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Eleven years of renascent democracy

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MAY 29th 2010 marks eleven years of unbroken democratic method of governance in Nigeria. It is the longest period, since our independence, when Nigeria was able to go without the intervention of the military in its political affairs.

In eleven years we have conducted elections and transferred power to two elected presidents and successfully managed a mid-stride transition when our ailing president died.

For that, Nigerians are correct to celebrate the day because it is true that the worst civilian government is better than a military dictatorship.

A democracy, no matter how poorly practised, always lends its self to correction. It is only under democratic practice and constitutional rule that public opinion matters to a very large extent. We have seen many occasions in which the heavy weight of public opinion decided matters that would have plunged Nigeria into the dark abyss of civilian dictatorship.

The occasion that easily comes to mind is the tenure elongation programme of the President Olusegun Obasanjo era, which was defeated on May 16th 2006 . It was also public opinion that led to the credible (if imperfect) governorship election in Anambra State in February this year. So many more instances, including the sudden boldness in the Judiciary, can be remembered as the dividends of our democracy. Contrast this with the June 12th 1993 presidential election which was annulled. This can only take place under a military dictatorship.

In our eleven years of unbroken democracy, many things have happened which seem to reassure us that the military takeover of government might well be a thing of the past. Apart from the aborted tenure elongation cited above, the manner in which the Yar’ Adua cabal handled his case (especially when he was smuggled into the country at night and kept away from even the Acting President) would have, in the past, precipitated a military takeover.

In fact, troops were moved and crawled all over the streets of our Federal Capital City,  Abuja,  but stopped short of snatching the reins of power.

This is a healthy development, and the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria deserve to be patted on the back for adjusting to their constitutional role of living under the Constitution and restricting themselves to their professional roles.

As we celebrate, however, let us remind ourselves that we still have a long way to go in order to arrive at a genuine practice of democracy. Still the biggest challenge in front of us all is the task of conducting a free, fair and acceptable election.

This is one milestone the country has never been able to achieve. When we did in 1993, the result was annulled.
Today, we are still forced to look to other developed and developing countries such as the US, UK, India, Israel, South Africa and Ghana for good examples in the conduct of credible elections which in turn give birth to stable government.

The late President Umar Yar’ Adua recognised the flaws even in the election that brought him to power and pledged to introduce electoral reforms. Three years later, the process is still languishing at the National Assembly, and the chances are very good that we may not be able to go into the 2011 general elections with our acts cleaned up.

It would seem that the political practitioners are very reluctant to embrace genuine democratic practice as it might jeopardise their own chances of remaining in power.

In spite of the many challenges we still face, Nigerians should be proud of the progress made so far in our renascent democracy. However, we should face the task of reforming our democratic processes with renewed determination, with greater emphasis on the search for credible leaders rather than dwelling in the past and unproductive tradition of putting ethnicity, region, religion and other primordial sentiments first.

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