By CHIOMA GABRIEL,
Today, Nigeria is marking 11 years of new and uninterrupted democracy.
It is a journey that began when the table turned on the thenÂ military head of state, general Sani Abacha who died suddenly in office and created roomÂ for the emergence of a transitional head of state, general Abdulsalami Abubakar whose hurried transition to democratic ruleÂ saw the emergence of aÂ former military head of state general Olusegun Obasanjo as civilian President.
Indeed, Obasanjoâ€™s journey to powerÂ was charted by the annulment of June 12 1993 presidential election believed to be won by Chief MKO Abiola who was later martyred during his bid to actualise his mandate.
Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in on the 29th ofÂ May, 1999 after a near – death experience in prisonÂ for anÂ alleged involvement in aÂ military coup. TheÂ dawn ofÂ the new democracy was wildly celebrated and despite the initial opposition to Obasanjoâ€™s candidacy, Nigerians accepted that having a retired general in a civilian garb was better thanÂ military dictatorship.
Still wounded by his experience in prison, the thenÂ new PresidentÂ Obasanjo had promisedÂ Nigerians that the second opportunity afforded himÂ to serve as a civilian President wouldÂ enable him restore the legacies he left behind in October 1979 whenÂ he handed over power to the Shagari administration. He went on andÂ summarisedÂ such legacies as a healthy economy with robust reserve in which the naira exchanged for two dollars, an independent and courageous judiciary, as well as a nation which commanded international respect, a democratic structure, a nation in which every citizen had a hope and chance of self fulfilment.
During his swearing in, President Obasanjo describedÂ the richness of the democratic dispensation asÂ a golden opportunity which must not be squandered. He described democracyÂ is a chanceÂ for rebirth, a chance to rekindle the transformation of the country into a land of opportunity and justiceÂ for all.
He expressed confidence that democracy would provide an opportunity to create an enabling environment to actualize the vast potentials which nature and providence had endowed Nigeria with, saying that would be realisableÂ in a climate of peace, security, justice and equity. He urged Nigerians toÂ seize the historic windows of opportunity and not let victory allude the people as they may never be lucky again.
Eleven years after, it has indeedÂ become a sad story that Nigeriaâ€™s democracy is not yet deeply rooted. The expectationÂ that those at the helm of affairs will deepen democracy has been in vain. Nigeria has not been able to organise a simple free and fair election since 1999 . Those whoÂ believed that Obasanjo was imposed on Nigerians saw theÂ subsequent elections which were bastardised as the confirmation of their belief .
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo spent eight years in power during which he tried desperately to get a third term but failedÂ and when he could not perpetuate himself , he handed over to Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, the younger brother ofÂ his co-travelerÂ in prison, General Shehu Musa Yarâ€™AduaÂ who was also his second-in-command when he was the military head of state.
The choice of Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua wasÂ perceived as a deliberate choice.Â It is alsoÂ believedÂ that over the years, the election umpire, INEC, always did the bidding ofÂ Peoples Democratic Party , PDP, the party in power andÂ ensuredÂ thatÂ theÂ favoured nominees of the partyÂ emerged winners at every election.
TheÂ late President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua, was honest enough to admit after he was sworn in that his own election was flawed and subsequently, he set up a committee to reform theÂ electoralÂ process which was headed by Justice Uwais.
Unfortunately , Justice Uwaisâ€™ submission on electoral reforms is still hanging on a balance. The greatest threat facing democracy today would be the non – implementation of this report which is believed to hold the key toÂ free and fair elections in Nigeria.
It is an open book thatÂ for eleven years, Nigeriaâ€™s attempt to democratiseÂ isÂ marred by judicial foul plays, chaos, lawlessness, corrupt practices and a most frivolous electoral system.
Late President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s , Vision 20-20-20 is still staggering and is on the verge ofÂ total eclipse as nothing is being done to ensure itâ€™s realisation.
In the heat ofÂ the storm at present is the zoning policy of the ruling party, theÂ PDP. The death of President Yarâ€™Adua paved wayÂ for theÂ former Vice President who is from the South-South to become President and the likelihood that he would contest the next presidential electionÂ has left the north where the PDP has zoned the Presidency at present gasping for breath.
The road to amnesty is still slippery and the question on the lips of many Nigerians is, will we ever get there? In this Democracy Day edition, Saturday Vanguard went in search of answers to theÂ many questions being asked about democracy.
We should sustain this democracy â€” Gowon
General Yakubu Gowon, Rtd. was a former head of State. He believes that democracy is changing the face of things for the betterment ofÂ the people.
The country is celebrating 11 years of democracy, what is your opinion?
It is definitely wrong to say, 11 years of democracy, rather, it is better put as return of democracy. But, to answer your question, I believe the leadership of this country will change for the better.
There is no need for dictatorship as it was in the past. My opinion is that, true democracy would be restored to the country.
It appearsÂ the country is blessed with bad leadership?
Saying the country is blessed with bad leadership is a wrong .Â The fact is that, we are beginning to see the true democracy, not as before. Nigerians are beginning to know their rightsÂ as citizens and that is why democracy is important for a country like Nigeria . Things are beginning to change in the country and I hope we will be able to practice true democracy for the sake of development in Nigeria.
Parliamentary system is betterâ€” Pa Fasoranti
Reuben Fasoranti is the leader ofÂ Afenifere in Nigeria. For him, celebrating democracy in Nigeria is a waste of time. According to him, the leadership of this country has been a source of disappointment which calls for a sober reflection.Â Excerpt.
What has democracy cost us since 1999?
Democracy in Nigeria is not stable. Our educational systemÂ has crumbled, corruption has become the order of the day.
Our roads are bad, morals of the nation is at its lowest ebb. In fact, it is out of place talking about democracy in Nigeria when the state of the nation is nothing to write home about. It is hard to talk about democracy in a nation where masses are used as instruments of destruction. The so-called leaders in the country are only mindful ofÂ what goes into their pockets, leaving the masses to suffer.
Are you saying we are blessed with bad leadership?
My opinion of the leadership of Nigeria is that, it has lost focus. It is distracted and loyal to its party members instead of the public. Our elected leaders are a disappointment. They are interested in looting the treasury of this country without giving back to the nation.
So, howÂ would you score the so-called democracy?
We have not made any progress since 1999. It is worse than better. There is need for new leadership that is committed to the welfare of the masses. The leadership of this nation should know that, there is need to give back to the people.
There is so much corruption in the country. Our so-called leaders are not ashamed of the present situation of the country. The fact is that, there is no progress at all.
Some people believe that our presidential system of government is rather, too expensive considering our resources, what is your take?
Yes, it is expensive.
So, how can it be better managed?
The country cannot continue to practice presidential system of government in situation like this. Rather, there is need to go back to our parliamentary system of government. It is better for us.