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Nigeria’s Democracy: The journey so far

By Chioma Anyagafu
Saturday, May 31, 2003

IN 1976, at the twilight of the attempt to return the country to civil rule in a post civil-war transition, the then military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo set up a Constitution Drafting Committee headed by Chief Rotimi Williams which duty it was to produce the draft constitution for the future use of civilian governments. By September of the same year, this constitution was ready.

Contents of the Draft favoured the federation and the fact that Nigeria must retain its federal form of government. It provided for elected parliaments and governors for each state, making a major change for a popularly elected executive president.

Hitherto, the British model whereby power was concentrated in the hands of a Prime Minister was the system under practice. It was the system that produced Alhaji Tafawa Balewa of the First Republic as the Prime Minister of the country and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as ceremonial president. But at the time the Draft was made, this system has become generally unacceptable to majority of ethnic groups in Nigeria.

A debate was initiated between the press and the public and the Draft was submitted to the Constituent Assembly. It took a lot of time to debate on the Draft Constitution.

By 1978, registration of voters had taken place as an advance towards the civilian rule and all the then military governors were relieved of their duties July 1978. The Draft Constitution provided a four-year tenure for elected President and Vice-President, federal Senate and House of Representatives, state governors and state Houses of Assembly.

When eventually, the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo lifted the ban on political activities September 21, 1978, twenty political parties were formed out of which five got registered. These were the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, which national chairman was Chief Michael Adisa Akinloye. It also paraded prominent politicians like Alhaji Makaman Bida, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Chief J.S. Tarka and Chief Richard Akinjide. There was also the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, headed by the Yoruba sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo which advocated free education, free health services and other welfare state measures. The Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, was led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who joined the political contest at the age of 74. There were also the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP, headed by Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim who advocated national reconstruction through politics without bitterness. Finally, there was the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, headed by Alhaji Aminu Kano.

Elections proper were held between July and August 1979 in the following order: Senate July 7; House of Representatives, July 14; States House of Assembly, July 1; and state governors, July 28. Presidential elections were held on August 11, 1979.

When the results were ready, NPN emerged overall winner and Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the presidential candidate of the NPN was declared winner after he scored 25% or more in twelve states and 20% of votes in Kano. His victory was contested by UPN but the courts upheld it.

On October 1, 1979, the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to the democratically-elected regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

But soon after democracy got established, things began to happen. Democracy got characterised by high political tension both within and between the parties. In Kaduna State, more than one year after civilian take-over, the PRP governor was yet to form a cabinet. In Borno State, crises got to a head that the GNPP majority leader, Alhaji Abdulrahman Shugaba was deported by Federal Immigration authorities to Chad in January on the ground that he was a Chadian.

There were massive intra and inter-party bitterness. There was also actual violence in some states. In Kano for instance, an uprising of Muslims of a fanatical sect broke out. The sect, later known as Maitatsine caused so much problems, killing, burning houses and destroying property. It was eventually stopped by federal troops assisted by the Airforce which arrested 1,000 fanatics including its leader, Alhaji Muhammadu Marwa Maitatsine who later died in custody.

In Kano, rioters protested the lack of respect for the emir by the Rimi administration, burning government vehicles, houses and killing. Even some officials of the government were killed before the riot was controlled.

Even while the campaigns for 1983 elections started, the battle lines have become more distinct between the ruling party and the opposition. As the 1983 general election drew near, the conflicts that characterised democracy intensified. This was the first election to be organised entirely by the civilians. Nomination in all the parties was done with acrimony. There were violent clashes between rivals and factions leading to loss of lives and destruction of houses and vehicles.

The NPN which had a zoning formula for choosing candidates soon picked President Shehu Shagari as its flagbearer to run for second term and Dr. Alex Ekwueme as running mate.

Generally, the campaign for 1983 elections was characterised by violent clashes between supporters of different parties who accused each other of making arrangements to rig elections and by the time the elections were done with, they were acknowledged to be widely rigged by all the parties whenever they could.

Again, President Shehu Shagari won at the polls and the results were received with violent protests across the country that Senate elections scheduled for the next week had to be postponed in two states of the federation. The results published by FEDECO was a landslide victory for NPN.

With the swearing-in of President Shehu Shagari for a second term, the protests, disaffection and litigation from rigged elections generated so much heat for his administration. The court cases dragged on even while elected people were being sworn-in. The problem was worsened by brutal police repression and on December 31, 1983, three months after the inauguration of the second term of the Second Republic, the military intervened via a bloodless coup, ousting the democratic experiment of the Second Republic.

In a broadcast on a Lagos radio at 7 a.m. December 31, the then Brigadier Sani Abacha, Commander of the Ikeja Cantonment of Nigerian Army said the armed forces had taken over government and suspended the provisions of the 1979 Constitution relating to all elective and appointive offices, representatives and institutions including the office of the President, Senate President, state governors and others. General Buhari, henceforth mounted the saddle of leadership as a military dictator.

But it turned out to be a period of dark ages in Nigeria. Politicians were thrown into detention. Human rights were trampled upon. Severe measures were taken to discipline people. Harsh economic measures made life unbearable in all its ramifications. Foreign relations was non-existent. On August 27, 1985, the military dictatorship of General Muhammadu Buhari was toppled and General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida resumed as the new military dictator.

Shortly after he assumed the mantle of leadership, Babangida announced a programme for another democratic government come 1990. He further announced the establishment of a Political Bureau headed by Dr. Cookey to organise and moderate a nationwide debate that would determine the political system to be adopted by the country. The Bureau was inaugurated March 27, 1987.

The Bureau recommended retaining the presidential system of government. The IBB regime accepted the recommendation. It further rejected rotational presidency as suggested by some members, recommending a two-party system for Nigeria both of which would accept the national philosophy of government.

The Constituent Assembly headed by Justice Aniagolu made up of 450 members elected April 23, 1988 and 117 others appointed by the government. This Assembly was inaugurated on May 11, 1988 an it sat 87 times during its ten-month span, winding up deliberations on March 3, 1989, after making 800 amendments in the Constitution.

On October 7, 1989 in a nationwide broadcast, the AFRC rejected all the parties that were recommended for registration and formed the SDP and the NRC under the organisation of Mr. Stephen Agodo and Alhaji Adamu Fika respectively. The conventions of the two parties at Abuja produced Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe and Chief Tom Ikimi as chairman respectively. The campaign for local government elections began October 1990 and on December 8, party-based elections took place in an open-ballot system.

The democratisation efforts of General Babangida continued progressively until the June 12, 1993 presidential elections were held and the cancellation of its results began the abortion of that democratisation effort.

Uncertainty reigned and the Interim Government that came into being was soon thrown out. Then, came in General Sani Abacha. But ill-feelings greeted his tenure and Nigerians took to the streets to vent their spleen against the military overlords. And to pacify the anger of the people, he flagged off his own democratisation programme which as it progressed, turned out to be a ruse by him to transform from military dictator to a civilian president. It failed because Abacha died. It was General Abdulsalami Abubakar, then in a hurry to get things done that eventually flagged off a democratisation process that saw the emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo as a democratically-elected President in May 29, 1999.

Obasanjo had held the saddle for the past four years amidst opposition from All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP and Alliance for Democracy, AD, until the April 19, 2003 presidential elections saw him re-emerge for second term in a contest with fifteen other presidential candidates amongst whom are Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari of ANPP, Reverend Chris Okotie of Justice Party, JP, and Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu amongst others but even while Obasanjo gets sworn in for second-term in office in this democracy, his election is still being contested in the courts by other candidates who felt the process of his emergence was not free and fair. But how far these can go to prove their case against him is a different story entirely.



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