In its latest Democracy Index rating, the Economist Intelligence Unit describes the President Goodluck Jonathan administration as authoritarian. In another breath, the Washington Post, in a recent report, says Nigeria’s government operates an anocracy. Taken together, they both speak to an unsavoury global perception of the country and her leadership. Ojo M. Maduekwe writes
On August 11, 2006, in Abuja, the first son of former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida – Mohammed – was reportedly arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), an institution established in 2003 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in response to the growing corruption in Nigeria.
Reports had it that Mohammed’s arrest was because he owned large shares in the telecommunications company, Globacom, “even though he had never held a real job his entire life.”
A linkage to Globacom was the official reason given by the EFCC, under the chairmanship of Nuhu Ribadu, for his arrest, but many Nigerians suspected some ulterior motives. The period was months away from the 2007 general election. While Obasanjo was busy scheming on how to amend the Constitution and pave the way for his third term agenda, Babangida, would few days later declare for president.
The younger Babangida’s arrest, along with the search for the arrest of Globacom’s founder, Mike Adenuga, was interpreted as part of the tactics by Obasanjo to intimidate Babangida into dumping his ambition and supporting the former’s third term agenda. That the charge was never followed through was a pointer to the allegation of political undertone.
Babangia was not the only victim of Obasanjo’s use of state institutions to silence perceived or real political enemies. Former Adamawa State Governor, Boni Haruna, who was a loyalist of former Vice-president Atiku Abubakar, under Obasanjo, also happened to fall by the wayside.
Aside his loyalty to Abubakar, his outspokenness regarding President Obasanjo’s third term agenda, placed him at odds with the president.
And then there was the detention of former military administrator of Lagos State, Buba Marwa, who also had a presidential ambition. And when you travelled to Bayelsa, some state assembly members were alleged to have been arrested by the EFCC and coerced into impeaching the former governor, Dipreye Alamieyeseigha.
In Kebbi State, then Governor Adamu Aliero’s younger brother, Abba Alero, was arrested by the EFCC and allegedly released when the governor agreed to defect to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and also pledged his support to the president.
These are a few instances of abuse of the EFCC as an institution under the administration of Obasanjo.
Described as President Obasanjo’s witch-hunting instrument to deal with political enemies, Wikileaks wrote of the commission thus: “The EFCC has focused on obvious opponents of President Obasanjo, mostly those who opposed amending the constitution to permit a third term for the president.”
It is for actions like these that Nigeria has been defined as an anocracy or authoritarian state. Such instances of abuse of power by several politicians nonetheless, to many Nigerians, their country is a democracy. Though she cannot be grouped as being on the same level with many developed democracies in the West, at best, they pride in her as a ‘developing’ democracy.
They also boast in the fact that the country, since the military transferred power back to the political elite in 1999, is experiencing one of the longest democratic eras since she gained independence on October 1, 1960. October 1, 2014 would make it 15 years.
Democracy being what they call Nigeria, recent definitions of the country as either Authoritarian, Anocracy, or both, would struggle to find acceptable meaning among some Nigerians, especially with the federal government under President Goodluck Jonathan.
Anocracy, on Wikipedia, has been defined as a society in which the central authority is weak, or doesn’t exist, and where power is not vested in public institutions but spread amongst elite groups who are constantly competing with each other for power. It is argued that an anocracy lies between the transitions from an autocracy to a democracy.
A 2010 publication by the International Alert, said of such countries which practice this category of government as “countries that are neither autocratic nor democratic, most of which are making the risky transition between autocracy and democracy.”
Democracy being defined as a system of government wherein power lies in no particular authority, autocracy is widely accepted as being a category of government in which one person possess unlimited power, such as in a monarchical system of government. In Africa, some countries said to be autocratic are Zimbabwe, Sudan and Eritrea.
On the other hand, along with Nigeria, some of the countries said to be practicing anocracy (either closed or open), according to a Polity IV data and published in a Washington Post article, include Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Algeria, Gabon, Djibouti, Madagascar, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Mali, South Sudan, Libya, Burkina Faso and many others.
The Economist Intelligence Unit index used in measuring a democracy, while based on 60 indicators, is grouped into five different categories, namely: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; a functioning government; political participation and political culture.
For recent reports to classify Nigeria as not a democracy but an anocracy, it then suggests that the country has failed in the five categories listed above. Also, it is to suggest that the country, which currently practises a presidential system of government, is either perfecting on becoming a developed democracy or tilting towards becoming an autocracy.
The failure of the country in becoming a democracy since the current democratic dispensation began in 1999 can be blamed on all the successive governments, and traced back to the administration of Obasanjo. Also, state governors in all the political parties have not helped the situation and have themselves been abusers of some of the democratic institutions such as the judiciary and legislature.
One instance is the former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu. Aside the practice of apportioning slots to candidates for both the State Houses of Assemblies and the Local Government Areas (an act that all governors in the various political parties are known to do), Tinubu, during his eight years tenure instigated the impeachment of two of his deputies.
The first, Mrs Kofoworola Akerele-Bucknor, in 2002 declared her Interest to vie for the 2003 governorship seat against Tinubu, who was infuriated, and lobbied the State Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against her. Following this, Mrs Bucknor resigned her position as Deputy Governor, and also left the party, known then as Alliance for Democracy.
After Mrs Bucknor came Mr Femi Pedro, who was picked by Tinubu as Mrs Bucknor’s successor; together they won the 2003 governorship election. When Tinubu alongside former Vice-president Abubakar formed the Action Congress, Pedro signified an interest to succeed Tinubu in 2007.
Rather than Pedro, Tinubu picked his then Chief of Staff, present Lagos Governor, Babatunde Fashola, to succeed him.
Pedro defected to the Labour Party. Again, as the party leader in the state, Tinubu initiated his impeachment. Sensing that he wouldn't survive the impeachment onslaught by the state lawmakers, Pedro resigned his position as Deputy Governor on the day he was to be impeached. Tinubu refused his resignation letter, and the Assembly, went ahead and impeached him, citing “insubordination and gross misconduct.”
President Jonathan himself has not fared better than Obasanjo, Tinubu or either of Nigeria’s past and present elected officials in abusing democratic institutions.
Following the August 31, 2013 walkout at the special convention of the PDP by the governors of Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto, Rivers, Niger, Adamawa, and Kwara States; Aminu Lamido, son of the governor of Jigawa, Sule Lamido, was accused of money laundering by the EFCC.
The younger Lamido was stopped at the Mallam Aminu International Airport, Kano State with $50,000 on his way to Cairo. The EFCC claimed that he only registered $10,000 in his customs declaration. The tactics used on Governor Lamido was similar to that used by Obasanjo on Babangida when in 2006, the latter’s son, Mohammed, was arrested by the EFCC.
Likewise, the impeachment of former Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako by the PDP-dominated State House of Assembly, with fingers pointed at both the presidency and PDP, has stark resemblance to the impeachments of Mrs Bucknor and Mr Pedro by the Lagos State House of Assembly during the administration of Tinubu.
But President Jonathan would tell anyone who cares to listen that his administration promotes democratic principles. It makes his case the more convincing that Nigeria is a member of the Community of Democracies (CoD), an intergovernmental organisation that works to strengthen democracy worldwide by providing support to emerging democracies and civil society groups; identifying threats to democracy, while advancing broad-based participation in democratic governance.
The president himself, at a breakfast meeting he had with African Ambassadors to China in Beijing last year, as part of activities of his on-going state visit to the country, called on African countries to strengthen their democratic institutions in order to ensure political stability and sustained development. He was quoted as saying that “democracy must be nurtured until it has a firm root on the continent.”
Many political watchers advance the need for the president to heed his own advice by encouraging actions that would not only see to the growth of democracy in Nigeria but to its sustenance. As it stands, they alleged that the political atmosphere has taken the form of pre-2006/2007 era, simply because President Jonathan is desirous of another term in office, regardless of the heat such an ambition has caused and is causing the stability of the country.