Editor’s note: Wealth Dickson Ominabo, the communications officer at the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, in this piece, argues that the virtues that define a democratic state are fast eroding in the Nigerian state, adding that the civic space is shrinking on a daily basis.
Recently Nigerian leaders and other democratic actors in the country have been on a binge of festivity; celebrating democracy in the country. From May 29 when many governors took time out to give an account of their years of stewardship to Sunday, June 12 when the federal government rolled out the drums to celebrate the new Democracy Day in Nigeria, our nation’s public sphere has been obsessed with commentaries about the valiancy of democracy and the sacrifices of the different actors in time past and present.
Without a doubt, democratic rule was not an easy wish. It was not a buffet served on a dinner table to citizens and other democratic enthusiasts. Democracy was birthed from the streets of rugged struggle; a struggle that had some casualties, heroes, and villains. Democracy was a product of agitations and negotiations by different stakeholders. Here lies the vault of great expectations; that democracy will be properly nurtured, cherished, and yield good fortunes to the citizens.
23 years ago, democracy was a thing hoped for; a prayer point to many, who believed that democracy was the promised land – a system of many possibilities, an oasis where the basic rights of citizens will flourish and dreams and aspirations will be realised.
23 years later, democracy is losing its meaning, its value, and essence in the lives of the citizens. Beyond the refrain of democracy being the government of the people by the people and for the people, the real meaning of democracy is lost in the multiple conflicts and social contradictions in the nation. Almost all the intrinsic promises of democracies have either been betrayed by different actors and the values of a democratic reign have been discarded. The promises of liberty, justice, and peace have been betrayed.
The virtues that define a democratic state are eroding – freedom of expression is daily curtailed, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion are being challenged by non-state actors, while the civic space is shrinking on a daily basis even as the state is busy in pursuit to capture institutions to their advantage.
The ballot is losing its potency in every electioneering cycle, votes are traded to the highest bidder, our democracy is commercialized, legitimacy is manipulated, accountability and good governance are trivialized, and social justice is ostracized.
Today, the sovereignty of the Nigerian state is contested with non-state actors – those without the mandate to govern- now superintending over a large expanse of the Nigerian territories, imprisoning citizens and executing punishment, and judgement on innocent citizens in different guises through different terror tactics and strategies. They kidnap, kill and ra*pe and impose levies on citizens in different parts of the country. They move daily from state to state like roaring lions devouring the destinies of many and taking others to slavery and se*rvitude. Government to which the people willed their sovereignty through the ballot decides to share its legitimacy with these non-state actors through indiscretion, inaction, and dereliction of responsibilities.
In Nigeria, democracy has not been able to address the challenges of the citizens. Civilian rule in all these years has failed to guarantee the two basic democratic rights – freedom from fears and wants. Nigeria is at crossroads; it is captured by human miseries and characterized by sallow marks such as hunger, poverty, conflicts, and underdevelopment. Nigeria is fallow ground for extremists – who cling to different frustration to undermine the state, thereby exposing the country to wanton fragilities.
One cannot but situate the crisis of Nigerian statehood to the challenge of leadership amplified by a sustained culture of democratic betrayals by the government.
The point must be stressed that the fault does not lie in democracy as a form of government but on the actors – coy democrats who are too shy to live and act according to the dictates of democracy.
To improve Nigeria’s democracy and make it work for the common good of all citizens, leaders and all democratic actors must incentivize the social and economic rights of citizens. This is the most sustainable way to reinforce the waning legitimacy of the Nigerian state.
Legitimacy is not an end in itself- it doesn’t start and end with an electoral mandate. Legitimacy is enhanced through shoring up of public trust; trust is reinforced through the fulfillment of democratic promises and commitment to the social contract between the government and the citizens.
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