No More Promises

740 views Published on 29th November 2010

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Chioma Michelle Okwudiafor
Key Points

1. Nigeria suffers under far-reaching corruption that has spread from the politicians to the courts to the police to the people on the street.  There is a serious lack of trust in the society, which hinders democratic change.

2. There are several steps that need to be taken in Nigeria to improve governance, including strengthening democratic governance at the local level, ensuring the equal status and full participation of women, empowering marginalized groups to become partners in the restructuring of their societies, and radically reforming and rehabilitating the educational sector in order to restore and enhance standards.

3.Young people in Nigeria can help to improve democratic governance by organizing leadership training programs, participating in debates and essay contests, connecting with youth overseas to share ideas for cultivating change, and by voting in elections.

Introduction

I turn on my tap in the morning and water fails to gush. Electricity has been scarce and my generator stopped working after providing all of my electricity for a week. Elsewhere in the city, a mother lets out a loud wail. Her baby has died. The staff of the government-run hospital has been on strike for two weeks, and no one cared for her child. A commuter reaches into his rucksack for his mobile phone and, alas, it must have grown wings and flown away. Apparently a pickpocket needs his phone more than he does. Millions of Nigerian youth are not gainfully employed, and petty theft is on the rise in cities. The 2011 elections are around the corner and groups of people discuss them on street corners.  I hear despondent opinions like: “I have never voted, what use is it anyway?” and “Nigerian politicians are not sincere.” I resignedly turn off my television set as I see yet another old recycled politician on screen, making promises that I know will amount to naught.

Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy at Gettysburg as “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” does not seem to be reflected in the preceding vignettes. In Nigeria today, citizens are seriously apathetic and losing confidence in government at both the state and federal levels. Corruption is at its peak and individual enrichment is the order of the day.

Has democracy failed? Is it something to be enjoyed? I live in a nation today with restless people. People tired of promises, people that are in search of a democracy that delivers.

The Responsibilities of a Democratic Government

May 29, 1999 heralded the dawn of the fourth republic in Nigeria. It marked a return to democratic rule after several years of military leadership, characterized by a significant increase in decaying infrastructure and institutionalized corruption. The hope of the average Nigerian for a just society was rekindled with the installment of a democratic government. The experiences of the past several years made it obvious that the new government had a huge responsibility to the Nigerian people.

Democracy in Nigeria is at an embryonic stage, but the right seeds need to be sown if it is to grow up satisfactorily and its fruits are to be enjoyed.  The responsibility of a democratic government to its people includes four key precepts:

1. Respect for the rule of law
2. Acting in the best interests of its citizens
3. Provision of basic social amenities (electricity, water, good roads, security, clean environment)
4. Accountability

Democracy as a phenomenon is not just a question of citizens’ rights. It is also a matter of responsible governance, mutual understanding, and accountability on the part of public office holders.

Challenges of Democratic Governance in Nigeria

Nigeria’s aspirations to a truly democratic government are barred by a constitution promulgated into law at the decree of the 1999 military government. The constitution is not truly representative of the people’s wishes. A review of this constitution is necessary in order to better align the document with the needs of the Nigerian people. Plans are underway in the legislature to complete such a review.

Corruption is one of the greatest challenges of governance in Nigeria. It undermines good governance, fundamentally distorts public policy, leads to the misallocation of resources, harms the private sector, and particularly hurts the poor. Corruption has become prevalent among governors and elected officials at the highest levels.

Tribal, ethnic, and religious prejudices tend to distort the practice of democracy in Nigeria. For years, Nigerian politics has been divided along these lines. Resources are allocated – or misallocated – based on ethnic biases. This has given rise to restiveness in certain parts of the country. Tribalism leads to the selection of candidates without political pedigree or adequate experience. This engenders the appointment of half-baked leaders who know nothing about government, but focus instead on pursuing personal and party interests.

Political parties in Nigeria are a huge mess and are not democratic in nature. They exist for the wrong reasons. There is a lack of political orientation and ideology among the political parties, which leads to a lack of understanding among the general populace as to the positions of each party. With a large percentage of the population struggling under impoverished conditions, political nuances are not largely understood.  As such, the populace often falls victim to the gimmicks of these political parties and politicians. A meager sum of money is enough to bribe the average voter, who does not understand his role in the democratic system.

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The author, Chioma Michelle Okwudiafor, is a 2007 Law graduate of the University of London and a student member of The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. She has cross functional work experience spanning various sectors (Legal, Trade and Education ) having worked in an international law firm in Lagos, Nigeria and at the UK Government Department for Trade and Investment, British Deputy High Commission as a media and communications intern. In recent times, she works with a social enterprise focused on improving employability of graduates in Nigeria. She contributes her quota by carrying out in depth research for project funders in the education sector with particular focus on employability and bridging skills gaps.
E-mail: chiomaokwudiafor@yahoo.com

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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