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  • Politics
  • Updated: June 13, 2024

Nigeria's 25 years of unbroken democracy - The gains, the challenges

Nigeria's 25 years of unbroken democracy - The gains, the ch

Nigeria's democratic journey in the last 25 years has been a mixed bag of achievements and challenges. 

Before 1999, Nigeria was plagued by military rule, political instability, and economic stagnation. The country had gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960, but the early years of independence were marked by political turmoil, culminating in a series of military coups and counter-coups.

Between 1966 and 1999, Nigeria was ruled by a succession of military regimes, with the exception of a brief period of civilian rule from 1979 to 1983. The military regimes were characterized by human rights abuses, corruption, and economic mismanagement. 

The country's economy suffered greatly during this period, with declining oil prices, corruption, and mismanagement leading to widespread poverty and unemployment.

The political landscape was also marked by repression, with many political opponents and activists jailed, exiled, or forced into hiding. The media was heavily censored, and freedom of speech was severely curtailed.

However, in 1998, the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar announced plans to transition to civilian rule. This led to the establishment of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the conduct of elections in 1999, which marked the beginning of Nigeria's current democratic dispensation.

Since then, Nigeria has maintained a democratic system, with six successful transitions of power between civilian governments. While the country has made significant progress in consolidating its democratic institutions, it still faces many challenges, including corruption, insecurity, and economic inequality.

The gains made since 1999 include the consolidation of democratic institutions, improved political participation, and economic growth. However, the challenges persist, and addressing them is crucial to ensuring sustainable development and deepening Nigeria's democratic roots.

Gains

Though many Nigerians are quick to write off the current dispensation, it will be foolhardy to discountenance obvious gains that have been made over the past 25 years.

These gains include the following:

Consolidation of democratic institutions

Nigeria's democratic institutions, such as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the National Assembly, and the Judiciary, have become more robust and independent. INEC has improved the electoral process, and the National Assembly has become a more effective checks-and-balances institution. Majority of Nigerians, however, believe that true independence is yet to be granted to INEC and the Judiciary, citing examples of rigged elections, biased  judgement and conflicting court or tribunal verdicts. Some have argued that the last election was a typical example.

Recall that a former president, Musa Yar’Adua had confessed that the process leading to his emergence as the then president was laced with manipulation, hence he formed a government of national unity to attract legitimacy. 

Improved political participation

Citizen engagement in the political process has increased, with more people voting and participating in elections. Civil society organizations have also become more active in holding government accountable.
There is however, political apathy by citizens who believe that largely, their votes do not count. 

Economic growth

Nigeria's economy has grown, with the country becoming Africa's largest economy. The government has implemented policies to attract foreign investment and promote economic development. Meanwhile, the country’s economy has now nosedived in the last 9 years of the APC government. 

Challenges

Despite the above gains, challenges persist, which have made a vast number of Nigerians to doubt the viability of nation's democracy.

Some of the more pronounced challenges include:

Corruption

Corruption remains a significant challenge, with Nigeria ranking 154 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. Corruption has hindered economic development and undermined trust in government.

The inability of the nation's anti-corruption agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences, ICPC, to properly prosecute and secure conviction for those considered big political players with corruption allegations, further erode the confidence citizens have in the current democratic dispensation.

Security

Insecurity, particularly terrorism and banditry, have become major concern. Boko Haram's insurgency in the North East and banditry in the North West and North Central have displaced millions and killed thousands. The inability of the nation's security forces to tame the seemingly worsening security situation in the country, has been a source of major concern for citizens.

Economic inequality

Poverty and economic inequality remain significant challenges, with many Nigerians lacking access to basic services like healthcare and education. The wealth gap between the rich and the poor has widened. This has, more than anything, made the average Nigerian to lose hope in government.

Despites these challenges, some analysts and political figures are of the opinion that Nigeria's democracy is a work in progress.

According to Dr Jibrin Ibrahim, a political analyst, "Nigeria's democratic journey has been marked by significant progress, but also significant challenges. The country needs to address issues like corruption and insecurity to consolidate its democratic gains." 

For Dr Bismarck Rewane, "Nigeria's economy has grown, but the growth has not been inclusive. The country needs to address issues of poverty and inequality to ensure sustainable development." 

Though major opposition parties and figures in the country have continously knocked the current administration, accusing the All Progressives Congress government of doing the wrong things, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu thinks differently, declaring in his Democracy Day broadcast to the nation that "Nigeria's democratic journey has been a success story. We have maintained stability and ensured peaceful transitions of power."

On his part, Vice President Kashim Shettima said: "We acknowledge the challenges facing the country, but we are committed to addressing them and ensuring that Nigeria's democracy continues to grow stronger." 

Speaking on the journey so far, Dr Kole Shettima said: "Nigeria's democracy is still fragile. The country needs to address issues of corruption, insecurity, and economic inequality to ensure sustainable development", while fierce critic of the Tinubu administration, Aisha Yesufu noted that "The government needs to do more to address the challenges facing the country. The current state of insecurity and economic hardship is unacceptable." 

Notwithstanding the challenges and how mundane the gains seem to be in the eyes of many Nigerians, the country's 25 years of unbroken democratic rule is a significant achievement. It is however important that government at all levels accept the obvious fact that the country still faces significant challenges. 

Addressing corruption, insecurity, and economic inequality is crucial to consolidating democratic gains and ensuring sustainable development.

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