The term democracy has become ubiquitous in contemporary political discourse. By definition, democracy is a system of government where people choose their leaders and hold them accountable for their policies and actions in office; this is usually done through free and fair elections. Abraham Lincoln put forward the simplest and most concise definition of democracy; a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Based on Lincoln’s definition, the focal point of democracy is the people, and concomitantly, civic participation and basic individual freedom. While the underlying idea is the same, there are various types of democracies and their diverse practices often produce very different outcomes. The nature of democracy is often dependent on a country’s socio-economic condition, the quality of its institutions and its policy practices.
Democracy has to work for ordinary people
The idea of democracy in Nigeria became popular after the rise of nationalist movements to gain independence from the British Colonial rule. This led to the introduction of political parties to enable free and fair elections. In May 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as president; ending decades of military rule and signalling the beginning of Nigeria’s nascent democracy.
In 2018, I often find it very laughable when people refer to Nigeria as a democratic country. It’s absurd and far from reality. Most of the problems we encounter as a nation are problems that arise in the absence of true democracy. Ideally, democracy is synonymous with good governance, economic growth and national development. However, after over two decades of returning to democratic rule, Nigeria has made very little progress in the aforementioned areas. Instead, what we are stuck with is widespread corruption, endemic poverty, high levels of income inequality and limited political freedom.
How Has Democracy Failed in Nigeria?
- Nigeria’s idea of democracy is spendthrift; one that spends so much yet does so little.
- Religious and ethnic differences have become vulnerable to exploitation by politicians and have led to increased tension and distress in the country.
- The government prioritizes the comfort of political officials rather than the overall well-being of the country and its populace. I still cannot understand why Nigerian lawmakers are one of the highest paid in the world. For what exactly?
- The material manifestations of democracy, such as improved welfare and living standards of citizens are yet to be seen. More than half of the population still live in chronic poverty and deprivation.
- Corruption is embedded in every fabric of society; thus, diluting the potency of any policy put forward. Similarly, patronage and conscienceless embezzlement make wealthy politicians wealthier to the detriment of society.
- Nigerians have been denied the most basic benefits that come with a democracy such as freedom of speech, human rights, and the right to engage and participate in governance. Our democratic climate today somewhat mirrors the freedom-less and terror-filled days of military rule.
- Free and Fair elections are the bedrock of any democracy yet, Nigeria still struggles to carry out transparent elections. The prevalent idea that elections are manipulated and rigged to reinstate the incumbent is so problematic because it discourages citizens from participating in elections. “What’s the point of voting, when it will still be rigged”, is a statement I have heard one too many times. Not only does it reflect the dire state of Nigeria’s democracy, but it also means that election outcomes do not always reflect the will of Nigerians.
- Every single action by the government has become politicized. Politics has taken precedence over patriotism. Politicians enact policies that only look good during election campaigns, instead of prioritising feasible policies that truly benefit the masses.
The so-called democracy of Nigeria is a sham. Currently, Nigeria displays most (if not all) of the characteristics of an illiberal democracy. The struggle for an adequate democratic system in Nigeria will not be easy, but it is essential if we want to experience any form of progress in the coming years.
Democracy is not a scientific formula. The continuous search for appropriate solutions to emerging issues is the only way a nation can truly embody the tenets of democracy. Furthermore, the impact of democracy on development and long-term growth is conditional on how it is channelled to reflect the values and priorities of a populace. There is a need for increased citizen participation and action. Citizens have to hold the government accountable at all times. Good governance is a two-way street. If we demand better, then surely, we will get better. It might take time, but we will eventually get there.
“One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
Thanks for reading, and a Happy “Democracy” day to my Nigerian Readers!