Nigeria has enjoyed 23 years of uninterrupted civilian rule since 1999 and commemorates this return to democratic governance on June 12. The Conversation Africa asked political scientist Ayo Olukotun to reflect on the country’s democratic journey so far and the issues that hamper this system of government.
What is your assessment of the journey so far?
It’s an eventful journey, with ups and downs. There is not enough stability in the system. The quality of elections alone is below average in terms of administration and logistics. And there is still occasional violence. Before, during and after the last elections in 2019, 623 people died.
We cannot hold polls without the shutdown of the whole country. And in some parts of Nigeria, it can even be dangerous to go out and vote.
Apathy and disconnection are the result. The Independent National Electoral Commission complained about the large number of voter cards that were not collected. The 2019 presidential poll recorded only a 35% turnout.
The non-inclusive nature of the federation is also part of the problem. This means that whole sections of citizens are excluded from the governance process in a very cumbersome configuration.
Young people feel helpless. They are the demographic majority but they are poorly represented.
Women are also underrepresented. If women make the effort to enter the political arena, they are discriminated against. There are cultural and religious barriers to women’s participation in politics. Yet, if they don’t make an effort, they don’t have a voice.
So, Nigeria’s democratic journey has not been smooth at all.
Money is widely used to influence outcomes. What is the impact ?
As long as money can buy votes, the future of democracy is uncertain.
The convention of the Peoples Democratic Party has just elected a presidential candidate out of about fifteen candidates. Two of the party’s presidential hopefuls, Peter Obi and Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, said dollars were raining down on delegates to get them to vote. This also happened at the 2018 People’s Democratic Party convention in Port Harcourt.
Apart from this, the two dominant political parties in Nigeria, the ruling All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, sell their expression of interest form and nomination forms for huge sums of money to candidates in the Presidency. These forms are sold by political parties to members who aspire to seek political office under their platforms. Aspirants in Nigeria must belong to a political party as as of now the electoral law of the country does not allow independent candidacy.
This locks out a large majority of the population. If about half the population can’t make ends meet and you ask people to pay up to 100 million naira (about US$240,000) for expression of interest and nomination forms, you deprive them of their rights.
This is the biggest barrier to youth participation because young people are the poorest. They are also the most affected and afflicted by the Nigerian trauma – unemployment, insecurity, police brutality, lack of supportive social security policy and corruption.
The effect is therefore more direct on them. They can’t find the money and that’s a problem.
What happens is that former politicians recycle their sons, daughters and in-laws into the political space. Those who don’t have sponsors or parents capable of retraining them don’t stand a chance.
The need for money also aggravates the situation of women. Only a small percentage of women in Nigeria are able to find the kind of money needed to participate.
How to reverse the trend of exclusion?
It’s a paradigm shift. The older generation formed the Action Group and a few other political parties in the 1950s. The Action Group was a Nigerian nationalist political party established in Ibadan on March 21, 1951 by the late leader Obafemi Awolowo. It was dissolved after the army took over the reins of government in 1966.
They were intentional about how the dividends of democracy were shared based on their contributions to party success. This is because they came together to form parties. Members, including farmers and peasants, contributed money to finance their parties. They voted for their leaders based on their integrity. The leaders who emerged served the people.
Now we have votes buyers and sellers.
We can adopt the older generation funding option for political parties. It will take a lot of work, but if we have a lot of people of integrity, the system will start to change. You can’t have change without some sacrifice. We need crusaders to lead the campaign.
The other option is fundraising, which they do in the United States. But there has to be transparency: you have to make public what you get.
What should Nigeria do to strengthen democracy?
First, identify the problems. These include the disenfranchisement of women and youth, the role of money in the electoral process, corruption and biased federalism.
Others are the exclusivity of the country’s democracy, ethno-regional spaces and inequality, mass illiteracy, the buying and selling of votes, the hijacking of the political process by moneybags and sponsorship.
These problems can be solved by enacting and enforcing laws. You also need ethical campaigns and political education. And leaders must lead by example.
Ayo Olukotun, Professor and Head of Department of Governance and Political Science, Olabisi Onabanjo University
This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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