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A PAPER PRESENTED BY FRANK KOKORI AT THE BENIN NATIONAL MERIT AWARD ON 29 DECEMBER, 2007 HELD AT THE BENIN MUSEUM HALL, BENIN CITY-NIGERIA

DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA, THE JOURNEY SO FAR

Preamble:

During that titanic battle of June 12” 1993 and 1994 by the entire civil society conglomerate in the country to actualize the free mandate willingly given by the Nigerian electorate to Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola the then residential flag bearer of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The popular cliché at Nupeng then became - Seek. Yee First – political Freedom – and every other thing will be added unto you. This cliché can easily be interchanged with – Seek Yee First Democratic Freedom – in the polity and every other thing will be added to the society.

We have to evolve this Slogan because reactionaries and hired writers were trying to divert the attention of the people by selling the out dated theory of Trade Union of “Economism.” That is the system where Trade Unions only concern themselves with the struggle for the improvement of wages and social benefits to its members. With a red line drawn between that and political struggle. But can we actually separate the two?

Democracy

Now talking about democracy, let me begin by saying that the practice of clean democracy is the soul of any enduring political system. And it remains the hallmark of societal civilization.
According to Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776 – 1831) the Famous Garman historian and Diplomat – “mans capacity of justice makes Democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Democracy is as old as recorded history, but historians always give the credit to the Greeks. The Greek word “Demos” which means “the people” and “cracy” which means “rule” or “government”. Thus these two Greek words combined, literally means the “governance by the people.”

But the world is more familiar with the definition of Abraham Lincoln. The great American states man and President of the Civil wars years. According to Lincoln “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

So gleaning from the above Are we really practicing true democracy in Nigeria? Nigeria is a country with a history of electoral fraud and wholesome malpractices. Is it not an incontrovertible fact that Nigeria has never witnessed a truly free, fair and credible election since her independence in 1960 except the annulled June 12 1993 general elections. That elections was adjudged by almost all Nigerians including both local and international poll observers as the freest ever conducted in Nigeria. Even recent elections conducted since this new dispensation in 1999, 2003 and 2007 were all fraught with monumental election malpractices.

Democracy and the Vote

The beauty of Democracy is that it emphasizes the power of the individual ballot. From the ward to the national level, your ballot becomes Mightier than the gun as you apply it to elect the councilor that represent you from the village level, so you apply it to elect your state governor and the all powerful President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria I am now talking of true democracy where the ballot is supreme.

Democracy – The Nigerian Example

In most fine democracies of the world the tree of democracy keep blossoming as the years passes by. Not so in Nigeria. Since our pre-independence elections of 1959 till the last April 2007 general election in our country our situation have grown more pathetic, from little election errors of some few cases of double voting reported in our first elections.
We have now developed to a position where figures are simply manufactured, configurated and simply announced as election results.

The system where an incumbent President or Governor says that only Mr. X or Y will succeed me and it is done at the end of the primaries and elections can not be categorized as democracy. That is more of a monarchy. That is the said commentary of our country’s Democracy today.

The cost of our failure

Because of the imperfections in the practice of democracy in our polity, we have continued to reap low dividend in our gross domestic product (GDP) and per capital income. Today we are among the twenty lowest rated countries with the lowest per capital income in the world what a wonderful rating for the sixth highest oil exporting nation in the world.

Our failure in promoting true Democracy in our country have cost us infrastructural decay across the country. The cost is enormous to the socio-economic well being of our people. The labour market is saturated with hundreds of thousands of unemployed university and non university graduates. The situation is growing gloomier by the day.

Refineries – who say we can’t fix them

Let us deal with just one aspect of this economic/infrastructural malaise. i.e. the refineries. For the first time in 30 years the world is under severe petroleum products shortage, why can’t us captialise on this Let us have an oil Refining free Zone to produce refined petroleum products to the world. We have surplus manpower for this, a reservoir of thousands of youths ready to the trained to take up challenges. We can even make more money here than selling only raw crude oil. We can become the biggest refined petroleum product market in the world. Let us stop humiliation of our youths flooding the foreign embassies gates in Lagos and Abuja seeking elusive visas to go for the lowest of menial jobs abroad.

As an insider in the petroleum industry for so many years my assessment of the industry could be relied upon. Let us take the – Turn around Maintenance (TAM) for example. This annual ritual that gulps millions of Dollars had became a sham, a conduit pipe for siphoning million of dollars annually without tangible results.

But again the hard working and dedicated professional in the industry become frustrated seeing such reckless fraud taking place without appropriate sanctions. Here lies the problem.

Conclusion – The legislatures

For Democracy to strive properly, the three arms of government must be independent of each other. The legislature must act as the watch dog of the people unfortunately since 1999 the legislative arm of government both at the State and Federal level have not lived up to expectation. Being unable to check the excesses of the executive except perhaps when such actions affect their individual interest.

That however will not make me fail to give them kudos in their heroic struggle to dump the dubious third term agenda.

Before concluding this presentation let me urge this new government of President Umaru Yar’adua to Fast-track the promised ELECTORAL REFORMS where all stake holders in the polity will be allowed to participate freely and proffer solutions to this national malady. On that note I beg to earnestly recommend the following to kick start the debate: Adoption of Option A4 for at least the next two general elections. Adoption of the Two Party system, by legislation plus independent candidates for at least the next ten years.

The NLC example

Finally let me emphasize that Nigerians deserve more from their leaders. So far our leaders have failed the Nation 47 years on, nothing to show for nation. From the good days of pre-independence and early days of post independence where electric power was stable. And both inter and intra city transportation was a joy. Here we recall with nostalgia the famous Armels Transport of Benin, the sleek LMTS Buses of Lagos and of course the Nigerian Railways. All working to time. Now what do we have “Okada, Okada Achaba Achaba” everywhere.

To God’s sake it is high time we move our people from this primitiveness into civilization.

Yes we need true Democracy anchored On the rule of law Freedom of the press Independent judiciary

Yes we truly need a country where there is justice and equity.

Yes truly egalitarianisms.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
God bless the fatherland.

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