Starconnect Media
Editorial

15 Years of Democracy, what Hope for Nigeria?

Nigeria ceases to exist Monday, December 30, 2013
Nigeria ceases to exist Monday, December 30, 2013

Present democratic dispensation commenced May 29, 1999 when General Olusegun Obasanjo rtd., was sworn in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and just four days ago, the nation clocked 15 years of uninterrupted democratic government.

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For many, it has been a mixture of both the good and the bad. From the autocratic era, that characterized the Obasanjo’s regime, which is quite understood, based on his military background, the political space is a little bit relaxed, with unfettered freedom of expression. It is commonplace to see Nigerians march on the streets to vent their grievances against government policies perceived to be inimical even with some resulting to insults on the highest office in the land.

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Journalism is no doubt flourishing with many journalists mortgaging their gate keeping role on the altar of politics and self-aggrandizement. Political assassination is on the decline unlike before. Insecurity is rife in the land with bombings, coupled with recent abduction of over 200 girls from the Borno State run Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, by the radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram. There are presently more opportunities for Nigerians to gain higher education with the emergence of private universities, Covenant University, Bell; telecommunication has improved from 450,000 subscribers to over 10 million.

On the economic front, inflation was adjudged by the World Bank to be 6.6 percent in 1999 but dropped to 5.4 in 2007 and rose to 13.7 percent in 2010. By April, 2014, it hovered between 6 and 9 percent going by projections of the Central Bank of Nigeria and it is expected to drop to 5 percent by 2015.

Experts have argued that major indices that drive prices in Nigeria are basically Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise called fuel and the exchange rate.
Price of PMS has undergone a steady rise since 1999 with momentary drops in between. From N20 in January 1999; it is now officially N97 per litter.

In terms of the exchange rate, the Naira exchanged to the British Pounds and United States Dollars at N89 and N21.89 respectively in 1999. But today both currencies go for as much as to N162.62 to the US Dollars and N276.527 to the British Pounds with potentials for further devaluation.

This notwithstanding the economy seems to be on upward swing. For the first time since 1990, the Nigerian economy was rebased by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which projected that it has grown by 83 percent to N80.3 trillion($509.9bn). By this ranking, Nigeria’s economy is projected to be the 26th largest in the world, largest in Africa and 12 times larger than the economy of Ghana.

Perhaps to consolidate on these gains, the first World Economic Forum (WEF) was held for the first time in Nigeria with unprecedented record of attendance with a projected inflow of direct foreign investment to the tune of $68 billion in the next few years.

The executive arm of government has not fared poorly from the President to the State Governors and Local Government chairmen. There has been a steady growth in infrastructural renewal. But same cannot be said of corruption which now pervades all sectors of the economy.

Experts have argued that the war against corruption peaked during the Obasanjo era, when he appointed, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu to head the Economic Crimes and Financial Commission(EFCC)but waned when the Yar’ Adau administration replaced him with Farida Waziri and it has been on a downward trend since then.

Corruption has trickled down from the Presidency to the state governors and Local Government Chairmen, with allegations about most of the governors now owning private jets, airlines, Yachts and breathtaking hotels in Nigeria and abroad. The scam that rocked the aviation sector involving former Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah is one of such example.

The legislature is also culpable, said to be neck deep into corruption. It is no wonder that former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo openly labelled the National Assembly as a house of rouges and thieves, following the probe into Petroleum Subsidy Scam, which indicted so called leader of Integrity Group in the house, Farouk Lawan, for demanding and receiving bribes totaling $620,000, about N930,000 from Chief Executive Officer of Zenon Petroleum, Femi Otedola.

Experts have continued to question the morality for retaining Lawan in a house, whose leadership seems to abhour corruption only in words.

Besides, the National Assembly seems not to be interested in its bogus salaries and allowances said to be the highest in the world against public outcries, with some claiming that the House has done more harm to Nigeria and Nigerians by further pauperizing the masses they seek to protect.

At a lecture on cost of governance in Nigeria, Former Minister of Solid Minerals, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili revealed that over N1 trillion has been allocated to the National Assembly for almost nine years.

“Since 2005, the National Assembly members alone have been allocated N1tr,’’she said while lamenting that 82 per cent of Nigeria’s budgetary cost goes for recurrent expenditure.

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According to her, the social dilemma which the country currently finds itself can only be a thing of the past if stakeholders, especially lawmakers, consider part-time legislation as a means of bringing down the cost of governance. But as it is, the lawmakers seem to be more interested in what they take home. From 2011 to 2013, both houses have just a little over 24 bills to show for the billions expended in the National Assembly.

Even members of the opposition have not been able to isolate themselves from those of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) since the collapse of integrity group through a lifestyle of self-denial.

For many the lawmakers have been able to do nothing but to form unholy alliance to feast on the treasury without meaningful legislation that touch on the lives of the masses. There are some who have called for death penalty as a way to wipe off corruption. “I recommend that corruption should be treated as a capital offence in the country with a stiffer penalty,” Human Rights Lawyer, Mr. Aturu Bamidele . A very senior lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje also believes that capital punishment will do the magic.

“The constitution is about equality, justice and freedom. If a man is found culpable of armed robbery, he must face the death sentence. However, a court that was in a hurry to sentence an armed robber who stole N1, 700, should also be prepared to attend to corruption cases, which has become an economic crime”, he argued.

Though very critical to national development, none of the lawmakers, not even in opposition party has been able to push death penalty as a bill to fight the cankerworm, since they are all culpable.

It is for this reasons that Nigerians are saying that the legislature is not doing enough in terms of law making to curb corruption.

For many, the lawmakers have been more involved all these 15 years politicking than making laws. President Goodluck Jonathan alluded to this in one of his media chats, when he branded them as playing more politics than making laws for the benefit of Nigerians in one of his media chats.

The Judiciary has also not been able to exonerate itself in matters of corruption. The judiciary is also corrupt,” Obasanjo said, stressing “during my tenure, many of the corrupt judges were removed, some are still there.

“If the judiciary becomes corrupt, where is the hope for Nigeria? Justice no doubt will go to the highest bidder. The judiciary did not see anything wrong with a former governor but the same set of evidence was used to convict him in the UK, ” he was quoted as saying.

Speaking on the issue, Former Minister of Justice, Chief Justice Mohammed Uwais averred that corruption had long been in the nation’s judiciary.

“Without a strong judiciary, even if you have a strong economy, the economy will find it difficult to grow,” he warned. In his assessment of the situation, Vice Chancellor University of Ekiti, Professor Yinka Oyebode noted that while it is no exaggeration to aver that corruption has eroded practically all facets of human endeavor, politics, the private sector, police, universities even the church and mosque, he said it would be unscientific to ignore the oasis of propriety in the desert of infamous conduct, and untoward practice.

“In fact, some (myself inclusive) have opined that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, then corruption will actually stop Nigeria”, he noted.
Besides, one aspect of the democratic polity that ought to dispensed with is the militarization of the polity, with many calling for quick and prompt action which is actually a character of the military era, unlike the present dispensation where most decisions have to go through the national assembly.

Ezekwesili pointed to this anomaly when she described such a mentality as a drawback to the military era.

“One major mistake of the government under which I served was that we simply got into democracy and did not spend reasonable time getting every citizen; every leader and every institution to do away with militaristic ethos and principles from their minds,” she explained. De-militarization of Nigerians at this time through a conscious effort by relevant agencies like the National Orientation Agency(NOA) will go a long way to sustain democracy in Nigeria. And as Lord Mallock, a former deputy UN scribe puts it, there is hope for Nigeria, if the right steps were taken by those saddled with the responsibility to lead the country.
EMMANUEL UKUDOLO

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