February 4, 2023

Nigeria: Tussle for Power or Democracy?

By Daksun Habila

A recent report by the World Economic Forum held in Devon-Klosters, Switzerland says Nigeria has over 90 million people living in extreme poverty. This number exceeds the 87 million earlier reported in 2018 when Nigeria became the world headquarters of poverty, overtaking India who had the highest number of poor people living in the country. There are indications that this number will rise drastically if the right approach to tackling poverty is not quickly employed.

With oil as its economic mainstay, vast natural and human resources spread across the country, if all of these are properly harnessed and distributed, poverty will be greatly reduced in the country.

Over the decades, Nigeria like her other sister African countries is said to have been plundered by poor leadership and corruption which are believed to have hampered the smooth growth and development of the country .

Since its independence in 1960 and subsequent inception of democratic rule in 1999, different administrations are said to have made unsuccessful attempts to address different issues bedeviling the country in order to put it on the path of development.

Part of the reasons for such failures is attributed to the total disregard for the rule of law by majority of our leaders who crave for power and control over the people and are bent on achieving such selfish interests no matter the cost. Similarly, the will of the people at elections are not respected as politicians in government use machineries at their disposal to rig elections or impose candidates of their choice, reducing the process to just a mere ritual.

Also, those who oppose government policies are most times targeted and dealt with as a way to keep the opposition in check.

Protest which is legal and have over the years been employed by people all over the world as a means of demanding their rights from those in authority have systematically been outlawed in Nigeria. Stringent punishments are now being meted out on those who dare cross the lines by embarking on protests as they are either labeled as unpatriotic, accused of treason or dubbed as those seeking to take advantage of the fragile security nature of the country.

Omoyele Sowore, the convener of the “Revolution Now” protest and many others who have dared to protest in Katsina and Niger over killings and government’s actions or inactions are some of the many cases where the Nigeria government used security agencies to silence the people.

Also, the proposed Social Media Regulatory bill and the Hate Speech bill is being perceived as another way which government is trying to deny the citizen their constitutional right of freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At the Senate’s Public hearing on the bill which was opposed by many, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on judiciary, human rights and legal matters, Michael Opeyemi clarified after testimonies that the Senate has not taken a position on the bill as there are senators for and against the bill.

“We will consider all of this and advise the Senate based on our findings after the consideration of all preponderance of opinion written and expressed…we will go by what we see as the overriding public interest” he said. The Hate Speech Bill on the other hand which drew similar criticism is still stuck at first reading.

Many international and local observers have noted that Nigeria is gradually drifting from Democratic governance to a Totalitarian government.

Totalitarianism is a term for a political system or form of government that prohibits opposition parties, restricts individual opposition to the state and its claims, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is regarded as the most extreme and complete form of authoritarianism. While democracy which Nigeria is supposedly practicing is defined as the government of the people, by the people for the people, meaning the desires and will of the people always prevail as they decide what they want.

A further look at the above definition and the democracy being practiced in Nigeria reveals a clear deviation. Although many may argue that developed countries such as the United States of America who are practicing democracy still have some lapses and that we are still learning. But a deliberate departure from democratic practice as seen in Nigeria is different from having hiccups in the practice of the democratic system of government.

The words of America’s former President, Abraham Lincoln best describes how a true democracy should be run, when he said, “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it”.

Supporting this position, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Mailafiya while commenting on the state of the Nation in a Channels TV interview noted that Nigeria is fast becoming a totalitarian state where the will of the people does not matter. He attributed the growing insecurity, rise in poverty and underdevelopment in the country to the failure of the Nigeria government to address issues concerning the wellbeing of its citizens. Consequently, this is said to have played a key role in the sharp rise in crime and criminal activities as many people resort to crime as a way of earning a living.

As much as the Buhari led government claims to be fighting corruption, there are indications that much still needs to be done as billions of Naira are reportedly lost to corrupt government office holders. Most recent is the corruption case involving the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu who was suspended and on trial for 10 count corruption allegations ranging from ‘relooting of recovered loots’ and Sale of seized assets to cronies, associates and friends, declaration of N539b as recovered funds instead of N504b earlier claimed among others.

A similar case is the corruption allegation against the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in which it claimed to have spent N81.5 billion within 7 months (October 2019 to May 2020). These and many other similar cases are clear indications that there are many leakages within the same government which claims to be fighting corruption.

Apparently, the seemingly endless agitations from different regions and people across the country for government action and restructuring show their dissatisfaction over how the country is being run.

In May, this year, a retired Army Colonel, Abubakar Umar wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari that Nigeria risks sliding into crisis if the President “continues to give undue preference to some sections of the country over others” in national appointments. It could be recalled that former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo had written several letters to President Buhari drawing his attention to series of issues threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria as a country if not given immediate attention.

Instead of seeking ways to address these issues raised by Nigerians, the government has over the years resorted to shifting blames and trying to explain its way out of every criticism. If the Nigeria government shifts attention from trying to explain bad policies and defending stagnation through its blame game and operates a more transparent and responsive government with accountability and if they build a government of the people, by and for the people, prioritizing the welfare and security of the people, there will be peace and development. The leaders need win back the confidence of the people in governance by coming up with a proactive approach towards addressing issues affecting the nation and paving a way forward for development. A comparative analysis of the growth of the country from the inception of Democratic rule till date surely shows that we are far from achieving good leadership and development in Nigeria.