It’s now the norm for the annual ritual of celebrating “Democracy Day” to be accompanied by nationwide protests over poor governance.
Twenty-six years after the acclaimed freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history was annulled, the 8th Senate confirmed June 12th as “Democracy Day” in preference to its original date May 29th which was the date of military disengagement from governance. It was an ill-conceived political gimmick, charade and public relations stunt which has proved not to be a good idea. There is every reason to celebrate May 29th as the date will forever be associated with a peaceful handing over of power and restoration of democracy. On the other hand the events of June 12th are not cause for celebration. The date stands as a reminder of the denial of democracy, and opposition to unpopular governance. These days it is routine for government to display anti-democratic powers of coercion and suppression of dissent on “Democracy Day”.
The streets are flooded with camouflaged police and soldiers in a show of force which police spokespersons describe as “a confidence building strategy”. They are evidently unaware that Nigerians have total confidence in their ability to “deal decisively” with unarmed protestors, but far less confidence in their ability to deter the armed lawbreakers responsible for ever-increasing insecurity. Blame for what has become the annual democracy day debacle must be placed firmly at the door of the current administration. They mixed up the need to celebrate the rerestoration of democracy in 1999 with the requirement to commemorate the events of June 12th.
Democracy Day was supposed to be about celebrating a process, not assessing the performance of current office holders. On the other hand June 12th is supposed to be a day for sober reflection upon the performance of government vis-a-vis any contraventions of the constitution and democratic norms which defy the spirit of the struggle for democracy. It should be evident that the protestors who are annually encouraged who turn June 12th into a date for calls for revolution are being misled by professional agitators.
Problem solving requires three steps namely; correct description or statement of the problem, proper analysis of issues involved and proposing an optimum solution. No doubt the majority of Nigerians agree with the agitators’ and protestors’ description of the problem. Evidence of poor governance, economic mismanagement and insecurity are there for all to see. However, even if their youthful exuberance and use of expansive can be conceded, their incorrect analysis of the cause of the nation’s problem and proposed solution of undefined “revolution” are totally unacceptable. The solution to the ills of Nigerian democracy can never lay in attempting to change government through undemocratic means. Today’s youth are not conversant with either the lessons of successive coups and military maladministration, or of the pro-democracy movements, when patriots sacrificed their freedom and lives to entrench democracy. It is dishonourable to past heroes of Nigerian democracy to suggest throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Governments are temporary, they come and go while the struggle to enhance and enrich democracy is a never ending process which outlives them all. To give peaceful protestors their credit it must be conceded that things were not always this bad under democratic governance.
The Third Republic started on an optimistic note with no major problem or challenge which was considered insurmountable. Nigerians were even reputed to be amongst the happiest people in the world! In 2015 a sitting president lost his re-election bid and expectations were high. There was a belief that democracy had finally been entrenched and good governance would follow as a natural consequence. The then incoming President Buhari had campaigned on a mantra of change and made many enticing promises. Despite these well-documented promises not being fulfilled, and only exhibiting a superficial commitment to democracy, he was re-elected in 2019. Nowadays quite unapologetically his administration, which cannot guarantee security of lives and property, responds with force to every legitimate peaceful protest. Democracy Day has completely metamorphosed from being an occasion for celebration, into being a day for protests, police brutality, and a “State of the Administration Address” in which whosoever is in office will read a speech full of self-praise outlining “achievements” blissfully unaware of failure to meet up expectations of Nigerians.
Although President Buhari lamented that citizens have been unfair in judging his administration, the reality on ground is that despair and disaffection are increasing. Paradoxically in various speeches and interviews he himself identified security, the economy and corruption as being the nation’s major problems, without admitting that his administration has tragically failed on all three counts.
Apologies are never part of presidential democracy day addresses in Nigeria! This time around protestors made 14 “demands” including amending the constitution. The National Assembly has proved time and again that they are not equal to the task. Cynics point out that amending the constitution would be a waste of time and money because its provisions are serially breached by the Presidency, National Assembly, and State Governors without consequences.
Contrary to President Buhari’s expressed belief that the #EndSARS protest was about removing him from office, it wasn’t. Rather it was a protest against poor governance which continues unabated. Indeed there is widespread belief that the biggest threat to democracy in Nigeria is government itself! Peaceful protest is part and parcel of democracy. It’s an inalienable right. Protestors are very correct in their assertions that there is little to celebrate about the operational processes and end result of Nigerian democracy. They are also entitled to express frustration over the failure of political actors to embrace constitutionalism and service to the people. Until these issues are addressed “Democracy Day” will remain a day for protests rather than celebration. June 12th has its place in Nigerian history and remains an eternal reminder of the collective will of Nigerians not to be frustrated in their desire to entrench the process of changing leadership through elections and break the cycle undemocratic governance.