After 20 years of uninterrupted democracy, Nigerians are yet to experience true liberty, transparency, economic opportunities and other dividends of pristine democracy. The indicators of democracy are hardly visible, and where visible they are mere travesties.
According to American political scientist, Larry Diamond, democracy consists of four key elements: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
Since 1999, Nigerians have gone to the polls on six occasions; none could be considered free and fair if compared to the globally accepted standard. Cases of vote-buying, ballot snatching, and stuffing, disenfranchisement, child voting, voting by proxy and other electoral malpractices trail elections in the country.
In the 2007 elections, Chief European Union observer, Max van den Berg, remarked that the polls were a dismal show of zero credibility. It is no surprise that every presidential election in Nigeria, except the 2015 election; famous for its historic concession, had its results contested on wings of irregularities and illegitimacy.
Consequently, voter turnout, which is a key indicator of the validity of democracy, has continued to wane. In 2003, voter turnout was at about 69 percent. Sixteen years later, it was a record-low 34.8 per cent, the lowest in West Africa. Nigerians do not hide their distrust in the government, its institutions, and political processes.
Nigeria hasn’t improved since the return to democracy; human rights abuses by security agencies, including the Department of State Services and the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad are big blots on the country’s protection of human rights—and by extension, democracy.
With the increasing epidemic of corruption in the country, even the judiciary has lost its integrity. A death sentence is in the offing as the penalty for undefined hate speech on social media. Things are so bad an ex-governor, who diverted about ₦1.2bn that could have pre-empted deaths on roads, reduce maternal mortality, or help the sick, is in prison receiving allowances as a legislator. It is that bad.
According to the 2017 Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Democracy Index, there are only 19 fully-democratic countries in the world and only Mauritius, which started its democratic streak in 1992, is the African country on the list. Nigeria is no way close to making the list.
Nigerians, like many Africans, still believe strongly in democracy. However, voter apathy will only expose the endangered, fragile system to more ruins. Nigerians must not only decide on Twitter, but visit polls to perform their civic duties as and when due; healthy discussions should substitute media whines.
Authorities should also cease crackdowns on civil liberties, media suppression. Instead, they should embrace transparency. Only then would the country experience the real dividends of democracy.
Muhammadulfatiu Adepeju is a writing fellow of African Liberty, a journalist, and social commentator. You can follow his tweets: @MFatiu_Adepeju