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Rethinking our Democratic Process: A Public Service Reminder

by. Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq.

From 1983-1998 Nigerians barely survived under the heavy rod of dictatorial rule by successive bloodthirsty military rulers who ascended power in a climate of fear and systemic operation. Little could any one guess that a dramatic end was in sight to the nation’s longest stretch of military rule with the passing on of General Sani Abacha in 1998. By 1999, under General Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria had begun its arduous clime up the hill of sustained civilian leadership and democracy.

In many ways, as a nation and a people, we have from 1999 to the present, conducted ourselves in ways that question our intent and dedication to a civilian government. In our choice of leaders, policies and laws we have left room for suggestions that queried our commitment to the sustenance of true democracy operational in a civilian led sovereign polity. This issues are as real as the challenges we face today and the discussions we constantly have in various shape as we interrogate our choices so far and how they bear on true democracy.

What then is true democracy and why is it of the utmost importance today ? A popular simplistic definition of democracy defines it as a government by the people, of the people and for the people. The sheer beauty of such an arrangement surely holds the fancy of well meaning members of the society, but they’ve been many who clearly appropriated the meaning of ‘the people' to mean those distinguished by status symbol- wealth, fame and connections. This same restrictive class of appropriators have over the years recycled power amongst themselves in ways that truly demystified our years of civilian rule.

Of course, this hardly presupposes that we have nothing to be happy for. They are quite a few. For one, we must not take for granted the fact that we are 17 years into an uninterrupted civilian rule. This is, in itself, cause for celebration as these past 17 years defies the chequered years of military rule that we had to endure as a people and nation. Going forward, we’ve strengthened our laws through the legislative arm, subjected, in principle, all persons and institutions in Nigeria to the overriding supremacy of the law and through an elected executive head, navigated the ship of affairs continually in civil waters.

All of the above are beautiful and wonderful as far as systems go. Democracy means freedom to choose, live and evict. It means liberty to explore new frontiers in our social contract as subsisting individuals under de jurè leadership. As fruits of our insistence on democracy and civilian rule, we’ve built court houses, raised institutions, created subsystems conditioned to be fair, just and equitable particularly through the electoral and adjudicatory processes of the country. This democracy, conceived at the country's inception as an independent state and nurtured through years of military rule have suffered gross labors and tests that have nearly crippled its closest semblance to the ‘democracy’ it claims.

While we were able to send the soldiers back to the barracks, the barracks refused to take itself out of Aso Rock. Civilian rulers with a heart sewn in the fabrics of the military did not just usher us into the start of a new republic in 1999 but have continued to hold forte in politics and economics, with the help of members of the genuine civilian class. What we've had as consequence is the permeation of military ethos adapted in a civilian environment; rather than be accommodating our democracy has become overwhelming, rather than be diplomatic it has become vile, rather than be appealing it has become brutish and the fervor that first greeted its inauguration have long waned in the dust of corruption, insensitivity of government and impunity that have refused to settle.

So today, as we celebrate May 29th, commemorative of our nation’s return to civil rule, we must sober up to the reality on ground and take the confluence of espirt de corps that now embodies the nation this day to rededicate ourselves to nation building. We must help the nation survive by being responsible citizens preaching and acting the gospel of the new Nigeria we all desperately crave for.

We must remember the insurgency of the north and the militancy in the south, and also the sharp whip of religious, cultural and political division that threaten to irreparably tear the fabric of our nation and jeopardize its insistence on the rule of law and not force. We must never take for granted the history of this nation and its sacrificing list of patriots and nationalists. We are destined people in a race to occupying a prime spot in the comity of nations worldwide. We have a duty today and tomorrow, as our forbears had to the past and the future.

I desperately hope and pray that today reminds us of the aspirations of this precious country and reprove our apathy to its tottering in a whirlwind of corruption and destruction. That we are minded to protect the liberties we want to celebrate and live by, while seizing hold of the helm of affairs to steer the country in the rush direction. This we demonstrate by political awareness and involvement.

So I celebrate we Nigeria and Nigerians for having something to hope and fight for. I salute our resilient and fighting spirit, both of which would be mandated to spur us to rise up and deliver our nation from the draconian grip of power mongers. We can achieve all we put our hearts and will to as one people one nation. It is this underlying truth that have helped us survive and may well explain so long these years of civilian rulership.

May God bless Nigeria and its fortune. God bless Nigerians. 

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