Opinion: Lessons for Nigeria from 2017 International Day of Democracy

by Jide Ojo

Since 2007, United Nations has set aside September 15 of every year as International Day of Democracy. This year’s IDD was celebrated globally last Friday. In Nigeria, save for some media houses which hosted discussions around the issues raised in this year’s theme which is “Democracy and Conflict Prevention” nothing much was heard from government quarters. This may not be unconnected with the fact that Nigeria, since 1999, has chosen May 29 as her own Democracy Day. That choice has not been without contention as many Nigerians, especially those from South West geo-political zone are of the opinion that June 12 should have been chosen as Democracy Day in commemoration of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which was annulled by the military junta of General Ibrahim Babangida (Retd.). Many political observers felt that on that day, Nigerians set aside primordial sentiments such as ethnicity and religion and voted for a pan-Nigeria  Muslim-Muslim ticket of Bashorun MKO Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe in a widely acclaimed freest, fairest and most credible election in Nigeria.

According to the United Nations, “This year’s theme of democracy and conflict prevention focuses on the critical need to strengthen democratic institutions to promote peace and stability. A more integrated approach to foster resilient societies calls for effective and inclusive democratic governance with respect for human rights and the rule of law.“ The world body observed further that: “Resilient societies are able to mitigate disputes through mediation, dialogue and a reasonable degree of legitimacy of their institutions. Developing effective conflict prevention mechanisms and infrastructures provide a foundation to resolve grievances and sustain peace. Processes, such as peace agreements, elections and constitutional reforms, can help maintain equilibrium between competing interests and reduce fragility and the likelihood of organised violence.”

It cannot be better said! Nigeria, it is very instructive, needs to strengthen her democratic institutions in order to promote rule of law. Which institutions are we talking about? Political parties, election management bodies, the legislature, the judiciary, the executive, the media and the civil societies, among others. There is no gainsaying that though these institutions are working in Nigeria, they need to be more efficient and effective. Take for instance the political parties; this is a critical institution of democracy that is responsible for leadership recruitment, interest articulation and political socialisation. Political parties sponsor candidates for election and they are the sole platform for electoral contest for now until perhaps the proposed amendment for introduction of independent candidacy sails through the ongoing constitutional amendment exercise.

Unfortunately, our political parties in this country leave much to be desired. Many of them lack internal democracy. They also lack cohesion and are known to observe most electoral laws in breach. Topmost among them are the laws against money politics and electoral violence. The kind of leaders being recruited for Nigeria by the country’s political parties are more of treasury looters, self-centred and integrity-deficient. Any wonder that 18 years into this Fourth Republic, the country hasn’t got much to show in terms of democracy dividends to the suffering masses. It is instructive to note that political parties give birth to at least two out of the three arms of government. They are the executive and legislature. The products of these two vital organs of government have not justified the implicit trust and confidence that make people to vote for them at election. It has been more of personal aggrandisement for them and nonchalance towards the plight of the poverty-stricken populace.

What is the nexus between democracy and conflict prevention? In a democracy, institutions of government are supposed to work harmoniously to guarantee peace and stability without which there can be no development. The Nigerian Constitution put it succinctly when it says in section 14 (2) (b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The fragility of the Nigerian state is not in doubt given the various agitations for self-determination by different interest groups top of which is the clamour for secession by the Indigenous People of Biafra. The country has also been on tenterhooks since the Niger Delta militancy began with the emergence of groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, Niger Delta Avengers and the likes.  In the North East, since the 2009 emergence of Boko Haram insurgency, there has been no lasting peace nationwide.

The UN in the 2017 International Day of Democracy is pointing us in the direction of what we need to do not only to prevent conflict but to also bring about peace and stability. These include inclusive governance. In truth, marginalisation, discrimination, injustices and inequalities help to fuel discontent and rebellion. As rightly observed by Albert Camus, “Rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified.”   It is very important that Nigerian government explore the options of dialogue, mediation, peace agreements, credible elections, constitutional reforms among others to redress these perceived injustices. Military option alone will not work. We have seen what dialogue did in the Niger Delta. By giving the people of that region Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission, Amnesty Programme, 13 percent derivation, proposed regularisation of illegal refinery into modular refinery scheme,  emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan first as Vice President in 2007, Acting President in 2010, and president in 2011, the restiveness in the Niger Delta region has reduced considerably.

I am of the opinion that similar measures need to be taken to allay the cry of marginalisation by the Igbo. Appointment into key government positions under this administration, fixing of infrastructural challenge of the geo-political zone and at least a Vice-Presidential slot in 2019 and presidency in 2023 will go a long way to douse the current political tension being generated by the IPOB strident call for self-determination. Heeding the call for economic and political restructuring of this country will also help the Buhari administration to stabilise the polity. Above all, rule of law in terms of supremacy of the law, equality before the law and fundamental human rights are very crucial to peace and stability of any democratic country; and for Nigeria, it is imperative. Whether we like it or not, there can never be peace without justice just as there can never be genuine development without peace.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija


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