Today marks exactly 14 years since the transition to democracy in Nigeria. Many Nigerians have mixed feelings about the progress and quality of our democratic process which seems to lumber ahead, mostly staggering, but sometimes with steady steps. Despite the few snags here and there, there is still cause to celebrate. To that effect, I am highlighting some good, some bad and a few ugly things about the process and the dividends. The list is by no means exhaustive.
GSM Mobile Telephony
Since the advent of GSM in 2001, the information and communications landscape has been radically revolutionised.
Nigerian Railways: Back to Life?
After more than 10years, the railway linking Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, to Kano, the country’s second largest city, reopened. Note that this was courtesy Chinese loans and investment. Here’s a video by a Financial Times reporter who took the train:
Score Card for the Present Administration
This is a yearly tradition. This year is particularly important as it is a mid-term score-card (the mid point in a term of four years of the elections cycle).
A self-assessment report by the Federal Government (FG) of its performance was launched earlier today. Some of the achievements claimed by the FG include: reducing Nigeria’s dependence on crude oil as its major export, to “only” 70% of it’s exports, stable exchange rates and improvement in transport infrastructure (roads and rail).
An interesting assessment of the Federal Government’s performance was published by Vanguard Newspaper HERE. The key areas the government is rated on are infrastructure (mixed), power (weak), the economy (mixed), energy and gas (weak), security (weak), education (weak) and agriculture (favourable).
An assessment of performance at the sub-national level, by state governments was published by Thisday Newspaper HERE. Key performers according to the report include:
Lagos State: “The Babatunde Fashola administration in Lagos State, the path to a better Lagos is through PATH, an acronym for power, agriculture, transportation and housing… (has) largely focused on executing various projects in these sectors that would unleash the potential of … the state as a megacity in addition to speeding up socio-economic activities that would promote the well-being of its residents.”
Rivers State: “Mr. Chibuike Amaechi… has expended so much resources in areas of security, revamping the education sector through the building of schools and equipping same with modern facilities… In addition, Rivers has made the monorail project a top priority to ease transportation pangs in the oil-rich state.”
“Other governors such as Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State and Chief Theodore Orji of Abia State have through their programmes in the areas of economic empowerment of the people, provision of infrastructure, healthcare programmes and revamping the agriculture sector, tried to improve on the legacy inherited from their predecessors… (and) in enhancing the wellbeing of the people.”
The report also classifies some states as the “super rich states” such as Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa, and some as “scrounging ones” such as Zamfara, Osun, Ebonyi and Ekiti, where money is scarce.
Freedom of Expression
Democracy has brought with it, relative freedom of information and expression compared to the dark days of the military, which has revitalised Nigeria’s historically vibrant media sector. Newspapers, magazines, TV stations, radio stations of all shades and hues have proliferated and are still increasing. The passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act in 2011 after 12 years of foot-dragging is a democratic feat. With the ICT revolution and Web 2.0 tools, online news and blogs are now a dime a dozen, conveying information ranging from the deathly accurate, to the wildly speculative to the downright absurd. Nevertheless, state intimidation of journalists is still rampant. The Press Freedom Index 2013 ranks Nigeria 115 out of 179 countries, an improvement from its position last year at 126, yet below countries like Ghana, Central African Republic, Qatar and DRC. An interesting development is the proliferation of tell-all books or autobiographies by former top public servants. Books such as Olusegun Adeniyi’s Power, Politics and Death, chronicling the watershed events during the Yar’adua administration; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria; Professor Dora Akunyili’s War Against Counterfeit Medicine, Malam Nasir El-Rufai’s The Accidental Public Servant have been informative, entertaining, revealing and controversial. Expect many more of such books soon…
Thriving Entertainment Sector
I am not sure if there’s a direct link between this and democracy. However, Nigeria’s movie industry which includes Nollywood and to a lesser extent, Kannywood, the Hausa movie industry up north, has grown exponentially in the last decade. Nollywood is now the 3rd largest movie industry in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. Similarly, Nigerian artistes like D’Banj, P-Square, Wizkid, Banky W, Tiwa Savage have been making waves all across the world, clinching international music awards, collaborating with US artistes such as Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, featuring in global charts and recording many other impressive feats.
Nigeria, an “N-11” and African “Lion”
Recording an average of 7.4% economic growth over the past decade, according to the IMF, Nigeria is one of the fastest growing economies in not just Sub-Saharan Africa but in the world. Reports state Nigeria is set to overtake South Africa as the largest economy by 2025. Some have their reservations about this projection though. The country is now one of the “frontier-markets”, one of the “Next 11” countries and one of the African “Lions”. It seems investment banks and consultancies are falling over themselves to coin these acronyms. Yet, unemployment persists, 61% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and infant mortality is still one of the highest in the world.
African Cup of Nations Victory
After 17 years of suffering humiliating defeats and since our last victory at a football tournament, Nigeria clinched the 2013 African Cup of Nations.
Sadly, the incidence of violent crime has been on the increase in Nigeria since the transition to democracy. Ethno-communal and religious violence, kidnapping-for-ransom, highway robberies, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, rise of violent militias and the Boko Haram insurgency have dominated the headlines and claimed innocent lives. Our security agencies, especially the Nigerian Army, despite their numerous deficiencies have worked tirelessly in maintaining law and order. They deserve our support and encouragement for risking their lives in protecting us, even if they have also been sometimes guilty of human rights abuses in the course of duty. So, kudos to our armed forces!!
Sadly, not much has improved in the way of elections in Nigeria. Since independence, elections are typically preceded, characterised and trailed by fiery political rhetoric, violent competition and brazen fraud. Two videos below capture electoral fraud i.e. multiple vote casting, during the 2011 elections and confusion during the recent election of the Chairman for the Nigerian Governors Forum. In the case of the latter, the video shows a clear winner, different from what was reported in the media which begs the question: if elections involving 36 individuals only could not be conducted in a hitch-free manner, then…?
Sacrifices for Democracy
Importantly, we need to remember that democracy came at a costly price for some Nigerians — some paid dearly with their lives for some of the freedom we take for granted today. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar reminded us of this reality with a series of tweets last night, which have been compiled via Storify HERE. Here is a screen shot of some of the tweets.
Despite the hits and misses in Nigeria’s democratic record and its dividends, its important to remember democracy itself is a process, and a journey, towards a better society for all, and not an end in itself. Happy Democracy Day!