• Jonathan highlighted the negative impact of the current zero-sum practice, which fosters a culture of do-or-die politics
  • He advised President Bola Tinubu’s administration to ensure that the politics of the next 25 years is transformative and inclusive
  • The former president called on the political class and elites to lead by example and work with unity of purpose to guarantee peace, social justice, and effective governance
  • Jonathan noted that despite challenges, Nigeria has made progress in democratic governance over the past 25 years

From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

Former President Goodluck Jonathan has cautioned that the prevailing “winners-take-all” approach to politics in Nigeria is detrimental to political justice and unity.

Speaking on Tuesday as the chairman of the national symposium to mark this year’s Democracy Day at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Jonathan emphasised the need for a more inclusive system where parties that perform well at the polls are given a role in governance.

The symposium, which marked this year’s Democracy Day, brought together prominent figures from across the country to discuss the state of democracy in Nigeria and the need for reforms.

Jonathan highlighted the negative impact of the current zero-sum practice, which he said fosters a culture of do-or-die politics. He urged the National Assembly to work out a formula that would ensure parties that score a certain percentage of votes in an election are included in governance, thereby promoting political justice and unity.

The former president’s comments come at a time when the country is grappling with the challenges of political instability and the need for more effective governance.

According to him, “A political party that scores up to 30 per cent of the votes in an election at federal or state levels should not lose everything.

“We need to come up with innovative solutions that will address the challenge of political exclusion that usually comes up after elections.

“Zero-sum politics has over the years promoted desperation, agitations and disunity. We need to work out a model that guarantees political inclusion and promotes unity and tolerance in the polity.

“I’m not clearly recommending proportional representation, but different governments come up with models of democracy that suit them.

“After all, the presidency we’re talking about, all presidents of the world don’t emerge through the same process. In Nigeria, we elect our president directly. In a number of countries, presidents are elected indirectly.

“The powers of the presidents are defined by different constitutions and so on and so forth.

“So our National Assembly can also look at models that will suit us. The zero-sum approach, where a party that even sometimes gets 40% of votes, especially at the state levels will have nothing, gives rise to this do-or-die politics.

“That zero-sum approach, I think, is inimical to consolidating and strengthening our democracy.

“Let me conclude by saying that together, we can forge a Nigeria where every citizen has a voice, where opportunities abound, where the promise of a better tomorrow is not just a dream but a tangible reality.

“Let us therefore celebrate this milestone with pride and renewed determination.”

President Jonathan also advised President Bola Tinubu’s administration to ensure that the politics of the next 25 years are transformative and inclusive, saying that there must be a determined effort to dilute the politics of region and religion.

He said: “Let us ensure that the next 25 years of our democracy are even more transformative, inclusive, and more prosperous for all of us.

“In line with the wordings of our National Anthem, ‘To hand over to our children a banner without stain,’ we must not hand over to our children a democracy built on politics of region and religion. Democracy built on ethnicity does not endure. It will continue to wobble.

“So for the Honourable Vice President, you are representing also the president, for me, we are hoping that you will build more infrastructure for us, and improve the quality of education, health facilities, etc.

“But one key thing that for the next 25 years, you will midwife because you are starting the next 25 years, is to build a democracy that will reduce friction.

“The avalanche of litigations that follow every round of election in Nigeria is very embarrassing. And because of the kind of democracy we practise, democracy is built on all kinds of sentiments, either the way you worship your God or from the map of the country you come from.

“You people have to gradually make sure that in the next 25 years, this is diluted if we must have a solid and enduring democracy.

“And I know you and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was a key actor in the June 12 crisis, will have the capacity to navigate through that process.

“I believe this programme and others commemorating this landmark will point the way to that glorious vision and prepare the nation for golden time centenary celebrations of enduring democracy.”

Noting that the path towards democratic consolidation has been a difficult one, he said the return of democracy in 1999, after many years of military reign, signalled a new phase in the national journey and shared vision of unity, peace and progress.

The former president added: “In the last 25 years, we have made modest progress in this regard amid some challenges. As a nation, we built an economy that was once the biggest on the African continent, experienced significant infrastructural growth, made strides in the arts and sports, and recorded many peaceful political transitions at the national and sub-national levels.

“Democracy has also brought about improved access to governance, amplified silent voices and reinforced the idea of sovereignty.

“Whenever I tune in to Nigerian TV stations, especially in the morning and see young men and women discussing and interrogating contemporary political issues and holding leaders to account, I thank God for democracy and appreciate the gains we have made over the years.

“Today, citizens have come to terms with the idea of representative governance, as they have over the years expressed their power to choose their leaders and demand accountable leadership and good governance.

“Our civic space has largely flourished, with a vibrant civil society community, increased media freedoms and an active press.

“Our journey to democratic consolidation has not been an easy one. It has been a mixed bag of gains and losses, progress and pain, within these 25 years. We have continued to deal with the issues of insecurity, social inequality, unemployment as well as electoral disputes and violence.

“Despite the challenges associated with democracy, the general feeling is that citizens prefer democracy to any other form of government.

“As a nation, our resolve has been challenged many times, but through shared faith and unity, we have continued to march on.

“We must underscore the fact that democracy is a journey and not a destination. Our democracy, though still young, has weathered storms, overcome challenges and proven its endurance. It has become a beacon of hope, not just for our nation, but for the entire African continent.

“In these 25 years, through four power transitions from one president to another, including the death of a sitting president, we have seen the gradual strengthening of our democratic institutions, the expansion of civil liberties, and the active participation of our citizenry in the political process. This progress, while commendable, also reminds us that our work is far from done.

“It is, therefore, time to make this journey seamless, through good citizenship, patriotic service as well as sacrificial and exemplary stewardship.

“We must continue to build upon the foundations laid, deepen our democratic roots, and ensure that the dividends of democracy are felt by all Nigerians, regardless of their social, economic or geographic status.”

Jonathan also called on the political class and elites to lead by example and work with unity of purpose to guarantee peace, social justice, and effective governance for Nigerian citizens.

He emphasised the need for elected representatives to reflect their roles through their lifestyles and actions.

He said: “For democracy to yield its desired dividend, we the political class and elites must lead by example and work with unity of purpose to guarantee peace and social justice for the citizens. And our lifestyle must reflect that we are elected people.

“A situation where children of political officeholders go to parties and start spraying dollars is not the kind of democracy we want to witness in this country.

“We must work together despite our political differences, accommodate our diversity and prioritize policies that will impact the lives of our citizens. As we project towards celebrating a golden jubilee of uninterrupted democracy, which I believe we will, we are celebrating 25 years, we will also celebrate the golden jubilee.

“In the alternative, we need to work assiduously towards further strengthening state institutions, so that they can withstand the shocks that threaten democratic governance. Democracy as a form of government is anchored on sets of promises in line with the nation’s development and growth aspirations. The fulfilment of these promises reinforces the citizens’ trust and faith in the government.”

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