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Published On: Mon, Jun 9th, 2014

Consolidating democracies in Africa: The Nigerian experience

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Only in unity do we stand any chance nigeriaBy Peter Onwubuariri

In July 2015, Nigeria will assume the leadership of Community of Democracies (CoD), an intergovernmental organization established in 2000 to strengthen democracy worldwide by providing support for emerging democracies and civil society.

The leadership of the forum, which assists societies in the development and strengthening of democratic institutions and values, would fall under the purview of Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2015.

To some analysts, Nigeria’s leadership of the group with 101 member countries is premature, as Nigeria has only managed to have 15 years of uninterrupted democracy.

They also argue that during these years, elections in the country had been fraught with perceptible irregularities, even though the last general elections, held in 2011, showed remarkable improvements in election administration.

However, there are increasing concerns that the growing insecurity in the country, provoked by the violent activities of Boko Haram insurgents and political tensions, has fuelled fears that 2015 elections may be problematic and crisis-prone.

In addition, some cynics argue that the Nigerian democracy is not sturdy enough in the pragmatic sense, as the central government has been under the control of one party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), since the country’s return to democracy in 1999.

Another case in question is Nigeria’s credentials in promoting democratic principles as well as universal human rights and practice.

Some critics describe the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, which was signed into law in January 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan, as an infringement of human rights,

The law prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria and prescribes 14 years’ imprisonment for offenders.

Still on human rights, the modus operandi of the security operatives, who are currently engaged in the war against insurgents in the north-eastern part of the country, had come under the spotlight.

These challenges notwithstanding, Prof. Viola Onwuliri, the Minister of State 1 for Foreign Affairs, said that Nigeria’s presidency of CoD would enable the country to further promote “her democratic gains and her leading role in the democratic transition in Africa’’.

During the two-year presidency — from 2015 to 2017 — Nigeria hopes to adopt “Strengthening Democratic Transition and Institutions’’ as the theme of its presidency of the CoD’s governing council.

Top officials of the Federal Government have repeatedly challenged the disparaging arguments on Nigeria’s human rights records, both in the military and the law criminalising same-sex marriage.

On same-sex marriage, Onwuliri, who spoke on the sidelines of AU summit in Addis Ababa in January, accused Western countries of double standards over the law banning same-sex marriages and shows of same-sex public affection in Nigeria.

Her words: “What happened in Nigeria is democracy in action and it will really be unfortunate that when the people, who are talking about democracy, now see democracy work, they want us to go against democracy.

“Is democracy for pick and choose? When it suits them, they want us to do good governance and democracy, but when it does not suit them, they want us to go against the democracy that has been put in place.

“The National Assembly took a decision, the National Assembly is the face of democracy in Nigeria; they are the representatives of the people, they form the voice of the people and they have spoken.’’

However, analysts note that Nigeria’s choice of a theme, aimed at strengthening democratic transition and institutions for its presidency of the CoD, somewhat reflects its own contributions to democracy and good governance in Africa.

These contributions have attracted a lot of commendations from several organisations and individuals.

For instance, the European Union (EU), during a ministerial dialogue between the union and Nigeria in Abuja in 2012, particularly commended Nigeria for its roles in supporting democracy in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau and Guinea.

It is on record that Nigeria provided appreciable assistance for Guinea Bissau, during its May 18 presidential elections in which José Mário Vaz emerged the president-elect.

Dr Nurudeen Mohammed, the Minister of State 2, for Foreign Affairs, recalled that Nigeria donated 350 Direct Data Capturing Machines (DDCM) and photocopiers to Guinea Bissau in support of the polls.

Nigeria also contributed generously to the 63-million-dollar ECOWAS Fund set up for the Defence and Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the country, according to a publication of Nigeria’s Ministry of Affairs.

In 2012 alone, Nigeria donated 10 million U.S dollars to Guinea Bissau to enable its interim government to function effectively, while the Nigerian Army provided logistical support for the country’s army.

Mohammed, however, conceded that Nigeria had paid some price for its strong support for constitutionality and the implementation of SSR in Guinea Bissau.

“In October 2013, the attack on Nigeria’s embassy in Guinea Bissau was politically motivated by some elements opposed to Nigeria’s demand for return to constitutionality,’’ he said.

A Nigerian was killed in the attack but this did not deter Nigeria in its efforts to ensure political stability in the West African country.

Mohammed also noted that President Goodluck Jonathan had demonstrated appreciable leadership qualities by being the only foreign Head of State who visited Guinea Bissau last November, after the April 12, 2012 coup.

Sen. Ike Ekwermadu, the Deputy Senate President, who doubles as the Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament, said that Nigeria, in collaboration with other ECOWAS member states, have made significant efforts to resolve political crises in the region, citing interventions in Mali and Guinea Bissau.

Nigeria has been able to play such roles because of the good state of the country’s democracy, mirrored by 15 years of unbroken democratic rule.

Ekweremadu described the 15 years of unbroken democratic rule in Nigeria as “something to be proud of, especially for a country with Nigeria’s kind of history.

“Only a few could have given Nigeria any such chance about two decades ago but here we are today, waxing stronger as a democratic nation.

“We also have every reason to be proud of what we were able to achieve in the 2011 general election, following the widely applauded electoral reforms.

“Although we still have several electoral challenges, the important thing is that the 2011 experience was a great leap forward, taking into consideration where we were coming from as a nation,’’ Ekweremadu added.

All in all, analysts say that the Nigerian democracy is gradually becoming a model for other democracies in Africa, as pragmatic efforts are made to consolidate democratic rule on the continent.


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