Opinion: 20-years of Unbroken Democracy in Nigeria and the Dialectics of A watered Down Moonshine

On May 29, 2019, Nigeria’s democracy clocked 20 unbroken years. It also marked the takeoff of the second term in office of the President, Muhammadu Buhari and an array of other elects across the length and breadth of the country. It is the fifth successful handing over since the democratic experience began in 1999.

The inaugural ceremony was indeed low-keyed in line with an earlier press briefing to that effect by the then former minister of information Al-haji Lai Mohammed. He had disclosed that Nigeria will host a befitting democracy celebration on June 12, 2019, which is now the nation’s official democracy day.

As such it didn’t come many as a surprise that the president, therefore, did not deliver an inaugural speech which is a break from existing tradition and protocols.

Despite being in the know, some people including a section of the foreign media still found it convenient to make an issue out it.

Do we need to celebrate at all? We need to celebrate this mileage because this is not the first time Nigeria is experimenting with the democratic rule but have always not gone far.

For the record, Nigeria actually cut its democratic teeth in 1960 as a new autonomous state smarting from the British colonial rule but it was short-lived when the military adventurists garbed as revolutionaries struck on 15th, Jan. 1966.

The second was in 1979 and was equally terminated in 1983 incidentally in a coup d’├ętat spearhead by the incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari.

The historic point of departure here was signaled by the presidential election of June 12, 1993. But it was subsequently annulled, though, is the fairest and the freest in the history of the country.

However, the seeming hopelessness of that incident did not deter the fearless democrats across the country, as they regrouped and gallantly battled the military to a halt.

After years of continuous guerilla-like pressuring, the expected buckle did come.  On May 29, 1999, the military junta headed by General Abdul Salam Abu-Bakr having completed perhaps the shortest transition program ever handed over power to a new civilian administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. As you can see, it was not on the platter.

How pleasing then it was for the principal actors and friends of that struggle that at the end of the day June 12 has been accorded its rightful recognition in the annals of some of the most significant days in Nigeria.

Unlike before, this democratic journey has been an unbroken one. However, the road could be said to have been a rough one. It has had it highs and lows. And why not, if not? I’m so sure only those who engage in daydreaming would’ve thought it would be otherwise.

Indeed, the country has encountered some of the worst political ogres imaginable on the road to building a virile and enduring democracy. And today, just as it was, in the
beginning, some of them are still with us and multiplying.

But the kernel of the political roughness still remains miss-governance or corruption if you like which the government of the day has frontally taken by the horn. But critics of the government have called it diversionary, selective, and a witch-hunt of the opposition figures.

Not forgetting that corruption that we’re talking about here has been rampant in spawning under-development and myriads of social vices like Boko Haram, Banditry, Cattle rustling, drug trafficking, human trafficking, under-age marriage, ritual killings, cultism, armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy, killer herdsmen, unemployment, internet fraud, and religious intolerance. I could go on and on and on….

Yes, Nigeria may not be anywhere near the expected Eldorado. And so it is quite easy for the mischief makers aided by the fact that we all see, hear or read, memorize, and remembered differently to always attempt to thin down on the clearly visible gains of the journey so far.

I think they do because they are unable to see a parallel here with the Biblical account in the Exodus. The Egyptian taskmasters didn’t want the Israelites to go because of so many reasons. The chief of which is that they have for so long be the cheap instrument of their economic prosperity.

Even when they eventually did, the journey was not only long it was characterized by all manner of challenges. There was thirst, hunger, wars, division, disgruntlement and disobedience, and deaths. In the end, not everybody saw the promised land, not even Moses who led them out of their captivity.

Today, there is an undue fixation by some of our folks on disease, deaths and mourning, lack and want; poverty and ignorance; so much that they consciously and unconsciously watered down on the progressive beams of Nigeria’s existential moonshine. So much that they willfully bye-passed the big picture of what is to come.

I know there have been dashed hopes and unmet aspirations around exceedingly high social, cultural, religious, economic, and political bench-marking for the successive civilian administration since 1999.

But they are not enough reasons to give up on fatherland going through its own challenges as an evolving nation just like other countries we are so quick to reference as measuring standards.

Even China doesn’t compare itself to the US and it’s not being modest. This, it leaders have emphasized again and again that it is not in a competition with any country. Each of them has their strength and weaknesses. No one nation has it all. What each does is built on their comparative advantage.     

Nigeria and its democratic experience these past twenty years has got its moonshine despite its many challenges. I won’t stop believing like some of our western friends have long known that we are a country of amazing people doing amazing things.

Those keeping us down are from us, though, they may have the insidious and wily attributes of enemies from without. The strife, divisions, and deaths you see all around are induced to create a feeling of an overwhelming chasm in our collective commonality for their own selfish ends.

I remember also that despite apprehension in some quarters, it would be recalled that the country successfully transitioned along different party line when the opposition defeated the incumbent in 2015. It has never happened before in the country.

And military officers and men, from those that I’ve personally interacted with in the last twenty years, do enthusiastically confess that the best time to be in the military is now and under the civilian administration.   The same view has been echoed by the current Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai just like his predecessors.

More often than not, action and inaction of the military authorities have recently become justiciable and aggrieved military personnel have gotten justice which was unthinkable before.

Who cannot forget the case of the soldiers who were unlawfully detained and dismissed after protesting the nonpayment of their peacekeeping monies by the military authorities in 2008 at Akure? I can vividly recollect that it was Femi Falana who took up their case pro bono and make sure justice was served.  

Today, Nigerians can now have their say across different media and by so doing contributing to deepening the democratic process and culture. The political space is also so broad that there’s always a platform for everyone no matter their political ideology.

Going forward, the electors must be willing to take ownership of the democratic process and institutions for the enthronement of good governance; shared prosperity, unity, peace, and progress in the country.

They must be willing to openly, freely, and fearlessly discuss the issues of the country’s destiny like they have done especially in the last two general elections. And every attempt to divide and rule them must be passively resisted. It is not going to be easy, but it is doable.

Today, no doubt, to borrow the words of American Martin Dies, ‘Our hands are full both as electors and the elects with the task of rescuing and preserving this republic from of its enemies within’. And how well we collectively respond to this important charge will determine how far we go as a nation.


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