The Politics of Democracy in Nigeria – Fahad Garba Aliyu



“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – President Abraham Lincoln

The above statement by President Abraham Lincoln is arguably the best known definition of democracy. The word “Democracy” originates from two Greek words: demos (the people) and kratein (to rule). The two words put together form democracy, which literally means “rule by the people”. It is a system of voting for a government through a free and fair electoral process, a system of government that ensures and respects the human rights of all citizens; wherein the Rule of law applies to all citizens of the land in equal measure. In a democracy, the government is bound by the consent of the governed and is accountable to the electorate. Nigeria has been a “democratic state” for the past 14 years, yet the dividends of democracy have yet to cover the Nigerian people. A democratic government is one in which power flows from the people to their elected officials, who hold power only temporarily. Can the nation truly then be considered a democratic state? For even in principle, we have continuously failed to uphold the very tenets upon which the concept of democracy is predicated. So what exactly is it that is hindering the growth of our democracy?

The main obstacle of and constant bane to the progression of our democracy is the perpetual lack of freely conducted elections. Our elections have lots of flaws and the necessary policies and enforcement mechanism must be put in place to improve and strengthen our democratic process and democracy. Our seeming inability to conduct free and fair elections is hindering our nation’s journey towards a stable democracy. For indeed in a democracy, it is not merely the voting process that matters. It must also be ensured that the ballots and their respective tallies are free from any instances of tampering; the votes of the electorates should count.

Another obstacle to continued progress of our democracy is a perpetual lack of strong democratic institutions. Vice President Namadi Sambo recently echoed the same sentiment saying that democracy cannot be sustained in the long run without sound policies that will benefit the electorate. Adding that building strong political institutions and strategizing ways to deepen our democratic culture is paramount to its continued viability. Therefore priority must be given to the establishment of impartial and bipartisan government and civic organizations.

Party affiliations are supposed to give the electorate an idea of the philosophy of a candidate. Political affiliation should be a way to understand the core beliefs of each candidate in the context of said party’s political and social manifesto. However, within Nigeria our political institutions are weak, devoid of any overarching strategy pertaining to the nation’s socioeconomic concerns. They serve only to ensure the indefatigable control of the nation’s resources by the present incumbent class. Dissent and or divergent opinions are not tolerated; and are followed by either outright expulsion or unanimous condemnation. Executive officials have centralized the balance of power around their respective offices, both at state and national levels. Our democratic institutions are under the personal control of men and women who show little concern as to how these complex political machinations, the great majority of which have no relevant significance in the contingency of democracy in particular and in the well being of the citizens at large.

We want to be a democratic state, we want to have a stable democracy, a democracy that works and delivers. A system that moves our country forward yet we do not seem to have a cogent proposal as to how we can achieve that objective. We don’t have a structure that will get us to the Promised Land, a country of opportunities, of freedom, liberty, a country where the citizens feel safe, where no one is above the law. Presently our yearning for a stable democracy is but a wish.

We have to move past the mindset where people believe an elected official’s performance or indeed, the impetus for his selection is determined by his adherence to a particular religion or kinship towards a certain tribe or region. We have to put our largely inconsequential differences by the side and have meaningful conversations and dialogue with people across all backgrounds, religious beliefs and tribes to come up with solutions and ways to move our country forward for the benefit of our people and our democracy like our founding fathers did for our independence. Our founding fathers from all over the nation came together and did lots of great things for our nation that we are proud of till today. So why can’t we do the same? We have to always put our country first and our fellow countrymen before any personal and selfish interest, that’s the only way our nation will prosper. Democracies grow and progress when its people establish lines of dialogue, yet they only truly develop when its various communities put aside largely inconsequential differences and work towards the common good.

Recent efforts by some opposition parties to merge into one (All Progressive Congress) is a step in the right direction for our democracy, not because the new party will surely solve Nigeria’s problems but we need a strong opposition that can challenge any party in power. We want a system whereby any party that fails to deliver the dividends of democracy to the citizenry will be replaced. Ensuring in the long run that all parties involved work towards a more progressive agenda. We as Nigerians don’t expect our democracy to be perfect from day one but we want to see progress by the day, we do not want to see our democracy slide ever backwards into an oligarchy.

In conclusion I leave you with a statement by Fareed Zakaria “Modern democracies will face difficult new challenges–fighting terrorism, adjusting to globalization, adapting to an aging society–and they will have to make their system work much better than it currently does. That means making democratic decision-making effective, reintegrating constitutional liberalism into the practice of democracy, rebuilding broken political institutions and civic associations. Perhaps most difficult of all, it requires that those with immense power in our societies embrace their responsibilities, lead, and set standards that are not only legal, but moral. Without this inner stuffing, democracy will become an empty shell, not simply inadequate but potentially dangerous, bringing with it the erosion of liberty, the manipulation of freedom, and the decay of a common life.”

Fahad Garba Aliyu

Kano, Nigeria

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