Nigeria’s Democracy Day
From the lyrics of the late great Afrobeat music legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, he likened democracy to a “demonstration of craze, crazy demonstration”, hence, coined the name “democraZy”.
une the 12th, a day that will forever remain indelible in the heart of Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora, is a day of great significance in the history of the country. As it is the culture, people gather en masse from all works of life to celebrate the day tagged, “Democracy Day”.
The day means a whole lot to Nigerians as it signifies the day the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, popularly known as MKO Abiola, unofficially was declared the winner of a free and fair election in Nigeria.
It can be recalled that in that year, June 12, 1993, the first election was conducted since the 1983 military coup hoping to pave the way for democracy. Unofficial results indicated that MKO Abiola won the election by a landslide and one would have thought that the seat of power would be handed over to him without fuss. Little did the people know that the much-celebrated victory nationwide was about to take a new turn for the worse.
MKO was arrested and jailed for reasons best known to the military-run government. All pleas, agitations, protests by civil society, the print and electronic media, Nigerians, foreign nations, and organizations like the UN, ECOWAS, etc., proved abortive. The agitations went on for months and people thought that at some point the government is going to crack for the people to have their way; little did they know that the military government had something off their sleeves for the masses who, for months now, had disrupted all economic activities in the state.
The truth is, politicians (be it in a democratic dispensation, military rule, or monarchical) always know how to play their cards right. They know how and when to put up a defense and bring their manipulative act to play.
Before we go any further, it is imperative to know what really played out on this day, 12th June 1993.
Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) defeated Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC), according to the unofficial results of the election, which were not declared by the National Electoral Commission (NEC). Because the elections were nullified by IBB (President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida) due to electoral irregularities, the winner of the election was never announced. The annulment sparked protests and political unrest, including IBB’s resignation and the formation of a weak interim civilian government, culminating in the country’s continuation of military rule with Sani Abacha’s ascension to power as the country’s military head of state via a bloodless coup later that year.
In July, following the annulment, there was a series of violent riots in the southwest area. Hundreds of people are said to have died as a result of security forces trying to put an end to the rioting. The United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union all expressed their displeasure with the annulment. Foreign nations, as expected, were accused of intervening in the military government’s affairs and attempting to destabilize the country.
The government banned or shut down media outlets following the election, and journalists were arrested. The administration issued decrees barring courts from hearing cases related to the canceled election.
An Interim National Government was formed on 26 August led by Ernest Shonekan, with Sani Abacha, a close ally of Babangida, acting as Defense Minister.
Abacha, on the other hand, overthrew the interim government in a palace coup on November 17, 1993. Abacha disbanded the legislature, as well as the state and municipal administrations, and appointed military and police personnel to replace the elected civilian state governors. He also outlawed any and all political activity and gatherings.
The Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) and the Federal Executive Council were founded by Abacha as governing entities. Abacha’s new government was made up of civilian politicians, notably Baba Gana Kingibe, Abiola’s running mate. Abacha then convened a Constitutional Conference to prepare for a civilian takeover. The meeting opened on January 18, 1994, with the PRC having the ability to veto any decisions made by the conference; and since one-third of the delegates were nominated by the government, the government of the day was indirectly in control of the decisions made.
Renewed protests and strikes broke out across the nation, following Abiola’s imprisonment. Because the country relied on oil for foreign cash on the worldwide market, the strike largely paralyzed the economy. Following this, the Abacha regime jailed union leaders and fired civilian cabinet members.
General Abacha died in a mysterious manner in June 1998. One month later, on the eve of his release from prison, Abiola met with a US group in Nigeria, including Assistant Secretary Susan Rice, and Under Secretary Thomas Pickering, to discuss the country’s planned democratic transition. Abiola felt unwell, fainted, and died in the hospital shortly after the meeting on July 7. After drinking tea during the discussion, some suspected he was poisoned by members of the US delegation.
An autopsy was carried out on the deceased body, MKO Abiola, and it was revealed that he died of cardiac failure. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery to this day.
Currently, the civilian President of Nigeria in the Fourth Republic, Muhammadu Buhari, in 2018, designated June 12th as the new date for commemorating Democracy Day, based on the date of the annulled 1993 election. The preceding Democracy Day was May 29, 1999, which marked the end of Abacha’s dictatorship and the return to civilian governance.
As you can see, the day in Nigeria’s history book remains memorable. Unlike previous democracy day celebrations, this year’s own was greeted with mixed feelings among Nigerians. Civil society and human right activists alike admonished Nigerians to come out in droves for a peaceful protest in all cities across the nation; the protest which was dubbed, #Buharimustgo went viral on social media, and the youth especially, were gearing up for that day to air their displeasure over the state of the nation ranging from insecurity, abductions, kidnapping, rape and worst of all, the soaring rate of food and other household commodities.
Days before the 12th of June, pandemonium hit the air, rumours of a purported invasion by some unknown elements were being sold to the people through social media, and some people advised Nigerians especially those in the south to stock up their homes with food because they were in for a ride of their lives, according to the rumour. That spiraled into panic buying on Thursday and Friday leading to the 12th of June. People hit the bank, withdrew a lump sum of money, headed to the marketplace, bought foodstuffs in sacks, bags, and what have you.
Finally, the day came – 12th of June, surprisingly, there was calm in the air; the streets were deserted from Lagos to Port Harcourt, Abuja to Kano, and all other cities in Nigeria were not left out either.
Later on, as planned, some groups gathered at Ojota in Lagos, and Abuja for the scheduled peaceful protest. Before their arrival, security had been beefed up and one could see armoured tanks, patrol vans, and men in uniform in and around the proposed venue for the protest in Lagos and Abuja respectively.
Truth be told, this year’s June the 12th, 2021 was peaceful up until the men in uniform came by to display their “craze” in an attempt to stop the citizens’ peaceful demonstration which apparently was not as “crazy” as it was earlier speculated by rumours in the media.
Going by the way democracy is being practised in Nigeria, from the uncanny ways the politicians behave in public, unguarded utterances during public presentations, their ill-manner towards public interest and infrastructure, to the lackadaisical approach and lackluster attitude towards the nation’s affairs, one would agree with Fela that truly what is being practised on this side of the divide is “DemocraZy”.
Nigeria’s Democracy Day (Contd.)
s it is the tradition, it is expected that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, will give a “scintillating” speech on the 12th of June, congratulating all Nigerians and wishing them all a happy Democracy Day Celebration. Also, telling them of the government awareness of the insecurity, and what not in the nation and concerns for the citizens. Promising that everything would soon be rosy again (like it has ever been rosy in Nigeria before). But I believe it will take more than a Democracy Day Speech to douse the tension in the nation. The people want swift action taken to tackle the looming crisis in the land gradually plummeting Nigeria downward to total collapse.
The civil unrest in the country points out one thing and it is the agitation for a good representation in the country, the Presidency, and the need for responsive governance.
In that vein, amongst others, the following are pointers that could quell the prevailing unrest in the nation and it will be worthy to note that they are simply from the writer’s point of view. Hence, the solution is not far from it.
More importantly, the solution to Nigeria’s governance problem is to develop intellectually sound leadership that is interested in learning about the country’s sociopolitical and economic characteristics, rather than the visionless types who have ruled the country for decades and squandered the country’s vast resources. The country requires a national leader who can appeal to a broad audience, as opposed to the regional or ethnic-based leadership that has been recruited for the country throughout the years.
There is the need to look within in order to construct a development ideology that best suits the sociopolitical and economic perspectives of Nigeria. Colonialism positioned Nigeria in a marginal position within the world capitalist system, which has not provided the country with any ideological direction that would integrate and unify the country toward a socio-political and economic frontier.
The complexity of the foundation that colonialism laid for Nigeria, as well as the development crises that followed early independence, generated a state of lawlessness, irresponsibility, unaccountability, and waywardness, all of which are anathema to progressive ideological growth. Nigeria has remained adrift to this day, wandering aimlessly like a ship without a captain. The public sat up and took notice when Murtala and Buhari, both of whom have never claimed to be revolutionary, joined the party. However, neither had a well-defined transformative government theory. Nigeria sank back into obscurity after that and has remained dormant ever since.
Since capitalist ideology stresses individualism and profit maximization through the exploitation of labour, Nigeria’s peripheral capitalism has continued to devise techniques for primitive accumulation and capital flight. That has been a part of the current democratic system’s privatization program.
The 1979 and 1999 constitutions, which Nigeria has utilized, mirror the aforementioned trend. Both constitutions reflect a clear intention and willingness to retain the country’s current economic pattern. Attempts to overturn, amend, change, or repeal the current constitution were unsuccessful. The social formulations inherited from colonial and neocolonial forms of production have not been dealt with. That is why, in terms of parliamentary seats, the political process still follows geographical lines rather than the lines of production realities, or the roles that individuals and organizations play in the production process. These processes have resulted in a situation in which political leaders and people in positions of power and money regard the state as a buffet from which everyone with a plate can serve as much as they like for themselves and their region. This trend has undoubtedly produced corruption, carelessness, and lawlessness among individuals in positions of power at all levels in the country.
If the country is to chart an appropriate route of growth in this current democratic experiment, it requires a fresh direction that is utterly dissociated from its previous colonial perspective. Nigeria has had a constitution and system in place since 1999 that encourages lawlessness, irresponsibility, greed, lack of accountability, and transparency, among other problems. Poverty, ignorance, and disease are all indicators of unfavorable living conditions for the bulk of the population. All of these are the results of adopting the British and American political systems, as well as accepting the mandates of international financial institutions and backers since the country seek loans from them for whatever project they want to embark upon, especially in the areas of construction.
A system that promotes the exploitation of its citizens by its citizens under the guise of “democracy of government of their people for their people and by their people,” and of those who have over those who do not, is not acting in the best interests of the people, as the principles of democracy require. Nigeria needs a government committed to good governance and capable of delivering development necessities. The People, who are proponents of democracy must be at the heart of development.
The current task is to promote good governance. The last ten years have been a ding-dong affair because of a lack of this. Nigerian leaders must draw lessons from their past experiences as well as those of other developing countries. Ghana and South Africa, which are both close by, have used their leadership to encourage socio-economic progress. Nigerian politicians should not regard politics as a “do or die” situation, as the elections have become in Nigeria.
If Nigeria intends to run a democratic form of government that is meant to promote democratic ideals such as public accountability, transparency, good governance, budgetary discipline, and due process, it must establish more credible procedures to enforce these democratic ideals. It is necessary to provide a framework for political engagement that is based on economic growth. This will refocus Nigerians’ attention on the country’s economic and political issues. There should also be a full re-evaluation of Nigeria’s national polity in terms of its interactions with the global financial or capital system, as well as the inclination to choose a political structure that is compatible with the people’s circumstances. The country’s current crisis trend is due to a lack of knowledge of the country’s imported political and economic systems. As a result, the new democratic system must devise appropriate ways for enhancing democratic development tenets. The solution is not a seven-point agenda, a national conference, or restructuring. The solution is to work on topics that would contribute to people’s development, including reducing poverty, promoting equality in the distribution of national resources, and empowering the majority of Nigerians to lead.
Finally, there will be no simple solutions, and the solutions will be tough. A modest starting point would be for those in charge of Nigeria’s democracy to implement socially just and fair policies based on a new social contract that will alleviate people’s suffering, and for economic globalization forces to recognize that Nigeria’s more than two decades of adjustment have failed to bring development to the people. Less of the same, rather than more of the same, may be required. A new democracy from below, based on the people and a developmental state, that represents and reflects their search for dignity, equity, welfare, and freedom, provides more hope.
Have you ever witnessed democracy thrive in the absence of a unified populace? That is a question that will be answered through time and by the outcome of Nigeria’s ongoing battles.
Because the profound insecurity inherent in the current system virtually guarantees declines in living standards, rising inequality, increasing political violence, and other disintegrative vices, pressure is increasing for visible progress in institutionalizing democratic reform and inculcating the idea of national integration.