The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, has described the 20 years of democratic rule in Nigeria as “tortuous”.
Fayemi said this when he addressed members of the Executive Course 41 of the National Institute for Policy and strategic Studies, Kuru, near Jos, Plateau State on Tuesday.
He said 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.
Speaking on the topic: “Twenty years of Democratisation in Nigeria: Looking backward, moving forward,” Dr. Fayemi said: “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 installation of democracy in Nigeria.”
Fayemi said the system deteriorated in all sectors of life, including electoral management, manipulation of the press, multiple party system and with bad legal system to manage the democratic system.
He said: “The 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 right 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 privileges 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 has lost cases to states, individuals and institutions. In fact, there are many judgement debts hanging on the police and other security agencies as a 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.
“Before coming to the political space, my first forth was in the civill society organisation. I cofounded the Centre for Democracy and Development, 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 mindset 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 engagements 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.
“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 need 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.
“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 citizens have the same rights and privileges no matter where they live or settle.”