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By Mukhtar Ahmad Jarmajo     Published  June 11th, 2009

In 1999, the now white-beard Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar handed over Nigeria to a democratically elected civilian government. This, he courageously did on the 29th of May and thus marked Nigeria`s third attempt at democracy since the fall of the Tafawa Balewa regime on 15th January, 1966. Today therefore we are celebrating ten years of democracy in Nigeria without a hitch. There is then therefore no doubt that this is a moment for sober reflection.

Though I have decided to keep away from making political comments on the pages of the newspaper for some time and for reasons best known to God and myself, I find it necessary to, given the circumstance, delve into our political sphere though in a non – partisan manner, simply to make an attempt at assessing Nigeria’s journey in the democratic vehicle in the last ten years.

The media, being the fourth of the realm, has contributed in no small measure in trying to help Nigeria and indeed the international community assess Nigeria’s democratic gains in the last ten years. The BBC Hausa Service for instance, had organized several debates and invited stakeholders of ranging thoughts to make clear their thoughts as to the journey so far.

Peter Horrocks, Director BBC World Service and Jamilah Tangaza, Head, BBC Hausa Service have played commendable roles in helping Nigeria assess the journey so far. In a debate captioned: "10 years of Democracy in Nigeria: The journey so far- What have been the challenges?, they landscaped a turf that was definitely tough. Distinguished personalities like the veteran politician Tanko Yakasai, the firebrand Abdul – Kareem Dayyabu, Dr. Junaidu Mohammad, Gov. Ibrahim Shekarau, representatives of the PDP and the ANPP and a host of other participants made their immense contributions.

This very debate I found very important because it forms the principal building block of my assessment as all the participants agreed on one thing despite the differences in thought that exists amidst them. On the 28th of May, 2009, all the participants at the debate in Mambayya House, Kano, where I was a spectator, agreed that though the country had remained an indivisible entity under the democratic setting, the dividends of democracy have yet surfaced on the nation`s horizon.

Every one agreed that at present there is erratic power supply. There are no roads, standard schools and standard healthcare delivery system, security of lives and property, and food security. There is corruption in the economy, chaos in the polity and brouhaha in our arts. We are a caricature in the comity of nations because we have only succeeded in deceiving ourselves in the last ten years. These, everyone accepted.

However, as to the reasons behind our travails, I am not without my personal perception. Those who are peculiar with the history of this country will attest that we are fond of doing things in haste and in the course somewhere, somehow we usually go into inventions and omissions, which in the end never augur well. Democracy, Abraham Lincoln says, is the formation of a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Given this, it is then right to identify that the key to democracy is a free and fair election. And we all know that to ensure a free and fair election, so many conditions must be satisfied. There has to be a platform for aspiring candidates; the political party and an unbiased election umpire to oversee the conduct of elections.

The duo institutions of political party and election organisng body in a democratic atmosphere are as important as the democratic system itself. A biased election organising body entails the emanation of a non – democratic environment as the wish of the common man would never be pondered. And a political party that was not formed on the basis of any ideology only entails the formation of a platform where politicians join only to clinch on to one seat or another.

When our present political parties were formed, they were not formed on the basis of any ideology and this is where we erred. The benchmark for the formation of a political party is the coming together of people of the same ideology to form a common front. Certainly, where there is ideology there is principle. That is why internal democracy is lacking in all the fifty-three political parties country. Some of the parties cannot identify their four walls, some have multiple leadership, some do not even have name. In a resume, because of their weak foundations, political parties do not serve the purpose of a political party and hence the locus standi.

Ceteris peribus, a political party should ab initio, having been formed on an ideology, have its manifesto and a constitution, which every member must honour and respect. With the constitution, a legal party Executive Council is certain and hence internal democracy feasible. This circumstance would not only give a party the opportunity to organize free and fair primary elections but would also go further granting it the chance to form a formidable electoral force ahead of its campaigns.

When all the parties in the country assume this modus operandi, a free and fair general election would only wait for time to unfold events as no stakeholder will connive with the election umpire and or security agencies to rig in any candidate. All the parties, having presented their best to the electorate, would allow the election process to take its proper course.

Surely enough, with proper elections, a competent team will be given mandate. The right people will be in charge of the government of the day and thus good governance would take its place. A competent team would be in charged of the power sector and there will not be black out. There would be security of both lives and property. Education would be free. A standard healthcare delivery system would evolve. There would be good road networks and effective transportation systems. In fact, the economy would be healthy.

All these would have been achieved had it been our political parties were properly placed. And unfortunately, unlike in construction, there cannot be underpinning to serve as a remedy to our situation. But as I once told a senior colleague during a return trip from Wase to Bauchi, the solution to all Nigeria’s problems lies in our political leaders resolving to work in the best interest of the nation.

As I mentioned during the heated debate, Kindergarten pupils would never be the ones to begin the move to make Nigeria better, we have already erred and to solve the problems, our leaders must serve in earnest. Electoral reform or whatever reform might not be the remedy because what was formed the other time has yet been properly put to practice.

Jarmajo is a public affairs analyst in Bauchi and can be reached via


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