The 20th anniversary is a reminder that much more could be done for the people

As President Muhammadu Buhari takes the oath of office for his second term in office today, Nigerians are ushered into two decades of unbroken democratic rule. It is something to crow about. For being able to keep the restless and adventurous military at bay and for offering some windows to freedom of expression and other civil liberties, democracy is proving gradually not to be too frail a plant to survive within our hostile environment.

However, after 20 years of practice, the process is still underdeveloped, crude and deeply flawed. Elections are almost always fought like wars–riddled with tensions, violence, mass rigging, thuggery and intimidation in a polity obsessed with ethnicity, religion and regions. Leaders, mostly inept, are routinely imposed through large-scale malpractices while the use of money to buy votes has become the order of the day. Meanwhile, successive governments in Africa’s largest economy have not done much to improve the standards of living for majority of the people.

At the heart of the euphoria for democracy is the belief that people would be better governed and more prosperous. Indeed, it was Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, who said that the ultimate test of the value of a political system “is whether it helps to improve the standard of living for the majority of its people.” Sadly, after 20 years of unbroken rule by elected civilians, the lot of the average Nigerian has not improved in any profound sense.

For all its wealth –human and natural- Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is among the lowest in the world. With almost 100 million living on less than two dollars a day, our country is now regarded as the poverty capital of the world while jobs are in short supply for the teeming young population. The unemployment rate, put at more than 35 per cent by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), is not only frightening but breeds the risk of social, economic and security turbulence.

The state of many basic services such as education, health as well as road infrastructure is dreadful and decrepit; the health of millions is suspect while a demographic crisis is looming large on the horizon. A significant numbers of Nigeria’s 200 million people have no access to power, with small and big businesses mostly dependent on generators. The security situation is even more treacherous. Never since the civil war had the security situation deteriorated this far. Racked by the decade-long Boko Haram insurgency and other cocktail of crimes and criminalities – from kidnapping, armed robbery, herdsmen-farmers’ conflicts, cultism to general banditry, Nigeria has become a nation besieged.

A recent report on fragile states index (FSI) categorised Nigeria as the 13th most fragile state in the world. It is an indication that not much progress had been made in the effort to remedy the political and socio-economic conditions that were dragging the country down the slope. The darkening outlook is even now more pervasive.

Yet against the depressing backdrop, some fundamentals are moving in the right direction. Stripped of partisanship, President Buhari’s war on corruption is on target. Communication and banking services have been enhanced beyond expectations, courtesy of mobile phones. Even more significant, the president has hinted, after years of resistance, to restructure the country. While the major problem in the system today is more about the absence of good governance at all levels, we also have a serious structural problem.

On a day such as this, we must remind the government, at all levels, to focus on the people, their safety and welfare; the optimal allocation of scarce resources and the effective implementation of policies for service delivery. Until we begin to do all these, Nigerians will find it difficult to maximise their potential and our democracy will be imperilled.