Today’s 2nd commemoration of democracy day on June 12, courtesy of President Muhammadu Buhari’s foresight and political will is unfortunately tempered by the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying safety protocols. The Eagle Square usually the venue of such celebrations would have been regaled with dignitaries from all walks of life and enthralled with a potpourri of activities ranging from march past by the Nation’s Armed Forces, cultural displays and above all, the much anticipated Presidential address. But unusual times indeed – we could only make do with watching the Presidential address from the confines of our homes.
June 12, 1993, now a watershed in the annals of our history was the day Nigerians set aside their differences, buried ethnic jingoism, closed their eyes to proclivity for religious and tribal sentiments and elected M.K.O Abiola, a Yoruba Muslim and his Northern running mate, in an unprecedented Muslim-Muslim ticket, as President. The rest is now history as the then powers-that-be would have none of it. They conjured unscrupulous reasons and with the stroke of a pen annulled Nigeria’s freest and fairest elections till date. Of course, the ghost of June 12 never died, it continued to haunt both its killers and successive leaders until the incumbent President gave it a pride of place by reverting the hitherto less significant May 29 democracy day to June 12.
The victory of late President Abiola, inspired by the “Hope 93” campaign was hinged on better life for the downtrodden and average Nigerians, enthronement of an egalitarian society in which the welfare of the people will be the cornerstone of government.
The advent of democracy in 1999 seemed like a breath of fresh air. We thought we would have a semblance of “Hope 93”, but alas, down the years, we saw the then ruling party and its kleptomaniac administration surreptitiously superintend over electoral and money heist, quite unconscionably – spitting on the grave of June 12, and the ideals it portend for Nigeria and its citizens. It was the concerted effort of progressives to rescue the country from drifting to the precipice that gave birth to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The APC was lucky to have a pathfinder and mobilizer in Asiwaju Bola Tinubu – himself a renowned June 12 activist as National Leader, as he, in collaboration with other leaders cobbled up a coalition of parties, that led to the first successful merger in our nation’s history. Riding on the crest of “Change”, similar to “Hope 93”, APC defeated an incumbent President in 2015, another first, by an opposition party in our democratic odyssey.
Though “Change” by it’s definition is a “process through which something becomes different”, the administration swiftly laid a foundation for progressive governance. Of particular significance is the National Social Investments Programme (NSIP) unarguably the most ambitious in sub-Saharan Africa. It gave “hope” to tens of millions through the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) – Soft loans to artisans, farmers and market people, Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT) – an integral part of the campaigns, N5,000 monthly to the poorest and most vulnerable.
The profligacy of the past that was responsible for short-changing the people has also largely been plugged with the full implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) – through which tens of thousands of ghost workers were weeded out, and billions of naira saved monthly. That is why despite earning significantly lesser, the administration is making giant strides in infrastructural renewal amongst others.
The campaign for the revalidation of the June 12 elections gave rise to agitation for addressing the National question and shot up calls for restructuring. Not many know that this administration has been silently restructuring. Modalities for establishing Community Police is currently being worked out – decentralization of the Nigeria Police being a key component. Just recently, the President moved to give teeth to implementation of financial autonomy for State Legislature and Judiciary by signing an Executive Order for their funds to be released on First line charge. Though the constitution was earlier amended to that effect, bottlenecks to its implementation gave rise to the order, representing in itself a political will to enthrone fiscal federalism – also an integral part of restructuring.
But despite our best efforts at leading differently, we are not yet close to the promise land. Nigeria with a population of over 210m people and an annual budget hovering between $30bn -$35bn in recent times is abysmal compared to South-Africa’s 2018 budget which was $116bn for a country of less than 50 million people! We need to generate more revenue if we must have the capacity to lift our people on the extreme poverty index put at about 95m by the World Poverty Clock, out of poverty.
Policies to spur industrialization, provide incentives for manufacturing to thrive and ultimately be an exporting nation, rather than a largely import dependent one will suffice. The Buhari-led administration is already leading efforts in this regard in Agriculture with the revolution in local rice production and other staples, policies geared to ensure we produce what we eat like the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), the recently launched “Green Imperative Programme”, amongst others. These feat should be replicated in other sectors.
No matter what we do, the security of lives and property is a “ sine qua non” to the prosperity of the nation. The recent resurgence in banditry in the North-west, and insurgency in the North-east is alarming and must be tackled radically. The capacity for Intelligence gathering by our security services should be improved and synergy among them must be fostered. Indeed, the community policing initiative should be fast-tracked so that we can nip most of these mindless attacks in the bud.
As citizens we must put aside ethnic and religious inclinations, and let our diversity be a source of strength and not division. Indeed, by harnessing our diversities and uniting for nation building is how Nigeria can become an exemplar of progress in the comity of Nations, it is how the sacrifice of our heroes past will not be in vain.
Happy Democracy Day, Nigeria.
Segun Tomori is the Executive Director (Communications), RedPole Media, and a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) young stakeholders.