By James Apeh Esq
The successful conduct of the 2015 general election marked a milestone in the development of the Nigerian democracy. This is not unconnected to the fact that it witnessed a lot of firsts in the history of the Nigerian polity; It was the first time that an incumbent president was defeated at the polls; it was also the first time that a presidential candidate conceded defeat and even went ahead to congratulate the winner.
It would not be entirely incorrect to suggest that people the world over generally view a democratic government as the most preferred system that least violates the rights of citizens. This perception is undoubtedly as a result of the view that democracy in its advanced form is a universal idiom of liberty, justice and human development. Democracy as it is understood today has come a long way in the African continent in general and Nigeria in particular. Because of her rather unfortunate past of being a British colony, the entity known as Nigeria today has had to develop from her traumatic roots in colonialism.
The colonial state which in every respect was the precursor of the post colonial state played a critical role in the slow development of a democracy in Nigeria. In colonial Africa there were two features of state power; its absolutism and arbitrariness. As if to underscore its arbitrariness of power, the officials of the colonial state showed hardly any interest in transforming domination into hegemony. Also since the colonial state was for its subjects, it could not engender any legitimacy even though it made rules and laws profusely and propagated values.
At independence, Africans were seeking a democracy as matter of survival; they believed that there were no alternatives to this quest; they thought that they had nothing to lose and great deal to gain. However this belief was destroyed as the form and function of the state in colonial Africa did not change much at independence. State power remained essentially the same, immense arbitrary often violent, always threatening.
The Nigerian state at independence was inherently a violent institution and to that extent a crisis generating mechanism. Repression suppression and intimidation were essential attributes of the state in the post-colonial period. The establishment of hegemony, consensus building, dialogue, negotiation, respect for human rights and the rule of law were largely alien to its modus operandi. These attributes were inherited form the colonial state. The development of a bourgeoise nation-state based on abiding respect for the rights of citizens and the establishment of a liberal political order was not the central concern for the colonial state. If anything the colonial state was an untamed leviathan which relied on force and coercion rather than hegemony and legitimacy as mechanisms of rule.
Thus the hopes and aspirations of Africans were thus dashed. Democracy they failed to realize was an expensive project, in both human and material resources. It requires discipline, patience, vision and commitment. As such, no sooner had new democracies emerged in Africa than they began to crumble with ease, threatening a return to the state of nature for many. This situation was worsened by the phenomenon of protracted military rule and dictatorship. Nigeria is now fifty four years old and has only witnessed sixteen years of uninterrupted sustained democracy.
Colonialism by itself may not necessarily be the defining factors in ascertaining the direction, speed and scope of change for a country. The nature and ideology of the succeeding elite, geography, tradition, patriotism and culture are fundamental ingredients that explain how people react to given phenomena. The reaction of a group of people to colonialism will differ depending on the cultural luggage of the colonized people. The events that played out in the 2015 general elections can no doubt be seen as a good omen in the direction, speed and scope of the development of democracy in the country.
In spite of the challenges faced, the Nigerian people reacted positively to the development of democracy in the political entity known as Nigeria. They came out to vote even when they were threatened not to, Nigerians waited for the votes to be counted under extreme whether conditions in some cases, the youths represented by the coppers of the national youths service corps played various roles at the polling units during the elections and the academia represented by the REC of various states of Nigerian played an important role of being uncompromising. The civil society organizations played their role of monitoring the elections to ensure that they were fair. The media played their part in informing Nigerians on happenings before, during and after the elections. The president elect on his part played an important role by not giving up on running for the post of the present in spite of repeated failure and finally the incumbent president who lost conceded and congratulated his successor.
Considering the arms build up, the divisive campaigns and international predictions of crisis that preceded this year’s election, Nigerians have every cause to be proud and grateful. The manner in which the 2015 general election was conducted and the response to the result of declaration by INEC of the results those who ran for elective positions both the governors federal and state level shows that Nigeria is rising . If we collectively and individually resolve to we can record a bigger first than the ones recorded in the 2015 general elections.