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Nigeria’s 25-year Democracy: Time to Negotiate a new Social Compact with Citizens

12th June 2024

2024 Democracy Day Press Statement

Introduction

Today, we commemorate 25 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria’s journey to nationhood. This significant milestone is a testament to the collective will and commitment of the Nigerian people to democratic ethos and principles, including the courage, resilience, and patriotism that transcend demography, geography, ethnicity, and religion. Yiaga Africa pays special tribute to our forefathers and mothers who led the struggle for democracy. We celebrate their courage and resistance to authoritarian rule, which paved the way for the enthronement of democracy. As we celebrate Nigeria’s democratic journey, Yiaga Africa reflects on it with pride, trepidation, and unwavering hope for the future.

Over the past 25 years since return to democratic rule, Nigeria has witnessed incremental political, social, and economic gains. As a system of government, democracy has enabled increased citizens participation and strengthened democratic institutions despite the allure of institutional capture. The conduct of periodic elections despite challenges and the transition of power attests to the durability of Nigeria’s democracy. The existence of a vibrant civil society, media and active citizens demanding accountability from public leaders and institutions has been pivotal to democratic consolidation in the last 25 years.

While Nigeria’s democracy shows signs of progress, significant challenges remain. Incidences of election malpractices, electoral violence and intimidation remain a significant concern, deterring voter participation and compromising the integrity of elections. Corruption and lack of accountability by public leaders continues to plague Nigeria’s political landscape, eroding public trust in democratic institutions. Despite progress, women, youth, and persons with disability remain underrepresented in political leadership and decision-making processes. Deep-seated socio-economic inequalities hinder the full realization of democratic rights for many Nigerians. Journalists, civic activists and citizens experience attacks, intimidation, frivolous litigation, and unlawful detention by state forces for speaking truth to power. Robust democracy thrives with respect for human rights and civil liberties, rule of law, press freedom, independent judiciary and citizens’ participation. Addressing these challenges requires negotiating a new  social compact between the government and citizens.

The Imperative of Negotiating a New Social Compact

Trust in government and institutions has declined over the past 25 years. A new social compact can help restore this trust by making governance more transparent, accountable, and responsive to citizens’ needs. Renegotiating the social compact can create a more inclusive society with equal opportunities and access to resources for all. It can also emphasize shared values and responsibilities, fostering community and solidarity among citizens. This is crucial for addressing collective challenges such as public health crises, security threats, economic depression, political exclusion and social cohesion. After 25 years, it is clear that Nigeria needs to build a more resilient, equitable, and just society.

As we celebrate this milestone, we call on all stakeholders – government, political parties, civil society, and the private sector – to negotiate a new social compact with citizens. This social compact should aim to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Improve social conditions through wealth redistribution, job creation, and food security.
  2. Safeguard the right to vote and respects choices expressed through the ballot.
  3. Strengthen local governance by devolving powers to local governments, promoting local democracy, and enabling citizen participation.
  4. Deepen public accountability and ensure consequences for breaches of public trust.
  5. Protect human rights and civil liberties, especially press freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to peaceful assembly.

The way forward

As we look to the future, we call for a recommitment to democratic ethos and principles. This entails:

  1. Strengthening Institutions: Reinforcing the independence and capacity of democratic institutions, including INEC, the judiciary, and anti-corruption bodies, to operate without fear or favor.
  1. Promoting political education: Enhancing political education to empower citizens with the knowledge and skills necessary to actively participate in the democratic process especially holding public leaders to account for the power they hold in trust for the people
  2. Fostering dialogue and collaboration: Encouraging dialogue and collaboration among political actors, civil society, and the private sector to address common challenges and build a more inclusive democracy.
  3. Protecting human Rights: Upholding and protecting the fundamental human rights of all Nigerians, ensuring that every citizen can freely express their views, assemble, and participate in the political process without fear of retribution.

Conclusion

As we reflect on 25 years of democracy, we celebrate the progress made and acknowledge the challenges that remain. We honor the sacrifices of those who have fought for democracy. We also honor the sacrifices of fellow citizens who have kept the torch and fire of democracy through active citizenship including those who we have lost in recent times during popular struggles and protests.  

The journey of democracy is continuous, and it is our shared responsibility to safeguard and strengthen it for future generations.

Happy Democracy Day!

Signed.

Samson Itodo

Executive Director

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Yiaga Africa is a non-profit civic hub of change makers committed to the promotion of democratic governance, human rights and civic engagement.

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