A CRITICAL APPRAISAL
Written and Researched by Nnanna Ike
The return of democratic rule on May 29 1999 was celebrated with a lot of fanfare all over Nigeria and beyond. Twenty years down the line, what has happened? How well has Nigeria’s democracy done, politically, economically and socially? The answer to these questions is not easy. To
some critics, there is a tendency for an outright condemnation of the
present democratic practice. Such critics opine that the system has rather undermined Nigeria’s development. Dr. Okey Ikechukwu opinion which appeared on Thisday Newspaper of 2 may 2019 with the
title “stocktaking as may 29 looms” best illustrates this perspective when he stated that “we are walking into a looming inauguration with Governors and States House of Assembly that are completely at home with massive security votes. This discretionary slush fund which makes no impact on state security and which is also not accounted for, will be re-inaugurated on May 29. It is democracy without democratization. It is a democratic enterprise with questionable democratic credentials. It is perhaps even a scam”. On the other extreme are those who believe Nigeria has done well with her democracy. Most government personnel and those who have benefited or are benefiting from the system belong to this school of thought. Perhaps it is only a sociological and historical recourse to Nigeria’s democratic journey that can provide an objective and logical answer to the question. Such answer has to view the dynamics of the Nigerian society
as it has evolved within the context of how it fared during the long period under military rule starting from January 31st 1983 and terminating on 29 May 1999.
By May 1999 when the rump of the military junta led by Gen. Abdulsa-
lami Abubakar was compelled to roll back into the barracks, Nigeria
was just coming out of the brink of a civil war. The Abacha dictatorship that preceded the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime had generated an anti-thesis in the form of civilian opposition groups led by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and later joined by the G.34 group. The Abacha dictatorship had spent a greater part of its time fighting these groups, such that by the time of his death in Au-
gust 1998, several members of the
opposition had either been killed, jailed, detained, harassed, or were in exile. The country was polarized along ethnic and religious cleavages as had never been witnessed since the end of Nigeria’s civil war in 1970.
The Gen. Abubakar junta that took over the reigns of pow-
er following the demise of Gen. Sanni Abacha quickly reached a re-rapprochement with leading opposition groups and a short transition program was packaged that produced a democratically elected government on May 1999 with a retired former military head of state Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) emerging as the elected civilian president.
However, one of the major pitfalls of such a hurried transition program as witnessed between 1998 and 1999 has since emerged to be the imposition of an ill-conceived constitution that was hurriedly drawn by a few men that were selected by the regime. The 1999 constitution has since become more of an albatross for civilian democratic rule rather than an asset. All efforts to amend this constitution and make
it more progressive have since
been scuttled by centrifugal forces that benefit from its dysfunction.
The long period of military rule in Nigeria in itself has been termed in political circles as the blighted years of Nigerian history. Nigeria regressed during those years both politically, economically, and socially. Economically, the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) that was introduced in the mid-eighties as part of the Bretten-wood Institutions inspired program to revamp the economy and which was continued by both the Abacha and Abdulsalami regimes had not succeeded in revamping the economy. On the other hand, the structures and agencies introduced as part of the palliatives to cushion off the negative impact on the lower classes and vulnerable groups had virtually collapsed by 1998. Such
agencies like Poverty Alleviation Program, DFRRI, Peoples Bank etc were by 1999 existing only in name. Perhaps it could be said that industrialization and manufacturing sub-sector of the economy were the worst hit sectors of the economy by the uncritical right-wing policies pursued by the various military dictatorships in those blighted years. Lacking any original ideas about the organic scientific linkage component of industrialization, the various naïve military regimes adopted various privatization policies as part of the World Bank economic re-form programs. Such ill-conceived privatization programs led to the sale of critical national assets that were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Such assets were quickly grabbed by both the top military rulers and their civilian cronies. This dubious uploading of Nigeria critical assets coupled with a less emphasis on the establishment of public sector funded heavy industries led to the manufacturing sector making less than 3% contribution to the GDP by 1999.
In fact, the blighted years seemed to have been symbolized more by the inefficiency and corruption that characterized the operations of government ministries and parastatals or the MDA’s as they are called to such an extent that by the late 1990’s most of their functions were taken over by an ad hoc agency established by Gen. Abacha and headed by Gen. Buhari (rtd) called the Petroleum Trust (PTF).
Till date, the various military regimes that ruled the country starting from 1970 are still remembered by the Fabulous wealth of its leading lights. During those years of militarism, Nigeria continually occupied the apex index of the corruption ladder in the world. The new lexicon “Abacha Loot” entered into the English dictionary after the exit of the military on account of the recovered treasure looted by the late military head of state. The overall implications of the inefficiency, mismanagement and looting of the national treasury was that the various military dictatorships failed to provide the infrastructure that will stimulate the industrialization which would have propelled Nigeria into a modern economy. As this few examples will buttress. No new power plant was built in Nigeria between 1983-1999. In fact, by 1999 Nigeria was generating less than 3,000 megawatts of energy. The present energy problem in the country owes its origin to this long neglect. The same is true about federal highways, seaports, refineries, airports, etc. On the international scene, Nigeria became a pariah nation and by 1999 was suffering several sanctions imposed by the international community because of human right abuses in the country. The net effect of all these is that by 1999 when the military retreated, Nigeria was a country whose indices of underdevelopment were all high on the negative side with unemployment, crime and illegal migration topping the charts.
The President, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo that took over the reins of power from the rump of the military junta led by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and
his civilian cohorts did not prepare much for civilian take over. The consequence was that between 1999 and 2003 when he was running for a second tenure, there was not much on ground to show for
the four years spent in office .He survived a near revolt within his ruling PDP to engage in a second term. By the time he was inaugurated for a second term, Nigeria was having a heavy debt over hang of nearly $40 billion and an economy that was rudderless. It was to stem this tide that led to the appointment of a renowned Harvard trained economist and world bank executive Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala entry as the finance minister and the chairman of the economic council. Dr. Iweala’s entrant into the federal executive dramatically changed the system of governance. She and other brilliant minds that served in the council helped the government to package a reform programme called The National Economic, Empowerment Development Strategy (“NEEDS”).
The major component included a package that dealt with the debts over hang which led to the cancellation of substantial part of the foreign debts owed by Nigeria that freed the government to attend to domestic needs. Other components included the introduction of fiscal responsibility bill which was passed into law in 2005. This law which in common par-
lance is known as “due process” dramatically improved the system of governance thereby making the ministries and parastatals to work again and deliver the much needed goods and services to the people. Another very important component of the NEEDS DOCUMENT is the war on corruption that was launched with the establishment of two anti-corruption agencies, the EFCC and the ICPC. There was also the IPP component. This program sought to deal with the age long energy problem through the provision of an intermediate power program which led to the construction of several gas-powered plants majorly in areas that had abundant gas supply. There was also a major reform of the public service with its highlight being the introduction of a new pension system. The Needs package seemed to have worked well between 2004–2007. The Federal government system up till date is still anchored on the “Needs Document” with minor adjustments.
Its major defect was the less than an average interest in a science and technology inspired industrialization, for instance the completion of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex was left to a privatization process that handed over the company to some international criminals who damaged the quest for industrialization by engaging in a massive asset stripping of the complex.
Other problems associated with the program included the non-adoption of the Needs document by so many of the state governments who preferred the military inspired old ways of running government that enabled them to centralize the finances of their states on their table. The then czar of the newly established anti-corruption agency Mallam Nuhu Ribadu had a running battle with most of those state governors over the pilfering of their state treasures. By the time their second terms were over, most of them were guests of the courts over theft of public funds. Three of them were eventually convicted. The three included Chief Lucky Igbeniedion who governed Edo State, Rev. Jolly Nyame who governed Taraba State and Chief Ibori who was convicted in a London court.
However, the major inhibitor to the continued and full implementation of the NEEDS program in Nigeria was its chief promoter, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Firstly sharp differences over policy matters between him and the Finance Minister Dr. Iweala had led to the latter resigning from the Federal executive Council sometime in 2006. At the exit of Dr. Iweala and with the popularity of the government over dividends of the NEED document, President Obasanjo’s popularity was at an all
of continuing the program after his tenure. It was such a narrow and selfish definition of his government that culminated in his generating a selfish third term agenda that eventually scuttled the 2006 constitutional conference which was called to address some of the structural and constitutional problems in the country which the “Needs Document” could not address. President Obasanjo’s selfishness played him into the hands of
his enemies, the governors” who were the chief enemies of the reform programs. Having been boxed into a tight corner by several forces over his failed third term bid a weakened president Obasanjo in the twilight of his administration was compelled to make deals with his adversaries the (Governors) over his successor, if he
were not to be finally disgraced out of
The major component of the deal was to the effect that the 2007 PDP primaries would be concluded with the election of one of the governors as his successors. It is this deal that encouraged all the then serving PDP governors to run for the PDP presidential primaries.
However, the major problem was the EFCC report which indicted many of them over the mismanagement of their state treasuries. It was the report on a sick Umaru Yar’ Adua then governor of Katsina state in the northwest region that was somehow manageable. President Obasanjo quickly settled for Yar’Adua who was the immediate younger sibling to his friend and close subordinate General Musa Yaradua, when he was the Military Head of state. President Obasanjo also chose the Vice Presidential candidate Dr. Goodluck
Ebele Jonathan who had earlier replaced his impeached principal Chief Alamesigha as the governor of Bayelsa State.
There was also another very interesting development that occurred in the nation’s politics between 2004 and 2006. At the onset of the reform pro-
gram when Obasanjo Presidency was at the height of its popularity, a section of the opposition politicians in the rival APP had sought to checkmate such rising popularity of the PDP government at the centre through an alliance with Islamic Clerics that had been pushing for the introduction of the Islamic Legal code within the Muslim dominated states of the North. The matter generated a lot of furor within the country as it met with stiff opposition from the Christians. The Obasanjo presidency however resisted all pressure to stop its implementation. The Sharia legal system was eventually introduced in the Muslim dominated northern states starting from Zamfara State whose governor Alhaji Sani Yerima was its most ardent promoter.
Even though the federal government took a lukewarm attitude towards its introduction, it generated an anti-thesis in the south as it led to the rise of various agitations in the predominantly Christian dominated region. In the South-South zone various militant groups emerged demanding for greater control over oil resources. In the South-West the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) emerged fighting for greater autonomy or what they called true federalism for the south west region. In the south-east the movement for the restoration of the sovereign state of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Chief Ralph
Uwazurike emerged to agitate for the re-establishment of the defunct sovereign state of Biafra.
The Yar’Adua/ Jonathan Presidency that won the 2007 Presidential elections thus, came into the scene with a lot of baggage that were carried over from the Obasanjo era. Matters were made worst by the health status of President Umaru Yar’Adua himself. The Yar’Adua presidency was majorly a victory for the forces that resisted the reform programs, introduced under the Obasanjo era. When eventually they came into power, several aspects of the reform program were either discarded, watered down or reversed. One of the major reform programs that suffered under the Yar’Adua regime was the Independent power projects that were designed to improve energy supply in the country in the short run. Most of these power plants were located in areas that had abundant gas supply which were mainly in the south. The Yaradua presidency was least interested in the IPP program and under the guise of probing the contractual relationships surrounding them refused further funding for them. Further probes by the National Assembly was the subject of newspaper headlines under the Yar’Adua presidency, because of the controversy it generated over allegations of bribery amongst national Assembly Committee Members.
By the time the IPP projects were restarted under the Jonathan administration, most of the companies involved in it were already having defaulting issues from their foreign partners or suppliers. Till date most of the IPP project equipment are rotting away in various sea ports in the country. The abandonment of this very important program under the Yaradua presidency no doubt contributed significantly in the persistence of the continuous energy problem in the country even till date.
Another of the reform program that was watered down under the Yaradua
administration was the anti-corruption war. Most of the people who either
managed the Yar’Adua campaign or funded it where elements who were directly or indirectly hit by the anti-corruption war. The ascendancy of the yar’Adua administration thus became an opportunity for them to fight back. The anti corruption agency boss himself, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu who was eventually hounded out of the agency, once stated that “if you fight corruption, corruption will fight you back.”
An Attorney General, Chief Michael Aondoaka was appointed who saw his duty as that of rolling back the war on corruption. By the time of Yaradua’s death in 2010, much of the gains made
in the fight against corruption had been rolled back. The anti-corruption agencies had been weakened to such extent that they became known then as a toothless bulldog.
Yet a third lowering of the reform program was the diluting of the fiscal responsibility bill or due process that enabled head of ministries and agencies to regain complete powers over public procurement in their respective ministries or agencies.
On the positive side, the Yaradua presidency which suffered initial setbacks as a result of drops in oil production due to restiveness in the Niger Delta quickly reached a rapprochement with the leaders of the militant groups engaged in the war. An amnesty program was packaged which led to the restoration of peace in the region. Till date Nigeria is still enjoying relative peace in the Niger Delta which has ensured the continuous flow
of oil money.
Elsewhere in the country, while peace was being restored in the Niger Delta under the Yaradua administration in the north east another development was occurring that would have very wide implications for the whole country.
Alhaji Modu Sheriff in 2007 had come to power with the help of one of the leaders of the Islamic clerics by name Yusuf by promising the complete imposition of sharia in the state, contrary to the partial implementation of the Islamic Legal code that was tolerated by the federal Government. On
ascending into power as the governor of Borno state, Sheriff had discovered he couldn’t implement the full sharia with all its criminal component due to the control of state instrument of coercion by the Federal Government. The situation led to sharp disagreement between him and his Islamic cleric backers leading to their parting of ways. The problem was to degenerate into followers of Yusuf disturbing the public peace. Efforts by the state government to coerce them only deepened the crisis. A hard line approach adopted by the state government led to the execution of Yusuf sometime in 2009, while under government custody. The remnants of Yusuf followers operating under the name Jamat’at. As-Sunnah Lid’wahwa’l-jihad otherwise known as Boko Haram went underground and started a guerrilla war with the intention of carving out a sovereign territory or caliphate where sharia would be completely implemented. At the height of the war between 2013 and 2014, the insurgent group had seized swarths of territory in large parts of the north east and declared sovereignty over them. The war has exerted enormous material and human cost on the nation. Till date the war is still on. Effort to contain it is still one of the major campaign promises of front-line politicians
Aside the lowering of the reform programmes, the fundamental structure of the underdevelopment remained very much intact under the Yar’Adua presidency. Nigeria continued to be a net importer of manufactured goods and a net exporter of agricultural and industrial raw materials particularly oil. The states which had refused to adopt the fiscal responsibility bill continued to be administered according to the whims and caprices of the state governors, with some of them doing well while others regressed. The third tier, the Local Government councils funds continued to be appropriated by the State Governments under the State Local Government joint account, thereby deepening the under development of the rural areas.
It must be stated also that President Yar’Adua’s Presidency was characterized by a great deal of peace among the PDP ruling circles. He had come to power when the popularity of the PDP was at an all time high. In fact, the PDP record of victories in the 2007 elections has never been equaled again. As a look at the following statistics will buttress. In 1999 the PDP won the presidency with 241 seats out of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives and 71 seats out of the 109 seats in the Senate. The party also produced 21 out of the 36 state governors. But in 2007 the party not only won the presidential election much more comfortably but had also increased the National Assembly seats to 223 for the House of Representatives and 76 seats in the Senate. It also produced 28 out of the 36 states. The remaining 8 states were shared between three political parties. In fact, it could be said that the PDP had its most glorious era during the President Yar’Adua years. Everything looked so good that its then national chairman Prince Vincent Ogbulafor made the famous pronouncement that “The PDP will rule for 60 years.” All these were made possible by the disposition of President Yar’Adua who was considered level headed and gentlemanly and who in any case did not have the good health to engage in unnecessary brickmanship . This then left his henchmen a great deal of autonomy. Such autonomy was deployed in the running of the party and the government. As President Yar’Adua’s health detoriated, these hench- men coalesced into a tiny group that was calling the shots as if in obedience to Roberto Michael’s “Iron law of oligarchy” in its explanation of the elite theory. The leadership of this tiny group included the wife of the President, Hajia Binta Yar’Adua, the then governor of Kwara State and chairman of governor’s forum Dr. Bukola Saraki, the national chairman of the ruling PDP Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, the governor of kano state Musa Kwakwanso and the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori. The management of power by this tiny Aso rock cabal during the last days of the Yar’Adua administration was to have lasting impact on the post Yar’Adua era. First these cabal ensured that the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was completely alienated from all the processes of treatment of President Yar’Adua in a Saudi Arabian hospital. When it was obvious that President Umaru Yaradua had died, they tried all manner of tricks to ensure that Dr Jonathan did not ascend the throne. The matter was at the point of generating an unnecessary national political crisis when the National Assembly intervened with their “doctrine of necessity” which saved the day and ensured the vice president was inaugurated to replace the late president.
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan coming to power in 2009 thus started a process that changed the content and character of not only the PDP but national politics.
When Jonathan eventually ascended the throne, those who called the shots under the Yar’Adua era were alienated from his government .
It might be apt to say that while the politics of his death, succession, peace in the Niger Delta, the Boko Haram war and the lowering of the reform program were the major dynamics that defined the Yar’Adua presidency, events were happening in quick succession within the opposition camps. The opposition political parties had been worsted in 2003 elections. Most of the AD governors that were elected in the 1999 lost their seats in the 2003 elections with the governor of Lagos State Senator Ahmed Tinubu being the lone one that survived. In 2007 they improved on the 2003 record by regaining most of the south west states with only Ondo state going the way of the labour party. The App suffered the most set back in the 2007 elections and shortly after broke into factions with its presidential flag bearer Gen Mohammadu Buhari (rtd) breaking off with his core supporters to form the congress for progressive change (CPC).
Thus while the seeds of a major crises and fractionalization was brewing in the PDP under the Yar’Adua/Jonathan presidency, the opposition groups had already started a process of dialogue and rapprochement that will eventually see them coalescing into a future mega party.
The Jonathan era right from beginning was to be confronted with the problem of consolidating its hold on power. The problem of consolidation was made worst by the opposition from the muslim north which saw his aspiration in the 2010 PDP presidential primaries as being against their interest. The tiny Aso rock cabal that opposed his coming into office were joined by mainstream northern politicians in their opposition to President Jonathan contesting the 2010 PDP Presidential Primaries. President Jonathan had to fall back on his traditional supporters who were mainly southerners and Christian middle belt. A new national polarization arose
along ethnic and religious lines with mainly southerners and the Christians supporting his running for the office while the majority of the northern muslims opposed it on the ground that the PDP constitution zoned or rotated the office to the north and hence should be left to only northerners to contest.
The 2011 elections were held amidst this heavy polarization and national divide that emerged over the issue of whether incumbent President Jonathan was right to seek for election or not. While the ruling PDP was battling over the issue of zoning and what to do with the incumbent President seeking for re-election, the opposition parties mainly the ACN and the newly formed CPC had started a working alliance that will enable them field a common candidate for the 2011 presidential election.
The alliance did not work in the 2011 Presidential election thereby compelling them to field different candidates. The ACN had Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the ex- EFCC Boss as its Presidential candi-
date while Gen Mohammed Buhari (rtd) flew the flag of CPC. The ANPP fielded Mallam Ibrahim Shakareu, the then Kano State Governor.
Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan won the election against the above mainly northern candidates arrayed against him. The 2011 elections had one defining characteristics. It was attended by a great deal of violence in large parts of the muslim north against perceived supporters of President Jonathan and INEC officials particularly youth
corpers who officiated in the election as ad hoc staff. A lot of people lost their lives in this mayham and billions of naira worth of property were destroyed in the arson that was part of the violence and riots. One other peculiarity of the 2011 election was the increased popularity and showing of Gen. Buhari (rtd) in the north. His newly formed party the Congress For Progressive Change (CPC) even won one of the States in the north, Nassarawa State.
Perhaps it might be necessary to state that even though incumbent President Jonathan won the election and the PDP still had majority in the States and National Assembly, its hold on the country had started a process of weakening. In the words of Segun Adeniyi the chairman of Thisday Newspaper editorial board in his book “Against The Run of Play”. “However by 2011, the law of diminishing return set in, such that PDP margin had declined as it won 208 seats in the House of Representatives, 71 in the Senate and produced 23 Governors. “this definitely was its
worst outing since the formation of the PDP in 1998”.
The continuous polarization of the country along ethnic and religious lines that emerged before the 2011 election was to intensify after the
elections. Another very important national and political characteristics that arose after the elections was the crisis that engulfed the ruling PDP which nearly tore the party to shreds. President Jonathan’s traditional adversaries from the core muslim North that opposed his presidency or election were to be joined by other groups from his Niger Delta home base led by the g o v e r n o r s of Rivers State Rt Hon. Chibuike Amaechi and his Bayelsa State counterpart, Chief Timipreye Sylvia and their supporters. Their Joining the opposition camp had very destabilizing impact on the Jonathan Presidency that was still struggling to consolidate its hold on power. Amaechi was not only a very vocal governor but was also the chairman of the governors’ forum. The two governors controlled states that are adjudged to be very rich in resources as a result of oil wealth.
The polarization and crises that engulfed the ruling PDP was to engage much of President Jonathan’s attention between 2012 to 2013 and only waned when the factional leaders walked out of the 2013 convention over the manner elections into offices that shut their members off were organized. This group was to later play a major role in the formation of APC and in the victory of APC over PDP in the 2015 election.
Economically the Jonathan era is still remembered with a lot of sadness over the gross mismanagement of the economy that occurred within that period. The situation got so bad that the chief architect of the reform program Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was invited back to help stem the tide, but the world bank wizard seemed to have lost her magic wand in her second coming. She could not make much impact this time around amidst wide scale corruption, sleaze and inefficiency that characterized the administration. It is however to her credit that her integrity has never been questioned in spite of all the numerous corruption cases that involved leading members of the government she served.
Other features of the Jonathan era include the continuous dilution of the reform program, the continuous lowering of the war on corruption, the intensification of the Boko Haram war, the height of it being the 2014 kidnapping of the Chibok girls, general insecurity in other regions due to kidnapping & armed robbery and continuous polarization along ethnic and religious lines. President Jonathan tried to resolve some of these problems through the convocation of a national constitutional conference in 2014. However, the report of the conference was never implemented until he left office in 2015.
The war against corruption was so watered down during the Jonathan era that it was only spoken about in whispers. The result of such witling down was that several billion dollars that was supposed to be used to enhance economic development ended up in the pockets of leading lights of the government. There were several scams that made newspapers headlines during this period. Infact
since Buhari came to power several leading members of that
government are being tried for corruption with the most prominent
being the ex-national security adviser Col. Sambo Dasuki and the former petroleum minister Mrs. Deziani Madueke.
It was in the midst of these difficulties that President Jonathan sought re-election in 2014. This quest clearly heightened the tension in an already polarized polity while Muslim northerners were mobilized to believe it was their right to stop such quest and produce a Muslin president, the southerners and Christian middle belters were mo-
bilized to support it.
The 2015 election was thus a most heated one. The tension that the campaigns generated was only stopped from degenerating into a violent national conflagration when President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat and congratulated Buhari, thus ushering in a new phase in Nigeria’s political development. President Jonathan on that account has been accorded all the respect due a statesman.
General Buhari thus entered into the history book as the first opposition presidential candidate to win election in Nigeria. His coming to power could be said to have reversed most of the negative trends that characterized public policy formulation and execution during the Yar’Adua/Jonathan era. Most of the ministries and parastatals have started working again, rendering increased perormance of budgetary provisions especially
as it relates to capital votes, but recurrent expenditure continue to be high gulping more than 60%of budgetary provisions. The Boko Haram war has been given added impetus with most of the captured territories recovered. However the ability of the insurgent group to still capture school girls as happened in 2018, the non release of the remaining chibok school girls, the non release of Leah sharibu, the continuous attack on military formations and communities are all evidence that the war is far from being over contrary to the claim of the military that the insurgents have been defeated. The war on corruption has been given added impetus with Buhari’s personal integrity being an added boost. However, a lot of critics especially from opposition critics still main-
tain that the war is mainly targeted at political opponents. It could also be stated that as there is more serious effort to follow the rules of the reform programmes put in place during the Obasanjo era.
Manufacturing and agriculture has also got added emphasis with the untiring efforts of their respective ministers. Same could be said to be true of the major infrastructures like roads, electricity and railways. In terms of government performance, it could be said that the Buhari regime has done as well as the second term of President Obasanjo when the reform program was initially put in place.
However, the most fundamental problem still remains the fact of how the political economy of Nigeria can be changed to be an industrializing one. The basic characteristic of underdevelopment still remains very potent. The economy is still a monocrop one that is dependent on earnings from oil revenue. The political economy is still chiefly characterized by the import
of finished manufactured goods and the export of agricultural products thereby making it an under-developed one. There is also the problem of social inequality and stratification between different social social classes of the economy even though the Buhari government seems to have scratched the surface by putting in place a social welfare program called National Social Investment Program (NSIP) to help bridge the gap.
More fundamentally, the Buhari’s era seemed to be increasingly defined by the forces and circumstances leading to the formation of the APC and the electoral forces that brought him into power. The APC was formed by a coalition of three major forces that were Northern and Southern based. Unlike the PDP that the leaders from different parts of the country sat together to design, the APC is an alliance between the former CPC and ANPP which were muslim northern based parties and the ACN which was controlled by Yoruba south west leaders. The 2015 presidential elections was defined by a national polarization with mainly christian southerners and middle belters voting for President Jonathan while General Buhari got most of his votes from the north and parts of southwest.
When Buhari won the 2015 presidential elections, a lot of people thought that he will wear off his coat of a presumed northern muslim irredentist and convert to a real nationalist and statesman; but his first statement of compensating those who voted for him with 95% of patronage and giving 5%v to those who didn’t vote for him dimmed that hope. Ever since then, his politics seems to have been defined by the protection of his ethnic northern muslim brethren and the Yoruba Southwest. This has no doubt compounded the national question and seems to have increased polarization of the polity along ethnic and religious divide.
The 2019 elections exacerbated this national fault lines as observed by Tatalo Alamu when he opined that “if anything, the recent elec-
tions have actually exacerbated
the national fault lines with some sections of the country in open revolt against federal authorities while recent regional hegemonies are under fierce assault from counter-progressive forces parading as new redeemers of the race. It is within this context that it could be asserted that the 2019 elections brought the whole issue of the national question and a default democracy into the front burner of national discourse. The rigged elections, a faulty presidential system and a weak economy, etc. are all suddenly at the front burner again”. Still Alamu in the same write-up
seems to point the way forward on the challenge of our democracy. “At the end of the day, we may discover that we have been putting the cart before the horse, despite all the brave and heroic efforts. No nation can achieve political homogenization without first homogenizing national ideals and violently conflicting notions of the nation itself. This is the enduring lesson of the elusive quest of the last fifty-nine years. President has been particularly criticized for running the government through an insular and narrow minded kitchen cabinet. Leading the packs of such critics is Idowu Akinlotan while writing in his palladine column of 5th May 2019 of the Nation when he asserts that “In his first term, his kitchen cabinet was essentially made up of a powerful cabal quartet. They welded huge powers on picking his general cabinet and security team and master minding a ferocious takeover of ministries and agencies. They sometimes worked at cross-purposes leading to high profile disputes in the appointment and retention of agency heads, but overall, the quartet became the mind and soul of the president. In fact by some account, they even determined the president’s likes and dislikes to the point of sowing acrimony where it mattered most to the
president. The kitchen cabinet was powerful and influential, but it was also insular and schizoid. There was nothing expansive about their world view; no vision of a multicultural country, and no idea about a common national destiny and identity or global reach and ambition. And nothing was ever really altruistic”.
Twenty years down the road, looking at the society that emerged from the throes of militarism, it could be said that the nation has made a lot of progress in certain realms of human existence. The Nigeria society amidst existing hydra-headed problems could be said to be qualitatively and quantitatively higher than the one that existed twenty years ago. Politically, the space is much free now, multi-party democracy is blossoming. As at the last count, there were more than ninety parties that participated in the last presidential, national and regional elections with the major ones being the All Progressive Congress (APC), The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).
The political space is such now that freedom of speech, association and religious worship are all taken for granted. It must be noted however, that such democratic freedoms have been blighted by the existence of an insurgent group in the north, The Boko Haram, where its fundamental activities have tended to undermine such freedom. Other no-tables that have undermined these democratic rights are the state incarceration of the Shiites and their leaders as well as the repression of nationalist aspirations in the east. All these actions constitute a blight on the democratic credentials of the present democracy and certainly a clog on its forward march in Nigeria. The above minuses notwithstanding, Nigeria’s democracy could be said to be on steady ascent, with the ability of opposition parties to win elections and with successful civilian to civilian handover being its climax.
Other worrisome development have however reared their ugly head, they include the inability of INEC to conduct elections that are transparent, free, fair and devoid of voter intimidation. Instances of INEC’s misindemour in this direction
abound even for the uninformed, for instance, how could it be explained that war torn areas of the country like Borno State and Yobe where many residents have been killed or fled into refugee camps and where many communities are desolate continue to generate millions of voters whereas thickly populated areas of the country like Lagos and FCT are not able to do so. Can we in honesty assert that democracy has taken root in Nigeria when INEC officials regard electoral processes as bazaar and award results to the highest bidder? How about Judicial pronouncements after electoral outcomes? From the experience that emerged after 2015 elections, can we truly say that democracy is blossoming in Nigeria with the level of corruption that goes on amongst judicial personnel during election petition tribunals?
The worst case scenario is perhaps at the third tier. It is now known that
most of the State Independent Electoral Commissions are just there to do the bidding of the party in power at the states. Since their establishments following the operations of the flawed 1999 cons t i t u t i o n, multi-party
democracy seems to have failed at the third tier. Till date, no opposition party has the ability to win council elections conducted by states independent electoral commissions. It has always been the ruling party in control of the respective state clearing all the seats. This was the opposite of what obtained at the local government level before 1999. If this is the case, can we genuinely talk about democracy being rooted in Nigeria when we have one party system at the local government level? In other words, when will elections in Nigeria at all levels be free, fair, transparent and devoid of voter in intimidation? Other problems include the continuous polarization of Nigeria along ethnic and religious lines. This problem of ethnicity even though as old as the country itself and also the root cause of previous political instabilities seemed to have gained added impetus with the return of democracy in 1999. It has been fuelled more by structural imbalance as a result of structural restructuring of the country embarked upon by previous military regimes.
To be sure, various g o v e r n m e n t s both military and civilian acknowledges this polarization as the number one political problem and had always engaged policies aimed at finding appropriate political, economic and social balance for the country. The Abacha dict a t o r s h i p called the 1995 constitutional conference whose report never saw the light of the day. The Obasanjo civilian regime set up the 2006 constitutional conference which was scuttled by a selfish third term agenda. The 2014 Goodluck Jonathan’s constitutional conference was scuttled by northern hegemonists and the lack of political will by the President himself to implement the report because of a selfish second term quest. Presently, President Buhari and his acolytes has shown an open disdain for ideas relating to it. The ruling party that used restructuring as part of its manifesto in 2015, never mentioned it during the 2019 election campaigns. The South-West leaders of APC who were part of its most vocal proponents seem to have lost their voice. Nevertheless, it is not an issue that is about fizzling out and as Idowu Olaitan has counseled while writing for The Nations Newspap r published o n
March 31, 2019, “President Buhari’s predecessor’s had the opportunity between 1999 and 2015 to lay a solid democratic foundation for the country and even a more solid political cum economic structure, but they were to be carried away by their repeated victories and trappings of power to notice the more fundamental things needed to build a great nation. Though he was distracted by poor health in his first term, President Buhari still had a chance, assuming he paid attention to the things that mattered, to take a closer and futuristic look at the country’s weak and faltering foundation. Repeatedly however, and influenced by his uncritical and grossly mistaken view of the country’s politics and economy, he spoke glowing of the political givens and denied the existence of the unresolved issues threatening the fabric of the country. So far, neither the president nor his party has indicated their wish to address the country’s fundamental problems beyond the ad hocism they have promoted for years. They even make light of the problems and have dis-ingenuously tried to reframe them in cultural, moral and religious terms”
In a nutshell, re-engineering country is an issue that the National Political leaders must find a way of dealing with if democracy is to be entrenched in the country. Perhaps it is in analysis of the economic status of the democratic practice that arguments become even more subjective most being politically inspired. There is often a tendency to out rightly undermine economic achievements recorded under the present democratic practice or a wholesale condemnation of same depending on which back-
ground the analyst is coming from. An objective analysis of the economic development of Nigeria between 1999 and 2015 will come out with the fact that there has been a phenomenal expansion of the economy even though the fundamental problems of underdevelopment remain largely unaddressed. The economic growth indices have been recording a positive GDP with exception being in 2016/17 when the economy witnessed negative growth rate. However, the major characteristics of underdevelopment
still remain intact and potent. Nigeria is not in any way near being classified as an industrial nation. The public policies pursued by various federal and state governments do not in any way present a systematic approach towards industrialization as Prof Claude Ake the late eminent political economist will say in his classic “Democracy & Development in Africa” that “there is no agenda for development”. His thesis still remain largely true about Nigeria today.
However, it is to the credit of democratic practice that there has been a systematic improvement on the system of governance especially at the federal level and a continuous expansion of the economy and its infrastructure.
More importantly, the reform program which the federal government put in place from 2004 under Obasanjo/Ngozi Okonjo Iweala principalship did not get a positive nod from the states. The implication as stated earlier is that most state governments have since 1999 being run according to the individual whims, caprices, and momentary interests of the respective governments. Such military style ruling of the states have one characteristic and that is the centralization of funds on the table of the governor with scant regard to budgetary provisions. The result is that twenty years down the lane, some states have done well while some others have done poorly. Another very important result is that while the federal government that adopted the reform programs is not having the problem of debt to public sector workers, most state governments are neck deep in debt to their workers. This is despite the fact that there have been several bailout funds given to the states by the federal government, the problem seems to be becoming endemic and intractable while the governors attribute the problem to dwindling revenue, critics attribute it to mismanagement of resources. With the new minimum wage bill of N30000 put in place by the federal government, it is expected that the problem of irregular payment of salaries and pensions to their public sector workers will only get worst.
The third tier system of government or the local government councils seem to have been worst off under the democratic dispensation that came into place in May 1999. With increased and virtual control of the council funds by the state governments, the local government council seems to be increasingly pressed out of service. It is only in few states that the councils are still operational. Majority of the councils in the country have had their activities completely taken over by the state governments. The situation is not helped by the usual controversial and heavily rigged elections conducted by the States Independent Electoral Commission which usually have the party in control of the state government usually winning all contested council seats. This situation has seen most of rural Nigeria being increasingly underdeveloped and wallowing in poverty. This then is one of the major challenges of the present democracy. How to return the councils to independent path of development and democracy as obtained before 1999. It is gratifying though to note that the Buhari administration has recently been making stringent efforts to ensure that the councils regain autonomy over their funds.
In summary, Nigeria has made modest progress since the return of democratic rule in 1999.However there is a lot of room for improvement. It is the responsibility of the political leadership to work hard and lead Africa’s most populous nation out of poverty and underdevelopment. This is the real challenge of the present democratic practice. Twenty years down the road, the problem has just been scratched but the real journey can still start, even now.