DEMOCRACY has not translated into significant improvement in civil liberties and the economy in Nigeria after 22 years, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa) said in reports released on November 29.
The Democracy Watch Reports, a compilation of reports that examine the state of democracy in Nigeria since May 1999, were unveiled by CDD-West Africa Director Idayat Hassan in Abuja.
The first report – ‘Twenty Years of Anti-Corruption Efforts in Nigeria: A Critical Look’- assessed Nigeria’s anti-corruption track record over the last 20 years. The second report, ‘Democracy Watch – Human Right,’ analysed Nigeria’s human rights condition since 1999 and compared it to constitutional safeguards and international human rights norms. The third report evaluated economic development plans initiated in Nigeria since 1999.
Presenting a broad overview of the reports, Hassan noted that despite 22 consecutive years of democratic rule, “it is still going to be a long walk to freedom” for Nigerians because democracy had not improved the economic and human rights situation of Nigerians.
The CDD-West Africa director said the development was disturbing.
“Although we appreciate the improvements in the conduct of periodic elections even though it is still far from the ideals, there has not been much improvement in civil liberties and the economy of Nigeria.
“This is really disturbing because it is civil liberties that translate to improvement in governance and a more viable economy. Similarly, it is the exercise of civil liberties that manifests in the demand for accountability and ensures controls for corruption.”
In the overview of the Democracy Watch Reports, CDD-West Africa explained that dividends of democracy were not necessarily infrastructures as even authoritarian governments, including the military, had been noted to provide some basic infrastructures.
According to the centre, dividends of democracy encapsulated such attributes as popular participation, rule of law, respect for human rights, accountability, transparency, predictability, competition and economic freedom, amongst others.
Noting that the basis of democratic analysis was the improvement of the indicators of the various dividends of democracy, Hassan pointed out that while there were several complex and sophisticated indexes on the measurement of democracy, more often than not, all the measurement parameters revolved around how the rights of people were respected, the level of accountability in the management of state resources and how that would translate into a more viable economy.
She noted that the Democracy Watch Reports captured the democracy-economy nexus.
Hassan further observed that it would be “a fatal mistake to celebrate democracy only in name rather than an improvement in the dividends of democracy and how that reflects in the state of the economy.”
For the past two decades, CDD-West Africa has been following the trajectory of democracy in Nigeria and has been involved in research, training, advocacy and capacity-building to strengthen democracy, economy, peace and ensure environmental justice in Nigeria.
Hassan said the Democracy Watch Reports was informed by the need to ascertain whether the Nigerian state was on track in its democratic experience.
The report ‘Democracy Watch – Human Rights’ appropriated empirical data on human rights conditions in Nigeria since 1999 and compared them to the constitutional guarantees and international human rights standards.
According to Hassan, despite utilising just the basic indicators of human rights, the report showed that Nigeria had not fared well in all indicators used.
Findings from the report for unlawful detention showed that over 70 per cent of the prison population was made up of detainees awaiting trial, with over 20 per cent awaiting trial for more than a year.
“This trend has even deteriorated with the fact that there is now an emergent trend of security officers receiving orders from elites in Nigeria to remand detainees for longer on spurious grounds. The menace of unlawful detention has become rather pervasive such that it has required the intervention of ECOWAS special court in some cases,” she added.
The report pointed to the attack on peaceful protesters during the #EndSARS protests to highlight cases of extrajudicial killings in Nigeria since the country returned to civil rule in 1999.
In the same vein, ‘Twenty Years of Anti-Corruption Efforts in Nigeria: A Critical Look’ identified some challenges that had been militating against the fight against corruption in the past two decades.
According to CDD, political influence over corruption investigations and prosecutions had frequently slowed, derailed or halted processes.
The report also pointed out that strategic weaknesses had complicated the battle against corruption.
“The methods applied by the anti-corruption agencies are more reactive rather than proactive and do not have a strong enough deterrent effect. More worrisome is the fact that all of Nigeria’s presidents since 1999 have consistently turned a blind eye to their political allies’ corrupt practices,” Hassan said in the overview.
The third report examined the economic plans of the various administrations in Nigeria and compared them with the output recorded. The report focused largely on comparing the projected and actual performance of the real, monetary, fiscal and external sectors within the plans of each administration and their respective performance targets.
The findings showed that despite efforts towards diversification, the Nigerian economy was still monocultural, relying on oil for its foreign exchange earnings.
The report blamed the situation on the short-term nature of most of the development plans.
“The common pitfall of the post-1999 plans is that they were basically short term and many apart from the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) did not have a state structure but only stationed at the centre.”
* Democracy in Nigeria lacks citizen-empowerment agenda
Speaking at the event, Director of Africa and West Asia of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Adebayo Olokushi identified the absence of a citizen-empowerment agenda as one of the reasons democracy had not translated into improved economic well-being for Nigerians.
“There has been a significant social and developmental deficit in our experience of democratisation so far. There is a lot of emphasis on forms of democratic governance without underpinning it with an agenda for citizen empowerment,” Olokushi said.
He also pointed to the absence of a broad development agenda that could generate employment or income for the teeming number of unemployed youths and the working poor “who are driven into poverty everyday.”
According to him, the wealth and income of just five per cent of Nigerians were equivalent to what the rest of the 95 per cent were compelled to share among themselves.
* Democracy has not met expectations of material benefits for citizens… Political scientist
A professor of political science Samuel Egwu said democracy had not met Nigerians’ expectations of material benefits and upliftment.
Egwu blamed the government for failing to implement an effective development programme.
“The major lacuna in our democratic experience so far is we have not been able to bring so much benefit to people in terms of expectations of material upliftment and this raises a fundamental question about the expectation of democracy.
“Giving the level of poverty and inequality one would have expected a very ambitious program of development but this hasn’t happened and the problem is we have been trying to build a very liberal democratic order that did not factor in the importance of welfare of the people.”
Stressing the need to interrogate the type of democracy practised in Nigeria, Egwu said the country needed “democracy that would address poverty.”