Leaders could do more for the wellbeing of the people

For the first time in 21 years since the advent of the current democratic experiment, today is not a public holiday. To honour the memory of the winner of the 1993 presidential election annulled by the military, the late M.K.O Abiola and the sacrifices he made, President Muhammadu Buhari last year proclaimed June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria. May 29 used to be marked annually as Democracy Day. After all formalities which conferred official recognition on June 12 as the new date, the Presidency said: “May 29th will only be handover date and working day. By the Act amended and signed by Mr. President, May 29 is no more a public holiday. June 12 is now a public holiday and the country’s Democracy Day.”

Even though May 29 is no longer a public holiday, it does not make the day less significant as the country marks 21 years of unbroken democracy. Despite all the challenges of recent years, that we have kept the military at bay and offer some windows to freedom of expression and other civil liberties are worthy of celebration.
However, the democracy we practice 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.

At the heart of the euphoria for democracy is the belief that people would be better governed and more prosperous. Sadly, after 21 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 the majority of citizens living on less than two dollars a day, the poverty level remains high while jobs are in short supply for the teeming young population.

The state of many basic services such as education, health as well as the road infrastructure is dreadful and decrepit; the health of millions is suspect while a demographic crisis is looming large on the horizon. A significant number of Nigeria’s 200 million people has no access to power, with small and big businesses mostly dependent on generators. The security situation is even more treacherous. Racked by a seemingly intractable Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and rendered millions homeless aside other cocktail of crime and criminality – 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 14th most fragile state in the world. It is an indication of the current challenges for which all stakeholders must come together in the effort to remedy the political and socio-economic conditions that are dragging the country down the slope.
On a day such as this, therefore, we must remind our elected officials, at all levels of government, on the need 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 and more, Nigerians will find it difficult to maximise their potential and our democracy will continue to be imperilled.