Today, we celebrate the re-birth of our democracy. On May 29, fifteen years, the world watched as Nigeria ushered in a new era of government chosen by the people – after countless years of military dictatorships. Democracy Day marks the turning point in our history, when we – as a nation – defied all odds and expectations, and chose to rebuild our motherland on the principles adhered to by many nations before us: that the people of a country can stand sovereign over their elected leaders, by exercising their right to choose at the ballot box.
Nigeria’s democracy since 1999 has hurtled through numerous crossroads that have served to define our strength as a nation, and have made many of our institutions stronger. On this day, I want us to recognise Nigerians from all walks of life for their tireless and heroic sacrifices that have kept us together as a nation in spite of the difficult challenges that have confronted us. I want us to take a moment to pause, reflect on, and appreciate the millions of our fellow country-men and women, and those in every corner of the globe who have joined Nigerians to campaign tirelessly against the challenges facing the nation – particularly the attacks that emanate from radical insurgents.
We must bear in mind that our organised strength lies in the common experiences we share with our fellow Nigerians, and our everyday successes as a nation are rooted in the foundations of our citizen-centered democracy.
Nevertheless, we must also never forget that just as our strength lies in our commonalities and shared experiences, our most potent power emanates from our over 150 million-strong voice. When our minds are as one, we are strong. When we speak out as one, we are formidable. When we demand as one, we are insurmountable. For this reason, on this anniversary of the founding of our Fourth Republic, I urge all Nigerians to stand and speak as one to demand an end to insecurity, corruption, and all other social ills that have plagued our great nation.
We must demand that in 2015 Nigeria display its commitment to democracy, so that we have credible, free and transparent elections. We must have the will and courage to defend our democracy. This is a process that starts now, that sees democratic and transparent processes to select candidates through to election day where we are free to vote for the candidate we believe in. Democracy is not practiced by mirroring the language that we speak, where we come from or what religion we worship; democracy is the opportunity to address the issues that affect us all. Issues affect us all across Nigeria regardless of gender, age or religion.
We must acknowledge some of the realities that have presented themselves when election-time comes in our country, and enlighten others and ourselves against them. One flaw that we have experienced in our young democracy is that it is often the case that many of our people choose leaders based on the constraints of sameness of religion, similarities in ethnicity, and other largely inconsequential values of nation-building leadership. To counter this, we must view leadership through a lense of: who will best address mine and my local government, state, or country’s problems? In a nutshell, we must elect the best amongst us.
We must also continue to strive towards the definition, – or perhaps redefinition – of the path that we as a country have chosen to take. It is not prudent for a country such as ours to always be reactionary in our response to events. We must begin to look into raising and elevating proactive leaders who will not only defend this country when it is attacked, but will make Nigeria strong – so that any enemies, foreign or domestic, that may aspire to threaten the security of our nation and its people will be dealt with before they have the chance to cause us harm. These are difficult times, and as such, these times call for leadership that is not about shifting blame or indifference to the plight of Nigerians, but leadership that is all about achieving results – however the problems may choose to present themselves.
As a nation founded upon our diversity, we come to this task well equipped with the resources, indigenous skills and zeal to surpass all expectations and projections that have, and are, being made by our country. Let us continue to uphold the bond of citizenship that has kept us together as one indivisible people. Let us also be diligent and firm in the belief that we shall harvest the dividends of the sacrifices that many have given to obtain and sustain our democracy. Let us also understand that this democracy of ours is not just a gift, but a responsibility to be harnessed and developed – for the benefit of generations of Nigerians that are yet to come.
In this regard, as we reflect, and celebrate yet another Democracy Day, I urge us all to march into the future knowing that in the spirit of togetherness, we can achieve more for our common prosperity. May God continue to bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
By Senator Abuabakar Bukola Saraki is a former two-term Kwara state governor