Since May 29, 1999 when the present political dispensation was inaugurated by the then outgoing military regime of Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, May 29 has remained indelible in the consciousness of all Nigerians as a day of political and democratic redemption from long years of military dictatorship. That date has seemingly captured our collective imagination on our regained political power and our envisioned need for a patterned transition from one democratic government to another after a period of a four–year tenure as prescribed by our 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended). It does not matter if a person occupying the seat of power at the federal or state level is given the chance for a second term in office which the constitution under reference also allowed. Because our constitution allowed for a governor or a president to vie for a second term in office, most of them have come to assume that they will spend eight years in office irrespective of whether they perform well or not. This philosophy or entitlement of four years plus four years or 4+4 is one noticeable aberration of our new found democratic experiment since 1999.
Although some governors have only done four years on account of being defeated during an election, at the federal level, only Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was defeated during his reelection bid in 2015 and he willingly accepted defeat and congratulated the winner, President Muhammadu Buhari, who will incidentally quit the stage on Monday having served two consecutive terms of four years each. After eight years of Buhari’s rule, the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will assume power on Monday. On the same day, many returning state governors and governors-elect will assume power at the state level. However, this ceremony will not take place in a few states with history of staggered elections. They include Anambra, Imo, Kogi, Bayelsa, Edo and some others. Since May 29, 1999, we have done everything humanly possible to keep firm with that remarkable date with history and destiny. We have even resisted an attempt by some political actors to moot with the idea of tenure elongation which is very common in some African countries, where we have sit-tight leaders. While we have had 24 years of unbroken democracy, which is commendable, we can at the same time say that democracy dividends have been in short supply both at the federal and state levels of governance.
I deliberately refused to mention the local government level because no government exists at that level in almost all the 36 states of the federation. The killing of the local government administration is why Nigeria is still underdeveloped and why our democracy has really not ensured the envisaged good governance and transparent management of public funds. The absence of government at the local government level is why over 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. It can also explain why there is rising insecurity in virtually all the six geopolitical zones of the country. In 1999, Nigerians did not imagine that democratic rule will lead to mass poverty, unemployment, misery and hopelessness in spite of our abundant human and material resources.
They did not imagine that we shall become the poverty capital of the world and that our national debt will balloon to N77 trillion in a space of eight years. Nigerians did not know that insecurity will be their lot in our 24 years of unbroken democratic rule. They did not reckon that the minimum wage now at N30,000 a month can hardly take home any Nigerian worker. The irony of our political situation is that we remember with nostalgia the performance of each past administration. In other words, each past administration is better than the one that succeeds it. When shall we beak this jinx or is it interminable? With the exception of the President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, which manifested some signs of seriousness and made some appreciable progress in governance, we have moved from one bad government to another, from one nightmare to another in quick succession. Our oil resources has remained a curse instead of being a natural blessing. Our counterparts in the league of world oil producers have used oil resources to develop their countries, but we are everyday lamenting non-functional government refineries until Dangote refinery came on stream recently.
Our 24 years experimentation with democratic rule has not adequately translated into freedom for all Nigerians. It has not yet translated to better life for all Nigerians. In this country, over 10.5 million children are reportedly out of the school system. There is no conscious effort to put these unfortunate children into the classroom. In our 24 years of unbroken democracy and with our enormous oil resources, we still spend billions of naira on fraudulent petrol subsidy that enriches the rich and impoverishes millions of Nigerians.
It is unfortunate that our youths, the livewire of any nation, are migrating in droves to foreign countries where the pastures are assumed to be greener. Our doctors, nurses and other health workers are daily migrating to Europe and America where their services are better priced and appreciated. How can Nigeria develop with this mindset and vision of preferring foreign things? This is not the type of a country envisioned by our founding fathers on October 1, 1960 when we retrieved our independence from Britain, our erstwhile colonial masters. The Nigeria of today is definitely far away from the dream and imagination of our compatriots in 1960 and those who ensured that we return to a democratic governance on May 29, 1999. The nation established and nurtured by Britain is falling and needs to be quickly rescued. A foreigner wrote about us some years back and entitled the work, “This House Has Fallen.” I don’t want to believe him hence I say that Nigeria is falling gradually and needs to be salvaged by all of us, including those that put us in this mess. We must end the current Japa syndrome and curb the ubiquitous brain drain in health and education sectors. Our leaders need not embark on medical tourism and their children or wards need not do the same. The children of our political office holders should not travel overseas for their university education. They should stay at home and study in the best schools established by their parents.
Let those who will assume the mantle of leadership on May 29 dream of a new nation emerging from our old Nigeria. Our old Nigeria did not work. It must be discarded and erect on it a new Nigerian edifice. They should imagine a new Nigeria where there will be steady power supply, with steady water supply and where there will be adequate security. We need to imagine a country where its citizens will be gainfully employed and where we shall have no pact with poverty, hunger and malnutrition.
We should imagine the type of leadership we want and work towards it. We want a Nigeria where things work 24 hours, where there will be less corruption where there will be no nepotism, ethnicity and religious bigotry. Our democracy should be inclusive and gender friendly. We don’t want the excruciating dual exchange rate which makes nonsense of the value of our naira. In its place, let there be one exchange rate for everybody, no preferential treatment. All Nigerians must be equal before the law, no sacred cows.
The new Nigeria of our collective imagination should be one based on equity and justice. We need a Nigeria where our Nigerianness should be highly pronounced in place of our ethnic, religious and political identities. As new leaders take over power at the centre and the states, let’s enthrone good governance. We shall have strong democratic institutions and servant-leaders at all levels of governance. A new Nigeria is a possibility if our political leaders at all levels muster the political power to do so. We need a people-centred approach to leadership and governance.