Columns & Opinion

Democratising Nigeria’s DemocracyBy Tony Osakpamwan Agbons

The legendary American President, Abraham Lincoln gave the evergreen classic, “Democracy is government of the people by the people and for the people`. Please note the alliterative words therein – the people, the people, and the people. It is all about the people. The import of this statement certainly cannot be lost forever. As bastions of democracy, the Americans have been able to build a sustainable democratic system where it is the people first, the people second and the people third. We must reflect and ask ourselves, who are the people? The building of the American system did not happen by chance. A lot of deliberate effort and sacrifice has been made by the people at critical moments in their history to glue the American union together within the ambience of a shared prosperity. 

The United States of America Constitution is composed of the preamble, seven articles, and 27 amendments. The first 10 amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. The first page read thus, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the ‘Blessings of Liberty’ to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”. The power, substance and spirit of this Constitution has been a concerted effort of all who practice it. 

As Nigerians mark the 25th anniversary of the country’s return to democracy, it is another sober moment for us to collectively reflect on what has been, and what could have been in the last two and a half decades. After grappling with intermittent military interregnum by way of coup d`etat for 29 years out of 39 years prior to 1999, Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when the head of the then military government, General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. We only had 10 years’ cumulative of civilian rule before 1999. The independence government of Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1960-1966) and that of President Shehu Usman Shagari (1979-1983). Let it be said that before 1999, Nigeria was unable to successfully transit from one civilian administration to another. Many analysts referred to the transition we had as one and a quarter. The Shagari government was kicked out by the military jackboot barely three months into its second four-years tenure. 

Since the return to civilian rule (1999-2024), Nigeria has been able to conduct seven general elections (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023). We have been able to achieve a successful, peaceful transition of power from a rival political party to another (President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC in 2015). It was a first in our democratic evolution. Beyond that, majority of Nigerians are licking their wounds as their dreams of an egalitarian society remains a mirage. Key sectors of the economy are in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) of the national hospital. The core institutions, foundations and building blocks upon which democratic tenets are laid are in emergency care. These core indices are the rule of law, the legislature, judiciary, police, electoral commission, civil service, security, and industry amongst others.

For millions of Nigerians, all they see is a ruling political class flexing and living on their commonwealth and God-given endowments. The politicians and collaborators in the private sectors are living large, enjoying, and living in happiness with their ostentatious share of our common patrimony. The ruling elites are amassing for themselves, their families and associates material things belonging to all. They buy exotic cars, live in the choicest luxury estates, and send their children abroad for education and they fly overseas for their healthcare. All these they do while majority of Nigeria citizens languish in abject penury and desolation. They have no joy. Such a shame for people to suffer amid plenty.

Delving into the political process, the conduct of the political class and some of the followership leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It is only the people that can free our country from the iron-grip of the dare-devil political class. The Nigerian people must come together as a wounded demographic to emancipate themselves from mental and economic slavery. The toga of religion, and ethnicity must give way to a new alignment that guarantees that the best of us must be the ones to lead us. In the current Nigeria democracy, the sacred order and sanctity of the separation of powers has been thrown into the sink at the federal, state, and local government levels. The latter (local councils) have been thrown under the cushion by the imperial lords – the state governors at the sub-national level. That tier of governance (776 of them across the nation) which is supposed to be closest to the people has been put in perpetual coma. The few that are breathing are barely surviving on scarce oxygen and they are at the beck and call of the tin-gods known as Governors.

In this democratic dispensation, both the legislature and judiciary have become mere appendages of the executive branch of government. The constitutional insert of checks and balances has been thrown into the dustbin of stomach infrastructure and and the worship of Any Personality in Power Syndrome, PIPS. Legislators of the Hallowed Chambers and Judges of the Temple of Justice are kowtowing to every Dick and Harry in Power. Sycophancy and the pursuit of filthy lucre has destroyed their independence and desecrated both the chambers and temple. What a sad commentary!

This week the erudite Professor Udenta O. Udenta, Director, Centre for Alternative Policy Perspectives and Strategy (CAPPS) Abuja, was on the popular Channels TV program, Politics Today. Amongst other things, Prof. Udenta advised President Bola Tinubu to do all he can and meet with Atiku Abubakar as well as Peter Obi. The scholarly academic highlighted the optical boost that such a meeting will give to the present government. Furthermore, such a meeting will open doors to national healing and multi-lateral ideas that come with possible solutions which can solve the present crises in our land. My candid opinion on the counsel of the learned Prof. is this; It is easier said than done. Reason is the manner that the 2023 election was conducted (especially the presidential) left so much to be desired. The impunity with which the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC discarded the use of technology midway into the process and reverted to manual collation, mutilation and ‘tippexing’ of result sheets was disgraceful. Despite these challenges and sins, I have pointed out, a government that understands that they are servants of the people, should be honest enough to admit that the process which birthed them into office was flawed (in the methodology of former President Shehu Musa Yar`Adua of blessed memory) and entertain the second thought that Prof. Udenta’s suggestion must be given a chance, for which of us is without sin? However, all of us must be constant seekers of repentance for positive change.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, the greatest challenge in the last one year for incumbent President Tinubu administration has been that of legitimacy. This scenario could have been avoided. The world over, elections are a contestation of ideas and when it is properly done, losers will congratulate the winners. What will play out is a situation where winners of elections will be magnanimous in victory and losers will be gracious in defeat. A situation where virtually all our elections end in litigations and judicial pronouncements by a handful of judges at the courts is not democratic. I stand to be challenged. The people should decide who govern them, and not the courts. Votes must count. Also, the attitude of power is not given Ala carte, grab it, run with it, and then start pandering with ‘sweet mouth’ when the deed is done cannot get us anywhere. There is also a palpable disconnect between those in power and citizens. This is due to the offensive display of opulence by those in power. To be honest the ostentatious lifestyle of the political elites is pathologically sickening.

On a final analysis, as we mark (really hard for me to use the word celebrate) the 25th year of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria, the people of Nigeria need to come to the realisation that sovereign power belongs to them. The venomous political class are nothing but a tiny atomic bunch who are less than 1% of the population. For democracy to thrive, the 99% of our population must feel the impact of governance at all levels. This same 99% must realise that the power lies in their hands. You and I my dear readers, our relatives, neighbours, friends and even foes, are the people. The continuous verbal pouring by politicians of volumes of assurances, hope, potentials, better tomorrow, future will be okay, and e go better as we say in local parlance must stop. The political class must realise that No Nigerian is more Nigerian than another Nigerian. We all deserve a descent standard of living. Time is now for this undemocratic democracy to be democratised by we the people.

Dr Agbons is Lead, Institute of Leadership and Good Governance at

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