Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Is Democracy Growing?

Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, in its tenth year, is easily the nation’s longest uninterrupted post-independence civilian dispensation. The question of the growth of democracy, therefore, ought not to arise. However, ours is an unusual situation that requires an urgent appraisal in order to ensure that the success of representative government in the country is not taken for granted, or exposed to jeopardy of any kind.
Last year was particularly intriguing as the judiciary came under pressure to decide on many of the disputes that arose from the general elections of the preceding year. The most outstanding instances were those involving governorship polls and that of the presidency that was finally laid to rest by the Supreme Court in favour of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. In many cases, the victories of incumbents were upturned at election tribunals and Courts of Appeal. Those verdicts pointed to a deeply flawed electoral process and on some occasions, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) received direct knocks from the Bench. Those instances raised legitimate doubts about the Commission's capacity to provide unbiased, competent superintendence over the nation’s efforts at political transition. Re-run elections that were ordered in places like Kogi, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Sokoto and Cross River states further compounded the apprehension of the people over the integrity of the exercise as the erstwhile defendants- all flag-bearers of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)- won again, predictably. The lingering governorship tussles in Abia and Ondo states nearly two years after the elections are also a sad reminder of the cumbersomeness that sometimes undermines the credibility of the country’s democratic practice.
Another reason for concern is the almost non-existent opposition. Although statutorily multi-party, the political space is dominated by the PDP with an overwhelming majority in the legislature of most states and the national assembly (NASS) and in most state government houses and the Presidency. This scenario becomes even more worrisome as leadership at some of these levels is poor and unable to improve the lots of the people.
The internal wrangling in the parties could hinder progress since they constitute the major blocks with which democracy is built.
Equally disturbing is the quality of legislative representation. At the state level, most of the houses of assembly are believed to be in the pockets of their governors, often as victims of illicit compromise. Unfortunately, the federal legislators do not enjoy a better image. In the eyes of the public, they are people who put the self above national interests. Often cited is the issue of personal remuneration. It would indeed be tragic if the legislature completely loses its moral authority to act as check on the executive. That is a recipe for autocracy, a total reversal of democratic ideals.
Although the job of nurturing democracy in Nigeria must be borne by all the relevant institutions and the people themselves, the Presidency has the duty of showing the way. We believe there is hope because, as in the example of other countries, the roots of democracy deepen with time. The fact that there is relative tranquillity in the polity today indicates the possibility of a brighter future for democracy in Nigeria. The report of the Uwais Committee on electoral reform submitted the other day to the President also presents the country another opportunity to put its acts together and achieve a more coherent democratic culture. Only sincerity of purpose can eliminate the dark shadows often cast by elections in this country, like the mayhem that greeted the local government polls in Jos in December last year.
Time has come, too, for political office holders and politicians in general to show some more maturity and selflessness to erase the impression that they are there to make money and flaunt wealth.