May 29 this year marked Nigeria’s 21 years of democratic rule which began in 1999 after many years of military dictatorship. On May 29, 1999, Nigerians embraced once again multi-party democracy. Democracy as classically defined means the government of the people by the people and for the people. As we mark our 21 years of unbroken democracy, can we really say that our brand of democracy, fashioned after the US democratic model, represents democracy as classically defined above?
Can we proudly say that the nation’s presidential system of government has satisfied the aspirations of greater number of Nigerians? Can we realistically claim that our system of government is a model that other countries will be rushing to emulate? Can we also raise our heads up and clap our hands that it is uhuru for our democracy? I can go on and on with variants of the same questions or many others not yet asked.
Any honest assessment of our 21 years of unbroken democratic rule will give us as many answers as the number of those making the assessment. In our 21 years of democratic journey, in my own assessment, we have made some modest achievements. At the same time, we have made some avoidable mistakes and there are also so many things which we ought to have done but failed woefully to do them.
Let me start this discussion with our achievements. Unlike military rule, democracy has offered all of us the freedom to express ourselves. It has given us a freer press. We have more newspapers, radio and television stations as well as the ubiquitous social media where everyone who has a smart phone has become a purveyor of news as well as a practitioner of citizen journalism. Even at that, it must be pointed out that the freedom of expression has been restricted in the past few years by moves to cage the media and prevent public protests using security agents.
Writers have not been spared the ordeal of interfering with their freedom of expression as manifested in some arrests and detentions which space will not permit me to expatiate. Attempts by the government to muscle the press and the opposition through obnoxious legislations were utterly resisted by vigilant Nigerians. We have built more roads and bridges, yet many of them are urgently crying for attention. Many of our roads, state and federal are under great disrepair.
The same can be said of our airports, both local and international. Our railway system is neither here nor there. We are still operating the old rail system where it is available. Efforts to modernize the railways have not yielded the expected results. Some parts of the country, especially the eastern part, has been neglected in the railway rehabilitation works. We have so many universities, federal, state and private yet admission spaces are not enough. The quality of education from primary to tertiary is not yet what Nigerians expect.
Our universities have not fared so well in global and regional varsity rankings. This development should worry ASUU whose members are on perpetual strike when varsities abroad are teaching their students via online platforms. Only private universities in Nigeria are teaching their students via online, though the quality needs to be improved. While those in government can recite their achievements in the past few years or so and regale all of us with tales of enduring democracy, the people have the right to assess the government and tell it what it is not doing right and give it kudos where necessary.
The duty of the writer or the critic is to tell the government what it is not doing. The government knows what it has done and some people know it already. It is never his duty to sing praises of the government in power. Insecurity is one issue that we have been grappling with since our return to democracy. It did not start with the present regime, but it has escalated in recent times despite government’s claim of technically defeating the insurgents. Apart from the insurgents, bandits, killer herders, kidnappers and armed robbers have joined the fray to make life unbearable across the country.
Many Nigerians have called for state or regional policing as a way to resolve the issue of rising insecurity yet the government is still playing a waiting game with policing. Many Nigerians have called for restructuring of the country so that the federating units can develop at their own pace. Yet those in power are adamant to such patriotic calls and thinking that Nigeria will fare well the way it is now. In the past 21 years, we have exported more doctors to Europe and America and thereby encouraging brain drain in the sector as well as medical tourism.
Thank God for COVID-19, Nigerians now receive medical treatment at home and in those hospitals our political leaders have refused to equip. In our 21 years of democracy, the children of our politicians school abroad, while the children of the led and peasants school in Nigeria. I believe the pandemic is changing the situation now and most of them will be forced to study in Nigerian universities. The COVID-19 has exposed the inadequacies of our healthcare system to the extent that we imported doctors from China, sorry they were reportedly imported by a Chinese company operating in Nigeria. I hope they have gone back to their country after helping us overcome the coronavirus pandemic or are they still in the country?
We are used to importing medical supplies abroad. With COVID-19, we have learnt to make face masks. The government should use the opportunity offered by the pandemic to grow our ability to manufacture drugs and other medical supplies. In our 21 years of democracy, we have shamelessly become the poverty capital of the world and number one in open defecation. There are many other firsts. We lead the world in almost every disease burden. We have not done well in malaria and tuberculosis control. In 21 years of democracy, we cannot provide potable water to all Nigerians, many Nigerians don’t have access to electricity.
Our electricity supply has been epileptic as ever. I have lost count of how many megawatts of electricity we generate daily. Is it 1000mw or 2000mw or 4000 mw or 5000mw or 7000mw? Let those in charge of electricity tell us. Our politics has entrenched the ‘do or die’ praxis as well as being over-monetized. The era of godfatherism is still alive in our politics. Ask those in Lagos, Edo and other states. The conduct of party primaries is nothing to write home about. Our elections do not pass international standards as a result of rigging, vote buying, ballot snatching and other infractions.
In our 21 years of democracy, the quality of leadership is fast deteriorating with past ones being better than the present. It is like one step forward, two or three steps backward. We have seen nepotism elevated to the front burner of our politics as well as crass materialism. Our democracy is no longer the classical one envisioned by the Greeks and improved by countries in Europe and America and even some African countries. Our 21 years of democracy has not given us enough to cheer but enough to jeer.
Let us use our 21 years of democracy to reflect on our past, the present and the future of our country. This is the right time to think of what we want in this great country of ours and where we want to be in the next ten or twenty years to come. We must be futuristic in our thinking and nationalistic in outlook. We have been so clannish and nepotistic for long. It is time for us to think and work as Nigerians, the children of Nigeria, our father land. Let’s do the catch up fast in our march to nationhood because Africa and the world cannot wait for us any longer.