When the Greeks invented democracy a few centuries back, they probably never imagined their invention would spread round the world as one of the most popular systems of government being practised by contemporary independent countries. Since Nigeria was gifted with freedom in 1960, democracy has been majorly in practice. Regardless of the occasional intrusion of the military in politics, the country always found its way back to democracy as both politicians; military men and the people in general seem to hold democracy in high esteem. It is rather unfortunate that despite our avid grasp of democracy, very little results have been evident over the years.

Abraham Lincoln gave what is now one of the most popular definitions of democracy many decades ago, when he described democracy as “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” This concise description of democracy is probably popular because it emphasises the central role of “the people” in governance. The people decide who rules and the ruler in turn, rules in the people’s interest. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the reverse is the case. The hoi polloi have been reduced to mere spectators while the political elite continues to sabotage the entire essence of modern democracy. In Nigeria today, democracy is no longer a government of the people but government of the elite. The elite decides who rules and in whose interest, while the people continue to struggle for survival under a system of governance that is supposed to serve their interest.

Following a series of anarchical military intrusion, Nigeria successfully returned to democracy on May 29 1999, which marked the beginning of a new era saturated with high hopes of good governance. However, more than two decades of uninterrupted democracy as well as four presidential administrations have brought to the masses nothing but increased hardship, mass suffering, deaths, high rate of unemployment, poverty, poor infrastructures, poor healthcare system, bad roads, erratic power supply, dilapidated educational system, increase in violent groups and violent crimes, insecurity, the list goes on and on. For the political elite however, it has been more than two decades of corruption, money laundering, cross carpeting, witch hunting opposition, ascribing blames to previous administrations, a host of unfulfilled political promises among others.

The journey to democracy in Nigeria has been significantly ominous, it appears that no matter who rules or what party is in the corridors of power, the living conditions of the people continue to deteriorate. Just when you think things could not get any worse that it is, the political class finds a way to surprise you. Little wonder many have made the argument that democracy is not the right system of government for Nigeria. In addition, there have been calls from various quarters for meticulous restructuring of the entire political systems, in order to make the country’s democracy more resilient to the various contemporary challenges that cripples its effectiveness and others continue to clamour for the division of the country.  Irrespective of where you stand, there appears to have been an omission of a vital factor responsible for the current state of Nigeria’s democracy, which is that the failure of democracy in Nigeria is not as a result of the system but as a result of those in charge – the political elite. Hence restructuring the system without restructuring elite formation or overhauling the system without doing the same to the elite class will no doubt yield a similar result to what we are currently experiencing.

Historically, democracy was a colonial inheritance, which the British colonial government bequeathed upon Nigeria alongside independence in 1960, and since then it has been a very bumpy ride as the country always seemed to struggle to hold on to democracy. Perhaps one of the biggest bumps on the road to democracy was the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 election, which till date is still regarded as the freest and fairest election ever conducted in Nigeria. Since the return to democracy in 1999, the country has continued to strive towards a fully democratized society, in which every citizen enjoys the dividends of democracy. While we might have to surmount various hurdles before the realization of this dream, without doubt, we will eventually get there. In some states, there have been significant changes and progress, as men of high rectitude are increasingly replacing corrupt leaders. Hopefully, this wind of change will soon reach the federal government as well as every nook and crannies of the country.

Happy Democracy Day to all Nigerians! Stay Safe.

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