“Yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.” – Khalil Gibran
It gives me a unique pleasure to be back here again at the NIPSS to give this lecture – this time around to the Executive Course 41, 2019.
The honour is much more when I recall that you had similarly invited me to deliver a similar lecture on another topical subject on December 05, 2013, when I spoke on the topic entitled: “Towards a Comprehensive Security Sector Transformation: Challenges and Prospects”. Then, my friend, Prof. Tijani Bande who was deservedly elected the President of the United Nations General Assembly was the Director-General of this Institute. It is therefore a great privilege for me to be here again to address some of the brightest minds in our country.
Let me pay a dutiful homage to the Chairman of the Board, Director-General and his Management Team as well as the Course 41 Participants for extending this esteemed invitation to me. I bring you warm greetings from the good people of Ekiti State, the Land of Honour. I also like to commend Prof. Habu Galadima for his good work here.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today’s lecture is very historic for me. I therefore feel honoured to deliver this lecture that marks the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of this great Institute. It would be recalled that the Military Government of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo passed the Decree 20 of January 1, 1979 which established this Institute and that the Institute effectively took off September 3, 1979. Today is September 17, 2019, some few days forty years of the commencement of this great citadel of strategic studies.
I have no restrain of any equivocation to assert that the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS) has exercised its mandate in these forty years, creditably and admirably. Apart from serving as a melting pot for cross-pollination of ideas among the nation’s elite professionals and technocrats, promotion of national unity and interdependence, the Institute has served as a demonstration centre of excellence for policy incubation and formulation.
For instance, studies by distinguished members of the Institute in the past have been attributed and instrumental to the establishment of organisations such as Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Federal Environmental Protection Agency, (FEPA), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Federal Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (FIIB), Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Women and Social Development, among others. (Onoja, 2015).
There is no doubt that these establishments have been very useful in the administration of this country and have positively impacted the country in so many ways. The contributions of the Institute in terms of capacity development of the top brass of our public and private sectors’ administrators have been phenomenal. I therefore like to congratulate you on your landmark achievements in the last forty years.
Twenty Years of Democracy in Nigeria
It is so exciting to know that it is already twenty years of unbroken democratic rule in Nigeria. Nigeria’s journey to democratic rule has been a tortuous one. Right from the incursion of the military into the political space in 1966, when the fragile democratic structures of the country were literally pulled down, the journey for democracy and democratisation has been with sweat and blood.
Quite ironic was the fact that while Nigerian leaders that fought for the independence of Nigeria did not have to die in the hands of the colonial authorities, many Nigerians were illegally incarcerated, maimed, dehumanised and killed by their own military before we could get democracy. I do not need to repeat without sounding boring, the fact that many notable pro-democracy personalities were murdered in cold blood because of the fight for the institution of democracy in Nigeria.
We remember with profound respect, the supreme price they paid: Chief MKO Abiola and his wife, Mrs Kudirat Abiola, Pa Alfred Rewane, Bagauda Kaltho, among others, who had to pay with their precious lives. What of the countless artisans, journalists, activists, politicians, civil society personalities, ordinary citizens who were jailed or got eliminated for demanding democracy? Even countless others too were forced into exiles. Yours truly was one of the many exiles who became persona non grata in their own country.
Indeed, when the Abdusalami Abubakar transition began at the demise of the maximum ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, many of us were genuinely sceptical and thought it was another journey to nowhere. I was one of those who believed the military was not suited to midwife a democratic process. From the benefit of hindsight, our fears were not without merit. Although the nation has progressed from that dark era of military incursion into civilian administration, but the impact of the faulty foundation of the process remains a knotty issue in our democratic process and national development.
Democratisation Process in Nigeria in the Last Two Decades
Simply speaking, democratisation refers to the process through which democratic attributes get entrenched within the political system of a nation that has just embraced democracy. Democratic systems cannot be transplanted from one clime to another, neither can it be overwritten over an autocratic political culture that had existed. It is therefore a continuous evolution that requires a lot of institutional reforms, unlearning of old practice and learning new ways. It is therefore important to emphasise the point that there is no ready-made democracy or formulae to solve the nudging questions of democratic practice.
Indeed, whatever imperfections that democracy in Nigeria has experienced or is experiencing could not be said to be unique. Every democratic nation has also gone through one form of this teething process or the other. It is to be noted that it is for the inherent weaknesses and contradictions associated with democracy that classical philosophers had very cynical disposition to the idea of democracy in the first instance.
Contending the strength of democracy however, legendary British Prime-Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, arguably, one of the finest politicians and statesmen that humanity has ever been blessed with, said: “many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sins and woes. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise; indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.
It is therefore imperative to properly situate the Nigeria’s democratic experience within the context of evolution than that of destination. For, despite our general dissatisfaction with the level of our democratic development, there is no doubt that the democratic experience of Nigeria has made some appreciable progress in many fronts.
It is important to emphasise this because of the tendencies to self-hate or even become unfoundedly hyper-critical to the point of cynicism. As I had argued in a paper I delivered on November 27, 2012 at the Chatham House, London, where I spoke on the topic entitled: The Challenge of Transformation: State Governance, Democratisation and Development, I stated as follow:
First, I think we all need a typology of Africa’s democratisation that shifts from the Manichean divide – of success and failure, pessimism and optimism, sub-optimal performance and unprecedented progress. In this vein, one can talk about five strand and even within them, different sub-sets as experiences remain unique to each nation and non-linear. (Fayemi, 2013:308)
I still strongly hold this view that there is hardly any wisdom in trying to benchmark a nation against the other in terms of democratic experience because the legal and socio-cultural environments are not the same. So, in evaluating our democracy, we must not be oblivious of these critical factors upon which all other factors depend.
This is not to suppose that there is no standard of measuring democratic progress. Not at all! Certainly, there are practised canon common to all democracies, if they are to be properly, so called. There are a set of attributes which indicate whether a nation is a democracy or not. These attributes include multiparty system, separation of power, and supremacy of the law and protection of fundamental human rights as guaranteed by the law, independent electoral management body, free press, active civil society. Let me talk a little bit more on these concepts.
Multiparty system is the hallmark of a democratic society. Every democratic nation must have a constitution or a legal system that supports multiplicity of political ideals, tendencies or persuasions. In 1999, only two political associations could scale the registration hurdles set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to become political parties. They included: People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All People’s Party (APP). This arrangement would mean that the South West which had been very vociferous in the clamour for the return to democracy would be left out, as most of its leading political figures decided to float another party in pursuit of a different ideological objective. Unfortunately, they could not meet the stringent registration requirements of INEC.
In other to allow inclusive participation, the then Military Government persuaded the electoral commission to relax the requirements and this led to the registration of Alliance for Democracy (AD) which provided a political shelter to most of the progressive elements and other members of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), a political organisation used by the Pro-June actualisation campaigners for the revalidation of the annulled June 12 election.
By 2003 when another round of general elections was to be held, more parties had been registered, thanks to the classical case instituted by the late human right lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and four other political associations that got a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court that INEC had no power to deny Nigerians the right to political association of choice. With that, the parties rose to 28 in 2003, by 2011, it became 63 and by 2019, the parties have become 91!
We have therefore witnessed a progressive liberalisation of the political space from three in 1999 to 91, twenty years later. This is a major milestone that even, many old democracies are still unable to attain. The import of this is that Nigerian has a large pool of parties to pitch their tent with, even though this has also come with its own challenges.
Separation of Power
The principle of separation of power as espoused by Montesquieu, a French scholar who, in a work published in 1747 Espirit des Louis (The spirit of the laws) prescribes that there should be three arms of government that are charged with specific government powers such that one arm is not made too powerful enough to suborn the others.
Separation of power rides on the back of the knowledge that “Power corrupts and absolute Power tends to corrupt absolutely”. Typically, therefore, power is shared in an interdependent manner among the three arms of government, namely the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary in such a way that no arm of government can conveniently lord it over the rest.
This principle has guided the power relations in Nigeria since 1999. Even though by the nature of constitutional power configuration, the executive is more visible and influential within the power matrix, there is no doubt the other arms of government have also jealously guarded their independence and vehemently asserted same whenever the occasion arises.
For instance, the legislature successfully frustrated an attempt to alter the constitution for tenure elongation in 2007; similarly, the legislators have, on many occasions confronted the executives during oversight functions, blocked passage of bills and declined confirmation of nominees to executive positions. The legislators in Nigeria have carried out a lot of probes in pursuit of accountability and transparency. And at state levels, we have seen successful impeachments of governors. This suggests that our legislature has withstood firmly to challenge any tendencies for executive rascality.
Similarly, the judiciary has been very independent, especially at the higher levels. It is not uncommon to see the court giving unfavourable judgement against the government in many instances. The judiciary has stoutly defended the letters and the principle of the constitution as a democratic scripture that must remain inviolable. Many decisions of government at all levels have been reversed by the courts, while we have had cases of the ruling party losing offices due to judicial pronouncements.
The executive is often at the central of scrutiny by the other arms, this is understandable because of the centrality of the arm to government in the real sense of execution and implementation of law. However, the executive too has got occasions to rein in the other arms of government when obvious infractions were noted or imminent. The executive has severally challenged or vetoed laws passed by the national assembly and has stepped in to protect the sanctity of the judicial temple in the cases of established corruptions among the jurists.
Forged in the furnace of struggles, first as an instrument of anti-colonialism campaign and later as a major voice in the end to military regime in Nigeria, the Nigeria media has been described as one of the most vibrant in the world. This is because of its vibrancy, plurality and courage. The media has played critical roles in the entrenchment of democratic culture and served as a watchdog on the other arms of government.
A test of how far we have done as a nation, if you use the free press as a yardstick for our democratisation gauge, can be seen in the number of media houses springing up daily. As today, the Nigeria Press Council has a list of 430 newspapers and magazines, while the National Broadcasting Commission says there are about 601 licensed broadcast stations (Radio and TV stations) in the country (Ojebode, 2019).
The fact that no one is today unjustly detained for expressing an opinion is also an indicator of our progress, it is a show of the fact that democracy is taking roots. In fact, the last decade could be described as the social media decade.
With it, the power of public control and information management has shifted from the state actors to the blogosphere. Many leaders are now, indeed, victims of violent media assaults and insults. Unlike before when the media was at the mercy of government, now, government is now at the mercy of the media mobs that must be appeased, else they rage at you!
Independent Election Management Body
The Independent National Election Commission is a constitutional body that is charged with the statutory function of conducting credible elections into all the elective positions in the country except those of the local government. However, the Commission has also faced a lot of integrity challenges in the course of these twenty years.
For example, whereas the 1999 election that ushered in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was largely adjudged to be free and fair, it was not without judicial scrutiny. Notwithstanding, it must be noted the grounds of electoral dispute in that year was more of eligibility than credibility of the election itself. In spite of the obvious imperfections in the process, the outcome was largely satisfactory to most people.
Regrettably, the 2003 election was another kettle of fish altogether. The election was generally characterised with violence, especially in the south west and that heralded the era of garrison politics and political brigandage in the current republic.
You would recall that I joined partisan politics in 2005 in preparation for the 2007 election. By that time, my state, Ekiti State had become notorious for endless crisis and instability which culminated in a state of emergency. The reason for this unfortunate political brigandage was the forceful imposition of questionable characters on the people of the South West in the 2003 election. With one illegality, the state snowballed into another until two people laid claim to being governors and an emergency was declared for a sole administrator to take charge.
As bad as the 2003 elections were, the 2007 election was even worse. The electoral managers did not hide their bias and clearly aided and abetted daylight electoral robbery. I was a victim of a horrendous machination of violence, thuggery, brigandage, maiming, arsons and all manner of unimaginable heists. The period was the lowest in our electoral history as a people.
The good thing about the intolerable outcome of the 2003 election was that it led to a revolutionary campaign for electoral reforms which has benefited the democratic process. The main beneficiary of the 2003 presidential election, Alh. Umar Yar’adua acknowledged honestly that the election that brought him in, was faulty. He thereafter set up the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee. Thus, things slightly changed in 2011 because of the consistent demand for electoral reforms and pressures from both local and international interests.
These improvements could be traced to some of the recommendations of the Uwais Committee and the massive pressure mounted on the ruling PDP.
The 2015 election marked a significant progress in our electoral reform as it saw a change of power from one political party to the other, with the incumbent PDP losing to the new APC. The outcome of the election was generally accepted to be free, fair and credible.
The 2019 election that just held early in the year also followed the same pattern. Although there were still skirmishes here and there, the electoral system has seen a radical improvement from what it had been before 2015. This observed improvement is largely because the INEC management has become more resilient, courageous and independent.
In fact, in the just concluded election, INEC disqualified the entire candidates of the governing APC in Zamfara and Rivers for not satisfying the electoral law. This is a significant statement that INEC could act independently in the pursuit of its mandate.
Even though this was painful to my party, we are also so proud to see a major state institution being able to stand firmly no matter whose ox is gored to the governing party. This is a major mileage in our democratisation experience. The message is passed that if you don’t behave, you will be bruised.
Supremacy of Law and Protection of Human Rights
Supremacy of the law means that all persons and institutions governed by law are equally subjected to the law. More succinctly, it means that even agents of state are submissive to the dictates of the law, for, this is the only guarantee that people’s rights are protected from any dictatorial tendencies.
It is the guarantee that private businesses owned by foreign nationals can be protected from severe adversity of diplomatic hostilities among nations. It also provides guarantee that ordinary citizens can have a place to ask for relief if their rights and privilege are trampled upon.
One could confidently say that the rule of law has taken roots in Nigeria. We have seen many instances that the federal government have lost cases to states, individuals and institutions. In fact, there are many judgement debts hanging on the police and other security agencies as result of court pronouncements.
We have seen courts reinstating people who got their appointments terminated under malicious circumstances. The courts have intervened in so many classical cases that have strengthened our constitutional jurisprudence on many matters that touched on the constitution, federalism, resource distribution and many others.
As a governor in Ekiti, I have got many unfavourable judgments from the state high courts; although some see this as strange in the states but this is a common experience in Ekiti. We can only wish for the better, there is no doubt that the rule of law and the protection of human right is getting rooted in the democratic practice of Nigeria and this is without prejudice with the fact that we still have concerns about the integrity of some of the juries and the quality of their pronouncements. But these are exceptions than the norms.
Vibrant Civil Society
Before coming to the political space, my first forth was in the civil society organisation. I cofounded the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) which was dedicated to the promotion of democratic ideas, good government and the democratisation of the country. I have been involved in many programmes aimed at engendering democratic practice after the long years of military mind-set to public governance.
It is therefore comforting to witness that Nigeria has very vibrant civil society organisations that have been in the vanguard of policy advocacy, public engagement and capacity development programmes. They have also served as a formidable bastion of policy analysis and public enlightenment.
In some cases, they have mobilised the public in resisting what they considered as a threat to public interest through protests, litigation and advocacy. More importantly, they have done this without any major cases of molestation, oppression or incarceration, which is an indication of a democratising polity.
While the above underscores the attribute of a democratic nation, some factors have been identified as critical to the democratisation process of a nation. These include modernisation, elite consensus, virile civil society organisations, political culture, strong institutions, and subordination of the military to civilian control, inclusive politics, transparency and probity, among others.
While we can pat ourselves at the back for the modest successes we have achieved, we do not need to be told that the job remains unfinished. I have indicated before, there is no ready-made democracy, every democratic nation continues to improve on how to be better in serving the greater number of the people.
However, I should like to highlight some areas that urgently needs radical improvement for us to further deepen our democratic culture, this is because until our democratisation process becomes an everyday culture, it would continue to be met with a dissonant disposition among the people generally.
A New Political Culture
Essentially, Nigeria is still a traditional society where some elements of feudal, monarchical and theocratic practice deeply influence the values and social relations among her peoples, this has made the concept of citizenship a lot difficult to fully have its meaning.
This has unfortunately, ultimately done an incalculable dent on our democratisation process and in fact, fed most of what are known as communal and ethnic conflicts in the country. Our democratic culture is still waved around primordial clannish boundaries such that people can only contest election in a place called their “state of origin”. Nigerians must boldly interrogate the definition of a people as “non-indigene”, “settlers” or even “strangers” in a country they call their own! Democracy makes more meaning when every citizen has the same rights and privileges no matter where they live or settle.
Leadership and Service
In our democratisation journey, we need to redefine the concept of service and leadership. The unfortunate perception that those in charge are in office to better their lots and benefit their immediate constituency is one of the reasons for the very kind of mutually antagonistic, bitter and destructive politics we play. This has made institutional building to suffer a lot of disruptive tendencies because people mostly interpret government’s actions in terms of parochial interest.
We don’t have a culture of public service, the man who honestly serves without showing peculiar favouritism to his people is called a bastard, while those from the other sides remain sceptical about his actions which they assume are meant to favour his own. This has made policy formulation and development very stringently difficult to succeed.
Strengthening institutional capacity of the state governments
Another area to further improve upon is the institutional capacity of the various state governments in maintain democratic institutions. Many people believe that the state legislatures and judiciaries are not strong enough to ensure a balance of power at that level of governance. Just as many people do not have strong faith in state judiciaries because of the perception that they could be easily compromised by the executive.
Even though this remains a perception, it is something that needs to be addressed in order to enlist the confidence of the people in the courts. There is the general assumption that a state government cannot get an adverse judgement in a state high court. Even though this is grossly untrue, because as governor, I have lost many cases in the state high courts, yet, this is an assumption that is well rooted which needs to be corrected. Similarly, there is the need to strengthen the states’ electoral commissions to further instil the confidence of the voters in their capacity to conduct credible elections at the local level.
Citizen Friendly Security Agencies
Going forward our security agencies need to be more citizen-centred and friendlier to the people. With democracy, the security training and operation should be the one that engages than confronts. It must be seen to be the one that protects not only the people in government, but that is very responsible, responsive and respects the fundamental human rights of the citizens.
Our democracy would not have been seen to have become functional and beneficial if it leads not only to people having a say in who governs them, but that, the benefit of such participation percolates to the grassroots. Democratisation of the nation needs to move from just political democratisation to economic democratisation. The wide difference between the haves and the have-nots in our country is such that has made constant confrontations inevitable. Unfortunately, these confrontations do not come directly as class contestation, they usually manifest insidiously as communal, religious, criminal or sectarian disputations. We need to have a national conversation about how democracy could be made to serve a larger audience.
Social and Human Capital Investment
One of the strategies to bridge the frightening gap between those at the bottom of economic ladder and those on the cliff of the pyramid would be to adopt some social investment measures that take care of the poorest of the poor. This is what we have done in Ekiti with some noticeable successes. You would recall that during my first tenure as governor, one of my signature programmes was the social security allowance paid to the very vulnerable aged people in the state. We also did a lot of youth-focused social investment programmes that put them on stipends while also keeping them busy in public works and services.
This is apart from our free education policy in public primary and secondary schools in the state and the free health for children, pregnant women and aged people. Some of these ideas are now being adopted nationally by the federal and state government and some development agencies because of the success in Ekiti. For me, this is a major way of making democracy work for everyone and maintaining the commitment of the ordinary people in the democratic process in the country. This is the most functional democratisation strategy to engender equality, fairness and national development.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we also need to develop a new national template for irreducible public conduct. A socially bankrupt nation cannot achieve any rightful democratisation, except of cause to democratise crises, instability, insecurity and poverty. We need to democratise hope, love and faith in our nation. We cannot afford a nation that glamourises plagues and despairs. Part of the looking forward would be to have a democracy that endangers peace and progress for our people.
Thank you for the listening.
. Being a lecture delivered by the Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, near Jos, Plateau State on September 17, 2019.