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Key issues in Africa’s democratic journey, By Jibrin Ibrahim

Wishing General IBB a happy 81st birthday 

I was the keynote speaker at General Ibrahim Babangida’s Legacy Dialogue yesterday speaking on the theme of Africa’s democratic journey. I made two preliminary points. The first is that soldiers are soldiers and civilians are simply bloody civilians and the two blocs are sharply divided, or so we often think. The military ruled Nigeria for almost 30 years and impacted strongly on the country’s culture and institutions. Their rule impacted negatively on society by generalising authoritarian values, which are in essence anti-social and destructive of politics. Politics in this sense is understood as the art of negotiating conflicts related to the exercise of power.

Military regimes have succeeded in permeating civil society with their values – both the formal military values of centralisation and authoritarianism and the informal lumpen values associated with “barrack culture” and brutality that were derived from the colonial army. The contemporary Nigerian elite has been acquiring a lot of “barrack culture” over the period. For example, the Nigerian elite starch and press their clothing in a very military style? Many within the aging ruling class we have today spent a lot of their younger days in army barracks – major social centres at that time for sports, discotheques, consumption of alcoholic beverages, gambling and prostitution. Yes, to my young compatriots, the elders in power today did all that also. The decline in civility and a rise in violence in social interactions that we have today have their origins in the orientation received under military rule. In the 22 years of the Forth Republic, the civilian politicians have shown themselves to lack civility and respect for the other. They have centralized power in the hands of the President or governor or local government chairman and increasingly, civilian rule is looking lie military rule. The difference between the military and civilians has therefore narrowed considerably.

My second preliminary remark is on the IBB Legacy. One thing that stands out about his regime was his commitment to seeking out Nigerian intellectuals and experts to develop innovative solutions to governance challenges. Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti was one such expert who developed, probably the best public health policy in our history during his tenure from 1985 to 1992. He developed a programme anchored on preventive medicine and healthcare services at the grassroots level, mandated exclusive breastfeeding, free immunisation for children, and oral rehydration therapy for nursing mothers. He also promoted continuous nationwide vaccination, and pioneered an effective HIV/AIDS campaign. These measures are today considered standard as he later went on to anchor that at the World Health Organisation but at that time, it was completely new thinking. Had we maintained the implementation of those policies, our public health status today would have been far away from the current narrative of failure.

IBB also tried to frontally address the challenge of the collapse of governance and the non-functionality of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). His proposed solution was the development of alternative “MDAs” by developing a multiplicity of parallel organs such as the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) and the Mass Mobilisation for Social and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) took over most of the functions of the ministries of works, agriculture, industry and information. The innovation did not work but since that time, there has been only few and feeble attempts to confront our reality of MDAs that do not perform their statutory functions.

Another interesting initiative is that of political engineering to address our democracy deficits. The analysis of the political ills of the Nation done by the Political Bureau (1986 to 1987) remains one of the most thorough analysis of Nigerian politics. It was ambitious and set out to drew up a programme of “political crafting” that would create a new democratic political culture for Nigeria. It involved the resolution of the country’s economic and socio-political problems through institutions such as the Directorate for Social Mobilisation, the Centre for Democratic Studies and the Structural Adjustment Programme that would turn Nigeria into a genuine democracy operated by honest people with a sound economy. The second aspect was the political transition programme itself which had a series of elections that would eventually culminate in a handover to an elected civilian administration. The handover date however became a mirage which was postponed from October 1990, to October 1992, to January 1993 and finally ended in a terrible manner with the June 12 saga.

Last year, a number of African experts were convened by the Africa Office of the UNDP to prepare a report under the leadership of Amb Ejevionne Otobo on Reimagining Governance and Peacebuilding in Africa. Our team leader, Otobo, was very insistent that African democracy was confronting a significant regression because African leaders are currently unravelling and destroying the normative system and political values they have themselves enacted for the consolidation of democracy. The whole team agreed with him that the time has come for a rebirth of democracy based on the fundamental principles we drew up for ourselves and agreed to uphold. We fondly called Amb Otobo “our headmaster” and very sadly, we lost our headmaster last June.

We argued that the years 1990 and 2000 were pivotal in Africa’s journey toward improved governance and peacebuilding. In 1990, African countries began the long transition from military regimes and single-party rule to multiparty democracy, marked by the convening of national political conferences. Africa’s progress towards embracing democratic norms is unprecedented both in comparison to its past efforts and to that of other developing regions in the world. The major constituent instruments adopted by African governments include:

  • the 2000 Lomé Declaration on unconstitutional changes of government, which was subsequently codified into Articles 4 (P) and 30 of the 2000 Constitutive Act of the African Union;
  • the 2002 Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union;
  • the 2003 African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM); and,
  • the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which came into force in 2012.

African governments have led efforts to define sovereignty as responsibility. This can be seen in the paradigm shift away from the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of member states to non-indifference. This is reflected in the amended Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act, which gives the AU “the right to intervene in a member state… in respect of grave circumstances, namely, war crime, genocide, and crime against humanity as well as serious threat to legitimate order to restore peace and stability to the member state of the Union.”

The normative and legal foundations of the AU and other regional institutions have prompted some actions. For example, the AU has invoked Article 30 of the 2000 Constitutive Act to suspend 13 countries’ membership in the AU following coups d’état in those countries by June 2022. The AU Peace and Security Council has authorized peace operations in: Burundi (2003); Somalia – AMISOM (since 2007); Comoros (2008); Mali (2013); Regional Coordination Initiative against the Lord’s Resistance Army (2007); Central African Republic (2013); Lake Chad region (2015); and with the United Nations in Darfur (UNAMID, 2007, closed in 2020).

The African Union Constitutive Act was adopted in 2000. In the 22 years since its adoption, 23 coups d’état have taken place in 14 African countries: Burkina Faso (2014, 2022); the Central African Republic (2003); Chad (2021); Egypt (2013); Guinea (2008, 2021); Guinea-Bissau (2003, 2004, 2012); Madagascar (2002, 2009); Mali (2012, 2020, 2021); Mauritania (2005, 2008); Niger (2010); São Tomé and Príncipe (2003); Sudan (2019, 2021), Togo (2005) and Zimbabwe (2017). It bears emphasizing that five of them – Burkina Faso (2014), Zimbabwe (2017), Sudan (2019), Mali (2020) and Guinea (2021) – were preceded by widespread public protests, reflecting deep dissatisfaction with the then-incumbent governments. I always make the point that Africans are firm believers in democracy even when many of their leaders are not. The African people have therefore been resisting the attempts to roll back democracy in Africa, often, at great risk to themselves.

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