Today is another June 12, a day set aside to celebrate our democracy. We are meant to celebrate it with pomp. But it is sad that we are marking it amid worsening insecurity, poverty, ethnic tension, disregard for the rule of law and breach of some tenets of democracy.
June 12, 1993 was a watershed in Nigeria’s history. It was a day millions of Nigerians threw away ethnic, religious and other primordial sentiments to elect the duo of Chief Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as President and Vice-President respectively. It was adjudged the freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history. Nigerians didn’t mind that both Abiola and Kingibe were Muslims. Kano people didn’t reckon with the fact that Bashir Tofa, Abiola’s opponent, was from Kano. They voted massively for Abiola, with high expectations that he would redefine governance in Nigeria.
This never came to be as the then military junta led by Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election, saying he took the action to save the nation. This precipitated a series of crises which led to the killing of many pro-democracy activists and other Nigerians by security agents. In 1994, Abiola declared himself President. He was accused of treason, arrested and jailed. He eventually died in custody in June 1998.
In recognition of this sacrifice, President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2019, signed the law making June 12 every year, instead of the original May 29, as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day. The military government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who took over after the demise of General Sani Abacha, handed over power to the civilian government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999.
As we mark the second year of the declaration of June 12 as our democracy day, it is important to ask: How have we fared in observing the ideals of June 12? Unfortunately, we have fared very badly. Our current democracy is at variance with the dreams of our founding fathers. Instead of political inclusion, for instance, what we have currently is democratic exclusion. Many sections of the country feel alienated from the scheme of things. Ethnicity is worse now than what it was before.
Besides, Nigerians are yet to reap bountifully from democracy dividends. It is true that we have made some progress in the area of infrastructure development, but even the military regimes did the same. We have sunk billions of dollars into the power sector. Yet, the sector has gone from bad to worse. Many of the roads and other infrastructure we built have gone bad, but we lack the culture to maintain them.
Also, the rate of poverty is worse now than what obtained during the military era as Nigeria currently is the poverty capital of the world. About 80 per cent of Nigerians currently live below the United Nations (UN) poverty threshold of $2 per day.
Our major success is in transiting from one civilian government to the other. But even that is fraught with problems. Most times, our votes do not count as voters’ wishes are thwarted through massive rigging, thuggery and courts’ decisions. This is not Nigeria of Abiola’s dreams. It is not the Nigeria he died for. Simply put, we are not living the philosophical principles that define June 12.
The cornerstones of any democratic society are freedom of speech and freedom to have access to information. Relatively, we have enjoyed this freedom more than when we were in the military regime. Nevertheless, the recent ban of the micro-blogging giant, Twitter, by the Federal Government cast doubts about our avowed commitment to the ideals of democracy and press freedom. Nigeria banned Twitter because it deleted President Buhari’s post, which it considered to have breached its rules.
Ultimately, when everything fails, leadership comes to make the difference. The United States was in a meltdown before Barack Obama came as the President and changed the situation. Our own leaders have squandered public trust. They have hugely disappointed the majority of Nigerians. Most times, those who struggle to rule us are not prepared. And there is a difference between wanting to govern and having the capacity to govern.
No doubt, our leadership recruitment process is faulty and must be reformed. Our electoral system is not what it should be. Consequently, democracy is losing its meaning in Nigeria.
There is still hope if only we can find out where the rain started beating us. We need to go back to the drawing board to get our democracy right. We need stronger democratic institutions and an electoral body that is truly independent. We need to reform our political and electoral systems so that our votes can really count. We need leadership that can inspire hope; that can tackle corruption, insecurity, unemployment, rising inflation, poor access to education and health care and bad economy. We need to have a national dialogue where Nigerians will sit down and discuss how this country can move forward as a united nation. Above all, we need a new Nigeria where true federalism, justice, equity and fairness must be enthroned.