Nigeria is not a failed state, but it has not brought democracy to the people

By Synda Obaji, University of Birmingham

In 1999, the year of its return to civilian rule, Nigeria adopted a democratic system of governance. It also publicly proclaims its adherence to democracy.

The new bend has been widely embraced by Nigerians. It was seen as key to promoting legitimacy, changing cultures of exclusion and ensuring better decision-making. Such goals were inaccessible under the military regime.

But, despite more than two decades of civil democracy, inequalities in the distribution of power and resources have continued to impact people’s right to equal protection and due process. This situation disproportionately affects the poorest people in Nigeria.

One of the reasons why these inequalities persist is the country’s inability to integrate into its governance the democratic principles that guarantee the public’s right to know, to participate in decision-making and to access justice.

In my previous research, I have examined the role of democratic principles rooted in the rights of access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice. I have examined these three principles in relation to environmental impact assessments in Nigeria.

I examined whether these pillars of environmental democracy were incorporated into the environmental impact assessment process. I concluded that they were not. Nigerians do not have access to information about development projects, do not participate effectively in decision-making about those projects, and have little or no access to courts (and justice).

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This means that they will be continually endangered by the adverse effects of development projects.

These three rights are important because transparent and impartial governance enables citizens to be informed, influence the outcome of decisions, and hold government accountable for its actions and inactions.

Recent events – especially the #EndSARS protests – have necessitated revisiting these three principles as a lens through which to examine the state of Nigerian democracy.

The protests

In response to long-standing incidents of human rights abuses, particularly by a specialist unit of the Nigerian Police – the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, otherwise known as SARS, the #EndSARS social movement has emerged. . Young Nigerians have taken to the streets to end police brutality, harassment and extortion.

The response to the protests highlighted violations of the three principles of access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice.

Access to information was denied in several ways. In the aftermath of the attack, rather than responding meaningfully to the public’s demands, the government imposed fines on the television stations that were broadcasting the protests. He also ensured that members of the commission of inquiry set up to investigate the excesses of the now disbanded police unit took an oath of confidentiality.

Participation in decision-making was also denied. Backed by the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association, the protesters made several demands to the government. These ranged from police reform to good governance. Instead of listening to their demands, the government ordered the Nigerian army to confront them. At least 12 unarmed protesters were shot dead.

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This situation has shown that Nigerians are often denied the right to participate in decision-making that affects them.

It is just as they are denied access to justice. For example, a 2018 presidential panel on reforming the Special Anti-Theft Squad recommended the firing of 37 members of the infamous police unit and the prosecution of 24 others for misconduct. President Muhammadu Buhari received the panel’s report in June 2019, but nothing happened to the officers involved. This remains the case, even after the End SARS protests.

Due to the enormous cost of litigation, the delay in settling court cases and the lack of adequate and effective remedies, Nigerians are often unable to obtain redress through the courts, in such situations. Without access to justice, the procedural bridge for the application of fundamental rights is lacking.

A wake up call

The protests are a wake-up call for all Nigerians.

Recent developments call for a review of a 2005 report commissioned by the US National Intelligence Council, which examined likely trends in sub-Saharan Africa over a 15-year period.

The report concluded that some African countries, despite holding multi-party elections, would remain “democracy aspirants” – in other words, they would not achieve true democracy.

The report also predicted Nigeria’s outright collapse.

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As expected, the report caused a stir in the media. He sparked varied reactions and sparked debate over the claims he made.

The Nigerian government was quick to condemn the report.

From a 2020 perspective, how accurate were the forecasts?

In my view, despite its inability to deliver democracy to its citizens, Nigeria is not a failed, collapsed and disintegrated entity. Rather, it is, in principle, a weak state that has failed to provide basic public goods to its citizens.

Its flawed system of governance has had serious repercussions on its social and political development, economic growth, peace and unity.

Solutions

States exist to provide certain public goods to people within their territory. The most crucial of these are the guarantee of human security and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. A flawed system of governance is an obstacle to social and political development, economic growth, peace and unity. Governments and their institutions must be transparent, responsive and accountable to the people.

Opportunities for participation in decision-making processes must also be made available to young people on the same basis as other members of society. The cultural assumption that elders cannot be challenged or corrected must be abandoned.

Having firmly resolved to live in unity and harmony as an indivisible and indissoluble nation, the current situation presents Nigeria with an opportunity to retrace its steps.

Synda Obaji, Lecturer, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.