Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, who is also the Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, diagnoses 20 years of democracy in Nigeria at the 17th Edition of Daily Trust Dialogue. Excerpts:
1.All over the world, democracy seems to be facing an existential crisis and there seems to exist an ideological inertial, or disillusionment. In his latest book, III Winds (2019), Larry. Diamond captures the essence of this crisis when he writes that:
“After three decades in which democracy was spreading and another in which it was stagnating and slowly eroding, we are now witnessing a global retreat from freedom. In every region of the world, autocrats are seizing the initiative, democrats are on the defensive, and the space for competitive politics and free expression is shrinking. Established democracies are facing relentless scandals, sweeping citizen disaffection, and existential threats to their survival.” (Diamond, 2019)
There is no Nigerian peculiarity to the picture painted by Professor Diamond, but the Nigerian picture exemplifies why democracy is a journey full of hills and valleys, of undulating lands rather than a destination with a clear road-map. The last two decades of democratization in Nigeria has witnessed significant social, economic and political changes. Although the record is mixed and the debate rages on between ‘Naija-optimists’ and ‘Naija-pessimists’, there seems to be a more vibrant industry of ‘Naija-pessimism’ out there that leaves no room for ‘Naijarealism’. Indeed, one often shudders at the various epithets used to describe the condition of the Nigerian state in political science and popular literature – failed, collapsed, incapable, pro-forma democracy, semi-democracy to mention but a few. Both optimists and pessimists of the Nigerian condition focus on outcomes, linking these outcomes in a linear relationship with particular reforms and assuming static environments’. The truth is that significant variations often exist in between these broad generalizations when we move away from outcomes and focus on the quality, texture, tenor and content of democratic and governance reform in Nigeria, in the last two decades. Equally, we must move away from a focus on judgments pegged to macro-reforms on big ticket issues – democratization, privatization, anti-corruption, insecurity – that we try to measure in large, dramatic shifts. Opportunities to accelerate change and strengthen governance structures are often missed in the context of this almost exclusive macro/country level focus.
Worse, this focus may deepen the challenges inherent in the process of change, by discounting the significance in all instances of partial reforms. Rather than focus on dramatic reform or revolutionary change, it is important to understand that social change requires a longer term perspective not amendable to the typical binaries of success and failure or strength and weaknesses. What has become clear to close watchers of political reform in the last two decades is that while macro-level/country level analyses are important, it is the complex mix of evolving factors at more micro-levels that also determine outcomes. Most times, scholars of democratization ignore partial reform, inconclusive contests, transition reversal and democratic subversions, failing to recognize that failure in one instance may result in more enduring reforms Democratic reform in Nigeria, and indeed in the whole of Africa, has demonstrated in the last two decades that rarely does transformation come from a single, big shift but rather as a cumulative effect of small, incremental shifts and improvements. In this vein, societal transformation in the past two decades of our democratization has led to the emergence of new social forces, changed the importance of others and consequently altered the relationships among various social and political actors. So, to different degrees and with different forms of agency – people are engaging, or if we like, confronting the state and insisting, that the state must respond to society. What the concept and practices of democratic reform have also alerted us to, in very complex ways are the fundamental ways in which government is only one of the actors, even if the most critical actor, in governance.
The point is brought into clear relief by the current debate about the legality and desirability or otherwise of the South West Governors’ local security initiative – Amotekun – and how it fits into Nigeria’s peace and security architecture. While some commentators and stakeholders see problems and conflicts in the national discourse, I see opportunities and possibilities. While some are eager to exacerbate tension and create fears and distrust in the minds of our leaders and people, I see the current robust debate as a healthy national conversation about how to make Nigeria safer and our people more secure. The Amotekun vision is a logical end product of President Buhari’s compelling vision on community policing and bottom-top approach to security sector governance across the length and breadth of the country. Far from being a competitor with the existing national security platforms, it aims to complement them in the areas of neighbourhood watch, information and intelligence gathering, detection of early warning signs and engaging in early response in a pro-active manner, apart from acting as a liaison between the conventional security outfits and the local population. For those who are familiar with the mechanics of security sector reforms and transformation in democratizing politics, they will readily appreciate the need for a multi-faceted, multi-layered and multi-dimensional approaches to national policing and maintenance of law and order. Indeed, apart from strengthening the operational and administrative capacity of security institutions and the training and retraining of security agents, the other vital component of this paradigm shift in national security calculus is the direct, logical, coherent and sequential involvement of local populations and grassroot governance in national security and crime prevention. It is in recognition of the above that the Amotekun model emerged – and its proponents already made it clear to the Police authorities that it is a model open to public scrutiny, reform or even re-conceptualisation on the basis of new information or superior knowledge even as the initiators seek more input from experts and officials across board. It is only in the context of such robust conversations that democratic pluralism is entrenched.
Consequently, it would be grossly inaccurate to say that Nigeria has not made progress since 1999. We live in a far more conducive climate of freedom than those of us who came of age during military rule can recall. The demilitarization of politics has widened the space within which democratic reforms are occurring, even if residue of militarism remains in the political culture. Those who are profoundly pessimistic about the Nigerian enterprise continually cite the absence of economic dividends which might serve to “validate” democracy in the eyes of ordinary Nigerians as a major risk to its sustainability. And there is no question that democracy must deliver concrete development – qualitative and quantitative – if it is to be deepened. But proper economic policy which embodies the hopes and aspirations of the people can only be forged in the furnace of a widening democratic space and a revival of the lost democratic art of public conversation. We need a shift in consciousness from the inflated and fantastic expectations of a democratic destination to a wayfaring mindset that interprets our condition at any point in time in evolutionary terms as a continuing struggle. We have to reject the agonizing generations of Nigerian life that casts a blanket of stagnation over every sector. The notion that nothing has changed since 1999 and that things have in fact grown worse is cynical, misleading and self-defeating. They are also discouraging to many conscientious and patriotic Nigerians in public service, private sector and civil society who have committed themselves to rebuilding the Nigerian nation. From the tone of negative reportage about Nigeria, one would think that such Nigerians do not exist, but they do! The fact is that there is tangible progress all over the country where change-minded Nigerians have opted to light candles instead of merely cursing the darkness. Over the past decade, the quality of those at the forefront of politics has also improved. There are more progressive-minded actors in the field. That quality and quantity can be expected to rise in the coming years. Even at that, there remain many challenges to be addressed if democracy is to grow in our country
First, we must not only democratize the political space, we must also democratize the economic opportunities to be more inclusive, responsive and beneficial to all concerned. President Buhari is already addressing this with expansion of opportunity in agriculture. One thing that this decade must bravely confront and resolve for posterity is the need to come with a socio-political and economic structure that will make the government at the sub-national levels centres of development. Our federal system as currently constituted is over-burdened and could be more effective to serve the interest of accelerated national development. Similarly, the democratic space needs to be opened for more inclusive representation. This has to be dealt with at electoral principle level than electoral contest level. For example, it has been suggested, and I tend to agree, that we should develop a creative mix of proportional representation rather than the ‘winner takes all’ system. Nothing reinforces this more than observing the dwindling number of women and youth in elective positions and the ways losers of election are completely excluded from the governance process. And this is partly responsible for the do or die mentality in electoral contest. For example, the number of women elected to the National Assembly has continued to witness a progressive decline. In the Senate, three women were elected in 1999 as against 106 men; in 2003, four women were elected as against 105 men; in 2007, eight women were elected as against 101 men, in 2011, there were seven women as against 102 men; in 2015, we had eight women against 101 men and in 2019, we had eight women to 101 men. Women have never had up to 10% women representation in the National Assembly. Today, there are only 40 women legislators in all the state houses of assembly nationwide. This kind of disequilibrium cannot be solved by the current model of representation. We not only need to find better women inclusion in leadership, we also need to have a gender agenda for the decade. In the same vein, in spite of the passage of the not-too-young-to-run bill into law, this has not led to increase in the number of young people getting elected. Yet, the median age in the country is 17 and 65% of our population is under 30. Some have even suggested that there were more youths in elective positions prior to the passage of the law. This shows that the problem is hardly that of legislation as much as it is about systems and structures. Of course, we have issues of lack of representation among people with disability too and even many minority communities. This inadequacy in the system must be redressed in this decade.
Likewise, as a people we need to work on the concept of citizenship and make it work for all in a more equitable form. We cannot have a nation of citizens and indigenes at the same time – the former is inclusive, while the latter is exclusive. Some things are just strange to republican democracy but which we have somehow held on to and which have been the tinderbox of many of the crises we have witnessed in the history of our nation. It is time for our constitution to place premium on residency rather than indigeneity as the defining principle of citizenship. The concept of indigene/settlers, national identity, monarchy in a republic, roles for the traditional rulers, limit of religious interference in national life, feudal and caste practice, discrimination of all kinds and all those rough edges that make a new pan-Nigeria socialization impossible needs to be courageously addressed. We need to seize the opportunities that abound in our energetic youths by developing their capacity for skill acquisition rather than just knowledge acquisition. Nigeria needs to build consensus on a vision for her youths and a strategy for its actualization. We cannot have a nation of jobless and frustrated youthful population and at the same time hope to live in peace. Our population growth continues to move in geometric terms in the face of tight economic growth; therefore, as much as we continue to work on developing our economy, and increasing the economic space for our youth to thrive, we need to have an honest conversation around uncontrolled births that complicate already existing development challenges. It is a veritable fact that jurisdictions with the highest birth rates tend to have the lowest human development indices. We should never play the ostrich with this fundamental challenge. More importantly, there is the need for all stakeholders to support the current efforts of President Buhari’s administration to build an economy that seeks to lift one hundred million Nigerians out of poverty, based on local production which guarantees sustainable economic growth and realistic development. We cannot truly grow our nation without making the painful sacrifices needed to become self-reliant and food secure. Nigeria has all it takes to produce her basic needs, and also serve the large African market, and much of the rest of the world. What we need is a re-orientation of our business and investigating class to redefine their philosophy of wealth and economic growth to include tangible impact on the numbers of those being lifted out of poverty. We cannot continue to have a small elite bandying numbers that affords them opportunities for property acquisition, opulent lifestyle and primitive greed, but which excludes the vast majority from beneficial participation. So, the issue is not simply poverty, but inexplicable inequality. It is time we realized that prosperity that is not inclusive cannot foster peace and development.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is clear that what we established in 1999 is the right to choose our leaders via the ballot. What we must not do is assume a teleological link between elections and democracy. The notion that once you have elections, all else will follow is no doubt a pipe dream that is now obvious to all and even now there is nothing irreversible about democracy in Nigeria. It is also why our theory of change must not assume that democracy is a destination with a clear road-map. The deepening of other factors like the economic well-being of the citizens is a necessary enabler of democratic consolidation. For me, democracy isn’t an abstract concept. It must be relevant to people’s lives. If democracy isn’t capable of improving the people’s well being and quality of life, it is at best an empty concept, at worse a sham. Even so, our electoral journey in the last two decades clearly points to elements of consolidation and deepening of our democracy but other aspects of the journey raises serious concern. For example, in 2015, we crossed a major turning point with the first alternation of power since 1999, which is a clear evidence of democratic consolidation. In that same election cycle, the opposition – APC – won election in two thirds of the 36 governorship elections wrestling power from PDP in no fewer than 12 states. In fact, PDP managed to retain only two governorships in the entire northern region of 19 states – Gombe and Taraba. By 2019, although the APC retained the Presidency and gained Kwara and Gombe states, it lost six critical governorships in Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Imo, Oyo and Zamfara states and nearly lost the most populous state – Kano – which went into a re-run. In the 29 states where elections held in 2019, APC won in only 15 while PDP won 14 – a much closer contest than the picture often painted. Although my party, APC regained Imo two days ago via the instrumentality of the highest court in the land just as PDP took Zamfara via the courts, debates continue to rage whether this is the best way to deepen our democracy. Clearly, the elections management body is improving in the technical aspects of its operations but elections are not simply technocratic, they are inherently political. It is about who gains power, who loses power, who wants power back, and a lot happens in that cocktail. But we all should be worried with what we do with power, once gained. So, democracy is more than just the ability to choose one’s leaders. The current phase of the struggle is not just about maintaining the sanctity of the ballot but also holding those elected accountable and stimulating civic engagement in the public realm, in a way that democratizes ownership and improve the quality of life of our people. We must banish the idea that governance is something performed by a team of gifted performers or strong men, while the rest of the citizens are mere spectators or complainers.
What the current challenges that our democracy is experiencing speaks to, is the understanding of democracy as a permanent work in progress. Few statements exemplify this better than the American mantra of making “a more perfect union”. If the United States, a nation forged out of common purpose and common consent, perpetually seeks to make a more perfect union, it is evident that the task of nation building will be far more daunting in a state created without the consent of the people and imposed by colonial power. It is even more dismaying if such a state has not succeeded in re-making itself by re-negotiating the basis of its fundamental national association. The structural deformities of the Nigerian federation have circumscribed many possibilities for our country as a whole. The over-concentration of powers in the federal-centre must yield to decentralization of power and devolution of authority. Therefore, a fundamental restructuring of the Nigerian federation is an unavoidable step for the creation and sustenance of a participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive national governance and one that is based on respect for the rule of law. I am convinced that this can, and will definitely happen in Nigeria at some point in the near future. This is why our Party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) – included “restructuring” in our manifesto in 2015 general elections, and we have been working towards it. With this, I believe the question of deepening democracy and enhancing development will be largely resolved. Nigeria cannot achieve this without an honest national conversation and the resolve by Nigerians to come together as one people sharing a common destiny. The fundamental restructuring of Nigeria will address key questions of political transformation; such issues as the question of constitutional governance, the fundamental precepts or authorizing principles of national togetherness, citizenship and the nationality question, the political economy of federalism, security sector governance, human rights, social justice, minority rights, electoral system, type of government – parliamentary or presidential, will be addressed. This convening by Media Trust offers us all the opportunity of reflection on where we are and where we want to be. The imperatives of national integration and unity make it clear that a single Nigerian story is an incomplete story. What experience teaches is that binary choices are rarely good choices; there are always nuances and shades of grey in between. This is true of Nigeria as we constantly balance our proud, diverse ethnic, cultural and linguistic inheritances with the necessity of building national consensus and national cohesion for all our people. Consensus and cohesion lie at the base of national integration and the constant affirmation of national unity even in recognition of our differences and the tensions that emerge along national fault lines. The search for a more perfect union has been at the core of the post-1999 democratic enterprise; a search that has acquired urgency in the past few years as the Buhari’ administration has deployed unprecedented energy and focus in mitigating the spate of communal and sectarian conflicts that have afflicted the nation for generations
Indeed, while as earlier argued, democracy is not always a linear progressive journey, we must struggle very hard against reversal on this journey. And as the struggle to deepen, strengthen and consolidate Nigeria’s democracy is made sustainable and irreversible; as the effort to renew and renovate the national economy and empower the mass of our people is further grounded and as the war against corruption and insecurity is fought with resolve, high energy and serious commitment, we must also advocate for the concrete pathways that undergird the imperatives of national integration and unity, not only for the purposes of the contemporary generation but most importantly for generations yet unborn