The 1993 presidential election that brought in Chief Moshood K.O. Abiola to power signaled a new direction in Nigerian politics. The annulment of the June 12 results by former President Ibrahim B. Babanginda has left many people to question the wisdom behind the decision.
Before the 1993 presidential election, political pundits and observers of Nigerian politics have argued for a rotation of the presidency. They believed that it would be in the country’s best interest to have the president of the nation emerge from the six regions (south-south, south- west, south-east, north-north, north-central, north-west, and north-west). In 1999, Nigerians and the world rejoiced as General Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were sworn-in as president and vice-president respectively. As the nation prepares for another presidential election in April 2007, what legacy is left behind?
By all indications, President Obasanjo has accomplished a lot for the country. But his legacy appeared to have been dampened by recent political events in the country. His legacy that was once strengthened by his opposition to social injustice and abuse of power, and his engagement in two transitions from military dictatorship to constitutional government, and his resolute opposition to militarism as a form of government, now is in jeopardy. Sklar (2006) writes that in 2005, Obasanjo’s legacy of dedication to democracy was shadowed by his desire to hang on to absolute power. By supporting a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to seek a third term despite widespread public disapproval, the president has allowed his critics to have a field day and his legacy questioned. Sklar concludes that by not stretching the issue, however, he might have solidified his contribution to Nigerian democracy, but much remains to be done.
As the President Obasanjo prepares to relinquish power, a new political culture appears to be emerging in the country. The details are sketchy. One only needs to analyze the headlines in the newspapers to understand the implications of the mischaracterization, accusations, and counteraccusations at the executive branch of government. This new political culture may or may not discourage young people to be interested in Nigerian politics and its political process.
Throughout history, emerging democracies, such as ours, have struggled to build a political culture and community characterized by political consensus, legitimacy, and organization. For example, established democracies, such as the United States of America, Canada, Britain, and Australia, have paid a high price to achieve a high degree of political participation in public affairs by their citizenry. The result is strong adaptable and coherent political and social institutions in these countries.
Nigerian democracy faces three fundamental challenges. The first challenge deals with Nigerian’s response to democracy after years to military dictatorship. It is true that emerging democracies face the problem of ill-informed and less educated populous. The concern here is that an informed populous make better political decisions. They understand the issues and participate in the political process. For example, they understand the concept of a social contract. A social contract is an agreement between a government and its citizens. For example, when an incumbent fails to deliver, the incumbent is not reelected. The opposite is also true. Politicians have the tendency to manipulate uninformed and less educated populous.
The second challenge to Nigerian democracy is the role interest groups play in the political process. Naturally, people come together to advance their political agenda. In Nigeria, because we have not fully resolved some of the issues that divide us, and because individuals and groups compete for political and economic power, it is natural that there is conflict. Established democracies put in place effective policies and procedures for regulating and managing political and social conflicts. Just imagine the three major ethnic groups which dominate and influence social, economic and political resources in the country positioning and competing for power. The Hausa-Fulani, in the north, mostly Muslim, have traditionally held on to political power. The Igbo, in the southeast, mostly Christians, have dominated the business sectors. The Yoruba, in the southwest, Christians and partly Muslims, have controlled the civil service and education sectors.
The third challenge to Nigerian democracy is the role other institutions such as the military, media, and religion play in advancing democracy and educating the populous. In established democracies, these institutions’ roles are clearly defined and their goals aligned with national goals.These institutions have a research agenda and their programs are consistently funded. An example of such institution is the Nigerian Armed Forces, has vowed to stay away from Nigerian politics and focus on securing the country and improving its image as professionals.
It is good news that the newly created Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by President Obasanjo will prosecute politicians and others for misappropriations and embezzlement of national and state funds. Government corruption continues undermine national development. We must work together, at home and in the Diaspora, to model accountability and transparency. A commitment to rebuilding national infrastructures and institutions such as schools, hospitals and roads, will enhance our democracy, national stability, security, and economic prosperity.
My generation has a significant role to play in the new political dispensation. This will require a change of behavior and a lot of trial and error as well as a lot of patience and hard work. Just look at how democracy works in the United States of American, Canada, and Australia, and you will understand what remains to be done.
R. L. Sklar (2006). “Nigeria: Completing Obasanjo’s Legacy.” Journal of Democracy – Volume 17, Number 3, July 2006, pp. 100-115. The Johns Hopkins University Press