61 Years of Independence, 22 Years of return to Civil Rule in Nigeria: Another era of Despair and Turbulence?

By Abubakar Ahmed

Colonial Britain was forced to grant political independence to Nigeria on the 1st of October, 1960, just as it did to most of her colonies across the globe, either a bit earlier than Nigeria, or a bit later. This was actually triggered by India since 1948 and Pakistan, which was created out of vengeance by the subdued British to spite and put India on a permanent political misery which served as an eye-opener to other colonial hubs elsewhere. 

Nigeria welcomed the new development as a foundation stone to its greatness engineered by self-determination. Indeed, the first five years of independence saw Nigeria building confidence across the diplomatic scene, including joining the United Nations, (UN) on October 7th of the same year as its 99th Member and the country also created a solid foundation for growth and development, guided by well-articulated development plans and generally making the necessary attempt to create a united country.

However, the efforts of nation-building, as bitter and challenging as it were, was not appreciated by some segments of the society who assumed the country Nigeria was not to be built under democracy, which is premised upon a popular choice, but the country must be built based on the supremacy of some interests over others. A segment of the Nigerian Army with similar conception saw the obvious crack in the Polity and struck. 

The first attempt to truncate democracy in Nigeria succeeded in January 1966 and placed a permanent seed of discord, hatred, conflict and distrust among our politicians. Since then, up to the year 1999, the Military became a Cankerworm in our political firmament.

It is very necessary to reflect on these selfish historical facts because they form some of the challenging problems we have been unable to overcome which are a permanent clog in the wheel of progress of our nation. 

It was amidst this fundamental drawback that the Military outplayed itself severally and could not be spared locally and internationally for its obviously worst handling of the Nigerian state than the politicians the first coup plotters accused of mishandling the nation. 

Hence, the Military itself voluntarily handed over power to the politicians in 1999 and pledged since then to subdue itself to civilian authority. They have kept that faith for 22 years now. But then, have the politicians proved themselves better than they were in these twenty-two years of unbroken civilian rule?

The death of General Sani Abacha, the then Military Head of State who upheld the decision of General Babangida’s regime to deny the ongoing process of producing democratically elected leadership in the country paved way for the ascension of an apolitical Military leader, General AbdulSalami Abubakar who instituted a 9- month transition period to produce a popularly elected leadership for Nigeria. It was a guided blueprint which allowed only three political parties to get registered; notably: the All Peoples’ Party (APP), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Alliance for Democracy (AD). Two of them; APP and AD subsequently joined the ticket, which further pointed to the preference of a two-party democracy by Nigerians. Consequently, an internationally recognized Nigerian with a military background and a one-time Military General and a Head of State was elected to steer the newfound political freedom for Nigeria under the PDP.

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo promised to change Nigeria for the better even prior to his election. He assured Nigerians that he would transform the power sector to create the enabling environment for the industrialization of the economy. He also promised to build a viable political culture for our politicians. Nigerians irrespective of their inclinations believed him; we all believed him. We did because at that time, rarely could anyone find a better Nigerian with his record in both the Military and civilian undertakings. He was also a past Head of State. The expectation was indeed, high from Nigerians. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo led Nigeria under a very supportive democracy from the people for eight straight years. However, after two terms in office, he left a Nigeria that was docile in the international scene, much engrossed in poverty it used to know, poorer electricity generation, transmission and distribution even with the introduction of electricity power sector reform and almost static industrial growth. This was in spite of the fact that the International multi lateral and bilateral lending agencies either waivered some of the country’s external debts or outrightly cancelled them to trigger economic rejuvenation. He met a Gross Domestic Product, GDP growth rate of about 11% which never increased significantly until he left office.

In terms of political culture, the eight-year rule of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo witnessed gradual retrogressive political manipulations where massive mysterious and high profile political killings were recorded in which to date; some of them are not resolved. These included the mysterious deaths of Chief Bola Ige, Chief Harry Marshall and Dr. Chuba Okagdigbo. The worst legacy bequeathed, however, was the grand attempt to temper with Nigeria’s constitution to allow him (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) to continue in office after the expiration of his second term, an attempt that was thwarted by true representatives of the Nigerian people.

Despite the massive disappointments by Nigerians, the leadership of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has recorded many positive developments such as improvement in the quality of the Public service in terms of improved welfare, general growth in the economy which created the largest and biggest market in Africa and positioned Nigeria as the largest economy on the African Continent as well as noticeable improvement was recorded in the tertiary health sector owned by the Federal Government especially the improvement and upgrading of a tertiary healthcare facility in each of the six geo-political zones in the country.

Between the years 2007 and 2015, however, Alhaji Umaru Musa ‘YarAdua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan led the country with the first spending only two years where the second served as his vice. The ‘YarAdua’s administration sought to effect some semblance of improvement in what it was bequeathed by the last administration including a promise to correct the blatant abuse of political power in the succession process which ‘YarAdua himself, faulted in consideration of how he was installed as Nigeria’s President. He reduced the price of Premium Motor Spirit, PMs also called petrol to ease the hardship of Nigerians, sought better international cooperation for economic growth, made a frantic attempt at addressing the power problems of the country and openly fought his political benefactors against impunity. His major mis-step was triggering an internal strife by violently attempting to crush a puritanical religious sect, popularly known as Boko Haram, an action that we are still paying for.

As for his successor, Goodluck Jonathan, many political observers excused his shortcomings because he came to power unprepared as a result of ‘YarAdua’s death. He was allowed to be manipulated by selfish politicians. This single slip led his administration to perform abysmally low as well; in spite of the enormous income, the country generated from oil between the years 2009 to 2013 before the advent of economic recession. His administration, however, made efforts to improve power supply, and generally maintain the smooth running of government. The worst record of his administration was the gradual and systematic growth in terrorism where the Boko Haram sect was allowed to develop into the worst and one of the world’s deadliest terrorist organizations, a battle the country is still entangled with. This was attributed as one of the major factors responsible for his failure to secure another term in office thereby ending his term in office on May 29, 2015.

However, somewhere in 2014, a merger of the strongest opposition parties in the country in the name of the All Progressives Congress, APC defeated the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party in 2015 which has ruled Nigeria, especially at the central government for sixteen years since the advent of the present democratic era. The new leadership under President Muhammadu Buhari promised Nigerians a change. Within this period, there has been no politician with the confidence reposed on Muhammadu Buhari by Nigerians, especially those Nigerians of the Northern extraction. The hopes were high. Indeed, when he came into power on May 29, 2015, most Nigerians thought the problems of the country and Nigerians have finally come to an end. He virtually suppressed the activities of the notorious Boko Haram sect and ISWAP terrorist group that today these terrorists’ organizations are no longer holding territories under them which was the situation before the advent of the Buhari Presidency and thousands of the fighters are surrendering to the armed forces. He implemented bold policies to deal especially with grand corruption such as the implementation of the Treasury Single Account where government resources are warehoused under a unit of control. He also ensured that employees of the Federal Government are migrated into the Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System, IPPIS in an effort to eliminate ghost workers syndrome and that is saving the country billions of Naira which would have been otherwise siphoned especially by bureaucratic fat cats. His administration also introduced one of the most ambitious social investment programme in the history of the continent as well as embarked upon ambitious developmental projects which were never anticipated by previous administrations especially huge investment in the railway sector which hitherto have become a jinx. He allowed self-determination in political decisions by Political Parties and other Arms of government. His administration attracted a positive change in the international perception of Nigeria as one leading to failure. He increased the country’s foreign reserves as well as helped the economy to get out of recession twice in the years 2016 and 2020.

However, the administration of Muhammadu Buhari began to slip in public confidence with the rise in banditry, kidnapping and terrorism. Farmers/herders clashes found a new pulse across the northern part of the country, especially the North central and in some southern parts of the country. A rise in banditry, kidnappings and cattle rustling bedeviled the North-Western states of the country. The fight against corruption is seen by Nigerians to be slowing down even with successes being recorded by anti-graft agencies in the country and there was general outcry across the land. Nigerians blamed him for allowing his Service Chiefs to overstay their welcome, a charge he chose to ignore until a few months ago when batons were changed and new Service Chiefs appointed. In spite of these entire outcries, unlike his predecessor, he won a second term. But today, two years into his second term, the Security situation in the country is only worsening by the say especially as it relates to banditry and kidnappings. The issue of secessionists’ agitation is becoming more pronounced and tolling on the nation’s fragile unity and integration. His economic policies are taking a rapid nose-dive where the ordinary Nigerian is increasingly taking the harsh brunt of it. The global realities of the covid-19 pandemic also partly and gradually plunged the country into another economic recession, even though the country was able to navigate itself out of it just as the President is daily accused by Nigerians of complacency amidst all these challenges.

Unfortunately, the 22 years of the return of civilian rule in Nigeria has been a chaotic disaster for the country where all the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians have not been met in the political, economic, or social sphere. To many pundits, the period has been that of turbulence and despair. The Nigerian power sector has not seen an appreciable change. The industrial sector has not seen an appreciable change either. Infrastructure such as roads, railways, airways, hospitals, schools etc, has seen significant changes but not to the satisfaction of the generality of Nigerians. Grand corruption in public places still seems to be the order of the day. Worst of all, the poor have not been bailed out of poverty. Nobody knows if the country Nigeria can have it right in the future, or it is simply jinxed; but still Nigerians are optimistic that all the travails the country is currently grappling with will come to pass and that the Country Nigeria shall one day stand tall and pride in the comity of nations.

Abubakar Ahmed, a Political Journalist with Liberty TV/Radio, contributed this piece from Kaduna

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