On May 29, 1999, power was transferred to a democratically-elected government after many years of military rule and the country has been able to sustain the democratic government for an unbroken 22 years; the longest in the history of democratic governance in Nigeria’s history.
The democratic governance that kicked off on May 29, 1999 brought about renewed hope after the traumatized years of the late Gen. Sani Abacha. The birth of democracy in the country energized the citizens and rekindled their fate in the capacity of the country to actualize its manifest destiny as the most populous black nation. And not a few successes were recorded by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the first democratically elected president of this era that has been labeled the Fourth Republic.
In the eight years of President Obasanjo, Nigeria was reabsorbed into the comity of nations from its pariah state prompted by the authoritarian rule of Gen, Sani Abacha. The change in status and few governance reforms did not only open up the government for foreign investment and developmental aids from donor agencies and development partners across the world but got debt forgiveness from foreign debtors.
However, the nation’s democratic journey has not been without challenges. The challenge of violent elections and corruption of the electoral processes that have made the courts to make redress in some elections. The cost of governance and mismanagement of scarce resources by public officials are also issues militating against the effective functionality of the democratic experience. There has also been increment in political agitation across the country that is currently threatening the corporate existence of the country. Though, this has been largely attributed to the lopsidedness of the country that gives so much power to the central government and this has made the contest for power at that level rancorous.
The 1999 constitution has been rightly criticized for concentrating too much power at the center at the expense of the sub-nationals and some citizens have been ferocious in their criticism and demand for a new constitution for restructuring of the country’s governance system. Some critiques of the constitution have also blamed the constitution for some of the existential problem the country is currently facing. For instance, the constitution vested the security of over 200 million citizens in the hands of the Federal Government that is far away in Abuja and leave the State’s Chief Executives to be at the mercy of Police Commissioners that are responsible to the Inspector General of Police stationed in Abuja. The mineral resources situated in States and Local Government are also placed in the hands of the Federal Government and thereby demotivating the States from making serious efforts in investing in exploration. The provision of some infrastructure that could enable economic development of sub-nationals are also in the exclusive purview of the Federal Government, e.g. railway. The sharing of the federation revenue is also skewed against the subnational. It is still a wonderment that the Federal Government will take the largest share of the federation account and leave the 36 States with 774 Local Government to share the ruminant. Indeed, there is a need to adjust the sharing formula in favour of the subnational due to the enormity of their responsibilities.
It has been said by some analysts that the root of some of the crisis the country is battling with today can be traced to the constitution. There is an urgent demand by the citizens for the political leadership of the country to stem the tide of crisis that are threatening the corporate existence of the country. The farmers-herders clashes, terrorism, banditry, kidnappings and armed robberies. Meanwhile, these are not a surprising considering the rate of unemployment that persists at 33.3% according to recently published data by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has also declined from $8 billion in 2008, to $1.9 billion in 2018 according to a World Bank report. Over 10 million children are out of school in the country and the infrastructure in many schools continue to deteriorate according to report by the NBS and UNICEF in 2017.
Democracy as a form of government places the people at the centre of governance. Thus, a democratic government is bound to listen to its citizens’ clamour for a new constitution that reflects their governance desires. In reviewing or writing a new constitution, it is imperative that the principles of federalism be adhered to. The socio-economic challenges currently beleaguering the country are best solved with a bottom–up approach rather than a top–bottom approach that has refused to produce results in the last 60 years. Nigeria needs a constitution that hands over power to States to create and manage their security architecture, manage the mineral and natural resources deposited within their geographical location, and obtain a greater share of federal revenue allocations.
Here is to wishing us many more years of uninterrupted democratic rule.