Democracy: Arise O Nigerians!
This advertorial is sponsored by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)
• Nigeria has a rocky history with democracy, particularly in the areas of elections, the press, and public opinion.
• Youth participation in elections and increased and improved dissemination of information are two ways that elections could be better shaped in Nigeria.
• Good governance and a more active and concerned citizenry could change attitudes towards democracy in Nigeria.
The Idea of Democracy
This is not an homage to democracy. This essay is an elegy written from the yard of one of Nigeria’s falling ivory towers. It is from an angry young student tired of the “business-as-usual” politics of her country. It is a result of a confluence of emotions – anger, disillusionment, and the dying rays of optimism – she feels when she looks at her nation.
Democracy in Nigeria interests me for several reasons. First, democracy preaches freedom, which makes me ask: Whose freedom? Freedom from what? Democracy holds equality in high esteem, especially through the institution of rule of law. Wait a minute, whose rule? Whose laws? The state of Nigerian democracy is a sad one. So depressing that, at several points, I considered exchanging this topic for another. I refused. That is exactly what our inefficient leaders want from us: get tired of asking for better governance and adopt a ‘siddon look’ (sit down and look) posture.
I do not pretend to be pleased with the way what we call ‘democracy’ is practiced. In this essay, I attempted to take an optimistic view and make suggestions that may put us on the road to change. Maybe someday soon, Nigeria will top the list of truly democratic nations in the world.
Stillborn Democracy: The Nigerian Picture
Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Democracy on paper implies that at every stage of democracy, the people are significant – not a section or a select class of the people, but all people. Playwright Oscar Wilde’s words accurately describe Nigerian democracy as “the bludgeoning of the people, by the people, for the people.” Democracy in Nigeria brings to mind the image of a stillbirth. A mother carried a child for nine whole months, enduring every discomfort that comes with it, the groans, the push, and fears that accompany labor, only to find it dead. This stillbirth called Nigerian democracy had more than one doctor that brought it to life. Some were exiled; more were imprisoned; others were murdered. Those alive are disillusioned as they see the product of their labors hijacked for selfish motives. Most Nigerians feel this way about the country’s journey to democracy.
Our Journey to Democracy
In 1960, the nation became independent of Great Britain. In many ways, the young nation was not ripe for self-rule. A coup in 1966 led to the end of the first republic. Between 1966 and 1999, Nigeria faced aborted coups, successive military takeovers, and democracy with ‘slender’ frames. The 1999 election brought a democratically elected leader to the helm after decades of moaning under the weight of military rule. This victory raised expectations. It increased hopes – after 50 years of independence, 11 years of uninterrupted democracy, has our nascent democracy delivered? The response depends on who is answering. For the ruling class, it would be a yes. For the poor electorate, with angry frowns etched into their foreheads, the answer is no! So, what is the problem with Nigeria? Why has a system of government that works well at delivering change in other nations failed at our doorstep?
Is this Democracy?
…this e no be democracy. Democrazy, Crazy Demo, demonstration of craze, crazy demonstration…if e no be craze why for Africa? As time dey go, things just dey bad, e bad more and more, poor man dey cry…rich man dey mess. Crazy demonstration… Fela Anikulapo Kuti, “Teacher No Teach Me Nonsense”
These lines are from the late Afrobeat singer Fela Anikulapo’s classic song that captures Nigeria’s failed democracy. He called it a ‘demonstration of craze.’ I wonder what Fela’s lines would be if he saw democracy today. Maybe it would kill him. Maybe he wouldn’t live a day. Maybe he would have a heart attack and retreat. Or he might heap our heads with more songs of shame.
The essentials of democracy for the purposes of this essay are: “fundamental freedom and rights, elections, rule of law, separation of powers, democratic pluralism, the presence of opposition, public opinion and the freedom of the media.” Are these instruments of democracy present in Nigeria? Yes, they are – on paper. In practice, the structures exist but most politicians do what they want without regard for the law. They try to tweak the law for selfish reasons. One classic example is past president Olusegun Obasanjo’s alleged attempt to extend the presidential tenure to three terms in order to retain office. More recently, the late president, Umar Yar Adua, attempted to govern the nation from his hospital bed, allowing unelected people around him to rule the country while he recuperated. Is this democracy, when the elected disrespect the voters and constitution? Let us look more closely at some elements of democracy and Nigeria’s experience.
By Temitayo Olofinlua
The author, Temitayo Olofinlua holds a BA in Literature-in-English from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and is rounding off her Masters programme at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She started writing as a student. She became the Editor-in-Chief of Socioscope News Agency in 2007, a news outfit in her university. She was later elected as the Vice-President of the Association of Campus Journalists. Life through these offices taught her responsibility, integrity and hard work. Skills from these volunteer positions as a student groomed her for life outside the university.
This essay was a winner in the Center for International Private Enterprise's (CIPE) 2010 International Youth Essay Contest. For more information on the essay contest and to read the rest of the winning essays please visit www.cipe.org/essay
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