choosing their government.
5. LESS MISTAKES
Democracy in Nigeria is the form of government that is least likely to make huge mistakes in a hurry. The course of policy in a democracy cannot generally be changed radically and quickly, thus, democracies are not as likely to make terrible mistakes.
6. RESPONSIBLE AND STABLE ADMINISTRATION
When there are elected and fixed representatives, a more responsible government is formed. Thus, democracy can be efficient, firm and stable. Its administration is ruled and conducted with a sense of dedication, and people under this system discuss matters and problems thoroughly to come up with sensible decisions.
7. IT HELPS MAKE GOOD CITIZENS
Democracy aims to create the ideal environment that is conducive to personality improvement, character cultivation and good habits. As per the experts, this political system seems to function as the first school for good citizenship, where individuals can learn about their rights and duties from birth to the time of death.
The Way Forward – RECOMMENDATIONS
However, despite the myriad of problems that seems to have brought the Nigerian democracy to a near standstill, there is still hope for our democracy. Most people will agree that corruption is the major culprit responsible for our dwindling democracy. So to get our democracy back on the right track the issue of corruption needs to be addressed thoroughly.
A considerable amount of effort has been made in the fight against corruption, especially through the EFCC. However, more needs to be done, such corruption-fighting agencies need to be given more powers, such so that in addition to investigating corrupt officials they should be able to also prosecute them.
Clear-cut laws should be put in place, and old ones updated to put elected officials (both incumbent and past) and public office holders in check. These laws should be enforceable with strict punishments attached to offences related to financial mismanagement.
A culture of accountability should be inculcated in the public service, starting with the removal of immunity of incumbent office holders, to make it clear that no one is above the law. Avenues should be put in place so that electoral offenders can also be brought to book, with stiff penalties and punishments attached to such offences. This will go a long way in reducing the mindset of impunity that our politicians have, especially when they know that they can go to jail if they misuse the privileges of their office.
The Nigerian democracy will really blossom if the issue of the indigene-settler dichotomy is settled one and for all. Such that everyone is given equal opportunities and privileges, regardless of state of origin or tribe, to maximise their potentials. The concept of state of origin (as we currently know it) should be done away with, so that someone who was probably born in a particular region and has lived there all his life can be regarded as a bonafide indigene of that area. This will reduce a lot of the factionalism and nepotism we see today in Nigeria, and also reduce to an extent religious manipulation by unscrupulous politicians. This will definitely give our fledgling democracy an opportunity to thrive.
Furthermore, for the people (the demos in democracy) to actually exercise their rights as regards to democracy, they have to know what their rights are. Thus a form of political education and evangelism needs to be carried out to elevate political consciousness and activism of the masses. Here, the political parties have a major role to play, together with the Independent Electoral Commission.
In conclusion, though our democracy still has a long way to go, we have made considerable progress, looking back at these past 17 years of uninterrupted democracy. President Jonathan’s handover, in the last general elections, to president Buhari really gave our democracy a stamp of credibility in the international community. Concurrently, if we follow in the footsteps of other nations with well established and developed democracies, and continue to put in place the necessary structures needed, including some of the above mentioned, our democracy will definitely flourish.