Democracy Day: Lest we forget

2018_5$large_Democracy_Day_Flags2Tomorrow marks official democracy Day, paradoxically dictated by Obasanjo led Federal (but not so-democratic civilian dispensation!). It is a public holiday that commemorates the restoration of democracy after decades of military dictatorships. Some states of the Federation legitimately in principle had opted for June 12, as Democracy Day to keep alive the memory of the most celebrated pan-Nigerian free and fair election in 1993.
The election was criminally annulled by the military regime headed by General Ibrahim Babangida. Of course globally Devil is in the democratic details. In Nigeria one devilish detail is the question; what Day what time to pause and reflect on the rights of men and women to freely choose who rule them? However one thing is clear; before and after May 29 and June 12 every year, democratic blood runs through the veins of Nigerians desirous of liberty and development.
Tomorrow marks 19 years of uninterrupted (but certainly ruptured) democracy. What with serial violence and serial killings! The point cannot be overstated that the concept of nascent democracy is certainly a misnomer. Democracy is not measurable by how long but how well the institutions and actors perform. With almost six presidential elections in which incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was electorally retrenched in 2015, Nigeria has come of democratic age.
With all the imperfect elections and riotious party primaries and snatching of maces my take is that Nigeria still remains a Democracy Destination in Africa. With as many as over 73 million voters ready to exercise their democratic right next year, hundreds of presidential, gubernatorial and assembly candidates, voters’ choice is choice not absence of choice! Certainly Nigeria is not North Korea where the choice is between Kim and Jong-un!
But lest we forget; celebrating democracy only reminds us the atrocities, repression, violation of human rights and abysmal bad governance of the military regimes of varying hues. Only the short Murtala regime possibly could be given a clean bill with respect to selflessness and commitment to nation-building. Recently General Yakubu Gowon claimed that corruption in government started after him. Haba! Lest we forget Gowon military junta was overthrown on account of corruption. Indeed Murtala/ Obasanjo inquiries of Gowon regime showed that 10 out of the 12 military governors were enmeshed in wholesome mismanagement of public resources.
There was a scandalous congestion in the Lagos Apapa port “as ships poured in with cement, over-ordered for a grandiose army barracks and claimed demurrage for each day’s delay”. In 1974, under Gowon regime a scandal rocked the –“ Benue-Plateau, Gowon’s home region – where Joseph Gomwalk, Military Governor of Benue-Plateau State in 1966 -75 and Joseph Tarka, Federal Commissioner of Communications in 1966-74 were implicated. Tarka resigned, but Gowon failed to discipline Gomwalk, who was a friend” Gowon himself “had a lavish wedding when marrying his wife Victoria in Lagos in April 1969 with horse-drawn carriages”.
That was at the height of the civil war in which the country lost as many as 3 million souls, mostly civilians. The worst policy corruption under Gowon was when he shifted the 1972 to 1974 and then 1976. He was overthrown in 1975. The point to remember tomorrow is that despite the current challenges facing democratic process, democracy is better than the decades of military rule which actually underdeveloped Nigeria.
Today we take elections for granted despite their imperfections. But lest we forget on June 23, 1993: IBB military Government annulled the results of the June 12 elections in a most bizarre manner; nullified all the relevant court decisions, suspended National electoral commission (NEC) through an unsigned terse statement. The seed of theft of public funds started with unaccountable military regimes. 20 years General Abacha died, Nigeria is still recovering looted funds posthumously in his name. Lest we forget the detentions without trial and unraveled killings of varying proportions.
On October 31, 1995: a Special Military Court sentenced Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists to death. On November 10, 1995: Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) confirmed the sentence amidst global outrage and proceeded to hang Saro-Wiwa and eight others. The Common Wealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) immediately suspended Nigeria from the body. Nigeria only returned to Commonwealth May 1999 after Nigeria returned to Democracy.
On June 4, 1996: Alhaja Kudirat Abiola senior wife to the president-elect Moshood Abiola and a fierce fighter for the validation of his mandate, was murdered by unknown assassins in Lagos. February 28, 1995, Brigadier Lawan Gwadabe, the longest serving governor during the Babangida regime, General Obasanjo (rtd), his former deputy, General Musa Yar’Adua, and others arrested over an alleged coup plot against the Abacha government. On December 8, 1997, General Shehu Yar Adua was proclaimed dead in prison in Abakaliki Eboyin state.
Lest we forget that Democracy might be frustrating with its celebrated and dramitised challenges but military dictatorship was certainly worse and unacceptable. Never again should anybody rule Nigeria and Africa without the free mandate of Africans. Of course Nigeria’s democracy requires quality control in terms of service delivery, development and poverty eradication, but that calls for deeper democracy not less. Long live Democracy!
 By Issa Aremu, mni | Publish Date: May 28 2018 1:46AM

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