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Research on a Significant Aspect of the Government and Politics of Nigeria

Nigeria covers an area of 923,768 sq. km bordering 5 countries within the West African region. It has an estimated population of more than 120 million making it the most populous country in Africa. . It has over 250 ethnic tribes which are primarily governed by the old British colonial constitution adopted by the government in 1979. The government has made efforts to review the constitution so as to harmonize Islamic and tribal law with the English common law in the old constitution.

This has been attempted through the bicameral National Assembly comprising of Senate with 109 seats and House of Representatives with 360 seats (Nigeria History and politics) Though it might look like a country governed from one central government, Nigeria is actually a federal state that was built from a collection of civilized societies which existed before the coming of the British colonizers. Among them was the kingdom of Borno, the Yoruba city-states/kingdoms, the Hausa city-state/kingdoms, the Benin kingdom, and the Igbo communities of eastern Nigeria.

These areas were part of a network of extensive trade that included the infamous slave trade way back in the 11th century. After the abolition of slave trade in the 19th century, expansion of trade in agricultural produce from Africa to Europe developed. In 1861 the British noting that the area was profitable, colonized the coastal enclave of Lagos. They later declared it a protectorate in 1900 though this had little impact on the way of life of the locals, given the style of governance applied by Fredrick Lugard, of indirect rule.

In 1947, the British established a federal system of government under a new constitution adopted from Britain. Nigeria was split in three regions: Eastern, Western and Northern in an attempt to quell tension and create harmony between the Yoruba (in the west) the Ibo (in the east), and the Fulani and Hausa in the north (Nigeria History and politics). After independence in the 1960s, the people of Nigeria saw many different military coups and civil wars.

From the Biafran war of secession which failed and led to loss of lives of more than1 million people to the assassination of Murtala Muhammad and the rise of General Obasanjo, then the overthrow of Buhari’s government by Babangida, followed by Abacha, then Abiola, numerous other attempted coups and coups destabilized the country. In addition the war between Christians and Muslims emerged. Following the death of Abacha in 1998, the military, tired of the cycle of military coups, handed power to a democratically elected president, Obasanjo who formally headed a military government on the death of General Murtala Muhammad.

Since then, the religious wars have raged while the coups have subsided (Nigeria History and politics). Today Nigeria plays a leading role in West African affairs. It is a leading member of member of the AU (African Union) and ECOWAS (Economic Union of West African States). Under Obasanjo, the country was able to witness accountable governance and democratic reforms which finally led to a successful democratic election, the second of its kind in the country since independence.

The most urgent issue in Nigeria currently is the issues of democracy, understood not only as an end to military rule but also as the establishment of responsive and responsible political institutions which promote a government that is accountable, prevent corruption, respect human and civil rights, and ensure popular sovereignty. The issue of corruption, nevertheless, still remains one of the most difficult problems under the current government of Obasanjo. (Nigeria History and politics).

The Shari’a law in Nigeria has been in existence for many years, though its scope was only ‘limited to personal status and civil law’ (hrw. org, 2004). Its application however began to be noticed much more widely in the year 2000 when 12 more northern states (which are predominantly Muslim) adopted it as part of their jurisdiction in their criminal courts. However the manner in which the law has been applied in the country has created sharp divisions and controversy in the constitution as it stipulates that there is no state religion.

Thought eh federal government has struggled to reform and harmonize the country’s, legal system in accordance with the human rights standards and conventions it is party to. The Sharia courts have also been criticized of disregarding the rights of the offenders and due process. Most of the cases are rushed, confessions are extracted from suspects under torture and the police who are mainly the instruments of these abuses are directly present the force of the state government with full unchecked powers.

(hrw. org, 2004) It continues to be an issue of concern that the oil boom of the 1970s has not brought the country any good tidings, The economy is in crisis despite the expansion in oil production over the years. The political instability of the past regimes have worsened the situation and driven citizens to hopelessness. In a common dictatorial style, any dissent voice has been imprisoned or silenced; some have opted to go in exile.

Good governance has been elusive though Obasanjo in his second term as a civilian president has made many gains towards that direction but the structure of the federal government and the deep rooted cultural differences in the people of Northern Nigeria who are predominantly Muslim, and those of south who are mostly Christian and traditional religions, have made it hard for the government to find a long lasting solution to the extent of power of state and federal government especially with the issue of Sharia law.

(Nigeria History and politics). Though the laws (Shari’a) might not entirely be bad their interpretation and applications is what raises big concerns and problems for the federal government. This same sentiment has also been shared by prosecutors and local religious leaders in the northern states who initially had supported the introduction of the laws but were “disillusioned” after it was turned into a tool for political manipulation (hrw. org, 2004)

Perhaps the champions of the Shari’a law have borrowed a leaf from the vile actions of state and federal security organs which had killed thousands in massacres, extrajudicial killings and torture. Like the federal government which has more than two thirds of the population in the prisons still untried, the Shari’a based northern states have also been detaining suspects without trial and torturing them , instead of handing them sentences which have been condemned by the international community and the federal government. (hrw. org, 2004)

The federal government in Nigeria has also been under fire from the international community and human rights organizations. It’s apparent laxity in ensuring democratic elections which are free from violence and corruption. The government has also come under sharp criticism for its lack of transparency and accountability in serious national issues of politics and development. Having returned to civilian rule in 1999, leaving behind the infamous “corrupt and authoritarian military governments by” past governments, the current democratic governments have only presented an illusion of democracy.

Elections in 1999 to 2003 were characterized by widespread fraud and violence. In 2007, an election which ushered the new president, Umar Yar Adua which was full of bloodshed, for instance in Anambra State, one of the candidates in the state elections “hired armed “cult” gangs to seize control of the electoral process” leading to bloody fighting with the opposing candidates gangs”… tapped into by carrying out acts of violence” (Human rights watch, 2008)

After 2007 elections President Yar Adua promised to bring electoral reforms. In august the same year he unveiled the election reforms panel which was mandated to bring change in the electoral commission to allow “elections that are deemed free and fair by local and international observers… ” (NigerianMuse. com, 2007) While this is welcome, the issue of completely disengaging the military from interfering in government operations has also been a concern of the international community.

Though many people disagree that this is possible, Nigeria saw this once after Olesegun Obasanjo took power in 1979. He set upon a task of creating a government that would be able to negotiate with an incoming elected government, without Army coups, safe and secure retirement for all outgoing leadership, protection of properties and non- persecution of former government members. He also wanted to adhere to the conditions set forth by the IMF of ensuring that these new set of rules of governing the country are not flouted (Yusuf, 1987)

In May 1999, upon the election of Olesegun Obasanjo as a civilian president, using his Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), he started a systematic rape of federalism by entrenching practices of a unitary government. He appointed a retired military officer as the Administrator of Ekiti State after consulting with some junior officers whereas according to the constitution, the Judiciary would were the “ appropriate authority to interpret the constitution and decide accordingly and not the Presidency” (Nafute, 2006) Nigeria according to Dr.

Nefute given the above descriptions is experiencing a crisis in governance. He explains that Nigerians are not held together by their allegiance to the federal state of Nigeria but rather are held together by their allegiance to their states and ethnic backgrounds. (Nafute, 2006). These he calls “the nations of Nigeria” and describes them as un-collaborative but “intensely confrontational and hostile in their political discourse” because of the federal state has failed to provide clear guidelines of integration.

Talking of political discourse, Nigerians according to Hank Eso, “are not quite ready to discuss candidly… governance questions” and engage more in partisan politics. Some argue that Olesegun Obasanjo being the only southern who has led the country since independence; more southern people should be given a chance at the presidency than the northerners, who might be responsible for the Current ‘rot ‘ that the country is undergoing. This has been exhibited by sentiments of some leaders which are not only anti-progressive, but are also demeaning.

For instance in January 2009 governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa state was quoted saying “What lessons have we to learn from Ghana’s so-called successful conduct of its general election? Absolutely none, I will say. We are big, we have our peculiarities, Ghana has it own, and so, we are quite different in all respects. Nigeria remains the giant of Africa and, therefore, others must continue to learn from us, not us learning from a country like Ghana.

” It is obvious that such kind of leaders make the political environment not only polarized but sharply polarized under different divisions. Perhaps the next issue would not be Ghana, but would be: we northerners or we southerners and then degenerate to we Ibo or we the Hausa e. t. c. (Eso, 2009) According to Dr. Natufe of University of Benin, good governance is that which fulfils some “key prerequisites” such as upholding accountability and transparency and allowing equal participation in government at the same time creating room for predictability (Nafute, 2006).

Dr. Natufe proceeds to describe that accountability in an ideal democracy, entails the capacity to which all government and elected official can give answers for their activities according to set standards and goals. Transparency, he describes as “easy and unrestricted access of government information by the population. This includes all government policies and programmes as well as decision making processes. In addition, public participation, he notes, is very important because it is the only way the population can have influence in matters that affect them.

This includes being vigilante during and after vote casting, questioning the decisions of the authority if they are un-procedural and raising the alarm whenever they suspect that some thing is not right. In order to have a predictable outcome in any democratic exercise, there is need of ensuring that the laws of the land and the constitution is interpreted and applied without biasness or malice within the boundaries of the Constitution. Any frivolous and unguided application of the law, Dr.

Netufe says, would render the constitution useless He gives as an example, the federal government of Nigeria which has been into conflict with jurisdictional responsibilities of different organs of the government (Nafute, 2006). In his exploration of the relationship between government and politics, Dr. Netufe examines the process of policy formulation in an ideal democratic government where transparency, accountability predictability and participation are observed.

In sharp contrast the Nigerian federal government and seemingly un-democratic tendencies has flouted all the four elements above, consistently. He adds that decisions that are arrived at by observing all the four conditions above have a better chance of reflecting a balanced choice which is based on informed reasoning. A growing sense of disenchantment in the various levels of government has been noted in the average Nigerian and evidenced by the increasing unemployment, redundant political institutions and high crime rate.

Furthermore assassinations of various political leaders in the states elections are a sign that the government has adopted a mafia style of government The federal system of government “provides a vital conceptual base for good governance as it emphasises the two fundamental premises of federalism. First, both levels of government – the central government and the states (federating unites) – are independent, but never subordinate to one another. Second, the relationship between the central government and the federating units is horizontal and not vertical…. ” (Nafute, 2006).

Today as is characteristic of African leaders to consolidate power and thus cling on it, President Yar Adua is being criticized for already launching his campaign for the 2011 elections instead of focusing on development and economic growth. According to an online publication, Nigerian politics, he is said to have resided over the worst slow down in the government and” a reversal of some of the good deeds of the Obasanjo administration. The country’s foreign debt has risen to billions of dollars and Niger delta crisis has led to a loss of more than 6 billion in dollars of oil.

The government has been unable to contain the criminal gangs who are causing problems in the Delta and thus the gangs have already expanded their activities in the other areas including the administrative capital Abuja. The government has instead hoodwinked the public that it is fighting corruption by firing some of the hardworking ministers in government and replacing them with non- performing sycophants and continues top protect some of the close allies to President Yar Adua while persecuting law enforcements agents who helped fight corruption (Nigerian Politics,2009)

It agreed that federalism though not an absolute perfect form of government, good governance can be achieved up to the maximum level because it allows the states to have exclusive jurisdictions in key areas of their economies, exploitation and distribution of natural resources, the states have the to agree independently which powers they wish to concede to the federal government in exception of defense and custom and foreign policy.

In addition the fact that most of the states in the federal system in Nigeria cannot even survive on themselves as entities having been formed during the clamor for power by the various military regimes, poses a big challenge to the government bearing in mind that there were only four states at independence and in addition most of the states are organized on ethno linguistic basis that is purportedly designed “to subdivide the homogenous majority ethnic communities” and forcing the minority ethnic groups to join the majority states It is hard to arrive at a consensus when the various states are ethnically divided and each has different, sometimes conflicting goals (Kumar, 2005).

Though President Olesegun Obasanjo on June 25, 2003, made a proposal at the inauguration of the Technical Committee on the Review of the Structure of Local Government Councils to “improving the effectiveness of local government as a vehicle for promoting and sustaining grassroots development” and that “unless the existing local government system is reviewed and restructured to promote greater accountability, optimal performance and drastic reduction of the current astronomical cost of operating the system, the yearnings of our people will be unwarranted”. Today nothing has been done and the situation is seems worse than before. This is why Adejumo, like why many Nigerians, can not “take the words or speeches of… leaders serious” (Adejumo, 2009)

It is paramount that Nigerians elect leaders who “possess and demonstrate excellent leadership qualities and credentials for the offices they occupy” the leaders must also in turn recognize that they have a duty to the people, must be accountable and respect “constitutional jurisdictions and the superiority of their public elected offices” in comparison to their positions and allegiance to their political parties ( Natufe, 2006) Other organs of government should also be strengthened such as the electoral commission so that future elections are seen to be fair. References Adejumo, A. Akintonkubo. The High Cost of Governance – Bad Governance: The Relationship: London; 2009: <http://www. newnigerianpolitics. com/indextemplatecom_akintokunbo_high_cost_of_governance_mar21_2009. html> Eso Hank.

Reframing the governance discourse in Nigeria: The Impartial Observer: Sunday 18th Jan 2009 <http://www. kwenu. com/publications/hankeso/2009/reframing_governance_discourse_nigeria. htm > Human rights and Islamic in Northern Nigeria, 2004 < http://www. hrw. org/reports/2004/nigeria0904/> Human rights watch, Nigeria politics marred in corruption and violence, 2007 <http://www. thinkweb. hrw. org/en/news/2007/10/08/nigeria-politics-mired-corruption-and-violence > Kumar Ashutosh, Journal of African and Asian Studies: problems of democratic transition and consolidation in Nigeria: Lessons from democratic experience in India, 2005: issue no 40; 371 <http://www. jas. sagepub. com/cgi/content/abstract/40/5/371> Nafute, Igho. O.

, Governance and politics in Nigeria: A Lecture: University of Benin: Benin 2006 <http://www. dawodu. com/natufe4. htm> Nigerian Politics, President Yar Adua bid for 2011:16th February, 2009 <http://www. nigerianpolity. blogspot. com/> Nigeria: History and Politics, < http://www. iss. co. za/Af/profiles/Nigeria/Politics. html> Nigerian Muse, Umar Musa Yar Adua Sets Up Electoral Reform Panel, 31st Aug 2007<http://www. nigerianmuse. com/important_documents/? u=Umar_Musa_Yar_adua_sets_up_Electoral_Reform_Panel. htm> Yusuf, M. M: The Army and Politics of Transition in Nigeria: A discussion paper for the Nigerian Union of journalists, Press centre, 1987 <http://mmyusuf. blogspot. com/2008/01/army-and-politics-of-transition-in. html>

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