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Democracy in Nigeria Essay

By May 2009, Nigeria’s nascent democracy should have been a decade. Thus, the thrust of this paper is an in depth analysis of the possibility of sustaining democratic values beyond any sudden reversal. The. paper however, takes a cursory look at the daunting challenges ahead and infers that unless the government increases social expenditure and truncate the current brazen corruption, the hope of democratic consolidation may eventually be a mirage.

Key words: democracy, nascent, corruption, state law and order

As rightly collated by Decalo1, the events in Africa took scholars by surprise, since most doubted Africa could move towards democracy. Even in the mid-1980’s, one argued that by reason of their poverty or the violence of their politics, African states were unlikely to move in a democratic direction. Another adding that “to have expected democracy to flourish would have been historical blindness”3, since ‘outside the core (industrialized states) democracy is a rarity, support for Tilly’s thesis ‘why Europe will not occur again – with a few exceptions, the limits of democratic development in the world may well have been reached4. However, despite the doubts and skepticisms openly expressed by scholars, Nigeria, like several other African countries, became democratic. On May 29, 1999 Nigeria became a ‘democratic’ state.

Prior to 1999 political transition, Nigeria was under firm military autocracy and absolutism for close to 29 years (since 1966), when the military made their first incursion into Nigeria’s government and politics, following the collapse of the first republic5. It is vital to note that authoritarian governments were interrupted only by a brief period of civilian rule in the Second Republic (1979-1983)6. Thus, Nigeria’s march to constitutional democracy was a chequered one marked by anti-colonial struggles, crises, coups, counter-coups, and a thirty-month agonizing civil war between 1967 and 1970.

So far, Nigeria has passed through several phases in her democratization bid viz: (a) era of colonial autocracy and absolutism, that is, period of formal colonialism till October 1st 1960, when the country gained ‘flag’ independence; (b) emergence of constitutional democracy – (1960-1966), (c) the return of military autocracy and absolutism – (1966-1979); (d) restoration of constitutional democracy – (1979-1983); and (e) the second coming of military autocracy and absolutism – (1983-1989) . 7 Since 1989, that Nwabueze made that observation, the polity has added more phases to her democratization bid.

With the inglorious ‘stepping aside’ of General Ibrahim Babangida’s administration in 1993, an Interim National Government (ING) was put in place, headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, handpicked by an unelected military President (General Babangida), thereby making the ING suffer a serious legitimacy crisis ab initio6. The interim contraption collapsed after eighty-two days, following the declaration that it was illegal by a Lagos High Court in a suit instituted by the assumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election – Chief M. K. 0. Abiola. Cashing-in on the court verdict, General Sani Abacha staged a coup d’etat, dissolved all the extant democratic structures retained by the ING, and once again, returned the country to a fiilJ blown military dictatorship. It was in this state of confusion that Gen. Abacha died in June 8,’ 1998 in a mysterious circumstance. Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, who took over after the demise of Gen. Abacha, who had a transition programme reputed to be the shortest in the annals of military-midwife political transitions in Nigeria.

Eventually, barring all odds, Gen. Abubakar handed over the reins of government to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (a retired general) in 1999. With the inauguration of Chief Obasanjo’s civilian administration in 1999, hopes were high once again that democracy would be sustained and consolidated. But alas, the military background of Chief Obasanjo became a serious liability on the system when the supposedly democratic government became a replica of dictatorship in its entire facet.

By 2003, after the expiration of his first term, his administration conducted a general election, and handed over to itself. This election was generally perceived to have been massively rigged. 9 In 2007, at the expiration of his administration’s constitutionally mandated second term, another general election was conducted to usher in another civil government. This election was remarkable in a number of ways. First, it was after eight tumultuous years of democracy – the longest period since independence from the United Kingdom in I960. 0 Secondly, for the first time in the history of the country, there was a civilian-civilian transfer of power.

It would have been even more remarkable if there had been a transfer of power from the ruling party to the opposition. ” Meanwhile, the thrust of this paper is an indepth analysis of the major challenges facing the nascent democracy in Nigeria to prevent it from the threats of authoritarian repression or what David Beetham calls “reverse waves”. 2 It is to these anti-democratic forces that could lead to democratic reverse which had taken place in Mauritania recently via a military coup d’etat that we now turn to. (A) As I have argued elsewhere13, quantitative cross-national research on the economic determinants of democracy and democratization generally consistently reveals that a country’s level of economic development is associated positively and strongly with the extent to which the political systems manifest properties of democracy.

There is, therefore, a two-way causal relationship between the economy and sustainable democracy; the state of the economy is the determinant of enduring democracy, but democracy is a key pre-requisite for sustainable economic transformation. The message is: ‘oroad-based economic prosperity sustains democracy, whereas widespread poverty and ignorance undermine it. To mimic President Clinton of U. S. when he was running for office in 1992, ‘it is the economy, full stop! ’14 No doubt. Nigeria is potentially Africa’s largest economy.

Every year, the country produces over 200,000 graduates of tertiary institutions (including 65 universities), has the 6th largest gas reserves in the world, eighth largest oil producer (with abundant, but largely untapped natural resources – gold, limestone, among others), and with 60 percent of its arable land lying fallqw. In the words of Soludo (2005), Nigeria has also millions of its citizens in Diaspora (with estimated 100,000 Nigerian medical doctors and scientists abroad). Unfortunately, was not lucky in the first 40 years of its independence with sustained good political governance.

In his perceptive public lecture, Charles Soludo, Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor,16 noted further that democracy has not been endured in Nigeria simply because the economic numbers did not add up; whereas, democracy and indeed any form of government must deliver tangible economic benefits to the generality of the citizenry to be credible and sustainable. In a seminal article on ‘What Makes Democracy Endure’, Prezeworski found the empirical evidence that: Once a country has a democratic regime; its level of economic development has a very strong effect on the probability that democracy will survive … emocracy can be expected to last an average of about 8. 5 years in a country with per capita income under $2,000; 33 years between $2,000-$4,000 and 100 years between $4,000-$6,000 … Above $6,000 democracies are to live forever.

No democratic system has fallen in a country where per capita income exceeds $6,033. 17 Be that as it may, most African states have few economic potentials of any significance (many literally nothing) that could attract foreign risk capital, which is why entrepreneurs did not flock into them in the past, irrespective of ideology or level of democracy!

And to rely on local capital to fuel development is to foredoom many to perpetual marginality. 18 Taking a cue from the same line of argument, Akintunde19, while rationalizing the reasons for the demise of democracy in the first republic, postulated that a democracy which is not founded upon a secure economic base is not likely to succeed because it lacks an essential condition of efficiency. It is unable to fulfill the expectations of its citizens; in the common parlance, it cannot deliver goods.

So significant is the economic base that many people have surmised that even communist countries, as they become wealthier, will come to resemble western democracy more and more20. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, as in most of the developing countries, due largely to the poor economic base, the middle class is a very small minority of the population. Western democracy is, therefore, not securely founded because it lacks one of the essential ingredients of success – an influential middle class.

This fact, which is sometimes a surprise to African leaders21, was well known to Aristotle more than two thousand years ago. According to Aristotle, ‘when democracies have no middle class and the poor are greatly superior in number, trouble ensues and they are speedily ruined’.

The nexus between democracy and the strength of the economy reveals that those who are not rich usually confined to mere voting, political career thus become the privilege of those who are wealthy enough to afford the leisure to devote to politics in most western countries, until the advent of Trade Union M. Ps. 23Thus, while blaming the politicians, it is worth repeating that, by embarking on western democracy on an inadequate economic base, the Fourth Republic was set on a death course, it was bound to be corrupt. 24 The same scenario is playing itself out in Nigeria presently. No doubt, it is a daunting task in the face of the aforementioned historical evidence to sustain democracy in an economy like Nigeria, where per capita income has been below the $1,000 mark.

That, according to Prezeworsk25, poses a serious threat. Considering the nexus between democracy and the economy vis-a-vis the expectation of an average African, Claude Ake (of blessed memory) averred that: The ordinary people of Africa are supporting democracy as a second independence. This time they want independence not from the colonial masters, but from indigenous leaders. They want independence from leaders whose misrule has intensified their poverty and exploitation to the point of being life threatening.

And they are convinced that they cannot now get material improvement without securing political empowerment and being better placed to bring public policy closer to social needs. [Nonetheless] democracy is being interpreted and supported in ways that defeat those aspirations and manifest no sensitivity to the social conditions of the ordinary people of Africa. Generally, the political elites who support democratization are those with no access to power and they invariably have no feeling for democratic values. They support democratization largely as a strategy of power… The people can (only) choose between oppressors and by the appearance of choice legitimize what is really their disempowerment. 26 In line with the above postulations, Jerry Gana (a one-time Information Minister) admitted, too, that: You know the mentality of our people.

If democracy does not produce clean water, if democracy does not produce good roads, transform agriculture, cultivate industrial development, sanitise society, give us power supply, democracy will lose credibility and they may say, na democracy we go chop? 7 The caveat is that where democratic processes do not yield economic returns, a regression to dictatorship cannot be ruled out. This point is clearly stated by Larry Diamond thus: … Many new democracies in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa will probably breakdown in the medium to long run unless they can reduce their often appalling levels of poverty, inequality, and social injustice, and through market oriented reforms lay the basis for sustainable growth.

When this is juxtaposed with the admittance by the Central Bank in its 2008 firs’; quarter report released to the public29, the economy is in perpetual crisis. The Apex Bank attributed the high rate of inflation in the country to the erratic power supply. According to the report, the inflation rate on a year to year basis was 7. 8 percent, compared to 6. 6 percent and 5. 2 percent recorded in the preceding quarter and the corresponding period of 2007. The report noted further that inflation rate on a 12-month roving average basis for the first quarter was 5. 8 percent compared with 5. percent recorded in the preceding quarter.

Indeed, nothing can be more soothing to the nation’s debilitating power crisis, largely fingered for stunting the economy, rendering it comatose and occasioning a declining industrial sector, whose capacity utilization nosedived to a paltry 20 percent by the end of 2006. Epileptic power supply, a very prohibitive business climate and in consistency in government policies, have combined to smother the country’s industrial sector leading to the closure of multinationals, like Michelin, Panalpina, and other notable firms.

The shrinking of the textile sector from 170 in the 60s, 70s, and 80s to 10 in the 90s, also evinces the acute nature of the problem. The recent disclosure by the House of Representatives Committee on Power, which probed the power sector that the country now generates less than a pitiable 1,000 megawatts, makes mockery of the country’s vision of becoming one of the 20 largest and most resilient economies by 2020, compared to South Africa, a country of 42 million people, which generates over 42,000 megawatts.

Much of Nigeria’s investment in the power sector has been enmeshed in corruption and enthralled in the lust of the political elite for primitive accumulation. 31 The concomitant effect of poor economy is lingering with the poverty problem. Nigeria’s poverty conundrum has assumed a frightening dimension. In the words of Dr. Magnus Kpakol, Senior Special Assistant to the President and National Coordinator of National Poverty Eradication Program, in a public lecture entitled “Poverty Solution: The Role of Government in Poverty Eradication” declared that: The number of poor Nigerians could be, put at an estimated figure of 70 million … n 1980, the figure was 28. 1 million. 1985, 46. 3 million; 1992, 42. 7 million; 1996, 65. 6 million and 1999,70. 0 million, 2004,54. 4 million. 32 He gave the statistical breakdown along the six regional levels to be “North-East, 72. 2 percent; South-East, 26. 7 percent; South-South 31. 5 percent; South-West 43. 1 percent; North-Central 67. 0 percent; and North-West, 71. 2 percent”. 33 Undoubtedly, something must be wrong somewhere, for a critical official poverty statistics, which revealed that over half of Nigeria’s 150 million population are poor, is unexplainable going by the abundant human and material resources in the country.

The economy was so gloomy that 2007/2008 United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Human Development Index (HDI) ratings placed Nigeria at 158th position out of 177 countries. 34 No doubt, democracy is endangered in Nigeria more than ever before. Poverty, want, and squalor are anti-democratic forces in the polity. The only exception is Indian democracy, which has long baffled theorists of democracy. Democratic theory holds that poverty, widespread illiteracy, and a deeply hierarchical social structure are inhospitable conditions for the functioning of democracy.

But the historical novelty of Indian democracy was noted by Barrington Moore: Economically (India) remains in the pre-industrial age … But as a political specie, it does belong to the modern world. At the time of Nehru’s death in 1964, political democracy had existed for seventeen years. If imperfect, the democracy was no more sham … Political democracy may seem strange both in an Asian setting and one without an industrial revolution. 36 To avert recapitulation, my earlier work glaringly with empirical data proved the pathetic downslide of Nigeria’s economy over the years with the attendant threat to democratic sustenance. 7 Bruce Baker too in his perceptive piece emphasized much the strength of the economy and sustainable democracy.

As a corollary to the aforementioned weak economy, the state, in terms of being weak or strong, matters to the study of threats to democracy both from within and without, as well as one of the common modes of failure of democracy and democratization. 39 Perhaps, the greatest manifestation of a weak state vis-avis sustainable democracy is that it cannot successfully administer a true and fair credible election which is the kernel of democracy.

No doubt, one of the. fundamental problems that post-colonial African states are facing is that of how to sustain and consolidate democracy through credible elections. 40 In the whole continent of Africa, few states could lay claim to having genuinely conducted free and fair elections as universally perceived. Hence, election administration that will attain governmental legitimacy after polls has always been a serious concern to electoral scholars. 41 The reason for this is not far-fetched. It is well known that most new states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are too weak for the assignment.

This is why state capacity is one of the major prerequisites for democratic nurturing, sustenance, and consolidation. In the extant literature on democratization and state capacity generally, five elements are crucial to the strength of the state vis: (a) monopoly of the coercive power of society, that is, control of instrument of coercion; (b) the right to improve tax and collect revenue; (c) the power of legal enactment, that is, power to make laws; (d) sovereignty over territory and society; and (e) control of the institutions of the state or state apparatus, i. . bureaucracy. 42 These five elements taken together constitutes the basis of state power and they endow the state with the status of statehood. However, it needs be emphasized that nation states which qualify for the status of statehood may differ in their degree of stateness; some are strong states, and others are weak. No doubt, Nigeria falls into the category of weak or soft states.

Like others in her category, Nigeria runs a system, one in which formal rules (laws, officially stated administrative rules and practices, etc. are applied copiously and in a lax manner rather than rigorously and consistently. It is one in which private advantage can be gained and private bargains struck concerning the enforcement or non-enforcement of the rules as when a businessman bribes a tax official. Besides money, another inducement is kinship sentiment while another is the favour of superiors. The consequential effect is that in several cases, individuals may be too powerful than the state in which the rule of law is abused with impunity.

Cases of such were too numerous to be mentioned during the last Nigeria’s general elections in April 2007. 43 In a nutshell, the stronger the state in all ramifications, the better for deepening of democratic values in Nigeria. This can be achieved via the entrenchment of state institutions cum congruent political behaviour by the political elite. Perhaps the most crucial of all imperatives for the consolidation of Nigeria’s nascent democracy is the restructuring of the lopsided and structurally imbalance federal arrangement.

As rightly noted by Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth: At the heart of the several conflicts plaguing the Nigerian state today is the consequence of the failure of the practice of true federalism. The power shift debate that characterized the politics of transition from military to civil rule and which has persisted several months after, rose largely out of the frustration of large segments of the population with the structure of the political system that has shut significant sections out of the corridors of power for most of the post-independence period. 4 With Nigeria being one of the most complex societies in Africa, federalism was adopted to integrate the plural and divided societies.

This is in line with the perception of early generation of students of inter-group relations or plural societies, which considered federalism an effective way of achieving and preserving both integration and stability in deeply divided societies. Whenever events seemed to demand that a compromise is affected between the necessity for unity and cooperation on a wide territorial basis, “the temptation is to proffer catch all management formula, such as federalism .. >>45 This tendency to see federalism as a magic wand that can channel irreconcilable inter-ethnic hostility into conciliation and federal cooperation was subscribed to by Carnell, thus: “in tropical area characterized by extreme cultural and ethnic diversity … federalism comes as something of a political panacea”. 4 In a nutshell, federalism is considered the most appropriate framework for governing multi-ethnic societies.

However, recent events in Nigeria clearly demonstrate that the polity is far from being a federation, or alternatively as has been suggested, that Nigeria is not a true or real federation. 47 Since 1954, when the foundation of classical federation for Nigeria was laid,48 the system is still far from being problem-free. The story is that of both ‘political and governmental instability’. 49 Worst still, Nigeria’s ethnic make-up remains what Furnival calls “in the strictest sense a medley (of people) for they mix but do not combine”.


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