“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” – Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America.
Quite a profound statement it is, and also a timeless truth.
From whichever we may wish to look at it, there can’t be any doubt that the option of a Democratic System of Government is far more profitable for any people and nation than any other system we may think of. Certainly, it is infinitely more productive and rewarding for the country than the option of autocratic Military Governments.
Nigeria has mercifully outgrown that sad phase of our history. Lest I forget, Nigeria’s present democratisation, which culminated in the country’s Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999, started amidst great hope and expectations. Since then, the nature of the democratic project has been the subject of various debates in different circles.
Analysts posit that one of the factors of sustainable democracy is anchored on good governance – likewise; on the day that we allow reasoning to influence our judgment instead of sentiment, it will become the beginning of a great nation, where equal opportunity and rights abound. Accordingly, these are the gains and pains of Democracy in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s democracy has had four republics. Firstly, 1st Republic was from 1960 – January 15, 1966; the 2nd Republic started from October 1, 1979 – December 31, 1983; then the 3rd Republic was short-lived, as it barely lasted from January 1992 – November 17, 1993, when Sani Abacha the dark goggle Military General took-over as the Head of State. Subsequently, the 4th Republic took off on May 29, 1999, and thankfully has endured for upward of twenty-four years during which seven general elections have been held (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, and 2023).
Our Democracy – especially, in the fourth Republic – has done more for our growth as a nation than the total of all Nigerian military regimes – in fits and starts – lumped together. This is exemplified by the Nigerian GDP in 1999: $90billion, whereas in 2023: over $500billion was approximately the figure. Therefore, it will be impossible for anyone to say: “One day Nigerians will open their eyes to see that our so-called Democracy has done worse to manage the nation than the Military ever did. This is because Nigeria’s democracy also has a long and troubled relationship with its military. For almost half of its existence as an independent state, Nigeria has been under military rule instead of civilian administration.
Furthermore, political and development theories present free, fair, and credible elections as sine qua non for good governance and development. However, while this contribution focuses on the link between free, fair, and credible elections, good governance, and development; not much attention has been devoted to the implications of flawed elections on governance and development. Lack of attention on the impact of flawed elections on governance and development particularly applies to countries like Nigeria with a long history of flawed elections and an extensive record of development and governance challenges.
Additionally, the race towards improving accountability and good governance begins now, and the power is in the people’s hands. Meanwhile, the biggest gripe with this brand of Nigerian Democracy is that the Nigerian people – not the political gentry – haven’t come to real terms with the political thrust and power that they possess.
This is more so when we consider especially, how supremely powerful they can wield that power to coerce the political class to treat them with some level of dignity and estimation. Although the provisions for recall are enumerated in the Constitution, ostensibly as tools for accountability, they are rarely tested by the electorates.
Fundamentally, there is the symbiotic relationship between democracy and good governance which is globally acclaimed. This is borne out of the belief that democracy premised on the principle of the rule of law and constitutionalism can result in good governance and societal development. It is equally believed that democracy conforms to the principles of justice, equity, and fair play as a democratic state is based on consent and popular participation.
Characteristically, one sure thing peculiar to our Democracy has to do with periodic reviews, updating, and reforming the legal framework for elections, especially in countries experiencing a growing transition to democracy, such as Nigeria, is an absolute requirement for democratic development and consolidation. I, therefore, recommend that we revisit and take a critical look at the contents of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Commission on Electoral Reform and review it, for implementation. In retrospect, those recommendations should have been off the shelves for implementation.
Conclusively, permit me to share with us the profound words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, more commonly known by his initials FDR, an American politician and statesman who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until he died in 1945. FDR, remarked as follows: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
So, as we reflect on the desirability of good governance and in my well-considered opinion, having studied the political process critically, the Achilles heel of, and the greatest threat to, the development of sustainable and credible democratic process for the benefit of Nigeria and the Nigerian Masses is right at the grassroots where political education is most lacking and ignorance grows a life of it own.
The faulty Political Structuring of Nigeria and the various Political Parties themselves make the grassroots population, the overwhelming percentage of the voting population, quite susceptible and very vulnerable to electoral mercantilism in the hands of politicians.
These structures need to be altered in a way that makes it impossible for individuals to emerge as financiers of political parties and also encourage credible participation from the public who otherwise don’t see themselves and don’t have to be full-time politicians.