The date, June 12, 1993 will go go down as a watershed in the history of Nigeria’s contact with democracy. For one, it was a rarely epochal occurrence and the transitional period itself represented the collective resolve of the nation’s citizens to return to democratic rule after a decade of the ill fated military coup D’etat of December 31, 1983 which brought to an abrupt end the country’s Five years old Second Republic (1979-1983).
The scuttled presidential poll was a sad story of a hard earned transitional process midwifed by the then ‘Military President’, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babagida’s(IBB’s) regime which later disrupted it. The irony surrounding the dramatic turn of events was more like a the Myth of Sisyphus where Sisyphus, the main character was condemned by the gods to roll a big stone to the top of a mountain only for the stone to roll back to the base for him to start all over again. The annulment of the June 12 poll was an index of blatant abuse of power and betrayal of public trust which cannot be defended in the court of public opinion anywhere in the world.
Nigeria almost got it right through the transition but all of a sudden, the enthusiasm, excitement and hope which characterised the final stage of the transitional process was dashed. The country would have overcame one of its greatest downsides which is mutual religious suspicion but failed. Nigeria would have also brought an end to intermittent military expedition in power but failed. The annulment of the election imposes a huge negative impact on the socio-economic, political and emotional psyche of the country.
Recall, for the first time in the history of Nigeria’s checkered history, the 1993 presidential poll heralded the peaceful emergence of a president and vice president from the same religious group (muslim-muslim ticket), a feat which if attended, would have possibly neutralised the seed of sustained regional and religious suspicion which started with the country’s first coup of January 1, 1966 which saw the emergence of Lt. Gen. Aguyi Ironsi, an Igbo man as head of state with most of the victims allegedly coming from the north and west dominated by Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba respectively.
This discourse hypothesises that the mutual regional and religious suspicions were part of the contributory factors that led to the 30 months civil war which Nigeria went through with the Biafran people beginning from 1967 where countless lives and properties were lose. The alleged unfaithfulness of Gen. Yakubu Gowon to the Aburi Accord which was also part of the triggers of the war bothers on heightened issues of mutual suspicion. Therefore, one of the gains Nigeria would have made from the legacy of June 12, namely, overcoming unproductive religious bigotry in the choice of the country’s leaders was glaringly lost!
The second hypothesis of this discourse is that the civil resistance that followed the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll which Dr. MKO Abiola of blessed memory, candidate of the defunct Social Democracy Party (SDP) who was acclaimed to have won, led by pro-democracy activists like members of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) is the viable seed from where the current subsisting Nigeria’s Fourth Republic germinates. Against all odds, the struggle for the return to democratic practice in the country was formidable, concrete and trans-generational, therefore, laid the solid foundation for the enduring democracy Nigeria is witnessing today.
Since 1999, about 22 years past, Nigeria had witnessed challenging but sustained and uninterrupted democratic regime. This was a sharp departure from the experience in the First, Second and Third Republics which lasted about Four years (1963 – 1966), Five years (1979 – 1983) and stillborn (1993) respectively.
Periodic elections in one of the major attributes of a democratic state. After the death, in power, of the then Head of State, Late Gen. Sani Abacha in June 1998; another military general, Gen. Abdulsalami A. Abubakar who succeeded him set in motion plans for the restoration of democractic in the country on May 29, 1999 and kept faith with the plan and follow through with unwavering political will that gave birth to the fourth republic.
The current Nigeria’s democratic republic had witnessed Six(6) general election which include those of 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 with the the 2023 poll lurking around the corner. The country under the Fourth Republic had achieved at least four salient incredible milestones which were lacking in the previous republics. First, the country saw for the first time a successful civilian to civilian transition in 2007 after president Olusegun Obasanjo who took over from Gen. Abdulsalami. Obasanjo seamlessly handed over to Late president Umaru Yar’Adua. Secondly, through the historic ”Doctrine of Necessity”, the National Assembly (Senate) championed and coordinated the peaceful elevation of the then Vice President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to the status of Acting President and later President of the country following the demise of President Yar’Adua in 2010. Thirdly, the country saw the defeat of an incumbent president and ruling party, Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by an opposition candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the newly formed coalition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The historic phone call by President Jonathan who conceded defeat to Buhari even before the final collation and declaration of the winner was made was quite heroic. Fourthly, the country among others also witnessed the increasing but dwindling representation of youth and especially women in elective and appointive positions in line with the popular Beijing Affirmative Action of 2003 which demanded 35 percent reservation of elective and appointive positions for women.
The feat reported above were not mere feats given the political history of Nigeria and most African countries where leaders are mostly viewed as power drunk. It is pertinent to state that these great achievements came at a cost which in extreme cases involve loss of lives and properties of ordinary citizens including progressive political actors.
Today, Nigeria celebrates all pro-democracy activists whose doggedness, resilience and unwavering commitment gave birth to the present democractic dispensation. The great martyrs of democracy who paid the supreme in the bid to permanently return men in uniform to their legitimate duty post are remembered with dignity and honour.
Having said that, it is important to state here that democracy is not an end in itself but an evolutionary phenomenon. It evolves as the culture of people evolves and therefore requires internal vigilance and value addition from the citizenry to make it work and meet the yearnings and aspirations of the citizenry. As ultriustic as the intentions of those in the position of authority might be, there is every need for the citizenry to exercise caution and constantly demand for transparency and accountability from their government. Citizens must know that stewardship by any government without constant check, to say the least, provided opportunity for the emergence of despotic government which democracy itself abhors.
Practically speaking, democracy is what the people make it to be. A despotic government which enjoys conspiracy of silent from majority of the citizenry could be seen as a form of democracy. Therefore, the attitude of citizens in a democracy must be seen to be in tandem with their earnest aspirations which can be attainable through active participation in Politics, even at the risk of losing there lives. This is because politics is the singular most influence human activity which affect the life of every citizen. It is a game that offers opportunity for citizens to participate in the determination and moderation of the rules with which their lives are controlled or governed.
The seed of the June 12 struggle has actually germinated but how far have the citizens of Nigeria contributed the the effectiveness operationslisation of the democratic legacy bequitted the country by heroes of democracy? How has this democracy benefited Nigerian and how can it be made to work even better?
In an attempt to provide possible answers, it is germane to state that within the promises of democracy and free enterprise system, Nigerian are expecting more more from the system than just having it in place. Any democractic system that does not create enabling legal and policy environmental for economic activities to strive in a country is a deception that cannot last. Therefore, the country’s citizens anticipate dramatic reversal of the current economic and social woes facing them.
With the country going through excalating insecure, repeatedly slipping into recession, democracy means nothing to the people. Again, the statistics that about 7.96 percent of Nigerians are unemployed; 89.2 million, Representating 40.1 percent of the country’s population are in leaving is in abject poverty based on the report of National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Report, 2020, and that the country ranked 18th out of 20 Africa country in happiness index (Business Insight 2019) shows clearly that its democractic activities are far from having any substantial positive spillover effect on the economy.
Socially, the rising wave of crime and criminality in Nigeria in the last two decades which corresponds with the return of democracy in the country is sending a bad signal. That the country had witnessed more communal conflicts and terrorists’ activities, now than in anytime in recent history, is a source of concern too. While all these contradictions might not be wholly blamed on democracy, it is instructive to note that any democractic practise this is not based on consensus building and credible feedback mechanism is bound to throw up chaotic situations which, if not properly managed, could set the country ablaze, going forward.
A closer look at the attitude of most Nigerians especially the professional elites indicated sheer indifference in political activities. The country’s citizens are grossly apolitical. One pointer to this argument is the number of people who registered, obtained their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) and participated in the last general election. Based on the 2019 European Union Report on the 2019 General Election, there were 84 million Nigerian citizens on the voter register but that the total figure include sizeable number of voters who have died or migrated in the last eight years, before the poll. Point is, registering 84 million of the estimated 210 million Nigerians is not adequate. When the number of people who actually voted in the election is factored in, the case of political apathy in the country gets even worse and the citizens need to do more.
Another area Nigeria’s democracy needs to pay close attention is the need to review the country’s institutions. The country’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) requires panel beating in terms of the law regarding appointment of its Chairman and state Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) so that their appointment does not come from the president but the National Judicial Commission (NJC) subject to the approval of the National Assembly. Giving the INEC some level of autonomy in this regards could go a long way. Also, the supervisory role of INEC on political parties should be taken seriously so that political parties are made to ensure intra-party democracy.
The law establishing political parties in the country should be made in such a way that any of them that violates democratic ideals should be de-registered or heavily sanctioned, maybe, by refusing them the opportunity to fill candidates for election within the period of sanction. Party democracy cannot function effectively without internal democracy.
Pressure groups and Civil Society Organisations(CSOs) must spring up and play active role in moderating democratic activities. The Third Estate of the Realm, the media ether print or electronic ought to operate on the basis of objectivity and constantly set the agenda for political discourse. Conventionally, whatever the media projects sell; and the reverse is the case.
The credit of the current democractic dispensiation in Nigeria belongs to June 12 pro-democracy activists. Nigerian leaders must shy away from any subjective tendency like the one which brought about the annulment of the June 12 presidential election. The Republic which pro-democracy struggles bequitted to Nigerians is an ideological political asset that could be made to work even better than it is today but all hands must be on deck to get this done.
Modest Thoughts with Ayuba Yilgak’ha, June 10, 2021. SMS: 08116181263; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)