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Democracy @ 20: High hopes as Buhari, Govs Take Oath of Office

Democracy @ 20: High hopes as Buhari, Govs take oath of office

By: Jude Opara

Nigerians are expecting a better delivery of democracy dividends, as President Muhammadu Buhari and 29 state governors take oath of office on a day Nigeria is marking is 20 years of democracy.

On May 29, 1999, Nigeria returned to constitutional democracy after a tedious military administration which had seized power and disrupted democratic institutions. Before now, the country was having an interchange between the military and the civilians in the quest to administer the country.

In 1993 the country had an election that was generally adjudged as the most peaceful before and it was presumed to have been won by philanthropist and businessman, Moshood Abiola.

But the military government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election.

The heat generated by that annulment was one of the reasons Babangida who had always shifted the goalpost of the handover date quickly inaugurated an interim government headed by Ernest Shonekan in August 1993.

Just three months after, Shonekan whose government was powerless announced his resignation after the then Army Chief, Gen. Sani Abacha allegedly forced him to do so.

During the reign of Abacha from 1993 till his death in 1998, the country was under the stranglehold of one of her most brutal juntas. The ruthless General also incarcerated Abiola.

However, it was a new turn after the maximum leader died in 1998 and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar who took over gave a promise to return the country to a democratic rule in 1999. This promise he kept.

To kick start his transition programme, Abubakar registered three political parties which were, Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Peoples Party (APP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which gave birth to democratic governance in 1999.

So, the current democratic experience which is the longest uninterrupted so far began effectively when the mantle of leadership was handed over to President Olusegun Obasanjo by Gen. Abubakar.

It is our sincere hope and desire that the military boys have returned to their barracks for good.

So, 20 years after, we want to evaluate how the journey has been so far. The PDP took the first shot and ruled the country for 16 years before they were defeated by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015.

The government started by purging the military when President Obasanjo retired all military officers who have been exposed to political offices. This indeed terminated the career of a generation of military officers; some of them were the finest at that time.

One intractable problem that has bedeviled Nigeria from inception is corruption. The government began a fight against the monster by establishing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).

Like every new broom, these agencies appeared to have been effective at the beginning until somehow they became the instrument of harassment and suppression of real and imaginary enemies of the government.

There was this hope of a new horizon when the country returned to constitutional democracy despite the fact that the president at that time was a retired military dictator himself. Nigerians had hoped that there will be a reversal of their dwindling economic fortunes, but 20 years down the line the standard of living has even continued in a downward slide.

The Obasanjo administration made some efforts in returning Nigeria as a global citizen with her involvement in many international treaties and conventions. His government also negotiated with the international donor agencies like the World Bank, the Paris Club as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to offset the nation’s debts.

In the area of infrastructure, there were a lot of contracts awarded for the construction of roads and other projects but they were given out at highly outrageous rates with jobs delivered not commensurate with the money paid.

For instance, the construction of the Abuja National Stadium is said to have cost the country a huge fortune which if properly managed could have delivered three of the same quality project

In the electoral system the story has not been any different. Politicians were ready to do anything to win elections. Imposition of candidates and ballot box stuffing were and are still the order of the day.

During the PDP era, impunity was taken to a rather ridiculous level to the extent that the godfathers can give the party ticket to anybody they like whether such a person won the primary election or not.

The mantra then was do whatever you could to be declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), then the judiciary will be the next bus stop. The manipulation of the judiciary was the order of the day as in most instances, cases were delivered to the highest bidder.

In 2007, Nigeria conducted yet another election and shortly after his inauguration, late former President Umaru ‘Yar Adua had accepted that the process that led to his victory was faulty and he promised to do something about it.

Certainly, he did by setting up the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reforms Committee. That Committee recommended for electoral reforms aimed at giving INEC more latitude to organize free and fair elections across the country.

However, midway into his administration, President ‘Yar Adua died and his deputy Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in.

In 2011, President Jonathan campaigned and won election defeating current President Muhammadu Buhari. Then he ran a campaign based on the fact that he was from a poor background, many people bought into his story believing he will make things easier for everybody given his background.

But his government was largely criticized because of the high rate of corruption. Many people at the corridors of power easily helped themselves from the public purse.

The issue of the activities of the dreaded Boko Haram in the North East also took a dangerous turn as bomb explosions were happening just in days even in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

All these and many more real and imaginary reasons were capitalized on by the civil society organizations and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) which was an amalgam of some political parties for the sole purpose of capturing power to run down the government.

For instance, in 2012, the government attempted to increase the pump price to N140 naira to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy, the CSOs and the opposition party took to the street to protest. They claimed that there was nothing like subsidy, describing it as a scam. The Jonathan administration buckled and returned the price to N87 naira.

So, in 2015, many analysts were not surprised when the incumbent president was defeated by his challenger. This is because a lot of people had had the notion that the country needed a change and the person of President Buhari well fitted in.

President Jonathan, who had always said his ambition never worth the blood of any Nigerian, equally surprised many especially his party members when he put a call across to Buhari to concede defeat. That singular action also saved the country a lot of stress because the tension in the country was at a fever high pitch.

Many analysts believed that the APC never believed that the former president was going to hands off so easily, so they were alleged to have prepared their supporters for a wild protest which may have turned violent.

President Buhari mounted the saddle with a lot of promise and the people in turn were also not in short supply of expectations and hope. The government during their electioneering campaign had promised a lot of things including payment of N5,000 monthly to all unemployed Nigerians, reduction of the exchange rate from a naira to a dollar, reduction of the pump price from N87 naira to about N45 naira, ending the Boko Haram madness within the first three months and many more.

But four years after, many Nigerians are yet to feel the impact of the government. Most of the promises have at best remained promises. In fact, some have been out rightly denied.

The exchange rate is now N360 to $1 dollar, the pump price instead of selling at N87 is now N145 naira.

While some of the abducted Chibok girls have been released, over a 100 others are still in captivity, just like Leah Sharibu of Dapchi school who was among the other set of school girls abducted under the watch of this present government is still in captivity after the freedom of her colleagues was negotiated.

The country has not fared better in any way including in the security situation because while we will agree that Boko haram has been pushed to Bornu state, other dare devil organizations have commenced the business of mass killings and wanton destruction of property. Today the killer herders and armed bandits are freely on the rampage, killing and abducting people with little or no hindrance.

The government seems to have lost ideas of what to do and perhaps that is why the clamour for at least the change of the service chiefs has been ignored. Today all over the country, people are living in fears and some ethnic nationalities have started threatening of defending themselves from any external aggression.

The mass killings by the herders in Benue state last year with one incident resulting to the mass burial of over 77 bodies will linger for a long time in the minds of Nigerians.

The country is today more divided unfortunately along the two dangerous lines of religion and ethnicity. This government may have inadvertently contributed to this by its actions and utterances earlier in their regime. For instance, shortly after his inauguration in 2015, President Buhari in an interview told a foreign television that he will not treat those who allegedly gave him 97% and 5% equally. While those who believe he was right rose to support him, those who differed said it was unnecessary for a sitting president to so classify his own people.

Suffice it to add that the government must be seen to be fair to all manners of Nigerians irrespective of their creed, ethnicity and orientation. The idea of treating some people with kid gloves while others are given the sucker punch will not help us. One can easily remember the seeming pat on back to the Arewa youths who audaciously gave Igbos living in the North a quit notice as well as the activities of the killer herdsmen are being justified by the body language of the government, while the secessionists Indigenous People of Biafra who are only carrying flags were quickly branded as terrorists.

Unemployment and hardship are now bedmates of most Nigerians and the ugly result is the high rate of suicide among the citizens at all levels and strata. Many people are confused and ready to take any rash action at the slightest provocation.

So as the President takes his second and final oath of office, he should begin to think of how to solve of some of these problems especially those that bother on national security and the standard of living.

The Social Investment Programme (SIP) which the administration launched before the 2019 elections has been variously described as a failure as little or no impact have been felt of the hundreds of billions of naira budgeted for that. No other personality than the First Lady, Aisha Buhari only this week cried out that the programme has failed especially in the Northern Nigeria.

The Buhari administration and the 8th National Assembly had at best functioned in a cat and mouse relationship with accusations and counter accusations of sabotage every now and then. It came to a head last year when the men of the Department of State services (DSS) sealed off the assembly, locking legislators, staff and visitors out.

Despite the fact that both the outgoing Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara were members of the APC by the time they were elected, the leadership of the party did not welcome them and hence the barrage of attacks and court cases that followed. This also forced the duo to decamp to the PDP later on.

The incident which happened when the President was away on medical trip hugely embarrassed the country as the local and international channels beamed the development live. The then Director General of the DSS, Mamman Daura was forced to resign as an aftermath of the power play that emanated from that inglorious outing.

The government should this time try to operate in harmony with the leadership of the 9th National Assembly. We also hope they succeed in getting their preferred candidates, Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila elected as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively.

The President has promised to change his style; we hope the change will be a positive one. To start with, immediately after the inauguration today, we expect to see the list of ministers as soon as the 9th Assembly is inaugurated in June. Nigerians will not accept the long wait of six months it took before the out gone ministers were appointed.

As a leader, the President should also devise other ways of getting information of the real situation in the country because it appears that most of the people around him only tell him things that will make him believe that all is well.

Importantly, President Buhari has said he believes Nigeria needs to practice True Federalism; it is expected that he puts flesh to the skeleton of the verbal pronouncement by initiating a bill to the National Assembly to make the necessary constitutional amendments.

I have said it severally that without True Federalism Nigeria will not likely improve on her development. This is because the unitary system we are operating at the moment is not helping us. At best what we are doing is motion without movement.

We must practically move away from the mono economy we are operating. Oil alone cannot continue to carry the country while elsewhere in Zamfara people are freely mining gold and the government looks the other way. Nigeria must allow each component unit or state to operate a level of autonomy that will help them take certain responsibilities.

Finally, the APC as the government in power must begin to drive some of the changes, they promised Nigerians in 2015, this the President is expected to champion because what has happened so far is a far cry from what was promised.

For example, the level of impunity exhibited by the APC in the last general elections must have even dwarfed whatever the PDP did on the scale of infamy. Today the ruling party has lost all elective positions in Rivers and Zamfara States including the national and state seats because they simply failed to adhere to their own guidelines.

The report of the Uwais Commission which recommended that the chairman of INEC and other board members should be appointed by the National Judicial Council (NJC) instead of the president.

Today it is the president that usually appoints the Chairman, the National Commissioners as well as the Resident Electoral Commissioners of the commission. INEC as presently constituted will most likely continue to do the bidding of politicians especially the ruling party and the appointing president.

An example is due to the ease of manipulation by any sitting government; in 2001 it did not take the then government of President Obasanjo to get the amendment of the Electoral Act ahead of the 2003 elections. Prior to this time, the presidential and national assembly elections used to come last but it was changed to be the first to be conducted.

Indeed, that change was selfish because the president and the members of the national assembly reasoned that if the state governors should win their election first, they may truncate their own election.

President Buhari can and still has the opportunity to write his name in gold by using the last four years which starts today to conscientiously move Nigeria forward.

He should look for competent and quality men and women to man the ministries and not necessarily party men who may add little or nothing to the growth of the nation.

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