Nigeria’s return to democratic rule after several years of military misrule was presumed as a beacon of hope for the vulnerable and ordinary person in Nigeria. The thought of a just and egalitarian society was believed to accompany the democratic system and, as such, was greeted with nationwide jubilation and optimism.
During the transition, many people had looked forward to a new era of social and economic development, peace and stability. Unfortunately, it’s over 21 years after, many are still yet to enjoy the dividends of democracy through access to basic amenities and improved quality of lives.
A reflection on the country’s present situation, despite the adoption of democracy 21 years ago, calls to question certain issues challenging democratic governance in Nigeria.
These issues are undoubtedly critical governance problems that include but are not limited to leadership challenges, corruption, constitutional and electoral reforms, rising civil unrest, poverty, unemployment, insecurity and human rights.
While acknowledging the importance of all these problems, this article focuses on only five of the most challenging ones, which are – Leadership challenges, Corruption, Human rights, Civil strife and Electoral reforms.
The fundamental approach to leadership in Nigeria has been an enormous problem. Many politicians assume public office with the sole aim of self-enrichment. At the same time, the leaders have all it takes to improve the wellbeing of the citizens through judicious use of the nation’s resources. Therefore, it is unarguably that Nigerian leaders, and not the poor and vulnerable citizens are responsible for the nation’s underdevelopment.
It is quite impossible to tell Nigeria’s story after independence without mentioning corruption, courtesy of the predatory elites who see politics as an avenue to satisfy their urge for primitive wealth accumulation. Such practice has reduced politics to a do or die affair and resulted in nothing but violence and insecurity.
While human rights have always remained very poor before transitioning to democratic rule in 1999, there have been improvements after the democratic transition. However, the drawbacks and ineptitude of the long military rule still affect the human rights situation because democracy has only succeeded in revealing the rot of human rights in the nation.
Till present, the fundamental rights of citizens still come under attack despite the advent of the democratic system, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, among several others, are still yet to be fully granted with a continued military clampdown on citizens.
While the democratic transition was seen by some people as an avenue to explore dividends and goodies of democracy, others saw it as an opportunity to express grievances. Hence, over a hundred politically, ethnically, and religiously motivated conflicts have surfaced in Nigeria since May 1999. A nation with incessant civil unrest would hardly develop economically and thereby affecting investors confidence in the nation.
The integrity of Nigeria’s electoral system is also a significant issue facing democratic governance in Nigeria. Many political crises are rooted in turbulent elections and controversies surrounding them, undermining the legitimacy and stability of democracy. This poses a severe consequence to the nation’s democratic development and legitimacy of elected leaders. Thus, Electoral reform remains a pressing challenge for democratic governance in Nigeria‟s developing democracy.
Overall, for democratic governance to thrive in Nigeria, the citizens must remain vigilant to keep the government on its toes. As “the strength of a democracy is only as great as the will of the people to uphold it.”