In Defence of Democracy; By Issa Aremu

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IN 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari, courageously redressed the historic injustice of the criminal annulment of June 12, 1993.  The president again put it better (and I agree with him!) in the 2022 Democracy Day address he delivered penultimate Sunday that: “On June 12th 1993, Nigerians saw the best in our citizens as we all went out to vote peacefully. By June 24th 1993, we also saw the worst of our leadership as the elections were annulled”.

According to him; “We must never forget the sacrifices of the heroes of Nigeria’s democracy during 1993. Their patriotism and peaceful struggle should guide our actions especially when it comes to electing our leaders and holding them accountable, now and in future”. He also rightly conferred posthumous honours on Chief MKO Abiola and others.

Next year marks the 23rd anniversary of uninterrupted democratic process defined here as a system of regular free and fair elections at federal, state and local government levels. That was after 30 years of brutal military dictatorships that included 3 years of civil war of mass deaths.

Nigerians in the last two decades have made the point that votes and votes-count are the desirable ways for ensuring good governance. Next year, Nigeria is set for the seventh presidential election cycle. There have been scores of states elections and bye-elections.

Of course there are hundreds of federal and state legislative elections and thousands of local government elections since 1999. I commend INEC which despite the imperfect political environment is improving on the electoral process to make elections increasingly credible.

Nigeria as democracy destination 

On Sunday, INEC’s website polled 84,004,084 registered voters. That comes to 176,846 polling units! Eighteen registered political parties. In quantitative terms, Nigeria is the largest democracy destination in Africa! That 84 million registered voters, equals the population of Turkey. The point cannot be overstated: Nigeria has rich democratic heritage beyond the last two decades. Communal accountability openness and representation were the hallmarks of pre-colonial Nigeria. Democratic political parties and civilian leaders fought for Nigeria’s independence. It was a federal parliament that passed the first motion in 1962 that created the first state, Mid-West state (present Edo). Today is a continuation of the same democratic legacy.

In 2015 a sitting President Goodluck Jonathan lost the election. He commendably and graciously accepted the result thus facilitating historic smooth transition of power. He did not lead an insurrection against National Assembly as President Donald Trump attempted after losing election to the Democratic Party in 2020. Jonathan was a product of a doctrine of necessity and consensus-building following the death of the late President Musa Yar’Adua in 2009. Certainly, Nigeria has come of age in democratic renewal. It is self-evident therefore that constitutionalism and democracy had guaranteed political stability and predictability in governance than military rule which once led to avoidable civil war and underdevelopment of Nigeria.

Democracy; forward ever

Nigeria and indeed Africa should never return to the dark days of military dictatorship with all its gross violations of workers’, trade unions’ and human rights. We are in interesting times of democracy renaissance in Africa. Ghana has commendably democratic elections in 1992 after long years of military dictatorship with good turnout of voters. Opposition party, NDC, won 2008 election just as APC won in Nigeria to defeat PDP in 2015. President John Atta Mills unfortunately died on July 24, 2012 just as we lost a sitting president, Umaru Yar’Adua. All these point to consolidation of democracy in Africa. Same with South Africa where, since liberation of Nelson Mandela from 27 years’ imprisonment, six democratic free and fair elections had held.

No lessons from Mali

However, there are disturbing developments in West Africa.  Mali in particular has become a new word for whimsical additive senseless coups. Today all civil societies, political parties in Africa must join ECOWAS to condemn the unhelpful military coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso. Military class in West Africa should follow the examples of Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa and subordinate themselves to elected civil authorities.

The military should NOT opportunistically “weaponise” the shortcomings of democracy to usurp power which belongs to the people in the first instance. ECOWAS should toughen the sanctions against military juntas and make sure they return to barracks. Africa needs more democracy to deepen democracy not military intervention.

MINILS and democracy

Why is the Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS) concerned about democracy and democratic process? The point cannot be overstated: MINILS is an institutional democracy dividend. The late President Shehu Shagari who was democratically elected formally commissioned the foundation of MINILS on May 4, 1983. MINILS was conceived in the third National Development Plan (1975-1980).  Next year, the institute is set for its 40th anniversary.

The mandate of MINILS is in itself democratic: to build the capacity of workers, employers and government officials in labour and industrial relations through participatory training, research, education and inter-institutional linkages. The goal is to promote labour management relations best practices and industrial harmony for sustainable democratic development.

Democracy implies dialogue and tri-partism is a prerequisite for dialogue in industrial relations. When the ILO was first set up in 1919, its founders decided that it should be tripartite because they were convinced that social justice in the field of labour could only be achieved with the involvement of the social partners at all stages. The ILO advocates dialogue and negotiation at all levels, and it therefore seeks to develop the capacities of representative organisations and protect such basic human rights as freedom of association, equality of opportunity and treatment and freedom from forced or compulsory labour. This tripartite approach is also evident in the process of consultation between the representatives of governments, employers and workers leading to the adoption of international labour standards, which are central to the ILO’s efforts to protect workers and combat poverty”.

One modest achievement in the last one year is formulation of first strategic four-year plan founded on the democratic values of openness, transparency, inclusivity, women and gender/ youth involvement. The institute is set to deepen the academic curriculum of our implant, regular programs to include social dialogue, social justice as well as civic education to ensure workplace democracy. So for MINILS, democracy is a total, NOT partial, commitment. The four National Minimum Wage Acts from 1981 to 2018 had taken place under democratic dispensations. Indeed, the military violently curtailed freedom of association, dissolved NECs of NLC in 1986/87 and 1994. Today, unions and civil societies operate unfettered under the rule of law.

It is against this backdrop that MINILS organised this sensitisation programme on The importance of PVCs in the electoral process with the paper by the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Kwara State, Mal. Garba Attahiru Madami.

MINILS promises to partner with INEC to promote electoral literacy among organised labour, employers, government officials and citizens as a whole.

I join President Buhari to express optimism that 2023 elections will be free and fair judging by the democracy now at play in all the primaries of the political parties. I also join the president to demand that elections should be issue-based. I will like to suggest that all the parties should draw manifesto issues from chapter II of 1999 constitution dealing with fundamental principles and directive of states with respect to welfare and security of the citizens. Secondly, the new National Development Plan (2021- 2025) should inform the debates in the coming elections.

Comrade Aremu, mni, Director General Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies, Ilorin, Kwara State, delivered this paper at the Institute’s sensitisation programme on “The importance of PVCs in the electoral process.”

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