By Emeka Asinugo
May 29 is around the corner. Nigeria and Nigerians will, as usual, observe a bank holiday on that day, to commemorate the nation’s Democracy Day. I suppose the holiday will also offer Nigerians an opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of their democracy, and to take stock of how far they have come. Needless to say, on that day, Nigerians should also take a closer look at other older democracies like Great Britain and America. These are the countries which can pride themselves today as being in the forefront of democratic governance. They were in the arena much earlier than Nigeria. So, Nigerian leaders should appraise the social and political challenges these countries have had to contain over the years. Trust Nigerians. Their leaders should be able to encourage them to photostat how these advanced democracies are overcoming their challenges and how they are becoming more and more able to wield their countries together in the interest of the human family. It is not that Nigerian leaders are yet to see the need!
Trust their “One Love” slogan! Nigerians know that they have indeed come a long way since their country attained independence on 1 October 1960. The peculiar need for its very existence made it mandatory for the country to drop the parliamentary form of democracy it inherited from Britain. The country had experienced series of coups and counter-coups by its military for most of its post-independence years between 1966 and 1999. At the closure of the military adventure into the country’s governance, it became necessary to institute a home-made Nigerian constitution which would ensure that the military stays back in the barracks and that soldiers are no longer in a position to stage coups in the future against constitutionally elected governments of the people.
The nation’s leaders decided to tailor government to fit into what they saw at the time as the needs and aspirations of Nigerian citizens. The end of military rule ushered in a new era of elections, and a return of civil liberties and freedom of the press. It saw an end to arbitrary arrests and torture which were prevalent during the military interregnum. Nigeria also began a long campaign against the bureaucratic and military corruption which had paralysed its economy and severely tarnished its international reputation.
The 1999 Nigerian Constitution made important provisions which differed considerably from the American model. Most of them were made to ensure regional balance. One of the important provisions, for example, was that the President must have in his cabinet at least one minister from each of the states in the Federation. Today, Nigeria is the world’s fourth largest democracy. It is said that one African in four is a Nigerian. With a population of over 170 million people, Nigeria is larger than any country in Europe. It is the world’s eighth largest producer of crude oil and the United States’ second largest supplier. Nigerian leaders knew that theirs is a country which constantly faced the challenges of extraordinary socio-political complexities. They knew that their people speak hundreds of ethnic languages. Half of them belong to the three largest ethnic groups – the Hausa, the Igbo and the Yoruba. The rest of them, usually identified as the “minorities,” come from the more than 250 other groups which also speak different ethnic languages and have their various cultural identities. Nigeria’s constitution makers were determined not repeat the nation’s past mistakes.
Unfortunately, this diversity in language and culture has continued to inflict a bloody nose on Nigeria. The nation’s leaderships seem to find it difficult to grapple with the challenges. But the fact remains that the case of Nigeria is not different from the case of other big democracies, especially the United States and Great Britain. America has more than 50 states and Great Britain is great because it can contain four countries in one – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. All of these people have their different ethnic languages and ways of life. But whether we look at America or Britain today, there is a trend that each of these progressive countries is adopting. They all believe that UNITY IN DIVERSITY is the only way forward. The doctrine of unity in diversity has sustained them and made them great. That same doctrine, known in Nigeria as “One Love” can also sustain Nigeria’s democracy and make Nigeria great.
As usual, 29 May this year will be celebrated as a bank holiday all over the country. But before Nigeria celebrates its Democracy Day in the next couple of weeks, the nation’s leaders need to consider a few things that are important in the evolution of any democratic dispensation.They need to consider what exactly the concept of unity in diversity which prevails in similar countries with people of divergent cultures and political persuasions means to the citizens of Nigeria. If countries as complex as the USA and the UK which recently opened its doors to Eastern European countries are surviving their national challenges because they believe in and are encouraging the concept of unity in diversity, why can Nigeria not do the same in the name of “One Love”?
They should consider the fact the God will not forgive us if we fail the youths of our country. My idea is that it is possible to get the youths involved in determining the future of the country if Parliament should consider enacting a law which will ensure that citizens are only allowed to hold public offices for only two tenures in their lifetime and that public office seekers are within the age brackets of 25 and 65.
Emeka Asinugo is a London based journalist.