Consolidating Democracy In Nigeria

Consolidating Democracy In Nigeria. A keynote address delivered by Nimi D Briggs on the occasion of the 2nd National Summit of State Legislatures under the Auspices of the Conference of Speakers of State legislators in Nigeria on Thursday 14 September, 2006 at Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Sponsored by the Rivers State Government.


Let me start by congratulating you on your correct choice of the city of Port Harcourt for this second conference, just as you did for the first in 2003. Because I am certain that the import of my words will not be lost on this dignified assemblage of legislators I shall exercise the privilege of not spending any further time on expatiation, except perhaps to congratulate you also on the choice of your chairman, in the person of Chief Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, who, I understand has given your organization a spectacular leadership in the past four years.

Permit me to observe, Mr. Chairman that the quality of Chief Rotimi Amaechi’s leadership is in our character as Rivers men and women. For be it at the level of Government, look at our Governor, Dr. Peter Odili; or at the level of the Legislative Assembly, look at our Speaker, Hon. Chibuike Amaechi; or indeed at the level of the Judiciary, look at our Chief Judge, His Lordship, Justice Iche Ndu; one thing is clear: that Rivers people deliver. And so let me use this medium to inform all Nigerians that Rivers people will deliver in whatever positions it pleases Nigerians to elect us into.

The theme of your conference is also very appropriate. For as Nigerians continue their quest for responsible and responsive governments at all levels, federal, state and local, all would agree that there is no better way of achieving this mission, than by consolidating the democratic process. In this short key note address, I will examine the components of democratic governance, explaining in the process why it is the preferred system of governance for many countries of the world. I will review Nigeria’s experience with governance from the time of British colonial rule up to Independence and the nation’s civil war including the state of anomy and instability that was brought about by the unfortunate military incursions into the body polity of the nation. I will then progress on to the new dawn which was heralded by the advent of the events of 29th May, 1999, events in which many of you here have been active participants. We will conclude by reiterating the role of legislators in consolidating the democratic process.

The Tenets of Democracy

Available evidence suggests that even at prehistoric times, men had always had systems by which they governed themselves. The idea then, as it is now, was to streamline communal decision-making such that the outcome of such a process would be acceptable to most, if not all. Such modes of governance have included Monarchy, Plutocracy, Oligarchy, Autocracy and Dictatorship, among many others. But it is to Democracy that the vast majority of the nations of the world, including Nigeria, have subscribed. Over the last century, the percentage of the world population living in democratic nations has increased from 12% in 1900 to 63% in 2000; that is, in 120 out of the world’s 192 nations.

Derived from the Greek words demos and kratos, meaning people and rule, democracy, especially classical democracy, which had its origins from the variant of democracy that was practised in the Greek city of Athens about 5 BC, is a government of the people by the people themselves and therein lies its major attraction. It originates from the people themselves and they decide what they want and what is best for them. Every citizen therefore, somehow, participates in the process of governance either directly or through elected representatives. The contribution to the process of governance is by the vote, a structured and orderly selection procedure by the individual or group. The vote therefore constitutes one of the central tenets of democracy.

Governance in Nigeria

Prior to the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates into a constituent state of Nigeria by the British colonial master, Lord Lugard, in 1914, the area now known as Nigeria was inhabited by over 200 ethnic nation states which the British conquered and imposed colonial rule as their system of government. Being nation states, they had their leaders, the emirs, the olowos, the obis, the ezes, the amayanabos, the gbenemenes or the nwelis, just to mention a few, who, in a way, were responsible for some form of governance over the people, which was completely different from the imported colonial rule. For instance whereas many of the then nation states in Hausa-Fulani land practised the feudal system of governance, which was based on obligations between the Emir and his vassals, the social structure of the Igbos of eastern Nigeria consisted essentially of semiautonomous communities which were largely devoid of Kings and Chiefs.

Although some of these configurations of governance as practised even then have survived to some extent till this day, they have suffered serious attenuation and erosion as a result of colonial rule. However, when Nigeria sought for and obtained sovereignty from its British colonial masters in 1960, it was the British Parliamentary System of Democracy that it adopted as its form of government. There was a federal government and three strong regions. Each region exploited the areas of the Constitution, the template with which the day-to-day governance of the people is executed, that gave it concurrent powers with the federal government, almost to the detriment of the central government. A national anthem was evolved which stated that “though tribes and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”. Unfortunately, these differences in our tribes and tongue as well as other issues were exploited by devious persons in the length and breadth of the country, to the extent that Nigerians started killing one another on a large scale, thereby precipitating a major national crisis. The Federal Government in order to stem the disorder and also to address some other areas of concern that had tended to pull Nigerians apart, radically changed the administrative structure of the country, a change which was refused by a section of the country, which then declared itself an independent republic.

The 30-month civil war which commenced in January 1967 was fought to prevent the balkanization of the country which had come to the brink. Taken together with the chaos that preceded it, they formed the plank for the military adventure into the body polity of the nation and served as the bases for Nigeria’s subsequent saga with military dictatorship as a form of governance for several years. In the intervening period of 16 years or so, attempts at civilian democratic rule were quickly aborted as the military matched back into power until the new dawn of 29th May, 1999.

The Current Democratic Dispensation

Nigeria adopted a new constitution in 1999 and completed a peaceful transition to civilian government which brought into power, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, as President of the nation and I dare say, a number of you here as law makers serving as representatives from your various states of origin. In the liberal, participatory and representative form of democracy which Nigeria currently practices, the constitution remains the supreme organ of governance and participation by the citizens is limited to the casting of votes, leaving the main work of governance to a professional political group. It also encompasses an independent judiciary whose function, among others, includes the upholding of the laws of the land.

When President Obasanjo delivered his inaugural address on Saturday, 29th May, 1999, he x-rayed the state of the nation and promised good governance based on the rule of law and democratic principles. Today, in the twilight of that administration, it can rightly be said that a lot has been achieved and that the democratic process has been deepened. While the details and intricacies by which this advancement was achieved by the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration could be considered to be beyond the scope of today’s intervention, a review of some of the innovative measures that were taken, should be found instructive.

  • Zero tolerance to corruption.

Corruption, which President Obasanjo described as “the greatest single

Bane of our society today”, just as he vowed to fight it with all his might, is dishonesty for personal gain. Corruption is a major affront to democracy as it sequestrates the wealth meant for the public good into the hands of the corrupt. It promotes indolence, avarice and greed and enhances mass poverty in a nation. A fight against corruption is therefore an important avenue for consolidating democracy. Since his assumption of office in May 1999, President Obasanjo has left no one in doubt about his stand on the issue of corrupt practices in the conduct of the affairs of our great country. Not only did he harp on it so strongly in his address, he acts it out on a daily basis. He has established instruments to fight the evil of corruption in Nigeria in all fronts and has put everybody on notice that there would no sacred cows in his drive to rid the country of this vice. In Nigeria and even beyond the shores of this country, the activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as well as that of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, are being heralded as welcome development in a nation which had been characterised as one of the most corrupt in the world. The fact that these organizations are not only barking but are also biting by prosecuting suspects where sufficient evidence exists, gives credence to the work of the organizations. Furthermore, the EFCC has been able to return to the country, over $5 billion US dollars from corrupt officials.

  • Allowing Freedom of Speech and Association

This fundamental human right is entrenched in the Nigerian constitution and should be taken for granted by all Nigerians. But when one recalls the strong arm tactics that were used by some previous administrations on a number of media houses and organizations, it becomes clear that press freedom could be as elusive as a mirage. Nigeria today has one of the largest numbers of print and electronic media houses in Africa who publish and broadcast as they wish without censorship. Many consider the Nigerian press of today as one of the most free in the world. The ability to accommodate divergent views and opinions however much a government may disagree with them, is one important way by which democracy is consolidated in a nation. Since May 1999, Nigerians have been saved the theatrical lock ups of media men and houses.

  • Accountability

To be accountable to the electorate who put a government in power is an important attribute of a truly democratic regime as good governance rests on accountability at all levels of government. No where is this more strongly evident with respect to the Obasanjo administration than in the area of the economic sector and the management of the nation’s finances. Government now publishes its income and expenditure and also the allocation it makes to other tiers of governments as well as its agencies and parastatals. Mr. President holds open fora in television and radio during which any Nigerian could ask him questions on any aspects of the activities of his administration or on any issue in the country. The citizens feel a strong sense of belonging as they can directly question their president. It was this type of accountability that persuaded the Paris club to which Nigeria was indebted to the tune of $30 billion US dollars, to accept to cancel $18 billion US dollars, about 60% of its indebtedness. In taking the action that it did, the Paris Club indicated that it was in support of the far-reaching and focused, impressive and ambitious economic revival programme which the Government of Nigeria had pursued since 2003. Still in the economic sector, the free fall of the naira in international market has been arrested and there has been a remarkable build up of the country’s foreign reserves.

  • The National Political Reform Conference

Once again the Obasanjo administration consolidated democracy in Nigeria when on 21st February 2005, it yielded to the yearnings and aspiration of the people of the country and summoned a National Political Reform Conference. In essence, the 400 men and women who were participants at the conference were to deliberate on ways to reform the political system, electoral rules, women’s representation in government, and better distribution of wealth, among others. The delegates made more than 400 recommendations to government on all aspects of the nation’s life. They were of the opinion that the issue of derivation from resources should be revisited as it was the consensus that the derivation accruing to the oil bearing states was not enough to enable them counter the destructive effect of oil extraction on their environment and the abolition of their traditional means of livelihood. On their part, the delegates from the South-South geopolitical zone of the country made a very compelling case for the next president of the country to come from their zone and that they, as well as other Nigerians be allowed to control the natural resources that are found in their environment.

Consolidating Democracy in Rivers State of Nigeria

Other than these innovative and successful actions and policies at the Federal Government level which consolidated the democratic process, in the country, several state governments also embarked on some laudable steps which were designed for the same outcome. For instance, apart from the people-oriented government which he ran and which won him several accolades and recognitions within the state, in the country and beyond, Dr. Peter Odili, the Governor of Rivers State, instituted some original actions which consolidated participatory democracy in the state. The Agency for Reorientation, Integrity, Service and Ethics, which is also known as ARISE, was created to enable transparency, accountability, humility, mutual respect, honesty, equity and justice to become a way of life in the state. In addition, the Agency is to evolve ethical principles that would assist the Government in the effective handling of its operations. The Elders’ Forum of about 50 wise men and women, drawn from the various sections of the state and which is headed by a retired supreme court judge, advises the governor on matters of security and the well-being of the citizens of the state, while the Stakeholders’ Forum, another representative body of a cross section of the state is convened as the need arises to advise His Excellency on matters of the moment.


Only yesterday when President George Walker Bush was addressing the American people on the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attack on their country on the 9th of September 2001, also known as 9/11, he made a statement that a result of the robust and rapid response which was mounted by his government to the attack of 9/11 “America was safer but not yet safe”. If one draws a parallel with events in Nigeria, one can say that as a result of the purposeful, determined and focussed government of President Olusegun Obasanjo had given to the country since he assumed office in May 1999, Nigeria has become a better country. Corruption has diminished somewhat and the image of the country is improving. Reforms embarked upon by government are compelling better efficiency from public services. The free run of the naira against other international currencies has been arrested and the country’s foreign reserve is on the increase. On account of the open, responsive and responsible policies of government, democracy has taken firmer root in Nigeria. You the law makers have cause to congratulate yourselves for being part of this success story which has kept the boot of the military at bay for the longest period of time in post independence Nigeria.

However, it is not yet uhuru with Nigeria as the country is still faced with some problems. Far too many people are too poor and have nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep, and no portable water to drink. Soaring unemployment remains the monster that it is, driving our youths, including University graduates into violence and other atrocities. Our environment is being destroyed by man’s activities in such a manner that it is doubtful if it would be able to support our future generations. Equity and fairness have still note been done to sections of our country which have borne the brunt of the exploitative activities by which our country has been sustained. To these extents therefore, Nigeria, is still not good enough. Your role then as lawmakers is to enact those laws that will address the country’s myriad of problems, which will take into considerations, especially, the needs of the common man.

What is left is for me to join others in welcoming you to the city of Port Harcourt where we have a saying that it is always raining, about to rain or has just stopped raining. If today’s weather does justice to this statement, all you have to do is to enjoy it. Afterwards there are a few cities which can double as an oil and garden city.

Consolidating Democracy In Nigeria. A keynote address delivered by Nimi D Briggs on the occasion of the 2nd National Summit of State Legislatures under the Auspices of the Conference of Speakers of State legislators in Nigeria on Thursday 14 September, 2006 at Port Harcourt, Nigeria.