In more than 2 decades for the first time years since the advent of the current democratic experiment, today is not a public holiday.
To honor the memory of the winner of the 1993 presidential election annulled by the military, the late M.K.O Abiola and the sacrifices he made, President Muhammadu Buhari last year declared June 12 Democracy Day in Nigeria.
May 29 was formerly marked annually as Democracy Day. After all bureaucracies which conferred official recognition on June 12 as the new date, the Presidency said: “May 29th will only be handover date and working day.
By the Act amended and signed by Mr. President, May 29 is no longer a public holiday. And June 12 is presently a public holiday and the country’s Democracy Day.”
Even though May 29 is no more a public holiday, it does not make the day less significant as the country marks 21 years of unbroken democracy. Notwithstanding all the trials of current years, that we have kept the military at bay and offer some windows to freedom of expression and other civil liberties are worthy of celebration.
Nonetheless, the democracy we practice is still weak, crude and deeply flawed. Votes are practically always fought like wars – riddled with tensions, violence, mass rigging, thuggery and intimidation in a polity obsessed with ethnicity, religion and regions. Forerunners (Leaders), typically incompetent, are routinely imposed through large-scale malpractices while the use of money to buy votes has become the order of the day.
At the core of the elation for democracy is the belief that people would be better governed and more prosperous. Despondently, after 21 years of uninterrupted rule by nominated civilians, the lot of the average Nigerian has not enhanced in any insightful sense. For all its treasure –social and natural- Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is amongst the lowest in the globe. With the common of citizens surviving on no lesser than two dollars a day (₦731.4), the deficiency level remains high while jobs are in short supply for the teeming young population.
The condition of so many basic services such as education, health as well as the road infrastructure is dreadful and decrepit; the health of millions is suspect while a demographic crisis is looming large on the horizon.
A noteworthy number of Nigeria’s 200 million people has no access to power, with small and big businesses mostly dependent on generators.
The security situation is even more treacherous. Afflicted by a outwardly willful Boko Haram insurgency that has taken thousands of lives and rendered millions of people homeless asides some other cocktail of criminality – Ranging from armed robbery, herdsmen-farmers’ conflicts, kidnapping, cultism to general banditry–Nigeria has become a nation besieged.
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A recent report on fragile states index (FSI) categorized Nigeria as the 14th most fragile state in the world. It is a signal of the current encounters for which all stakeholders must come together in the effort to remedy the political and socio-economic conditions that are dragging the country down the slope.
On a day like this, therefore, we must remind our elected officials, at all levels of government, on the need to focus on the people, their safety and welfare; the optimum distribution of scarce assets and the effective application of procedures for service distribution.
Until we start to do all these and more, Nigerians will find it challenging to exploit their potential and our democracy will continue to be imperiled.