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Nigeria’s democracy not ‘irreversible,’ Fayemi warns

Kayode Fayemi


Two Nigerian state governors on Friday in the United Kingdom assessed 20 years of democracy in Nigeria and returned a verdict that much remains to be done to secure the system in the country.

The Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, warned that “there is nothing irreversible about democracy in Nigeria,” while his Sokoto counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal, said Nigeria needs strong institutions, not strong men.

Mr Fayemi said the democratic system is yet to take deep root in the country despite 20 years of uninterrupted practice.

He said democracy is much more than regular elections, an area in which he said the country has done well in the last 20 years.

The two governors spoke as guest speakers at a conference on Nigeria’s 20 years of democracy held at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, the United Kingdom, according to a report by Thisday newspaper.

“What we established in 1999 is the right to choose our leaders via the ballot What we must not do is assume a teleological link between elections and democracy,” Mr Fayemi said.

“The notion that once you have elections, all else will follow is no doubt a pipe dream that is now obvious to all and even now, there is nothing irreversible about democracy in Nigeria.

“It’s also why our theory of change must not assume that democracy is a destination with a clear road-map. The deepening of other factors like the economic wellbeing of the citizens, ultimately, developing and strengthening the political culture or the civic community that can stand between populism and dogma is the most critical success factor.

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“A cursory look at our current electoral journey in the last two decades clearly point to elements of consolidation and deepening of our democracy, other aspects of the journey raise serious concern.”

Politics for everyone

Mr Fayemi said the idea that governance is only meant for politicians should be abandoned, adding that the military seized power because they felt politics is too important to be left to politicians alone.

“We must banish the idea that governance is something performed by a team of gifted performers or strongmen, while the rest of the citizens are spectators or complainers.

“During the days of military rule, some soldiers declared with more than a touch of hubris that politics is much too important to be left to politicians. By this, they meant that the military had the right to be political players since politicians had generally proven inept.

“Ultimately, the military proved to be no better at politics and governance themselves. But there is a fundamental truth to the saying that politics is too important to be left to politicians.

“It is not something mysterious that only “politicians” do; it is how citizens operate. Politics is a civic responsibility. It is how we engage with each other. The pursuit of good governance means that politicians can no longer be left to their own devices.”

Institutions, not Individuals

In his remarks, the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, said the lack of institutions to protect the collective interest among citizens has remained the country’s biggest flaw in its 20 years’ democratic journey.

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Mr Tambuwal, who was also a special guest at the event, said the democracy can only be sustained by building strong democratic institutions, rather than strong individuals.

According to him, an individual can only help build institutions, but institutions, protect the collective interest of the people.

“I refer to institutions, I refer to the only base on which we, like any other truly democratic society, can build upon and the cover under which we, like any other truly democratic process, can get protection from the whims, madness or even cleverness of any single individual, who might have his or her own interests or flaws,” he said.

He added, “Institutions, not individuals, protect the collective interest and grow the commonwealth in a fair, legal and lasting way. The best individual can do is to help build institutions. The lack of institutions that one can truly trust and fully depend on, perhaps, is the biggest flaw of our 20 years of democracy.

“I can tell you that building systems that take all voices into consideration is hard work and it can be frustrating. Believing in a democracy means taking time to persuade and build consensus rather than seeing those who disagree as enemies to be overpowered.

“It means agreeing to accept the will of the majority when your side does not win. The temptation to circumvent the process through violence will always be with us and must be fought.

“I am, however, optimistic, because of my experience first as a lawyer, later as a legislator, and then as a governor has given me the rare opportunity to mix with people from all areas and persuasions of Nigeria and part of what this experience has shown me is that we have people that can build institutions.”

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“We have people that understand the importance of strong and legitimate institutions that can work for all. The other important thing that my experience has shown me is, thanks to my mental curiosity and physical travels to meet Nigerians across Nigeria and, indeed, outside Nigeria, is that our fears, our desires and aspirations as a people are more similar than some want us to believe.”

“l am of the opinion that spaces of learning should be areas immune from partisan politics and I also feel that discussions in these places should never be based on or motivated by pure partisan affiliations.

“It is my view that a university or any other citadel or institution of learning should be dedicated to, and should accommodate only rigorous rational reflections that can illuminate the minds of all, to the betterment of the society.”

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