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OPINION: Twenty years later…

By Faith Berewa

When democratic rule returned to Nigeria eleven months after the death of a brutal dictator, and almost fifteen and half years after the interruption of civilian rule, there were high hopes, and optimism.

The ordeal, distress and uncertainties that characterized the repressive years of military rule were replaced with renewed sense of hope for a better and greater Nigeria.

Twenty years later, what is the score card of our democratic sojourn? Let’s first of all take a look at some developing countries, (a word I really don’t like to use for some of them when you compare where they are and where Nigeria is. I mean how can a country like China be classed in the same category with Nigeria as developing countries)?

Let’s begin with Rwanda, a country that passed through the horrors of genocide in the nineties. In year 2000 Rwanda unveiled its vision 2020, a long term development strategy with its main objective of transforming Rwanda into a middle income country by 2020, based on a thriving private sector (the conversation.com).

In less than twenty years, Rwanda has undergone rapid economic transformation. And for all intents and purposes, it ranks as the 4th least corrupt country in Africa and one of the best places to do business in sub Saharan Africa.

According to the World Poverty Clock, India now has less than fifty million people living in extreme poverty compared to 268 million people in 2011 and, is expected to reduce to 40 million people by the end of this year.

Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty and India has a population that is almost seven times more than Nigeria. Do we really get the import of this?

What of Botswana, a Sub Saharan country that has transformed itself  from one of the poorest countries in the world into a middle-income Country.

Botswana ranks as the second least corrupt country in Africa (transparency international, 2018), and like Rwanda, one of the best places to do business in sub Saharan Africa.

And China?Y Let me quote directly from the United States Congressional Research Service in a report released last year, “since opening up to foreign trade and investment and implementing free-market reforms in 1979, China has been among the world’s fastest growing economies, with real annual GDP growth averaging 9.5% through 2017, a pace described by the World Bank ‘as the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history’.

Such growth has enabled China on average to double its GDP every eight years and has helped raise an estimated 800 million people out of poverty”.

And of course China has become the go-to Country for loans especially by sub Saharan African countries with Nigeria in the top ten borrowers from China.

When you see statistics such as these you would want to weep for Nigeria. 1999 held so much promise but it has been shattered dreams and crushed hopes.

I wish our twenty years of uninterrupted democratic rule were even a mixed bag of fortune for the Nigerian people; alas it’s been a mesh of misery. What can we show for it?  The stats are gloomy.

Twenty years later, our infrastructure is not just underdeveloped, there is deterioration and decay in many sectors. Some of our roads have become worse off, with many becoming death traps you wonder whether the huge budgets for roads were swallowed by a sinkhole.

Shelter for many is a mirage with many of our citizens living in squalid conditions that distorts human dignity.

Twenty years later, we cannot power our country. Electricity generation is still rudimentary despite billions of dollars spent in the sector. At some point just a few weeks ago, it was about 2,039 Mw.

Power generation has been hovering between 3000 and 4500 mw in much of these 20 years. This is beyond retrogression. This is rottenness and the height of governance irresponsibility.

Twenty years later Nigeria is one of the most illiterate countries in the world with the highest number of out-of- school children.  A nation that does not educate her people is fraternizing with backwardness, poverty and anti-social vices.

Nigeria has become too illiterate to development especially except there is a drastic recalibration of our value systems and a commitment to quality education for development.

Twenty years later Nigeria is one of the worst places to give birth with maternal, infant and under-five mortality among the highest in the world. Nigeria has the third highest infant mortality rate in the world.

Twenty years later Nigeria has become so insecure. Never in our history have there been such high levels of insecurity. Worsening this danger is the government ‘s cluelessness on how to tackle this menace.

Who wants to invest in an environment controlled by insurgentsI, marauders, bandits, kidnappers?

Twenty years later we are yearning for national cohesion. Never have we been this divided. Democracy that was meant to strengthen our unity and bond has become a force for gaping divisions.

Twenty years later our economy is in decline. Just recently the Central Bank warned at the prospects of the country facing another recession in less than 4 years, both under the Buhari administration.  Investors are wary of coming to do business in this country.

“Foreign direct investments which totaled $5.6 billion dollars in 2013, flattened to $2 billion dollars last year.  Nigeria’s GDP contracted 13.8% in the first quarter of this year, wiping out last year’s economic gains.

The only country to do that of late is Venezuela”. (Forbes). That is frightening.  As Bloomberg puts it, Nigeria’s economy is “listless’’.

Twenty years later, unemployment, especially youth unemployment is dreadful. Our youths have become the neglected population.

Twenty years later, we have become the poverty capital of the world. Almost half of Nigeria’s population (91million) now lives in extreme poverty, with 6 Nigerians dropping into extreme poverty every single minute. (World poverty clock).

Twenty years later, corruption is still very much pervasive. It is the root cause of our misery. And from the look of things corruption has become a culture and tradition in Nigeria, making it almost impossible to ever rise above our present socio-economic woes and incessant retrogression.

What manner of democracy is this that has inflicted us with such harsh socio- economic conditions? Democratic rule that offered promise has brought gloom and doom.

We have regressed with no hope in sight. Ours has become a sorry state of affairs. In 20 years, our governance landscape has become like a jungle- the survival of the fittest. And the fittest in our 20 year journey is the political class and their cronies.

Our brand of democracy is dangerous, as a friend puts it.  It leaves the destiny of a country in the hands of a few people, which is what representative democracy is.

When these few are without virtue, without character, without conscience, without dutifulness, without moral compass, without real integrity, without morality, it is very dangerous, which is sadly where we have found ourselves.

I now question the essence of democracy for a country with a Character Crisis. So can democracy bring about peace, national cohesion, economic prosperity, development, personal and societal flourishing, guarantee security? The answer is a capital NO. The actions of people do. 

What is my conclusion? For an avowed democrat like me, I cringe saying this: what is democratic rule if it doesn’t make us better? But then there is a contradiction in that statement. Democracy is not the problem.  People are. Our political elites are.

Faith Berewa, a columnist with SAHEL STANDARD Newspapers sent this piece from Kaduna

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