Ordinarily, as a nation, we should be celebrating today. Fifteen years of uninterrupted democratic rule, although dominated by one behemoth, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are a rarity in Africa. And for a country which was ruled by the military for 29 of its 54-year history as a sovereign state, a decade and a half that have seen one civilian administration replaced by another is tempting enough to roll out the drums in celebration.
Within this period, the democratic world has come to accept us as a legitimate member, even if only grudgingly sometimes. Our parliamentarians take their seats in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other inter-parliamentary groups. Our President was in South Africa last week as the guest of President Jacob Zuma who was returned to office for a second 5-year tenure in an election that was remarkable for its peaceful conduct and the speed at which the result was announced – something we have been unable to equal or beat. Our judiciary is fairly strong and civil society organisations, including the mass media, are trying to provide the right props for democracy.
The Nigerian economy has just been rebased, making it the largest economy in Africa, though much of it is service based, meaning little or no manufacturing is taking place. Even at that, the GDP rebasing masks a lot of contradictions such as the yawning gap between the few very rich and the majority ‘wretched of the earth’. Over 70% of our estimated 170 million people live on less than a dollar a day.
However, one compelling reason why there should be no celebration today is the content of our democracy or lack of it. The very principles that underpin true democratic rule are observed more in the breach in this country. Rule of law has been replaced by a culture of impunity running through all levels of governance; political parties, particularly the ruling PDP, lack internal democracy. Candidates for elective offices are imposed rather than chosen by card carrying party members. Governance is seen as a means for dispensing patronages, not providing services. This is why corruption is rife in high political places. Much of Nigeria’s petro dollar wealth is used to make billionaires of very few people while the masses of the population remain impoverished.
What is worse, our leaders, marooned on islands of sufficiency and safety, have naturally become detached from the rest of the population. The most basic of human needs –safety of life and property – cannot be guaranteed. A rebellion begun by a ragtag Boko Haram army has become a full blown insurgency that President Goodluck Jonathan’s federal government has not been able to counter, let alone put down. The rebellion is increasing in reach and sophistication as the government and our security forces seem to have reached their wits end. Between February and April, Boko Haram has killed 3, 000 people compared to 2, 000 in 2010-2013.
Nothing underscored this mismatch more than the two powerful bombs that exploded near Abuja on April 14 and May 1, killing over 200 bus commuters. On April 15, gunmen dressed in army camouflage abducted 300 girls from their school in Chibok in Borno state and they have not been rescued one month on. The government’s shocking incompetence showed in President Jonathan’s appeal to the girls’ parents to give information of their whereabouts to the military. International outrage that greeted the girls’ abduction forced the president to accept external help. Even so, the Americans would not work with our troops because they consider them unreliable, preferring to base their search team in neighbouring Chad.
Why would anyone think of celebrating in a climate of insecurity, made worse by a government that does not know its right from left?