May 29 1999-May 29 2019: Which Way Nigeria ?

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By Emeka Michael

It became more than urgent for someone to speak out. A voice with clarity of thoughts; and Sunny Okosun did his best by asking," Which Way Nigeria?"

Today marks exactly 20 years of full-blown democratic rule. After 33 years of military rule, civilian rule was restored on May 29 1999 when the then military junta headed by General Abdulsalami handed over to a democratically elected government with Olusegun Obasanjo, former Head of State as President.

Indeed, while some have argued that this year’s anniversary calls for celebration as Nigeria’s current democratic experience, which began in 1999 is by far the longest since independence in 1960, others have written it off says there is nothing worthwhile to celebrate as democracy as only benefited a few.

In the First Republic, civil rule lasted for less than six years. The Second Republic lasted for just four years. The Third Republic endured for one year and a few months.

Since then, the country has had five cycles of elections to determine who govern it both at federal and states level. The 1999 elections which was conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the late Justice Ephraim Akpata did not witness much competition as many of the politicians back then were skeptical of the sincerity of the military.

Obasanjo, who was released from prison became the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He squared up against Olu Falae, who was the flagbearer of the Alliance for Democracy (AD)which formed a last minute alliance with the All Peoples Party (APP). Obasanjo was declared the winner and sworn-in on May 29, 1999.

State governors were also elected during the 1999 elections and many of them are still holding the aces in Nigeria’s political space. Prominent among these are Atiku Abubakar (Adamawa),Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (Lagos), James Onanefe Ibori (Delta), Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna, Obong Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom) and host of others.Shortly after his victory, Obasanjo later picked Atiku as his deputy and he was sworn-in as Vice-President alongside Obasanjo in 1999.

In Atiku’s words “After Obasanjo agreed to contest the PDP presidential primary, I went back to Adamawa to realize my long-time dream of governing my state. I was unanimously picked as the PDP governorship candidate for Adamawa State. Boni Haruna was my running mate”.

“I won the January 9, 1999 governorship election, defeating my perennial rival, Bala Takaya of the All Nigeria People’s Party.The PDP held its national convention in Jos in January 1999 and Obasanjo defeated former Vice President Alex Ekwueme to become the party’s candidate”.

“He chose me as his Vice Presidential candidate. I was quite surprised as I had not shown any interest in the position. I wanted to govern my state but that was not God’s will”.

Obasanjo and Atiku were again re-elected for another four-year term in 2003. Despite Atiku’s plans to succeed him, Obasanjo opted for the late Umaru Yar’Adua, a former governor of Katsina state who won the 2007 presidential election. Following Yar’Adua’s demise in 2010, his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan succeeded him. He not only completed the tenure but also contested the 2011 election which he won. However, his attempt to secure another term in office was truncated in 2015 when he was defeated by the Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Speaking on Obasanjo’s role in Nigeria’s democratic journey, Eze Onyekpere, a public affairs analyst said “Obasanjo was a man who had the opportunity the first time between 1976 and 1979 and secondly for eight years between 1999 and 2007 to change the history of Nigeria. But he chose to blow the opportunity on the arrogance of a megalomaniac”.

“And the greatest disservice he did to Nigeria was not to allow genuine primaries at the presidential and other levels within the party, coupled with his desire to subjugate the legislature. Thus, Obasanjo set the stage for the denigration of internal democracy in our political parties”.

“Enter, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who did not rule long for us to have enough time to properly assess his style of governance. His key highlights were his 7-Point Agenda and his profession to the rule of law. But there was evidence that he did not understand governance at the highest level, being someone who never desired or aspired to rule or lead Nigeria, but was only invited by Obasanjo to assume power. He was a reluctant and unprepared President who was struggling with his ill-health, at the same time, trying to understand federal governance challenges as well as setting his agenda of governance”.

“Unfortunately, God called him back and not much changed. The confounding part of his regime was the fact that he sought to revise a number of President Obasanjo’s agenda even though they came from the same party and he was handpicked by the same Obasanjo. And the issues he revised and failed to agree with Obasanjo and delayed policy implementation were the few good points of the Obasanjo regime”.

President Buhari has been elected for another term and he will be inaugurated today. He has promised to consolidate on his achievements in his first term through his Next Level agenda. Aside the myriads of challenges confronting the nation, the President is currently unsettled as his victory is being challenged by Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP.

In spite of 20 years of uninterrupted democratic experience, Nigeria is still being faced with teething problems such as the seemingly unending legislative-executive feuds, widespread insecurity, massive corruption in the system, godfatherism, unemployment, infrastructural challenges and epileptic power supply.

Assessing Nigeria’s democratic journey in the last 20 years, the Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal John Onaiyekan said “It is like what they say, so far, so bad, we have not landed, I do not know about you, but I, I am not proud by the level of democracy that we have now in this country, starting from elections. You can see what is happening in the states and local governments do we have local government anywhere in Nigeria”.

“We still have a long way to go, how we shall get there, I do not know, but I think what is important is that we do not give up and say this is the best we can have, no, I disagree, this is not the best we can have in terms of democratic governance. Our young people are disgusted with the country; many of them are finding their ways out, if they can”.

“Not only our young people, our best brains are also leaving the country. The other day we heard that 2,000 Nigerian doctors are going to Saudi Arabia for employment. If 2,000 doctors leave Nigeria, what is the hope of the rural dwellers and it is not right to allow 2,000 Nigerian doctors to leave the country to work in other countries when their services are needed here”.

As we celebrate 20 years of democratic journey , stakeholders who spoke with our correspondent believe that there is a need for sober reflection on the many challenges facing us as a country. And how to start proffering solutions to them should be our focus going forward as it not the duty of the President alone a collective responsibility.

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