On 21 November, 2001, the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of International IDEA, Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, presented to the Nigerian government and to the people of Nigeria an assessment report on the challenges facing Nigeria in anchoring democracy.
This assessment report entitled Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Dialogue(s) for Nation-Building is the product of an elaborate consultative process conducted by 42 Nigerian resource persons representing the diverse texture of Nigerian society in hundreds of meetings throughout the country. The assessment is the outcome of this consultative process and contains concrete recommendations to strengthen the process towards establishing lasting democracy in Nigeria.
The assessment report is the first comprehensive publication on the current transition process to democracy in Nigeria. It is an attempt to capture and contribute to the ongoing debates, discussions and overall search for solutions that can heal and build a nation, and thereby deepen and consolidate democracy in Nigeria.
Nigeria is at a crossroad. The country faces an opportunity - more than at any other time in its history - to build a society that can guarantee justice, human dignity and civil liberties to all Nigerians.
Nigeria returned to the community of nations with elected governments in May 1999. It is generally agreed that since the transition significant progress has been made in the area of personal freedoms and liberties. The transition has made possible a new, more open society in which people no longer live in fear of the military. Nigerians remain loyal to the idea of a corporate identity called Nigeria, although there are contending proposals for a new paradigm of governance and relationship between the tiers of the federation. Thus, despite the challenges, Nigerians remain optimistic about the future of democracy in their country.
Yet, democracy cannot be taken for granted; it is a work in progress that depends on the collective will and commitment of society if it is to establish firm roots and grow. The transition process beginning with the election of President Obasanjo is considered to be a basis for transition to real democracy.
The assessment found that an air of anxiety and uncertainty continues to pervade Nigerian society. There are economic, political and social uncertainties. Flashpoints of ethnic, communal, religious and resource conflicts persist. The Niger Delta crisis is yet to be resolved, and environmental degradation in oil-producing regions and in desert affected regions in the North remains a problem. Exacerbating this is the public perception that the government has been slow in addressing fundamental issues affecting Nigerians, such as poverty alleviation, resource distribution, infrastructure development and security. In short, government is expected to deliver on 'the democracy dividend' to consolidate the confidence of the Nigerian people in democracy.
The common thread running through the various sections of the assessment report is the need to negotiate new relations between the sate, civil society and the private sector. It calls for continuing and widened dialogue in Nigeria to arrive at a new compact for social justice that is broad-based, consensus oriented and that people can identify with and claim as their own. This social compact will help the process of entrenching the democratic power transferred to civilians in May 1999, and in building a culture of democracy as the foundation for constitutional democracy.
Such a social pact it is argued should inform the agenda for the review of the 1999 Constitution. The current constitution was promulgated by military decree and its legitimacy is contested by significant sections of the Nigerian society. The overriding issue expressed throughout the consultations for the International IDEA assessment is the need for an inclusive and participatory constitutional development process as essential for nation-building, for consolidating democracy and for the foundation of the rule of law. A nation-wide participatory process should result in a constitution that can become a 'citizen's handbook' reflecting the 'soul' of the Nigerian nation and its people.
Some of the specific recommendations in the assessment report centre on the need for an efficient and effective delivery of public services, an accountable government, the promotion of human rights, peace and security, redefining the Federal character of the Nigeria state and redefining citizenship on the basis of residency.
The assessment report will be circulated widely throughout Nigeria. It is considered to be an invitation for continued dialogue.
For further details, contact:
Mr Muyiwa Adekeye
Background on the International IDEA Assessment Mission is available in Supporting Democratic Development in Nigeria (here in Acrobat format).
Promoting Democracy in Nigeria is the focus of International IDEA's Autumn Newsletter, which is available here.
The full assessment report is available for download here:
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