Since the advent of the present democratic dispensation on May 29, 1999, it has been a potpourri of positive and negative developments for Nigeria. Some of these developments have put the peace and unity of the country to test. As preparations heighten for the 2023 general election, it behoves on Nigerians to take a critical look at where they are coming from, where they are presently and where they are going as a people and as a nation.
Despite its shortcomings, our 23 years of unbroken democracy is worth celebrating. And the fact that the military has remained subordinate to civilian authorities since 1999 despite the harvest of coups in some African countries deserves commendation. Hitherto, they had the penchant to interrupt our democratic march. Most times, they cited poor governance on the part of politicians as their reason. But events would subsequently show that they were not better than the civilian governments they overthrew.
Also worthy of praise is the expansion of our road infrastructure. Definitely, more roads and railways have been constructed. Some states have even built airports to improve transportation in the country. Some bridges have also been built. The second Niger Bridge is almost completed and is billed to be commissioned in October this year.
Nevertheless, our democracy still wobbles despite the efforts to make it enduring. One of the major drawbacks is that it is still highly monetised. The current primary elections being conducted by political parties are not what they should be. The cost of the nomination and expression of interest forms for various positions, especially for the major parties, is outrageous. For the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the cost of the presidential form is N100 million. For the governorship, it is N50 million. For the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it is N40 million for the presidential form and N20 million for the governorship form. The seeming monetisation of our politics has excluded many eligible Nigerians, especially women, from participating in the electoral process.
Besides, the South East zone has never produced the president of the country since 1999. We had thought that the two major political parties will zone the presidency to the region this time round, but that did not happen. The schemed exclusion of the South East from the presidency since 1999 is capable of polarising the country the more.
Of particular concern is the fact that our politics is still seen as a do-or-die affair. The votes do not count. Election rigging, violence, thuggery, vote buying and some other oddities make it the survival of the fittest.
By far, the biggest deficit of our democracy is lack of visionary and exemplary leadership. Most of our political leaders are largely driven by money and selfish interests. They are yet to understand that democracy doesn’t end with casting of votes; that they are elected to solve societal problems. Unfortunately, once they get into power, they abandon the people.
The economy, for instance, has not fared any better. The rate of unemployment is high. Our poverty rate is about the worst in the world with over 80 per cent of Nigerians living below the United Nations poverty threshold of $2 per day.
Our currency, the Naira, is so weak that it now exchanges for about N600 to a dollar. The debt profile of the country keeps rising. In 2017, the country owed N21.725 trillion debt. It climbed to N24.95 trillion by March 2019. In 2020, it rose to N33 trillion. As at December 2021, it was N39.55 trillion. The Debt Management Office recently reported that the debt profile would likely peak at N45 trillion in 2022. Inflation is also high. The power sector has worsened to the extent that many companies have been thrown out of business.
Insecurity has worsened over the years as well. In Anambra, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto and many other states, the spate of killings and kidnappings is alarming. And the government appears to lack ideas on how to tackle the menace.
Corruption has not abated as anticipated. Rather, it appears to have grown more wings as more public servants are trapped in the cobweb of fraud.
The time has come to think about the future of this democracy and the future of our children. As we approach the next election, we must begin to say ‘No’ to rigging, godfatherism, thuggery, violence, vote buying and other electoral infractions. We need to elect credible leaders in 2023 and our votes must be made to count this time.
The civil society organisations should help in making our democracy robust. The sovereignty of the people should be restored. Minority groups should be part of the democracy. Ultimately, there is need to restructure the country in such a way that no zone or region will feel marginalised in the scheme of things. Having a law for rotational presidency will largely improve our democracy. Government should revisit the issue of state police and overhaul the security architecture to make it more inclusive and effective.