Rethinking Nigeria’s Democracy Amidst Threat to Rule of Law, By Moses Oluwaseyi

Within a week, two popular newspapers, The Punch and Business Day, respectively, have raised questions around the sustainability of Nigeria’s democracy, especially in the wake of the violation of human rights, disobedience of court orders and attempts to annihilate the rule of law.

It’s been over 20 years since Nigeria transcended from military rule to adopt what is said to be the best system of government across the world —democracy. Unfortunately, a recent editorial by  Business Day this week has served as a firm reminder to President Muhammadu Buhari that this is not the 1985 military regime. The editors of the online medium are concerned about the direction of Nigeria’s democracy with the recent use of extrajudicial means to shut opposition.

Political science students have a saying that: “the worst democracy is better than the best military rule”, and the elementary class will define democracy as a system of the people, by the people and for the people. Democracy should therefore enable freedom of participation, association and human right, which drives development. 

Sadly, it appears that recent practices in Nigeria are extremely different from what the democratic system of other countries represents. If our founding fathers turn back from their graves, will they see that country they fought and strove for independence from the colonial masters? or will they be filled with regrets? This calls for deep reflections.

Pieter Williams Botha a South African politician once said, “black people cannot rule themselves because they don’t have the brain and mental capacity to govern a society. Give them guns, they will kill themselves, give them power they will steal all the government money; give them independence and democracy, they will use it to promote tribalism, ethnicity, bigotry, hatred, killings and wars”. This statement may just reflect the democratic system in Nigeria and the system of governance has, however, not proven this to be erroneous at several levels of governance.

The 1999 constitution in chapter II is very clear on the motto of the country, which is Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress but the level of disunity has led to several insecurity issues in various parts of our dear country, thereby stalling adequate progress. Issues of religious differences and high level of intolerance is consistently on the rise. Territorialism at various state level and expression of ignorance of some citizens, disregarding the provisions of chapter II of the constitution cannot be divorced from the cause of ethnicity and communal clashes in the country in the name of citizenship as the struggle with the abundant resources that have become scarce due to inadequate governance institutions and visibility. This and other menaces have characterized our democratic system. 

The provisions of fundamental human rights are now misrepresented as mere making of statements are distant from what the law requires. The acclaimed dividends of democracy such as rights to life, quality education, adequate health systems and basic infrastructure, seem to be more accessible and available during the military rule than the democratic system of government Nigerians fought for. 

Even though the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammed, claimed he would not tolerate disobedience of court orders, his body language to such doesn’t reflect his claim. The judiciary is no longer the hope of a common man as it is usually said. There have been various instances of disobedience of court orders especially by the executive arm of Government. The delay in passing judgement and various conflicting court judgements especially around election related matters has led to waste of taxpayers’ money. The judicial system, no doubt needs to re-position itself to the apex of trust and integrity in order to shape the democratic system without being one sided in the dispatch of her responsibilities.

Similarly, public office holders, either elected or appointed must see such office to be worthy of trust, and capable of delivering on the needs of democracy, which would position the country in a way that generations unborn will be beneficiaries of what has been done. Elected officials at the federal and state levels should use their office and power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Federation. Lawmakers should engage in people-oriented policies, and create an enabling environment in all parts of the country. Consequently, there is an urgent need for political office holders to look inwards, be accessible and increase engagement with citizens at all levels in order to have a progressive democratic government that would eradicate poverty, insecurity, hunger and enshrine a nation where there will be democratic gains.

Oluwaseyi Moses is a Zonal Program officer with YIAGA AFRICA