With a national consensus that democracy remains the best option for the country, Nigeria has come a long way after 19 years of unbroken civil rule

Today marks the 19th anniversary of Nigeria’s return to civilian rule and the third anniversary of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. Notwithstanding the numerous challenges we still grapple with as a nation, Nigerians generally seem to agree that democracy remains the best option for the country for the many ways in which it empowers the electorate to hold the government accountable and ask questions where and when necessary.

The 2015 general elections and the change of government from one party to the other, the All Progressives Congress (APC) replacing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was particularly a major turning point for the country and a reaffirmation of the people’s sovereignty. The average Nigerian voter is far more conscious and confident today than he was under military rule, even if widespread poverty and other insecurities remain a threat. Imperfect as our democratic processes may be, however, we are optimistic that those processes can be further strengthened for the overall benefit of the people. We congratulate Nigerians as they celebrate yet another democracy day.

When President Buhari assumed office three years ago, he promised to tackle three key issues: security, the economy and corruption. The outcomes in these regards have been mixed. The standard excuse by the ruling party has been that it met a country and a government at the centre that had been hobbled by unprecedented levels of corruption and mismanagement in the three identified key areas. Hence, it has projected itself as a corrective administration.

To be fair, the Buhari administration has shown stronger determination and pace in tackling the Boko Haram menace. It succeeded in rescuing abducted persons – women, children, and most of the Chibok and Dapchi girls. Generally, Boko Haram terrorists have been less aggressive than they were three years ago. But while this may be so, the government has been less effective or pro-active in dealing with the dangerous threat posed to national unity and religious harmony by the continuing conflicts between herdsmen and pastoralists, especially in the Middle Belt and parts of the North.

The casualty figures from these conflicts have been consistently high, even in the presence of security agencies and officials who have been accused of gross indifference and negligence. Yet, government owes the people a responsibility to demonstrate that their lives matter and that impunity of any form will not be tolerated. Its neutrality must also not be in doubt. On the economic front, the Buhari administration deserves a pat on the back for pulling the country out of the recession of 2016-17 and returning it to the path of growth. The country’s external reserves have been doubled; inflationary rate has reduced, even if it is still double-digit while the Naira has remained stable for more than a year. Non-oil revenue, especially in the critical areas of agriculture, solid minerals and customs and excise has also improved. The tax network has been widened.

While it is still too early to assess the impact of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which was launched rather late, the commitment of the federal government to its implementation is a major signal of official readiness to tackle the issues of economic growth, ease of doing business and wealth creation. There has also been much activity in the transportation sector – projects initiated by previous administrations, especially in the railways sector, have been completed. In addition, the Federal Government has launched a school feeding programme initiatives to support small and medium scale enterprises, and a social investment programme but nonetheless, the country’s unemployment rate remains very high.

The fight against corruption is perhaps the Federal Government’s flagship programme and where it has been most active through the agency of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with monies and properties reportedly seized from those who looted state funds. However, while there is very little disagreement about the threat that corruption poses to the country’s growth and stability, there has been much objection to the method and nature of the prosecution of the administration’s war against corruption. The EFCC in particular has been accused of targeting members of the immediate past administration, selective prosecution, witch-hunt and the agency becoming a partisan tool in the hands of the incumbent government. The controversial involvement of members of the administration and party officials in alleged corrupt practices and the sheer leniency with which those cases were addressed makes it imperative for the EFCC and other agencies to be seen to be neutral and more transparent. Going forward, the EFCC must take the criticisms of its operations more seriously and demonstrate a stronger capacity to be fair and independent.

Respect for the rule of law is the linchpin of democracy. Under the current dispensation, this principle has been routinely breached due to a seeming disregard for court rulings and the rights of accused persons. The end of justice is subverted when the state uses the people’s resources to intimidate and abuse the constitutional order. Through it all, however, we commend the Nigerian judiciary, especially the appellate courts which have sustained the integrity of that arm of government as the last hope of the common man. Meanwhile, the Attorney-General of the Federation must not be timid in exercising his powers under the purview of Section 174 of the Constitution. He must see himself, in the strict sense, as an officer in the temple of justice by giving due effect to court rulings as for example, in Mohammed Adoke vs the AGF, Dasuki and others vs AGF and similar cases. He must resist the temptation to subordinate the law to political expediency.

Governance at other levels has been less than impressive in the last three years. State governments have performed worse than the federal government. Unable to pay staff salaries while still running government at high maintenance cost, many states have had to depend on financial bail-outs from the federal government. Many state Governors spend more time in Abuja than at home. State governments must become centres of productivity and not conspicuous beggary. Similarly, Nigeria deserves a more disciplined and productive legislature at both Federal and State levels. In particular, the emerging reputation of the National Assembly as a place of burlesque rather than serious work is unedifying.

In all, the country faces many challenges which only greater emphasis on service rather than benefit, responsible leadership at all levels, honesty of purpose and respect for the rule of law can help to address. On their part, the people have a responsibility to continue to insist on good governance. In 2019, Nigeria will again hold general elections. Political parties, politicians, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies must learn to put Nigeria first. The best legacy that the Buhari administration can pursue is to address the overwhelming menace of political corruption and protect the integrity of the ballot box.

We wish all Nigerians Happy Democracy Day!