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10 years of Nigeria’s democracy: A word from BBC Hausa

Nigeria’s democratic journey has however not been rosy. There has been disappointment, disillusion and apathy in the wake of euphoria. Socio-political crisis in some of…

Nigeria’s democratic journey has however not been rosy. There has been disappointment, disillusion and apathy in the wake of euphoria. Socio-political crisis in some of Nigeria’s 36 states, political upheavals in others, intra-party and inter-party conflicts, and many more challenges have trailed Nigeria’s democratic landscape.

The most populous country in Africa suddenly found itself under civilian rule following the death of military ruler General Sani Abacha in 1998. General Abdulsalami Abubakar became Head of State after Abacha’s death. He organised elections in 1999. In the same year, he handed over power to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo—himself an ex-military leader. Since Obasanjo was sworn in on 29 May 1999, Nigerians have managed to keep the military safely in their barracks.

When Nigeria began the 1999 democratic journey, a lot of people within and outside the country were sceptical. Many doubted that civilian rule would survive in a country whose military had disrupted democracy and ruled for the most part of its post-colonial years. That was the reason why “more credible people stayed away from joining politics”, said Mohammed Isma’il, a politician from the northern state of Kano. But for millions of other Nigerians, the late 1990s was a period of positive anticipation. They had hopes, aspirations and dreams. They had become averse to military dictatorship. They saw civilian rule as a new page in their country’s history. They were convinced that life under civilian rule would bring all the promises democracy delivered to a people.  

A Time to Celebrate?

Taking the number of years that civilian rule has survived today many Nigerians are of the view that the country has made history. However, there is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among citizens, and they argue that they are yet to reap the dividends of democracy.

Emmanuel Chidozie, a trader in the south eastern city of Onitsha, claimed that “life under civilian rule in the last 10 years has not changed at all”. He maintained that Nigerians continue to face water shortage, lack of schools, lack of medicines in hospitals, and poor roads. Chidozie’s opinion was that politicians had failed them. Such views are widely held among Nigerians but the issue that is the most emotive when it comes to the subject of Nigeria’s democracy is that of “free and fair elections”.

Nigeria’s democracy has been marred by a record of allegations of mass rigging and all manner of electoral misconduct. There are accusations of ballot boxes being stuffed in beer parlours, police stations or homes of local politicians. When he came to power in May 2007, President Umaru Yar Adua acknowledged that there were indeed problems with Nigeria’s electoral process. He promised to embark on a reform; and with that he launched a committee under the chairmanship of the country’s former chief justice, Mohammed Lawal Uwais. The Uwais committed toured Nigeria and came up with a number of recommendations that would clean up the country’s electoral process. But President Yar Adua and his cabinet took out some clauses in the Uwais report. Political analysts like Dr Junaid Mohammed said those clauses were “the most needed if any positive change was to be brought”.

BBC Hausa and the Big Debate

BBC Hausa drives listening in Nigeria. With a dedicated weekly audience of 20 million, and with more than half of that saying they are extremely interested in national news, what better way of engaging this audience, than to run a month-long series on democracy? That was a topic, we felt, that was close to their hearts and their lives.

From 1 to 30 May, BBC Hausa assessed Nigeria’s 10 years of uninterrupted democracy. Questions asked included: what has been the major achievement for Nigerians since the return to civilian rule? What tangible benefits have Nigerians got from democratic rule? How exactly have people’s lives changed compared to the way they were 10 years ago? What confidence do Nigerians have in the “type” of democracy that exists in their country? How strong or weak is the democratic institution in Nigeria? What sort of reform is needed to improve the electoral process that is widely criticised? What is the future of democracy in Nigeria? How and where do Nigerians see themselves in the next 10 years if the country remained under democratic rule?

BBC Hausa saw this period as a time to engage Nigerians in an intellectual discourse as well as encouraging plain rational debate amongst citizens. We engaged everyone – from policy makers to the common man on the streets and rural residents. The 10 Years of Democracy season had a wide range of contributors which included former military heads of state, an ex-civilian president, ministers, governors, and key opposition figures. Response to the programme was impressive as audiences made comments via phone, emails and SMS.

A listener’s comment was particularly inspiring to us. Abubakar Sani, who wrote in from Kaduna, said he believed the series on democracy was our way of fulfilling our journalistic role of “watchdog” in ensuring the principles of democratic values and ensuring good governance were entrenched in the most populous country in Africa.

Jamilah Tangaza is Head of BBC Hausa

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