PREVENTING CONFLICT & DEEPENING DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA:           STRUCTURAL CHALLENGES TO ELECTORAL AND                    ...
reform was therefore seen as a major pivot for creating and sustaining democraticinstitutions that can address deepening c...
Explaining conflict in NigeriaIn explaining conflict in Nigeria, four issues regularly gain prominence in the debateacross...
autonomy. These issues are, in turn, bound up with such questions as what mannerof federation do Nigerians want? Unlike in...
difference secure in the knowledge that there would be foot soldiers to take their warto the street. The same is true of t...
making the State a neutral arena, separate from religion, in which people ofdifferent faiths, and those of no faiths can m...
the Niger-Delta over the last decade, but the present crisis in the Niger Delta shouldbe understood as a long-drawn out hi...
of politics and economics for so long are now knocking insistently on the gate,demanding to be let in the renewed context ...
In a country like Nigeria where stupendous wealth lies astride abject poverty, theseeds of conflict are easily sown and un...
Electoralism, Political Reform and State Legitimacy in NigeriaWe have argued elsewhere that the pacted nature of Nigeria’s...
government – legally backed and socially coherent – that together establish andmaintain an enabling environment in which h...
The unsettled nation-building project has continued to put overwhelming pressure oncivil-security relations as the governm...
Ten years into civilian rule, the central question in Nigeria today is whether thecountry is going to consolidate or rever...
While it is uncharitable to argue that nothing has changed in Nigeria since May 1999,the nature of the progress made is a ...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5
×

Preventing conflict & deepening democracy in nigeria structrual challenges to electoral and constitutional legitimacy

4,260

Published on

Published in: News & Politics, Business
1 Comment
1 Like
Statistics
Notes
No Downloads
Views
Total Views
4,260
On Slideshare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
1
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
0
Comments
1
Likes
1
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Transcript of "Preventing conflict & deepening democracy in nigeria structrual challenges to electoral and constitutional legitimacy"

  1. 1. PREVENTING CONFLICT & DEEPENING DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA: STRUCTURAL CHALLENGES TO ELECTORAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGITIMACY1 By J. ‘Kayode Fayemi, PhD,2IntroductionTen years into civilian rule in Nigeria, the scale, scope and intensity of conflict inNigeria threatens to undermine the gains of our democracy and challenges theassumed teleological link between military disengagement from politics,demilitarisation of Nigerian society and consolidation of our democracy in that order.With so many deaths from direct violence and an exponential increase in societaland structural violence, it also risks forcing Nigerians into the embrace of thedespotic peace of the military era. For the majority of our citizens – democracy wassupposed to bring the end of military dictatorship in form and content; they hopedthat it would bring greater involvement of ordinary people in politics, whether in thefederal, state and local institutions or even in civil society ones. They hoped for realand immediate dividends in employment, clean water, affordable shelter, accessiblehealth care, improved education, reliable and consistent power supply, rehabilitatedroads and food on the table. Beyond electoral democracy though, it was alsoobvious that the nation-state had become a source of unending conflict itself. ManyNigerians of unquestionable nationalist credentials had begun to question the veryviability of Nigeria, especially if left in the hands of a centralised state. Constitutional1 Distinguished Lecture, Peace and Conflict Studies’ Students’ Association (PACSSA), Institute of thAfrican Studies, University of Ibadan on Saturday, 27 June, 2009.2 Prior to joining partisan politics, Dr Fayemi was Director, Centre for Democracy & Development andserved variously as Adviser to the Nigerian Government on the Oputa Commission, NEPAD, MDGsand the Security Sector Reform. He was also at various times Adviser/Consultant to ECOWAS,African Union Secretariat, NEPAD Secretariat, United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa onGovernance and Security Issues.. 1
  2. 2. reform was therefore seen as a major pivot for creating and sustaining democraticinstitutions that can address deepening conflict in Nigeria.Although the challenge of reforming the State is fundamentally structural, theauthoritarian residues of militarism over the last decade have however achieved thepurpose of turning many away from addressing these fundamental issue of structure.The main challenge of civil society and political leadership therefore is to reconnectdemocratic choices with people’s day-to-day experience and to extend democraticprinciples to everyday situations in citizens’ communities and constituencies. Thefact that the public continues to cast serious doubt on the state’s capacity to managedomestic crises and protect the security of life and property underscores primarilythe depth of disenchantment with the state of the nation. As Nigeria drifts down thepath of increasing violent conflict, there is a need to move away from currentdisappointment and ask if anything could really have been different, given the originsof the current civilian rule.Without discounting the importance of elections in a democratising polity, it isimportant to first interrogate the notion of democracy in its variegated forms –especially in the context of transition societies. The notion as currently conceivedgives the impression of a pre-conceived destination – a uni-dimensional focus onelections as democracy: Have elections, and every other thing shall follow! Aspredicted at the time3, Nigeria has had three successive elections in 1999, 2003 and2007, but several critical things have not followed, not least the search for innovativeinstitutions to manage and mediate conflict and promote good governance andaccountability. Indeed, those who gained power in these elections have refused totackle in a bold manner the structural problems in the Nigerian state.It is therefore important to understand the nature and context of current problems inNigeria in order to proffer appropriate institutional mechanisms for mediating conflictand promoting accountable governance.3 See ‘Kayode Fayemi, “Military Hegemony and the Transition Program”, Issue: Journal of Opinion –Special Edition on Nigeria, Vol.XXXXII, No.1, 1999., Journal of the African Studies Association,Rutgers University, USA. 2
  3. 3. Explaining conflict in NigeriaIn explaining conflict in Nigeria, four issues regularly gain prominence in the debateacross the country. The first is that communal and societal conflicts are the result ofnew and particularistic forms of political consciousness and identity, often structuredaround ethnicity and religion in place of erstwhile ideological conflicts, especially inthe post cold war era. The second is that conflict in Nigeria is the result of theinherently unstable structure of the country which has made crisis managementrather difficult, if not impossible; the third explains conflicts as the result of thestruggle over inadequate resources in a poverty stricken society. Finally, it is arguedthat the increasing availability and privatisation of instruments of violence, which hastransformed the military balance between a resource challenged state security sectorand a thriving, even proliferating non-state formations that have benefited from trans-national crime and the collapse of the cold war, provides an exacerbating context forthe sustenance and violent transformation of conflicts. Whilst all the above factorsare critical, it is the de-legitimation of the state due to its structural problems and thepersistent crisis of governance in Nigeria that provide more convincing explanationsfor the spate of violent conflict in Nigeria and societal decay.It is also an indication of a problem much more fundamental about the nature of theNigerian state, a problem that is cross-sectional, cross religion and cross regional.The challenge is therefore to place so called religious and ethnic crisis within thecontext of the people’s efforts to clarify the link between citizenship and rights whilsthandling difference and diversity in a liberal democracy? The central question is:How do we develop institutional frameworks for the promotion of accountablegovernance and sustainable development regardless of religions and ethnicities?What should be the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders in seekingsustainable solutions to the different understanding that exist?Our argument is that many of the internal contradictions of the Nigerian state havebeen sharpened to a point that the bare bones are now visible. The failure toaddress the national(ity) question in an inclusive manner is evident in the variedresponses across country to conflicts over identity, nationality, self-determination and 3
  4. 4. autonomy. These issues are, in turn, bound up with such questions as what mannerof federation do Nigerians want? Unlike in the past when government has alwaysdecreed issues like religion, autonomy and resource control as constitutional “no-goareas”, Nigerians are now forcing these issues in the open and the hithertoauthoritarian might of the federal centre is being put to test. Yet, true as this is, thereare other causes which reside in the political and economic realm of the Nigeriancrisis today.For example, there is a sense in which current conflicts can be seen as a reaction toperceived or real loss of power by an elite stratum. What is happening is therefore acontest over raw political power: who lost power, who won power, and who wantspower back. The processes that threw up General Obasanjo as the candidate of thiselite stratum were intimately bound up with the political crisis that has gripped theNigerian political class and what we see today in the PDP is the most evidentdemonstration of this power game..But convincing as the ‘power’ argument is in explaining the unremitting nature ofconflict in the land, it cannot fully explain why popular imagination amongst ordinarypeople have been fired by religious and ethnic icons. That explanation has to comefrom somewhere else. The issue of democracy dividend assumes centrality herewhen one examines the reckless abandon of those involved in these so calledreligious and ethnic conflicts. There seems to be a certain logic to the action of apeople who had little at stake - especially if one locates their action within the contextof people who have nothing to lose in communities where the youths are largelydeprived. It is a fact that the foot soldiers of the religious and ethnicity-induced riotsare the unemployed youths still awaiting their own democracy dividends, hence theirsusceptibility to accepting N200 to cause mayhem in Kaduna4. The problem raisedby these conflicts therefore goes beyond religion. It is about the disillusionment ofthose who had been hard done by; underscoring the importance of tackling theunderlying problems which issues like ethnicity and religion feed on. As long as wehave a high level of unemployment, the hungry and the desperate, religion andethnicity would always provide fertile ground to be exploited by the manipulators of4 The Governor of Kaduna State revealed in the wake of the Miss World riots in Kaduna that theyoung people responsible were paid N200 by the conflict entrepreneurs. 4
  5. 5. difference secure in the knowledge that there would be foot soldiers to take their warto the street. The same is true of the exploitation of other problems around thecountry.Yet, valid as the above arguments are, it would still be wrong to dismiss the place ofreligion or ethnicity altogether in the search for causes of conflict. One strand of it -the Shari’a issue - can be seen as a response by so called Islamic fundamentalismto a growing Christian fundamentalism under a “born-again” Christian president. Theadvent and proliferation of pentecostal Christianity as a powerful social and politicalforce in Nigeria represents a growing concern amongst doctrinaire Moslems andorthodox Christians alike. Under Obasanjo, there was a sense in which manyMoslems believed that Christians had appropriated the government as their owngovernment. The problem is that this pentecostal strain is intolerant andfundamentalist, and viscerally opposed to Islam, unlike the erstwhile mainstreamchurches (Catholic and Protestant) which are more liberal and embracing.This has created genuine tension in the moslem community in Nigeria. ManyChristians have become more confident and outspoken, and it would appear thatthere is a level of discomfort in the Moslem community about this. It would appearthat christians have concluded that religion has played a key part in ensuring thetenacity and staying power of Moslems in government over these years, hence thesigns and symbols of government have taken on a strong, Christian streak. ThePresident talks loosely about being on God’s mission to change Nigeria; Ministersopenly accuse opponents as “anti-Christ and anti-religious” who want to destroyGod’s anointed government and marabouts that were predominant in the presidentialpalace under General Abacha have now been replaced by pentecostal evangelistsclaiming that this is ‘their turn’ to direct the nation’s affairs.The above represents an extreme form of religiosity, which has overtaken apopulation that has grown more dependent on faith based arrangements in the wakeof government’s inability to provide the basic needs of the people, and this isthreatening the State to its very foundations. Whilst it may not resolve all of theproblems, an appropriate institutional approach to the on-going crisis lies in 5
  6. 6. making the State a neutral arena, separate from religion, in which people ofdifferent faiths, and those of no faiths can meet on equal terms. This is not asuggestion to exclude religion from public life – an argument that will be vigorouslyopposed by both Moslems and Christians. Indeed, one will be underestimating thepro-Sharia and pentecostal forces, especially the way they have seized popularimagination and clearly influenced public opinion in the domain of operation, usingstrategies to sway the ordinary people in communities where there is an acute crisisof governance and failure of political leadership.5Hence, while ethnicity and religion continue to hold sway in society and the state, it isevident from the Nigerian conflict situation that it is often an ideological cover for acrisis that is altogether more complex or more the effect than the cause of thecurrent pattern of cleavages. At the same time, recognising the place of identity anddifference in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society need not elicit thedemonisation that often attends the discourse about ethnicity and religion, whichresults to a large extent as a pretext to limit or avoid political liberalisation and powersharing.The two other causes highlighted above – those of resources and poverty deservemore attention. Recent writings in the Nigeria media and across the politicalspectrum have laid heavy emphasis on the role of resources in generating violentconflict. Cries of resource control regularly rent the air between its proponents andopponents. This emphasis has also found its way into recent scholarship in the newschool of ‘political economy of violence’.Although by no means limited to oil in the Niger-Delta, the most prevalent campaignabout the link between resources and conflict focuses on oil and the Delta region.Indeed, the debate about resource control in the Delta has exemplified thecontroversy over resource exploitation, appropriation and management in Nigeria.There is of course no doubt that violent conflict has assumed a more virulent edge in5 A recent survey on popular attitudes to democracy in Nigeria reveals, not surprisingly, that theaverage Nigerian in a crisis situation will first approach a religious priest/malam, and or a traditionalruler. The elected representative comes last in the list. See Afrobarometer survey, “Down to Earth:Changes in Attitudes Toward Democracy and the Markets in Nigeria” November2001,(www.afrobarometer.org) 6
  7. 7. the Niger-Delta over the last decade, but the present crisis in the Niger Delta shouldbe understood as a long-drawn out historical process, itself propelled and animatedby complex international economic and political forces - which the local inhabitantshave been trying to comprehend, resist or turn to their own advantage these pastone hundred years with varying degrees of success and failure. In other words, it is astory of power and resistance to it; of alien and imposed authority and attempts toindigenise it and make it accountable to the people it purports to rule.6There is evidence to suggest that oil has given rise to vertical conflicts between thestate and society or between dominant and subordinate regions, classes and groupsin Nigeria, given the pivotal role that oil plays in the restructuring of power relations inNigeria. Set in the context of unaccountable and authoritarian power structures ofthe last four decades, in which communities and constituencies from where oil istaken, have found themselves at the receiving end of this unequal power relationsespecially in the 1990s, oil as a resource has played a role in fuelling or sustainingnew forms of violent conflict between state and non-state formations and what weare now witnessing is the cumulative effect of those years of deprivation.It is however true that other types of resource driven conflicts have received lessattention in this debate. Assets such as grazing or farming land and waterresources, have tended to give rise to horizontal conflicts that involve communities(but not necessarily the state) are largely rural in character, and are often intertwinedwith a variety of identity issues. The latest rash of conflicts in the Middle Belt ofNigeria and within communities in the Niger-Delta derives from this type of conflict.The lethality of these conflicts has been transformed in scope and intensity with theunrestricted availability of small arms and unemployed youths. At the core of thecrisis in the Niger Delta as indeed in other parts of the country is the failure of politicsto allocate authority, legitimise it, and use it to achieve the social and economic endsthat conduce to communal wellbeing. The ordinary people, expelled to the margins6 See E.J.Alagoa, The Niger Delta and its Peoples, (Ibadan: OUP, 1977); also see Ike Okonta &Oronto Douglas, Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil in the Niger-Delta (SanFrancisco: Sierra Club Books, 2001) 7
  8. 8. of politics and economics for so long are now knocking insistently on the gate,demanding to be let in the renewed context of democratisation and freedom.7Sadly, successive Nigerian governments have seen these communal crises,especially in the Niger Delta as purely a security matter, insisting that the country isdependent on the oil wells to power its economy, and that any action designed toendanger this ought to be treated as treason or economic sabotage. It was thisreasoning that informed General Babangidas enactment of the Treason andTreasonable Offences Decree in June 1993. It was also responsible for the orderingof troops to Odi by the current administration. What is often ignored however is thefact that there are clear beneficiaries of the present state of violence and anarchy,and that these beneficiaries have absolutely no incentive to work with others on aprogramme that would return sustainable peace.Without a doubt, the alternative to massive security presence and containment ofconflict is a new political and economic framework, guaranteed by a new federalconstitution, that would transfer power, and with it the control of economicresources, to local people allowing them in turn to pay appropriate taxes tofederal coffers. This would entail the democratisation of politics in such a waythat the ordinary people would become the object and subject of development.The final explanation is that conflict in Nigeria is poverty induced. While poor peoplein Nigeria rate insecurity as a key cause of poverty (Consultation with the Poor-2000), they do not necessarily see poverty as a cause of armed conflict. Whilst notnecessarily disputing the linkage between poverty and violent conflict, the nature ofthat relationship is a very complex one. In the first place, if poverty exists and hasapparently existed as a pervasive and structural feature of the Nigerian state, whyhad it not produced the sort of conflict that we have witnessed in recent years?It would appear that the explanation for the above link might well lie in relativedeprivation, rather than absolute poverty. If anything, the poor themselves are oftenprime victims of violent conflict and seek to desperately avoid conflict like a plague.7 ibid. 8
  9. 9. In a country like Nigeria where stupendous wealth lies astride abject poverty, theseeds of conflict are easily sown and understandably germinate faster. Set againstthe inability of the State to provide basic services for its citizens, new conflicts havemanifested through politicised agents who have used the conditions of the poor toaddress the responses or non-responses of the State to the legitimate yearnings ofthe people. This comes into clear relief in the context of a democratic transition, inwhich, conflict becomes an integral, and often inevitable result of power shift sincedemocratisation or at least democratic transition represent in the large partrestoration of agency to some actors, but also loss of power by others accustomed toits unaccountable use. There can be no doubt that the transformation and utilisationof objective factors in the exacerbation of conflicts in Nigeria is not unconnected tothis fact.Given the above, there is thus the need to make a distinction between ‘structural’(long term) conflict and ‘conjunctural’ (short and medium term, largely subjective)factors in conflict in Nigeria. The key to understanding and explaining conflict inNigeria, it seems to us, lies primarily (though not exclusively) in specific localdynamics and responses, on the part of the communities and states, to the crisisconditions created by the economic and political conditions of the 1980s and 90s andin the lack of institutional mechanisms to mediate conflict when they occur. Toexplain conflict, we also need a framework that (a) captures both the ‘top’ and‘bottom’ elements in the conflict nexus, and (b) explain why some communities thathave lived together for centuries are now more vulnerable to conflict while othershave proved fairly resilient.The above, in our view, returns our search to the patterns, texture and quality ofpolitics that emerged with political liberalisation and transitions, which in Nigeria’scase reflected a reconfiguration and reassertion of pre-existing (though temporarilysubmerged) structures of national and local power bases, rather than a fundamentaltransformation. It also involved, in other cases, the activation of alienated new strata– especially amongst the youths, reflecting the dangerous ideologicaltransformations wrought by the combined forces of authoritarianism, economicdecline and social marginalisation in Nigeria. 9
  10. 10. Electoralism, Political Reform and State Legitimacy in NigeriaWe have argued elsewhere that the pacted nature of Nigeria’s 1999 transition andthe faustian bargains with the departing military produced a post-transition politicalconfiguration which looked more like a re-packaged space for controlled clientelisticpolitics than a fundamental restructuring of power.8 In spite of the changes that haveoccurred under successive civilian administrations, this has significantly dented thebelief that a political reform project was in place. The fact that pacted transitionshave not necessarily led to consolidated democracies nor enhanced state legitimacy,especially in places where the ethos, language and character of public discoursehave been completely militarised or in countries where the nation-building projectremains unfinished was one that was repeatedly recalled by those who feltdemocratic consolidation will require more of national restructuring than electoraldemocracy.Indeed, a significant number of critics of Nigeria’s embrace of military transition in1999 cautioned against misconstruing re-packaged space for ‘entrenching militarism’as a new space for democratic endeavour. We argued in our own case that unlessthe fundamental issue of the constitutional arrangements and structure of Nigeria’sfederalism was subjected to an open and transparent discussion amongststakeholders, state legitimacy would always remain in doubt amongst disaffectedcommunities within the nation state. In our view, State legitimacy by its very naturederives from a combination of objective and subjective realities in the lives of theaverage citizen. Although popular acceptance of government helps, legitimacy canalso emerge from an incremental, rather than an absolute acceptance of a rulinggovernment from the outset. In the case of the civilian governments in Nigeriaparticularly the Yar’adua administration, there is evidence to suggest that confidencein the government has waned following repeated perception on the part of thepopulace that the government has not done enough to enhance state legitimacy. Inour view, legitimacy is mostly enhanced in situations where the state has thecapacity to provide efficient and well functioning institutions and infrastructures of8 Fayemi, ‘Transition Program…’ op-cit. 10
  11. 11. government – legally backed and socially coherent – that together establish andmaintain an enabling environment in which human security and human developmenttakes place.Whilst many Nigerians were happy to see the back of the military, the fact that thepolitical transition was a product of a militarily imposed constitution hardly helpedmatters in a country where militarism and dissatisfaction with military rule havecombined to raise the level of tension and conflicts. Indeed, the hostility to the oldmilitary State encouraged an outright rejection of the 1999 military constitution.Instead, various constituencies clamoured for a new constitution that is people drivenand process led – aimed at reconstituting the Nigerian State along equitable,transparent, socially responsible and just lines in the post military era. At every levelin the Nigerian State, many have argued that the State must be refashioned to reflectthe realities of a multifaceted society.Although the government recognised the merit of the arguments about a defectivefederal structure arising out of an imposed constitution, it has always perceived theclamour for restructuring and a new constitution as a challenge to its own legitimacy;hence it has refused to consider calls for a national conference to debate and agreea new constitution, except in the opportunistic search for term-extension byPresident Obasanjo in 2006. Even then, the recommendations of the NationalPolitical Reform Committee largely stuck to the status-quo of centralised authoritywith no recognition for the various communities’ clamour for power de-concentration.Against the background of conflicts in almost every section of the country andcampaign in civil society for a more inclusive constitution making process that isindependent of the state machinery, the government went ahead to foreclosefreedom of association at the level of political participation, imposing extra conditionsfor political party formation in a recent Electoral Act.9 All of these measures havecombined to further erode regime and state legitimacy and, as unjustifiable ascommunal violence is amongst the larger population, government’s actions is seenas directly linked to communal violence.9 A Supreme Court judgement later overturned the Electoral Act and a further judgement forced theIndependent Electoral Commission to register twenty two additional parties guaranteeing freedom ofassociation in spite of the government’s desire to sanction this. 11
  12. 12. The unsettled nation-building project has continued to put overwhelming pressure oncivil-security relations as the government resorts at the slightest opportunity to theuse of security agencies, especially the army, to curb violent opposition to stateviolence. Whilst majority of Nigerians continue to deplore violence as a means ofresolving political conflict (Afrobarometer, 2001), more than two thirds of thepopulation still consider the Nigerian constitution defective and the current structureunsatisfactory. Caught in this contest between the wider population and the politicalleadership has been the security forces used in curbing political opposition as wasthe case recently in the Ekiti elections where the military was injected into the civilianpolitically partisan fray, resulting in a further dent on an already bad image amongthe wider population.Fundamental therefore to the improvement of state legitimacy and the reduction ofconflict is the agreement on a constitutional document that is not merely a legalinstrument with little standing with the people. In order to enhance state legitimacygrounded in human rights and good governance, an organic link is needed betweenthe constitution as a rule of law instrument primarily concerned with restraininggovernment excesses, and the constitution as a legitimation of power structures andrelations based on a broad social consensus in a diverse society such as Nigeria.This, in our view, will enhance state legitimacy by restoring trust in the State whilstarresting desertion from it.To date, it seems the lack of clarity and decisiveness in the political reform project bythe political leadership, both in terms of its capacity to listen to a wide variety ofviews in society and in terms of managing precarious and delicate relationshipsbetween political actors and the wider population that represents the crux of theviolent conflict. At its base has been the fundamental issue of institutions thatpromote proper governance and accountability which have a central role to play inhelping the curb the erosion of state legitimacy.Constitutional Governance and Democratisation: The Question of Structure 12
  13. 13. Ten years into civilian rule, the central question in Nigeria today is whether thecountry is going to consolidate or reverse this fragile democracy. It is clear that thequestion of the national structure is the central issue that will not go away in thenation building project. The question that many continue to pose will have to beanswered with all its attendant ramifications: What is this nation called Nigeria?What does it mean to be Nigerian? How do we manage our difference anddiversity? How do we arrest the pervasive mistrust of government by the people?These were the questions that we avoided in the events leading up to May 1999 andthey have refused to go away. Without resolving the issue of the national structureon the basis of contestation and dialogue, it is difficult to see how Nigeria can attainconsolidation on the basis of electoralism.Without discounting the importance of elections in a democratising polity, it isimportant to first interrogate the notion of democracy in its variegated and complexforms – especially in the context of transition societies. From the foregoing, thenotion which paints a pre-conceived destination, almost a uni-dimensional focus onelections as democracy: Have elections, and every other thing shall follow - is aseriously flawed one. The problem in our view is about the nature and character ofthe Nigerian state, and it is not one that election can resolve, no matter how regular,well organized and untainted they are. It is clear to most people in Nigeria, includingthe political leadership, that the question of the national structure is the central issuethat will not go away in Nigeria’s quest for democratic development and effectivegovernance. The question that many continue to pose will have to be answered withall its attendant ramifications: What is this nation called Nigeria? What does it meanto be Nigerian? What is the relationship between the citizens and the state? What isthe nature of inter-governmental relations? These were the questions Nigeriansavoided in the events leading up to May 1999, in the desperation to rid the country ofits military rulers and in the hope that elections will resolve them. Without resolvingthe issue of the national structure via national dialogue, it is difficult to see howNigerians can attain consolidation and effective governance on the basis of electoraldemocracy.Which way forward? 13
  14. 14. While it is uncharitable to argue that nothing has changed in Nigeria since May 1999,the nature of the progress made is a contested one. Evidence of Nigeria’s basicsocio-economic indicators bears testimony to this. With 28.1% of the populationliving below poverty when General Obasanjo left in 1979 to over 70% of Nigeriansbelow poverty line in 2003, Nigeria’s poverty trap represents almost a paradoxmeasured against the country’s wealth. Bred by unequal power relations, thestructural and systematic allocation of resources among different groups in societyand their differential access to power and the political process, the distorteddistribution of the nation’s wealth has resulted in the enrichment of a minority at theexpense of an impoverished majority, and this minority (mostly ex-military generalsand their friends) now use the wealth to entrench their power. Also, the chronicnature of poverty in Nigeria has a link to historical and continuing mismanagement ofresources, persistent and institutional uncertainty, weak rule of law, decrepit and/orabsent infrastructure, weak institutions of state and monumental corruption. In short,central to the depth of poverty has been poor governance and at the core of badgovernance has been the over-centralised state. Bringing the government closer tothe people offers a clear and immediate response to the crisis of governance andconstitutional reform is the pathway to responding to this unidentified threat..Will political developments in Nigeria allow genuine constitutional reform agenda totake firm root in the post election era? There is room for cautious optimism, but onlyif we see the elections as part of a wider struggle to address problems of militarism,accountability and entrenchment of the rule of law, not as an end in itself. 14

×