SOME countries have found it necessary to expand the participation of their citizens living abroad in their national elections in other ways. In addition to granting their citizens living overseas the right to vote in their national elections, France, Italy, and Portugal, have widened the gate of their democracy for their citizens living abroad by having them represented in the National Assembly. One wonders why Nigeria is dragging its feet on granting voting rights to its citizens in the Diaspora. This issue has been burning in the minds of many Nigerians in the Diaspora who feel disenfranchised by their country. In 2003, during a roundtable discussion organized by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and sponsored by Friedrich Naumann Foundation under the theme: “Preparations towards election 2004: Prospects and Challenges”, Dr Afari-Gyan talked about “the survey of 97 countries conducted by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) on how countries treat their citizens living abroad in relation to their elections indicates that 48 countries did not allow them to register and vote.” He said, “The survey also indicated that 12 other countries allowed their citizen living abroad to vote only in presidential elections whilst seven countries including Ghana allowed only a category of citizens to register and vote.”
In any case, for democracy to thrive, Nigeria should have strong institutions devoid of personal, religious, or tribal sentiments. Nigerians should hold freedom of press, speech or expression, and association very dearly. They should believe in limited government because government is the answer to all the country’s social and economic problems. Individual responsibility is a critical element in solving some of the societal problems.
However, to foster economic growth, it is the responsibility of the government to create an enabling environment and good business climate for both the local and foreign investors to be eager to invest in the economy. Also, the government should create an environment where people have equal and fair opportunities to achieve their greatest potential. On education, primary and secondary education should be compulsory. Education beyond the secondary level should be made affordable to those who wish to further their education.
Economy: The Nigerian economy is a one-product economy that is riddled with corruption. Nigeria needs to diversify her economy. The sole reliance on oil as Nigeria’s source of foreign reserve and export earnings, coupled with corruption and waste, will not lift many Nigerians out of poverty. Nigeria, at this stage, needs to attract massive foreign investments to help diversify her economy for a meaningful growth. Government policies should be geared towards encouraging small-scale businesses, the agricultural sector, viable tourism, implementation and application of technology in the education system, attracting foreign investments. These variables are needed in addition to the oil. By this, policymakers will focus on both micro and macro economics of the country. Foreign investment: Additionally, the policymakers must create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Nigeria has to have the necessary infrastructure in place and most importantly, security of life and property, to attract foreign investors and tourists. No one, no investor will visit or invest in an environment where lives and properties are not secure. The rising number of kidnaps and armed robberies are not helping the matter. Furthermore, the incessant religious and ethnic crises would make Nigeria unsafe for foreign investors, including Nigerians in the Diaspora. Foreign investors and Nigerians living abroad lose confidence in Nigeria because of the lingering violence in the country.
State governors: Sometimes people shy away from confronting reality or saying the truth or even criticizing the government for fear of disfavor or their lives. The governors should rate themselves based on how well they have improved the lives of the people since they took office. If these governors are not paying pensioners, workers, and teachers timely, they are performing poorly. If they are not creating jobs, maintaining state and local roads, providing quality education, and are not implementing people-oriented programs, they should not have been in the office in the first place. Most of these governors often travel overseas. They often leave the dilapidated health care system in their state for medical treatment overseas. In fact, they appreciate what they see and enjoy in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and other western countries. My question is: What stops them from implementing some of the good things they enjoy abroad in their respective states? The current governors should ensure that they are truly serving the people. The local government system is a good model for the country, but generally speaking, the local government bosses have proved to be failures. They have failed the system terribly because they have systematically denied the masses of the dividends of democracy.
Things to do: Nigerians like to see transparent, responsible and accountable leadership in all public and private institutions, including every level of government. People in government should be driven by service and ideology instead of selfishness. It is my opinion that the National Assembly does not have the necessary tools to perform its oversight functions. It is imperative that the members of the National Assembly are trained in order to be adequately prepared with information and skills to discharge their responsibilities in a democratic society. For democracy to thrive, majority of the citizens must have the knowledge of the issues and how government should work in a democratic society. In this regard, it is the responsibility of the media to educate the masses on national, state, and local issues.
National resources: The national resources have not only been mismanaged, but also not being distributed equitably and fairly. There should be constructive and effective plans in place to implement policies before they are pronounced. Equitable distribution of resources should be paramount to avoid resentment among any segment of the population. The federal government’s decisions and policies should reflect the federal character principles.
Electoral reform: The democratic structures and principles are not fully developed and utilized in the Nigerian nascent democracy. Some institutions are not playing their respective roles independently with the central aim of achieving the national goal. The three branches of government and the three levels of government are not working to their potential to achieve good governance, which is a bedrock of democracy. Nigeria must have an effective local government layer that is closer to the people. Along the same line, there should be an effective partnership between all the levels of government, media, and the private sector in order to strengthen democracy.
Also, the independence of the judiciary, media, and the electoral body should be greatly protected and preserved as the rule of law is maintained. Government should partner with public sector in the delivery of services to the citizenry and in grooming future leaders.