June 12 Nigeria celebrated 24 years of uninterrupted democracy an achievement many only imagined following the intervals of military rule. Unlike countries like the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Denmark, etc which have a long-standing democracy, Nigeria is still developing this system of administration.
The country's first democratic governance started on October 1, 1960, after her independence from British colonial rule. Nigeria started its democratic journey when it adopted a parliamentary system of government with a prime minister as the head of government and a ceremonial president as the head of state. Democracy was short-lived when the first military coup occurred in 1966, briefly disrupting democratic authority.
Nigeria then briefly returned to civilian administration in 1979, but the military still interfered. Their reasons were due corruption, economic instability, social unrest, and inequalities. However, 1999 seemed to have brought a ray of hope to the system of government where Individuals in a democratic system have the right to participate in decision-making processes that influence their lives, to openly express their opinions, and to pick their leaders through free and fair elections.
Although the nation's democracy is still a work in progress every long-standing democracy has had challenges. In Nigeria’s case issues affecting the country’s democracy are; corruption, the electoral process, lack of judicial autonomy, etc.
Corruption continues to be a major problem in Nigeria, affecting many parts of society, including politics and administration. This issue dates back to every government both civilian and military. Embezzlement has over the years eroded public trust, stifled progress, and weakened the efficacy of democratic institutions.
For instance, in the last 24 years, major financial scandals have taken place yet anti-corruption institutions put in place to nip corruption in the bud seem not to have gotten anyone prosecuted. This has rubbed down on public trust in the authorities, hindered development, and undermined the effectiveness of democratic institutions.
The electoral process is also a major challenge because the electorates are not allowed to choose their leaders because the election process is usually rigged to favor the ruling party, thugs also play their part in voter intimidation while the political parties resort to vote-buying. These irregularities have raised concerns about the credibility and transparency of elections.
The lack of autonomy of the judiciary and anti-corruption agencies has made it almost impossible for corrupt public officeholders to be brought to book. While the judiciary is not completely independent, the anti-corruption agencies are used as a tool to bully the opposition.
Despite these challenges the past 24 years as seen Nigeria’s democracy progress significantly. For one the successful transition to civilian Rule in 1999, this democratic development has been sustained without interference.
Nigeria successfully transitioned from military to civilian rule, marking a significant milestone in its democratic development. This transition represented a renewed commitment to democratic principles, including respect for human rights, freedom of expression, and the rule of law.
The country has also developed from dictatorship and in some ways upheld the rule of law. Giving room for civil society to advocate for democratic reforms, promoting good governance, and holding elected officials accountable.
Although many believe the judiciary lacks autonomy others say Nigeria's judiciary has demonstrated independence in adjudicating disputes and upholding the rule of law. They also say the judiciary has played a pivotal role in resolving electoral disputes and providing a check on the executive branch, contributing to the consolidation of democratic principles.
Press freedom has made government accountable as well as set agenda for policies in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Freedom of conscience, of education, of speech, of assembly are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged."
Nigeria's media landscape has been fairly active since 1999, and many different media outlets produce investigative journalism, and critical analysis, and foster public discourse. The number of media outfits both traditional and online has ensured accountability, transparency, and the advancement of informed citizens.
Described as a work in progress, Nigeria's Democracy can be strengthened by increasing the capacity and independence of institutions.
These institutions include the electoral management bodies, anti-corruption agencies, and the judiciary. Government should place a high priority on good governance, accountability, and transparency to increase public trust and confidence in the democratic system.
Finally promoting political inclusion will give room for the involvement of underrepresented groups, women, and young people in decision-making processes and by granting them equal opportunities for political representation.