On May 29, 2014, Nigeria marked 15 straight years of transition to democratic rule or the Fourth Republic. It is historical; and a pleasant one at that. Though that journey began on a note of skepticism, it was however not without hope for a better, greater and prosperous Nigeria. That hope seems to be waning.
Fifteen years down the line, not much value seems to have been added to the lives of the people while our values as a people appear not to have changed from what has kept us down as a nation and stunted our growth more than 53 years after independence. Rather than abate, our woes seem to be multiplying. We still lack basic amenities, such that have been taken for granted even in some fellow African countries. Our huge oil revenues have not changed the life of the ordinary Nigerian. Our infrastructure are still dilapidated or non-existent. We’re facing grave security challenges that are unprecedented in our chequered history from Boko Haram that is threatening our existence as one country. The menace of Boko Haram has made such vicious crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and related crimes pale into insignificance. The Federal Government releases economic figures and statistics that are completely out of tune with the reality on ground as it affects the standard of living of Nigerians. Power supply is epileptic even though it is being priced beyond what the people can conveniently afford. Worse still is the painful fact that people of the clay-footed “Giant of Africa” troop to their less endowed neighbours like Ghana to get good education because here, universities and polytechnics can afford to shut their gates against students for even up to a whole session.
Nigeria’s history has been checkered with successive military interventions such that one may fear that recent developments may prompt yet another incursion. These fears are valid. However, like is always said, the worst civilian administration is better than the best military rule; arguably though, in Nigeria’s case. In those dark days, the military and their lackeys with impunity trampled upon human rights and its attendant freedom and liberty. Then, our prisons became home to Nigerians who dared challenge the brutality of the men in khaki. The Gani Fawehinmi's, Femi Falana's, Olisa Agbakoba’s and scores of courageous and out-spoken Nigerians suffered immensely for daring to demand that people’s rights and freedoms be respected. Media houses and journalists had their fair share of the brutality and high-handedness of the military juntas that bestrode Nigeria’s landscape. Many journalists lost their lives in very horrifying circumstances. Fear was like a cloak every Nigerian wore. It was indeed a most trying period for Nigerians.
But Nigerians, known for their resilience, persevered. Nigerians who were forced into exile mounted campaigns against the military drawing international attention to Nigeria’s crumbling state while those who remained at home continued exerting pressure on the military to return to the barracks and allow Nigerians take charge of their lives under a democracy. The rest is history.
However, recent happenings in Nigeria remind one of happenings during our military era. A supposed recent ban on public demonstrations and rallies by Nigerians demanding the release of the abducted Chibok girls reminds one of the inglorious days when military juntas held sway. Agents of the federal government are now renting crowds to counter peaceful and legitimate protests. We recently witnessed a clampdown on the media when distribution vans of newspaper houses were hunted and copies of the days papers seized under the ridiculous excuse of searching for arms belonging to Boko Haram.
In other democracies across the world, the voices of the people are respected. Freedom of speech is one of the tenets of democracy because sovereignty belongs to the people. And I dare say that Nigerians are enjoying the benefits of this democratic dogma; because it is perhaps only in this clime that the opposition parties, particularly the All Progressives Congress (APC) consider it a matter of obligation to its supporters and sympathizers to call the President - Goodluck Ebele Jonathan unprintable names and denigrate the highest office in the land with the leader being so reviled more or less laughing it off. Oftentimes, one hears the president say he is the most abused president in the world. This is however not to say there had been no manifestation of some high-handedness at the highest level given the recent clampdown on the media and arrest of some editors of the Abuja-based Leadership newspaper. One only cautions that this is not allowed to fester; it should remain an exception rather than becoming the norm as it was during the military era because we cannot claim to be in a democracy, and yet be subjected to military era tactics of muffling the voices of the people.
When the military held sway, Nigerians believed civil or democratic rule would hold more promise for their welfare. The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has not fared well. The APC - the most formidable opposition party, is essentially composed of hardliners, opportunists and predators that fell out of favor with the ruling party. From the way they have carried on, one’s perception is that their sole objective is to displace the PDP without letting Nigerians know what they are going to do better and how they intend to achieve it. Nigerians should not be deceived! Thinking the APC will fare better than the PDP will be a great error of judgment. Thinking the APC will fare better than the PDP is tantamount to the previously held notion that civilian/democratic administration will be better than military rule. Emerging signals from the leadership of the party and some of their governors do not support that hope or expectation. Many of them have exhibited such dictatorial tendencies that given greater power especially at the centre, the PDP leaders of today would become saints.
As an incurable optimist, I believe that the challenges facing our democracy are not insurmountable no matter how dim the future may seem. I always believe God for a positive change. However, a great weapon for Nigerians is their voices. These voices will provoke appropriate action to foster desired change. I believe the era of complacency is gradually easing out. A new breed of Nigerians are speaking out and demanding change whilst also inspiring others to do same. No matter the threat, Nigerians must remain irrepressible as the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners are demonstrating.
It is my hope and belief that Nigeria will rise up and take her pride of place as truly the Giant of Africa. God bless Nigeria!!!
Toks Ero blogs at www.toksero.org