By Akanimo Sampson
Ahead of the uncertain 2019 general elections, some concerned activists have taken a critical look at Nigeria since the exit of military dictatorship in 1999, and returned a damning verdict on the mainstream political parties in the country locked in a battle for state power.
Despite the holier than thou attitude of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) against the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the obviously troubled activists say the mainstream political parties have undermined Nigeria with misrule and corruption.
Isaac Osuoka (Social Action), Chido Onumah (AFRICMIL), and Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), CISLAC said at a conference they organized in Abuja that many things have changed since 1999.
According to them, ‘’the pro-democracy movement mostly dispersed after the restoration of civil rule. The leading human rights organisations and popular coalitions of the 1990s have collapsed or have become considerably weakened. As a result, Nigeria lacks strong membership-based and nation-wide civic organisations to drive non-ethnic/non-religious citizens’ participation in public affairs.
‘’The good news is that new social forces, including a young army of active social media activists, are now part of the public sphere. The younger forces, however, do not have the opportunities (for sustainable mobilisation and community) that the civic platforms of the past provided’’.
They explained that the Abuja conference was their attempt to encourage an inter-generational dialogue on the movement for democracy and social change in Nigeria and the state of the nation.
At the event were veterans of the struggle and current leaders of alternative thought – alternative to the corruption, nepotism and all that the ruling elite represent. It was their expectations that they will spend time reflecting on what went wrong and identify immediate and longer-term options for recreating civic spaces, and agenda for intervention to halt the ‘’dangerous slide’’ of Nigeria.
Continuing, the three activists who organized the event said, ‘’20 years ago, Nigeria was in political transition following decades of military dictatorship. In December 1998, the military dictators organised elections, which held early in 1999 – ushering in the Fourth Republic.
‘’It must be stressed that the last military regime scheduled elections only because the dominant force in the Nigerian public sphere at the time, the pro-democracy movement, forced them to do so through promoting popular discourses, writing in the newspapers, organising different constituencies – youths, students, labour, the unemployed, a groundswell of opposition to treasury looting dictators, that manifested in massive protests that made the state, at certain moments, ungovernable for the tyrants.
‘’Activists, journalists, lawyers, student leaders and citizens suffered incarceration and all forms of deprivations. Most of the people gathered here today are active participants of that movement that risked everything in the struggle to enthrone a democratic order in Nigeria.
‘’Today, after almost 20 years of civil rule, we believe that the state of the nation, and the social condition of the Nigerian people, is even worse than what we had under the military dictatorships. More people are living in extreme poverty in Nigeria than in any other country in the world, according to data produced by the Brookings Institution.’’
The rest of their viewpoint went thus: ‘’Amidst the scandalous wealth of those that have continued to loot public treasuries since 1999, the overwhelming majority of our peoples do not have access to essential social services. Rather than facilitate the wellbeing of citizens, the so-called political class is undermining the very possibility of fulfilment of individuals’ and groups’ potentials.
‘’The country and its peoplesare held hostage by a criminal system that attempts to reproduceitself and the big men and women who rule over us by subverting every possibility of state building. In the buildup to elections in 2019, we see all over the country that politics is a war game dominated by gangsters who have divided the country into enclaves of domination; ruled through banditry and brigandage. Together, they move Nigeria closer and closer to the abyss.
‘’In Boko Haram war in the North-East, the herder and farmer conflicts, the Niger Delta insurgency, the Biafra secessionist agitations, massive and ongoing corruption, political thuggery, armed robbery, kidnappings, ritual killings, substance abuse by sections of our youth, enormous unemployment, etc. we see signs and symptoms of a state in deep crisis.
‘’As a cause and consequence of the crisis in Nigeria is the massively polarised public sphere with discourses often clouded with ethnic, religious and other sectional colourations.
‘’We are convinced that our country needs civil interventions of the pan-Nigerian character reminiscent of what the pro-democracy movement did in the 1980s and 1990s. This is because enduring nation-states that work for their citizens are built through the conscious will and actions of individuals and groups who envisionand act, at different moments, to instill alternative national ethos and practices.’’
Insiders however, say the event was part of an ongoing dialogue that ‘’must continue’’ as the pro-democracy community braces for reorganisation. On their part, the convening activists say they are committed to ensuring that the Nigeria Pro-Democracy Conference is organised at least once every year.