Why Nigeria’s Democracy Falters

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Mr. Enyinnaya Abaribe is not your typical run in the mill career politician who is in it for what he can grab. He is a man of history who realizes that his vocation in the field of politics is not for personal aggrandizement but to offer quality counsels on how best to achieve viable institution bulding that would consolidate the practice of constitutional democracy in Africa’s largest country – Nigeria.

From a closer look at him, he appears rebellious; although not in the negative sense. He is rebellious of anything that would undermine the arts and science of the real practice of democracy which must of necessity generate good governance whose beneficial goal should advance the living conditions of the greatest percentage of the greatest number of people.

He was once a deputy governor in Abia state. But less than two years as the deputy governor of Abia state, he fell out of favour with his then boss in what is believed to be his aversion for poor governance method of the then Abia state governor.

Abaribe comes from Aba – a city that represents the symbol of how corruption by successive governors of Abia state have stolen the state blind. Aba used to be the commercial nerve centre of South East of Nigeria.

But from 1999 till date, Abia state has had the misfortune of producing some of the worst predatory administrators that have ever emerged in the black world. Abia state lacks the basic necessities of good governance and the state of infrastructures has deteriorated beyond human imagination.

So it is very clear to understand the backgrounds to his intolerance for poor governance.

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe is the leader of the opposition parties in the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In this pivotal position, he has made landmark speeches and presentations that have demonstrated that indeed there are still some courageous men and women in the corridors of political power.

Not long ago, he gave speech in which he captured the unfortunate tendencies that constitutional democracy has been confronted with and the primary thing is that democracy falters in Nigeria because of the deliberate weakening of critical institutions that are meant to be independent and ought to be in the vantage positions to act as stabilizing factor for the sustenance of the Rule of Law and Democracy.

His speech in which he rightly stated that democracy is difficult in Nigeria perhaps summarizes all that is wrong with the way we practice democracy here.

Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe said   Nigerians are struggling for basic democratic rights because “democracy is difficult for some people to really fathom”.

Abaribe said this at the Government House in Port Harcourt during a condolence visit by the Senate Minority Caucus to the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, over the death of his uncle, Charles Wike.

He said, “Nigeria as it needs to move in a different direction from where we are moving now. We need you (Wike) to support us in our effort to make every Nigerian feel the impact of good governance.

“We understand the difficulty every Nigerian is feeling today. We understand the pain most Nigerians are going through. We understand that those who came on the platform of change have ended up even being worse than those that they came to change.

“The disappointment, the disillusionment that most Nigerians are feeling today is our responsibility to bring to the fore in our public debate.”

The former Abia State deputy governor added, “We have been keeping up with our ideals. Democracy is difficult for some people to really fathom.  I think that is why the government at the centre is finding it really difficult.

“You cannot have democracy without having democrats. Only democrats can give you democracy. Autocrats can never give you democracy.

“What autocrats want at every time is to say that their word is law. We believe in interaction and the contestation of ideas in the public space. That is what will lead us to a better Nigeria.

“We have been trying to steer the ship of state in the right direction when we get communications from the Presidency and it has been very difficult.”

He added though the Senate Minority Caucus had continued to work to correct the anomalies in government, the struggle had been met with resistance.

Abaribe said, “It has been very difficult for us. We thought we would have been able to change the direction of Nigeria in 2019. Be that as it may, we also resolved that we would give a positive direction to government, considering that all of us are supposed to be working for the interest of the country.

“But as you have seen from interactions and what has come out in the media, it has been a very difficult task. Even today, we had to go into a very difficult discussion with our colleagues on the propriety of plunging Nigerians into further debts.

“What we have seen is that maybe there’s a reluctance on the part of the Federal Government to take good advice from the citizenry represented by us.”

He said the security challenges facing the country were making development difficult.

“You cannot have development when almost all parts of the country are burning. The insecurity we contend with, we have tried to get the government to see reason and change tactics and the personnel.

“It is those who refuse to buy into the new ideas that don’t want the economy to grow and they don’t want anything good to happen,” he said.

I think one key area that shows how constitutional democracy has faltered in Nigeria is the poor standards and criminal hijack of the electoral system by the political party controlling the office of the president. Since 2015 till date, almost all the elections conducted by the central election management board have been compromised.

The Independent National Election Commission (INEC) has become so compromised and weak to such an extent that virtually fifty percent of the elections it has conducted since 2015 have all been overturned by the courts.

To understand the severity of how weak INEC is, the Supreme Court of Nigeria had a recent case between the then Imo state governor Emeka Ihedioha and the 2019 All Progressive Congress governorship candidate Mri Hope Uzodinma, discountenanced the fact that the electoral umpire nullified results from polling centres in which these were over-voting and the Supreme Court gave a massively erroneous verdict affirming the validity of  a result computed by  the police which legally has no right to compile election results and in the process, the apex court validated the case of over voting in Imo state by returning the candidate who INEC rated as number 4 to become the governor.

This show of shame by the Supreme Court of Nigeria also shows that the judiciary which is the institution that should exercise the judicial powers of the Federation is also compromised and there are widespread allegations of executive interferences in the running of the judiciary since the current Chief Justice of Nigeria was brought in through an ex-parte order by a quasi-judicial body known as Code of Conduct Tribunal.

The removal of the then substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria Onnoghen from Southern Nigeria and his replacement by Tanko Mohammed from the North is the clearest evidence of the capture of that arm of government by the executive arm of government.

Also, the National Assembly is headed by stooges of the president and this sad episode completes the trinity of political infamy in Nigeria.

The latest copy of The Economists has a coverage on how Africa’s democracy is faltering. The key observation by this Foreign Magazine pointed to the weakening of such critical democratic institutions such as the election management boards.

The Economist of March 7th in the 2020 ran a beautiful article on “How to beat the Big Men.”

The Economist stated as follows:

A struggle is raging in sub-Saharan Africa. Most Africans, like people anywhere, want to choose their own rulers. A smaller but powerful group – autocrats and their supporters – is determined to thwart them. Over the past 30 years democracy has gained a ground in Africa. During the cold war, peaceful changes of government at the ballot box were almost unheard of, because of Soviet and American support for friendly tyrants. After 1990 nearly every African country held elections. But in the past decade democrats have been pushed back again. Political freedom has shrunk in Africa since 2008, according to Freedom House, a watchdog. Crooked ruling parties have found myriad ways to nobble opponents and make that they are free to say what they think fell from 79% to 70% in 2008-18. Of the 21 countries that switched off the internet last year, 12 were African. The same number have passed laws making it harder for NGOs to operate.

Several trends favour the autocrats, China offers cash for roads and bridges with no pesky questions about governance. The current White House has no interest in promoting democracy. And new surveillance technologies let autocrats snoop inside dissidents’ phones, making it easier to harass them.

Support for elections should be more creative. Rather than merely watching what happens on polling day. Donors should back local NGOs that can spot intimidation months in advance; digital analysts who can detect disinformation; and parallel voter tabulations against which official results can be checked.

Most important, outsiders should support institution-building. This is slow and thankless. The results are less visible than China’s railways and dams. Yet it is essential. Prosecutors, legislators and journalists all need training; some also need cash to keep the lights on.  African whistle-blowers are harder to ignore when outsiders trumpet their findings. It would be wrong for outsiders to fund opposition parties. But championing financial liberalisation can make for more competitive politics, especially in countries where state-run banks deprive opposition parties of credit, thus making it hard to fund campaigns.

Africa matters. By 2020 it will have as many people as China. Outsiders should care whether such a giant neighbour is prosperous and peaceful. Democracy cannot guarantee that, but its absence makes poverty and disorder more likely.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs@www.huriwanigeria.com;www.emmanuelonwubikocomwww.thenigerianinsidernews.com;www.huriwa@blogpot.com ��

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