Abraham Lincoln, the first and only American President to earn a patent for his buoy invention in 1849, described democracy as a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” That is, a system of government where the eligible populace exercise their electoral power to rule directly or by elected representatives.
Thus, democracy provides institutions that express the supremacy of the popular will on social directions and policies. For instance, in the Greek City states where democracy started, economic equality, mutual feeling and political liberty were desirable and so made it successful by the populace.
Accordingly, in the United States, Canada, the Great Britain, Nigeria, and other democratic states, the common features of democracy include: the existence of periodic elections, equal rights of adults to vote and be voted for, equality for executive and judicial offices, freedom of speech, publication and association, and more. These rights provide the opportunity for political participation, which is the right to choose rulers to decide the general lines of policies.
In the same vein, democracy provides opportunities for personality development, such as access to knowledge through state aided education, security against unemployment and minimum wage intended at reducing the disparities in the distribution of wealth, including provision against sickness, fair conditions for work and conditions to guide against economic slavery.
In this regard, over the years, Nigerian democracy has specified the duties of the governments and the rights of the people, by presenting measures to encourage personal freedom and equal consideration for all classes in the country.
As John Stuart Mill rightly notes, “democracy is superior to other forms of government,” this according to him is because the rights and the interests of all are secured, as opposed to autocratic systems.
Although, democracy in Nigeria is as old as the country from 1914, it has been disrupted by series of military juntas from 1966 to 1979 and 1983 to 1999, with the major military rule credited to General Sani Abacha from 1993-1998, which ended as a result of his death. Then the emergence of General Abdulsalam Abubakar from 1998-1999, who transferred power to president-elect, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999, marking the return of democracy from military dictatorship.
The end of military rule brought about a new era of regular elections, as well as civil liberties; freedom of the press, independent judiciary, the rule of law, checks and balances and the end of arbitrary arrests and torture associated with the military era.
Hence, the recognition of democracy day over the years on May 29 to commemorate the restoration of democracy in the country, however, the date was changed by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 6, 2018, to June 12, to mark the election of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO), on June 12, 1993; adjudged to be the freest and fairest election ever conducted in Nigeria.
While democracy over the years has given rise to the periodic election of leaders into various offices and the smooth transition of elected leadership, increase in welfare services; upward review of minimum wage, improved infrastructural development, education, health care services, youth empowerment and so on, yet the country lacks in so many areas.
In recent times, Nigeria is faced with a myriad of socio-economic/political issues bedevilling the peace, security and progress of the nation. Electoral irregularities, such as disruption of electoral processes (ballot box snatching), vote buying, falsification of election results, corruption, restiveness amongst youths, kidnapping, terrorism (Boko Haram attacks), farmers/herders clashes, resulting in shortage of food for the growing population, unemployment, lack of economic diversification, and general violence which are undemocratic have been on the rise.
Hence, as we mark the 2021 democracy day, there is the urgent need for government and the populace to embrace peace, deliberate dialogue and tolerance to douse the threatening issues of insecurity and hardship bedevilling the nation.
The judicial system has to be strengthened and made independent as to dispense justice without fear or favour. The menace of corruption which has eaten deep into the fabric of the society should be fought with all sense of sincerity and seriousness, as it will go a long way to instil trust in the minds of the people.
Government should ensure security agencies; military, police, civil defence, the customs, Para-military organisations, are perfectly trained, equipped and encouraged to optimally perform their duties within the confines of the law. Civil Societies and the Press should be given optimum freedom to operate, by presenting constructive ideas and criticisms to improve government policies and programmes for the good society.
Above all, in a bid to eschew violence in the polity, constitutional means should be followed to seek redress as that will go a long way to curtail destruction of lives and property in the country.
Min. of Information, Orientation and strategy, Bayelsa State.