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Nigerians and democracy at 17

NOT many Nigerians might have rolled out the drums as the nation marked 17 years of uninterrupted democracy on Sunday, May 29, 2016, considering the hardship in the land. This has aggravated in the last one year under President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Rising cost of living, increasing security challenges and the grim human development index are at the moment perhaps at their worst since the Fourth Republic came on board in 1999.
As things stand, government at all levels must quickly formulate and implement policies and programmes that will ameliorate, if not totally  reverse the grinding poverty ravaging over 110 millions Nigerians, who according to the latest statistics, are living below poverty line.
This is the minimum solution expected of any serious government anywhere in the world Nigeria being no exemption. Indeed the security and welfare of all citizens according to the framers of the 1999 Constitution, “shall be the primary purpose of government; and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions” of the Constitution.
After a long military interregnum that ended on May 29th 1999 with the handing over of power to the civilians, many citizens had hoped that such democracy dividends as gainful employment to millions of jobless youths, functional infrastructure, regular electricity supply to stimulate small, medium and large scale industries, improved health care, quality and affordable education, housing as well as adequate food supply will accompany civil rule following promises by political parties and politicians.
Besides, expectations that security challenges, diversification of the economy, beyond oil and gas for export, rising cost of living, endemic corruption, deadly communal crises, and a transparent electoral system will be substantially addressed by successive governments were also high.
Sadly however, this was not to be as an unbiased assessment of the performance of  past governments at the federal, state and local council levels reveals that most of these anticipated democracy dividends are still scarce 17 years down the line even though most of them ought to have been provided by the end of 2015, the timeline set for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs by  the United Nations, UN.
For instance, the incidence of violent crimes has been on the increase in Nigeria since the transition to democracy. Communal violence, kidnapping-for-ransom, highway robberies, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, emergence of violent militias such as Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen and lately the Niger Delta Avengers have dominated the headlines, which have claimed hundreds of innocent lives and property worth trillions of naira.
Regrettably also, the country in recent time witnessed agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB and spate of suicide bombings even in worship places    that were hitherto alien to this clime.
The situation became so bad that Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima recently lamented at the huge loss to his state. He put the loss  at over $6 billion (N2 trillion) with about 20,000 people killed and two million others  displaced since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency six years ago.
Other states in the North East like Yobe and Adamawa, also ravaged by the sect, are yet to formally count their losses which are, no less, very huge also.
Sadly too, militancy in the Niger Delta which abated with the introduction of the Amnesty Programme by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua administration and sustained by the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration,  has assumed a frightening dimension characterized by bombings of oil and gas pipelines so much so that the country is reportedly losing about 800,000 barrels of crude oil daily as production has dropped from about 2.2 million barrel per day, bpd, projected in 2016 federal budget to around 1.4bpd.
If the trend is allowed to persist, the economic meltdown which has made it increasingly difficult for 27 out of the 36 states to meet their financial obligations to workers including payment of salaries and pensions to retirees, will be aggravated.
To avert the doom ahead, we urge the Federal Government to immediately invite the militants to dialogue with a view to resolving the issues at stake. We welcome President Muhammadu Buhari recent decision to re-engage persons from communities in the region and a promise to address complaints of neglect which are among the major grievances of the agitators.
Furthermore, it is worthy of note the tremendous successes so far recorded by the Nigerian military in the war against the Boko Haram and challenge them not to rest on their oars until the Islamic sect is totally defeated and the Chibok Girls freed.
We believe however, that addressing the twin issues of unemployment and poverty is at the heart of rising criminality and restiveness in the country because as the saying goes ‘an idle hand is the devil’s workshop’. Again, we challenge governments especially the federal and states to provide the  enabling environment for small, medium and big businesses to thrive.
In spite of the nation’s current daunting challenges particularly in the socio-economic fronts however, it cannot be wished away some of the landmark developments that have been recorded across the country including new infrastructure like roads, airports, education, power sector reforms, healthcare, the war on corruption, restoring genuine democracy, national unity and stability, entrenching the rule of law and widening the political space and the economy.
For instance it is on record and incontrovertible too that more businesses opened in all sectors of the economy including telecommunication (with one of the world’s fastest GSM and internet penetrations), transport, aviation, hospitality, education, agriculture, oil and gas, food processing, among others, than in any other period in the nation’s history since independence in October 1960.
Also, the hitherto weak banking sector was repositioned and strengthened, thus providing support for businesses and restoring investors’ confidence in the country such that by 2015, government had grown our nation’s economy to be the largest in Africa and one of the fastest growing in the world. We believe that government owes it a duty to the citizenry to reverse the negative economic growth recorded during the first quarter of this year.
We state emphatically that the judiciary most times had lived up to expectations of the affected parties while adjudicating electoral disputes though the same cannot be said of the judges handling corruption cases where record has it that some of such cases filed in 2007 against politically exposed persons are pending till date. We welcome the vigor with which the Buhari administration is fighting corruption which should be total.
Government strategic agencies as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN; the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and the Nigeria Customs Service; the Federal Inland Revenue Service among others also, should immediately build more capacity both human and material to deliver on their core mandate to ease the existing heavy burden on the people.
We urge the Buhari administration to go beyond corruption and war against insurgency and pursue programmes and projects in the  year ahead to reduce the level of poverty in the land. The change that people expected from his government can only make meaning when, indeed, more people are employed  and with less poverty in the land.
Government through further reduction in government ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs; drastic cut in the number of political appointees and getting a motivated and dedicated workforce willing and ready to offer selfless service to their fatherland.  This is the only way to make progress.

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