We today join millions of freedom-loving Nigerians in celebrating Nigeria’s democracy day. It is a special day set aside to remind ourselves the day Nigeria finally extricated itself from the trammels of military tyranny, a 30-year period Nigerians would love to forget.
Our democracy having been interrupt- ed in January 1966 and, again, in December 1983, in May 1999, when this new experiment began, however, we resumed speaking about due process, the rule of law, of representation of the people in government, of a National Assembly, about the Constitution and the freedoms and the liberties it guarantees, about the separation of powers to guarantee justice, fairness and balance in government.
Indeed, we resumed thinking and speaking of democracy in the Lincoln sense as the government of the people, by the people and for the people. We want Nigerians to accept that all this is new and that people would accurately describe ours as a fledgling democracy and for that reason, it must be ardently protected because it is the best form of government, especially when placed side by side with the other forms, monarchy, autocracy, dictatorship and so on. We have no hesitation, therefore, in calling on all Nigerians to support democracy. It is one form of government that guarantees peace knowing that when there is no peace there cannot be a path to economic development and no improvements in the life and welfare of ordinary Nigerians.
We are today celebrating for the first time the 19th year of unbroken democratic governance of Nigeria. The excitement that heralded the new dispensation may have worn thin, but let us not forget that, at least, we can now express our- selves freely. Has it met the aspirations of the Nigerian people? The answer is yes and no. Have the propellers of democracy been working as they should? Most Nigerians would answer no. Those who are supposed to drive the wheel do not seem to be up to it, and when everything is considered, we cannot but lament the shortcomings of the leadership of the country since 1999.
The present government has attempted to confront corruption in high places, yet corruption remains a tough challenge and the nation is still struggling with the malaise. The economy has faced the vicissitudes of our reality. Things may seem to be looking up now given a stable and upward swing in crude oil prices in the international market, but a great deal, of course, depends on how the economy is
managed. The aspiration of a diversified economy, still remains simply an aspiration. Food production may have risen but food price inflation is still with us. We may have overcome the recession but unemployment is still very high and youth unemployment is truly embarrassing.
We think that generally the country has been poorly governed in terms of fundamental issues like the rule of law. Governments at all levels have been reluctant to obey court orders and to follow due process leading the general public to accuse the government of impunity. When governors do not respect the rule of law, the average citizen has a right to think he is not far from a dictatorship.
But the most violated Section of the Constitution by the Federal Government has been Section 14 (2) (b), which states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Today, insecurity is the greatest threat facing a Nigerian citizen. The daily killings in different parts of the country, especially those perpetrated by herdsmen have been the greatest threat to peace in recent years, in addition to the terrorism of Boko Haram.
We cannot but draw attention to the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots which violates Section 16 (2) which forbids the economy from being operated in such a way as “to concentrate wealth or the means of production in the hands of a few individuals or groups.” When such disparities are ignored, they constitute a social tinder- box inimical to social harmony and peace in society.
We appeal to Nigerian leaders to serve the nation with honesty, truth and sincerity, the virtues which tend to assure good governance. They must also widen our democracy, safeguard our constitutional liberties and fundamental rights. We also urge Nigerians to support democracy at all levels, perform all civic duties, including paying their taxes, registering to vote and voting in all elections and, above all, watching and monitoring the performance of their elected representatives to ensure they are accountable for their actions and performances.