June 12: 20 Years of Democracy by M.B.O Owolowo
Over the years I have celebrated June 12, and to commemorate the event I usually wrote articles. Some of those articles include: “June 12: Hope and The ‘Dividends’ of Democracy”, “June 12: Sacrifices, Unity & Politics of Division and “June 12: Blood Democracy & Spirit of Reconciliation”. This year I am in a celebrative and reflective mood, and this will probably be my last commemorative June 12 article.
When President Muhammadu Buhari made the June 12 pronouncement in 2018, his critics wrongly assumed it was primarily about his 2019 re-election bid, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The President has since won his re-election and could have reneged on his promise if the pronouncement was solely about electioneering. However, being a man of his word, President Buhari marked June 12 in grand style. The President graciously postponed his inaugural speech and associative events from May 29 to June 12, 2019; officially making June 12 Nigeria’s official democracy day. A series of events had taken place, which included the posthumous honour bestowed upon Mrs. Kudirat Abiola as the “Unsung Martyr of Nigerian Democracy”. Like a gift that keeps on giving, President Buhari pleasantly surprised Nigerians by renaming the Abuja National Stadium to the MKO Abiola National Stadium Abuja. An honour well deserved for a uniquely philanthropic man officially recognised by Confederation of African Football (CAF) as the first “Pillar of Sports in Africa” during his lifetime.
President Buhari’s reconciliatory gesture not only consolidates his democratic credentials but cements his name in the annals of history forever. President Buhari has indeed taken the glory of the auspicious event and some former Presidents can only rue what could have been eternally.
As Nigeria’s democracy day will forever be on June 12, it affirms that if you believe in a genuine selfless cause and stand by it, your efforts shall never be in vain.
26 years ago, on June 12 1993, Nigerians bought into the “farewell to poverty” manifesto, and supported the “Hope ‘93”campaign. Nigerians united, spoke with one voice and voted Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola as President. Nigerians showed the world what was possible and gave a rare glimpse into a very bright future. Alas, that beautifully envisioned future was dashed by the Ibrahim Babangida-led military junta, and introduced the political lexicon of ‘annulment’ into Nigeria’s politics. That illegal annulling of the people’s will, created a protracted crisis that threatened the very existence of the nation.
As the struggle for the actualisation of June 12 persisted, some people abandoned the cause, whilst some kept the faith and hope alive! The June 12 struggle eventually led to the ouster of the military and culminated in a democratic government in 1999. Unfortunately, Nigeria has strayed from the path to attaining its full potential, and 20 years on would be a good time for a reflective analysis.
Admittedly, the damage done to Nigeria has been accumulative, and the same question has persisted: how do you solve a problem like Nigeria?
Identifying a problem is an integral component of problem-solving. However, the stark reality is that Nigeria’s complexities are sui generis and may probably outlive the Buhari government. Expecting an embedded and mutated culture of corruption to be fixed by just one man is stretching it a bit too far. It must be a collective process.
As far back as 1984, the legal luminary and foremost human rights activist Gani Fawehinmi had highlighted the limitations of attempting to obliterate corruption in public places through the ordinary legal system, and recommended a swift system that would deal a lethal blow to the corruption menace.
Ironically, President Buhari was the military head of state then, and one of the reasons for his emergence was to tackle corruption under a Shagari government – an administration the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo once described as profligate. A couple of years later, the late sage recommended that the evil dominating Nigerian hearts across all private and public spheres must be exorcised to instil social order. Unfortunately, three decades later, the situation has gotten aggressively worse.
To put matters in contemporary perspective, during the 2013 Davos Summit, the then UK Prime Minister David Cameron, estimated that over $380b had been looted by previous Nigeria governments. That the hundreds of billions Nigeria made during the preceding year (2012), surpassed sub-Saharan Africa’s total net aid, and dwarfed the impact of any foreign aid. Contextually, Nigeria’s problem is mismanagement of its resources.
Evidently, Nigeria has a monumental looting problem. Though looting exists in other countries as well, Nigeria’s looting is self-pernicious to the point of incredulity. The double whammy of natural resource and revenue spoliation, and widespread infrastructural deficit will stifle any country’s economic development.
Up until President Buhari’s first tenure in 2015, governance in Nigeria could easily be characterised as a vicious cycle of wanton and unprecedented looting, with one administration trying to outdo its predecessor. The sad reality is that things are going to get even worse if certain critical steps aren’t taken to rectify the baneful situation.
The Buhari led administration cannot afford to fail; else it will bear the brunt of the cumulative failures of previous governments. It wouldn’t matter much that previous governments caused the systemic rot, because majority of the populace are deeply concerned about getting solutions to various issues plaguing the system.
President Muhammadu Buhari is on his legacy lap. His enduring legacy wouldn’t focus on his time as an army commander, military head of state, governor of the north-east region, minister of petroleum or Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chairman, but what he achieved during his second coming as president, particularly the latter part.
Since his taking over the mantle, there have been debates about President Buhari’s actual style of leadership. His government has focused on security, economy and corruption. I daresay that the manifestation of corruption is the nexus that affects the other two critical areas. In dealing with corruption, the President has tried to be democratic by following the due legal process, however frustrating.
The bill for the establishment of special courts for corruption cases is a good example. It would be self-inflicting for the members of the national assembly to pass any anti-corruption bill that will be inimical to their acquired lifestyles. Those benefiting from the appurtenances of corruption will be the last to accede to a self-indicting law.
I am of the opinion that if systemic impediments will not allow corruption be dealt with accordingly, the president will have to use his executive power to bypass any institutional encumbrances that will truncate efforts and make the corruption war a farce. This is why a section of society believes if Nigeria’s latest democratic expedition isn’t yielding the desired results with regards to aborting the corruption malaise, may be a quasi benevolent dictatorship approach might get things moving along – at least until some stability is attained. If only wishes were horses!
The toxic corruption practiced in Nigeria stunts development and can’t be toyed with For example, similar drastic measures were undertaken by the Malaysia leadership during their times of laying the foundations for aggressive development. If a 93 year old Mahathir Mohamad could return to power as Prime Minister of Malaysia in 2018 and jail his predecessor, then surely, a 75 year old Muhammadu Buhari can surely do more. So the excuse of age is simply what it is – an excuse.
The so called war against corruption should go beyond rhetoric and theatrics and summarily convict all those found guilty. The options for looters should be unambiguous – execution, jail or exile (EJE). The changes must be swingeing and incisive. Only those who genuinely want to serve should come forward for public service. No economic policy, however well-intended will fully materialise if the corruption pitfall subsists. It’s like trying to save water with a leaking receptacle.
Nigeria must develop to a level where everybody is held accountable and nobody is bigger than the law – no sacred cows. In essence, fighting corruption must be total!
The embezzlement of public funds by public officials and advance fee fraud must carry life imprisonment or death penalty, depending on the gravity of the crime.
Armed robbery, kidnapping, human trafficking and drug trafficking should carry the death penalty.
Judicial officers found guilty of obstructing justice, takings bribes or found to be in connivance with criminals must be stripped of their right to practice the law profession and cannot have any dealings with government for life.
Police officers found guilty of abating corruption must be executed. Law enforcement officers must only comprise those with high ethical standards.
All children and grandchildren of all those convicted should forfeit any proceeds from the criminal activities of their parents and barred from holding any public office nor have any dealings with government for life.
All court proceedings must be televised for the public to witness all convicts got a fair trial.
The civil service must be streamlined, particularly the non-productive sectors that aren’t generating any revenues. A lot of civil servants have no business in public service.
Critically, the education curriculum must be revamped for a more innovation and production oriented template. Research and development must be integral to the educational ecosystem. So many recommendations available!
President Buhari must realise he doesn’t need sycophantic yes-men around him, but those who will always tell him the truth – actual situation of things across the nation. As the President prepares to name his new cabinet, it must be emphasized that some of the outgoing ministers have been woeful to say the least. At this juncture, Nigeria doesn’t need any recycled politicians with nothing innovative to offer, neither does it need political jobbers and opportunists. The world is moving at a very fast pace, and Nigeria is blessed with abundant talent that can compete internationally. Basically, there’s no need for square pegs in round holes. President Buhari’s new cabinet must be so stellar even his ardent critics will have no choice but to give him a second chance!
It’s time for new beginnings. Nigeria can indeed get it right.
Happy June 12 Democracy Day and God Bless!