Nigeria’s June 12 Democracy Day
Democracy Day is June 12th a national holiday in Nigeria. Until June 6, 2018, the commemoration of Democracy day took place annually on May 29.
Democracy Day marks the day the Nigerian military handed over power to an elected civilian government in 1999. This marked the beginning of the longest uninterrupted civil rule since Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule in 1960. Hence, democracy day is a tradition that has taken place annually since 2000.
June 12th was formerly known as Abiola Day and was celebrated in Lagos, Nigeria, and some southwestern states of Nigeria.
Democracy Day in Nigeria is a public holiday to commemorate the restoration of democracy in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. May 29 was originally the official democracy day in Nigeria and marked the time of the new election.
Olusegun Obasanjo took office as President of Nigeria in 1999, the end of decades of military rule that began in 1966 and was only interrupted by a brief period of democracy from 1979 to 1983.
On June 6, 2018, eight days after May 29, 2018, was celebrated as Democracy Day, the Nigerian federal government, led by President Buhari, declared June 12 to be the new Democracy Day.
Buharis’ declaration is in commemoration of the democratic elections held by MKO Abiola on June 12, 1993, in what was classified as the freest and fairest elections in Nigeria. However, it was canceled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta. MKO Abiola was later arrested after declaring himself president.
A Brief History of Nigeria’s Journey to Democracy
Nigeria gained independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1960, then fell victim to the first of so many military coups on January 15, 1966, and then a civil war. Nigeria is therefore an emerging nation-state, and we must be sure not to overlook the important distinction between emerging democracies (which are often found in emerging states) and established democratic regimes that exist in states with long traditions of uninterrupted sovereignty.
The core of democracy is the principle of popular sovereignty, according to which the government can only be legitimized by the will of those who govern it and so it can be understood why a military coup cannot be considered a democratic regime and Nigeria was not a democratic state in those times.
For most of its independent history, Nigeria was ruled by several military juntas. This can still be a form of democracy as military rule creates a sense of security and security from harm. the degree of resistance to or protection from harm. This protection against damage applies to endangered and valuable assets such as people, shared apartments, nations, or organizations. Security is important for a nation and, especially for democratic security, military rule can be seen as revolutionary.
So while there are brief moments of primary democracy, for example from 1979 to 1983 with Alhaji Shehu Shagari, there is secondary democracy in forms of military government that are only stricter. The last great military ruler was Gen. Sani Abacha, who suddenly died in 1998. His successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, promised a transition to democracy, and accordingly, a new constitution was passed on May 5, 1999. Elections took place and General Olusegun Obasanjo, who had previously ruled Nigeria as military ruler, was elected as the new president.
The end of military rule sparked a new era of regular elections, as well as the return of civil liberties, the free press, and an end to arbitrary arrests and torture, although human rights violations still occur regularly.
Is there Democracy in Nigeria?
“Democracy is like sex. If it is good, it is very good. If it is not so good, it is still quite good”. In the 20th century, more and more states in the world referred to themselves as democracies. But instead of strictly following the Western model of democracy, a large number of so-called “gray area regimes” developed. Described in the specialist literature as “democracies with adjectives” or “hybrid regimes” (Zimmermann, 2004, 18), the need for a new terminology quickly became clear.
Nigeria celebrates 22 years of democracy in 2021 after a long military rule, the country became democratic in 1999. Political reforms, such as anti-corruption measures, gave hope to what the media dubbed “Africa’s greatest democracy”. But the country is still facing major problems: although elections are taking place, they seem to be characterized by fraud and manipulation, terrorism, banditry, poverty, a seemingly dictatorial president, and numerous human rights violations that keep filling headlines daily. As a result, Freedom House sees Nigeria as “partially free”.
The categorization by Freedom House cannot be termed as inaccurate following few incidents which Afroeden as outlined below:
The Twitter ban in Nigeria: blackout of democracy
On June 5, Information Minister Lai Mohammed announced an indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria in response to what the government called “the continued use of the platform for activities capable of undermining Nigeria’s existence”. This was preceded by the deletion of two tweets from President Muhammadu Buhari, who, referring to the country’s civil war from 1967-1970, indicated that any separatist movements in the south-east of the country would be met with extreme violence. Twitter reacted to the widespread outrage among Nigerian users and justified the deletion as a violation of the existing guidelines. The government vehemently denies any connection between the two events.
In no case does the dramatic decision come as a surprise. It embeds itself in the efforts of the Nigerian government, which has been going on for years, through a large number of drafts and amendments – indirectly or directly – to control civil society organizations more strictly, to restrict freedom of expression, or even to determine how freely people express their identity in public can.
These include, among other things, the law passed in 2015 on the ‘fight against cybercrime’, a bill that has been rewarmed since 2016 to regulate non-governmental organizations, the bill on ‘Protection against Internet Counterfeiting and Manipulation’ that was introduced in Parliament in 2019
While the justification for these laws may initially appear understandable and justified – such as ensuring good corporate governance in registered companies and organizations – their content and the corresponding powers are often vague and therefore open to interpretation and abuse. The alleged endeavors of the Nigerian government to regulate in the interests of the common good are de facto becoming state control, and expressions of opinion critical of the government are increasingly interpreted as cyberstalking or fake news, which must be combated.
The Buhari-led government has presented the Twitter ban as a protection of the country’s democracy against an uncontrolled and arbitrary social media giant. The irony of hearing this from someone whose successful 2015 presidential campaign was largely based on Twitter is unlikely to escape most Nigerians.
Brutal Extrajudicial Killing of Peaceful Protesters
It could be recalled of how the Federal government deployed Nigerian soldiers in Lagos in October 2020: In front of the cameras, the armed forces fired into a crowd of peaceful #EndSARS demonstrators who were in favor of the abolition of a dreaded special police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). An event whose story as a massacre is presented by the government to this day as a story of lies blown up by the international media.
The chances that the pressure exerted on civil liberties will diminish soon are extremely slim. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed Nigeria’s economic and social vulnerabilities. While the health consequences have so far been mild in international comparison, the country is confronted with massive economic difficulties and increasing poverty.
In the second quarter of 2020, the gross domestic product collapsed by around 6%. This is particularly related to the fact that Nigeria’s economy and state are largely dependent on the income from the country’s oil and gas sector. In 2019, oil revenues accounted for 70% of government revenues and around 90% of foreign exchange revenues.
Although the International Monetary Fund is expected to grow by 2, 5% in 2021, an estimated 11 million more Nigerians will be living in poverty by 2022 due to the pandemic. According to the latest unemployment statistics, a third of the labor force is unemployed or underemployed. In February 2021, food inflation reached 22%, its highest level in 15 years.
Widespread Terrorism, Banditry, Violence, and Deaths
Fired on by economic and social hardship, the security situation in the country is spiraling out of control. In the first week of June alone, more than 200 Nigerians were killed in violent attacks. More than 130 people were kidnapped across the country. The Islamist terror in the northeast, gang crime in the northwest, the farmer-shepherd conflicts in the center and south of Nigeria, and the separatist efforts of the Indigenous People of Biafra in the southeast of the country have all come to a head over the past year.
The efforts of the security forces have so far had little effect. Nevertheless, Buhari continues to believe in being able to fight fire with fire. The former military ruler introduced himself to Nigeria as a “converted democrat” when he was elected president in 2015.
The spiral of poverty and violence will create the breeding ground for further government interventions in civil rights and freedoms under the guise of public security and order for the foreseeable future. A situation that will be exacerbated by the already hotly debated national elections in early 2023.
Efforts of the Citizenry
In the meantime, it is encouraging that the broader civil society and the young generation of Nigerian society oppose them openly and courageously the government highhandedness through peaceful demonstration and other reasonable means.
The Twitter case Study:
For example, as soon as Twitter could no longer be reached, the first equipped their smartphones with Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps to circumvent the Twitter ban with a pretended location abroad. “VPN app” was the second most searched trend on Google in Nigeria the day after the lockdown. The Justice Minister’s threat to punish violations went unnoticed by millions of Nigerian Twitter users.
It is difficult to see how the Nigerian government intends to continue the fight for strength over Twitter in the long term or even to win it. Economic failure is now estimated at $ 6 million a day – in an age when all income matters. Sections of the international community, led by the United States and the European Union as key development partners, have already expressed disappointment over the Twitter ban.
Democracy Day protests
Well-meaning Nigerians and activists called for nationwide protests because of the level of bad governance, insecurity, and government’s highhandedness.
Protesters turned out in some areas of Southwest Nigeria including Akure, Abeokuta, Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, and Osogbo.
Just as expected, there were reports of police brutality as they fired tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters, especially in Lagos and Abuja. It is also reported that protesters were arrested and many were injured.