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Tinubu: Nigerian Leaders Must Recommit To Values Of Inclusivity, Accountability, Transparency

Nigeria’s President Tinubu says now is time to build a nation where every voice is heard and citizens are empowered.

President Bola Tinubu on Tuesday charged Nigerian leaders to recommit to the values of inclusivity, accountability and transparency in the bid to guarantee a democracy that flourishes and endures for generations yet unborn.

According to him, after 25 years of uninterrupted democracy, it is time for all Nigerians to partake “in building a nation where every voice is heard, where every potential is realised, and where every citizen is empowered to contribute to the collective good”.

The President who spoke at the 2024 Democracy Day Lecture held at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja, noted that at this point of the nation’s democratic journey, every Nigerian, irrespective of background, must be given a chance to contribute to the nation’s shared destiny.  

Represented by Vice President Kashim Shettima, President Tinubu said the lessons learnt after 25 years is that democracy is a journey that must be constantly nurtured and watched closely.

According to him: “Our progress has been marked by both triumphs and trials, each serving as a reminder of the preciousness of our democratic principles. As we move forward, let us recommit to the values of inclusivity, accountability, and transparency, ensuring that our democracy not only endures but flourishes for generations to come.

“The future of Nigeria lies in our hands, in our ability to dream, innovate, and act with courage and conviction. Let us embrace this moment with a renewed sense of purpose, knowing that the path we tread today will shape the Nigeria of tomorrow. This is an invitation for each of us to participate in building a nation where every voice is heard, where every potential is realised, and where every citizen is empowered to contribute to the collective good.”

The President observed that for the nation to have sustained democracy for 25 years, the longest in the country’s checkered history, is evidence of “the enduring sacrifices of several generations of patriots.”

Passing his verdict on the democratic journey so far, President Tinubu declared that 25 years was time enough to ascertain the effectiveness of any experiment.

He said, “Our democratic experience, despite the lows and the highs, is a telling referendum on our aspiration to build a nation that serves the interests of all, a federation that has not conspired against any benign group.

“We are here because the alternative is a descent into dystopia. Today is a moment to reflect on our journey so far. The tragedies Nigeria survived to settle for this democracy, the fourth of such experiments, must inspire each of us to play our part to honour the labour of our founding fathers and mothers and remind ourselves of the principles that drove their resolve to build for us a diverse nation that has defied the pessimism of detached agents of anarchy,” he added.

Noting that it is not just a day of remembrance, the President stated that it is a call to action, even as he said young and competent Nigerians, including the patriotic and innovative, must all be engaged in crafting a succession plan that secures the desired future.

“It is through their energy, creativity, and commitment that we will build a Nigeria that stands resilient against the challenges of tomorrow. Let us therefore pledge to create an environment where every Nigerian, regardless of background, has the opportunity to contribute to our shared destiny,” President Tinubu further noted.

Speaking as an individual, Shettima used the occasion to extol the virtues of President Tinubu describing him as an “unsung hero of Nigerian democracy”.

Shettima praised Tinubu’s enduring sacrifices and commitment to democratic principles, particularly during what he described as the nation’s darkest hours under military dictatorship. 

He noted Tinubu’s efforts in providing political alternatives and support for marginalized politicians despite  being “politically ostracized and demonized”.

In Vice President’s words: “I crave your indulgence to pay tribute to one unsung hero of this democratic journey. Nigerians suffer from memory amnesia, but it’s pertinent to remind us that some three years ago, there was a clamour, robustly funded for a northerner to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. 

“It came with a crescendo, again robustly funded and supported. In those days, a tendency emerged within the ruling party, some of the dramatis personae are alive today, one of them is Right Honourable Aminu Bello Masari. 

“As a group we were driven by a forest of ideas, but what separated and defined us from other political groupings at that epoch was our realisation that what this country needs is a unifying leader, who ponders neither ethnic nor religious agenda, who’s now bound by any toxic regional solidarity and yet known for outstanding leadership. 

“We searched the political horizon and on our search, only one person, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Martin Luther King said the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. 

“The road, the path, that led us to Bola Tinubu did not happen by chance, this is a man who has shown ferocious penchant, who has shown a commitment to sacrificing his comfort, a propensity for sacrificing his own wellbeing for the enthroment of democracy. 

“During the darkest hour of military dictatorship, when the nation was enveloped in darkness, when there were hues and cries of marginalisation and even impending breakup of the Nation. 

“Tinubu sacrificed his life, his time and resources for the enthroment of democracy in this country. This political enigma had been caricatured, but our younger compatriots must be in the know of Tinubu’s memories from two decades past, when he was the fulcrum of opposition to the enthroment of one party dictatorship in this country. When his comptemporaries were trading their principles for a place on the dinner table in Abuja and in the process throwing their allies under the bus, he provided courageously a political alternative to the ruling party. 

“He was fiercely ostracised, politically ostracised and antagonised by the ruling PDP. By virtue of his commitment, his zeal and his resources and his belief in the rule of law, one by one, he retrieved the stolen mandates of Mimiko in Ondo, Rauf  Aregnesola in Osun, Adams Oshiomhole in Edo and he has remained a veritable sanctuary for the victims of political witch hunt over the years.

“When former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, was harrased, intimidated, dehumanised and chased out of the PDP, it was to Bourdillion that he ran to and it was the Lion of Bourdillion that gave him the political structure to contest for the Presidency under the platform of the Action Congress. His choices of Northerners to fly the flag of his party underlined his pan-Nigerian credentials. 

“Four years later, the same Bola Ahmed Tinubu provided the same political structure for for another Northerner, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, to contest for the Presidency of this country. 

“The likes of Baba Akande are still alive to tell the story of the emergence of former President Muhammadu Buhari as flag bearer of the APC and his subsequent success at the 2015 polls. He was one of the most demonized politicians in Nigerian history, he was caricatured, but the Bola Tinubu political machine took charge. 

“They even change the frame of the President’s glasses, they demonized him by getting him to dance in Ibadan, they made him to wear a suit and made him to go to church and without the political support of the Southwest, the story could have been different. 

“This is the unsung hero of the Nigerian democratic journey and in the fullness of time, I believe that posterity will be kind to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu”.

Also, former President Goodluck Jonathan has warned that winners-take-all approach politics, which alienates other parties no matter their performance at the polls, is inimical to political justice and the goal to foster unity in Nigeria 

Speaking  as the chairman of the occasion at the national symposium to mark this year’s Democracy Day,  he advised the national assembly to work out a formula for political parties that score a certain percentage of votes in an election to have role in governance. 

The ex-president observed that the present zero sum practice in the country gives rise to do-or-die politics. 

According to Jonathan: “Let me say that we need to come up with a model of democratic practice that will be more inclusive and reinforce social cohesion. The zero-sum kind of politics where a winner takes it all has not helped to foster unity and political justice.  

“A political party that scores up to 30 per cent of the votes in an election at federal or states should not lose everything. 

“We need to come up with innovative solutions that will address the challenge of political exclusion that usually comes up after elections. “Zero-sum politics has over the years promoted desperation, agitations and disunity. We need to work out a model that guarantees political inclusion and promotes unity and tolerance in the polity.     

“I’m not clearly recommending proportional representation but different governments come up with models of democracy that suits them. 

“After all, the presidency  we’re talking about, all presidents of the world don’t emerge through the same process. In Nigeria, we elect our president directly. In a number of countries, presidents are elected indirectly. 

“The powers of the presidents are defined by different constitutions and so on and so forth. 

“So our national assembly can also look at models that will suit us. The zero sum where a party that even sometimes get 40% of votes especially at the state levels will have nothing, gives rise to this do or die politics. 

“That zero sum approach, I think is inimical to consolidating and strengthening our democracy.

“Let me conclude by saying that together, we can forge a Nigeria where every citizen has a voice, where opportunities abound, where the promise of a better tomorrow is not just a dream but a tangible reality.

“Let us therefore celebrate this milestone with pride and renewed determination.”

The former President advised the Bola Tinubu administration to ensure that the politics of the next 25 years is transformative and inclusive, saying there must be a determined effort to dilute politics of region and religion.  

His words: “Let us ensure that the next 25 years of our democracy are even more transformative and inclusive and more prosperous for all of us.

“In line with the wordings of our National Anthem, ‘To handover to our children a banner without stain,’ we must not handover to our children a democracy built on politics of region and religion. 

“Democracy built on ethnicity does not endure. It will continue to wobble.

“So for the honorable Vice President, you are representing also the president for me, we are hoping that you will build more infrastructure for us, improve the quality of education, health facilities, etc, etc.

“But one key thing that for the next 25 years, you will midwife because you are starting the next 25 years, is to build a democracy that will reduce friction.”

Jonathan also expressed concern over the amount of litigation that follows every election, blaming it on different parochial sentiments. 

He said: “The avalanche of litigations that follow every round of election in Nigeria is very embarrassing. And it’s because of the kind of democracy we practice, democracy built on all kinds of sentiments, either the way you worship your God or from the map of the country you come from. 

“You people have to gradually make sure that in the next 25 years, this is diluted if we must have a solid and enduring democracy. 

“And I know you and the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu who was a key actor in the June 12 crisis will have the capacity to navigate through that process.

“I believe this program and others commemorating this landmark will point the way to that glorious vision, and prepare the nation for a golden time centenary celebrations of enduring democracy.”

Jonathan said 25 years of unbroken democracy is a milestone worthy of celebration considering the nation’s political history, “As it shows, we are making some progress in democratic governance despite the challenges we face in our journey of nationhood.”Noting that the path towards democratic consolidation has been a difficult one, he said the return of democracy in 1999, after many years of military reign, signaled a new phase in the national journey and shared vision of unity, peace and progress.

The former president added: “In the last twenty-five years, we have made modest progress in this regard amid some challenges. As a nation, we built an economy that was once the biggest in the African continent, experienced significant infrastructural growth, made strides in the arts and sports, and recorded many peaceful political transitions at the national and sub-national levels.

“Democracy has also brought about improved access to governance, amplified silent voices and reinforced the idea of sovereignty. 

“Whenever I tune in to Nigerian TV stations, especially in the morning and see young men and women discussing and interrogating contemporary political issues and holding leaders to account, I thank God for democracy and appreciate the gains we have made over the years. 

“Today, citizens have come to terms with the idea of representative governance, as they have over the years expressed their power to choose their leaders and demand accountable leadership and good governance. 

“Our civic space has largely flourished, with a vibrant civil society community, increased media freedoms and an active press.

“Our journey to democratic consolidation has not been an easy one. It has been a mixed bag of gains and losses, progress and pain, within these 25 years.  We have continued to deal with the issues of insecurity, social inequality, unemployment as well as electoral disputes and violence.

“Despite the challenges associated with democracy, the general feeling is that citizens prefer democracy to any other form of government.   

“As a nation, our resolve has been challenged many times, but through shared faith and unity, we have continued to march on.

“We must underscore the fact that democracy is a journey and not a destination. Our democracy, though still young, has weathered storms, overcome challenges and proven its endurance. It has become a beacon of hope, not just for our nation, but for the entire African continent.

“In these 25 years through four power transitions from one president to another including the death of a seating president, we have seen the gradual strengthening of our democratic institutions, the expansion of civil liberties, and the active participation of our citizenry in the political process. This progress, while commendable, also reminds us that our work is far from done.

“It is, therefore, time to make this journey seamless, through good citizenship, patriotic service as well as sacrificial and exemplary stewardship.

“We must continue to build upon the foundations laid, deepen our democratic roots, and ensure that the dividends of democracy are felt by all Nigerians, regardless of their social, economic or geographic status. 

“For democracy to yield its desired dividends, the political class and elite must lead by example and work with unity of purpose to guarantee peace and social justice to the citizens.   

“We must work together despite our political differences, accommodate our diversity and prioritise policies that will impact the lives of our citizens.

“As we project towards celebrating the golden jubilee of our uninterrupted democracy, it is imperative to state that we need to work assiduously towards further strengthening state institutions so that they can withstand the shocks that threaten democratic governance. 

“Democracy as a form of government is anchored on sets of promises in line with a nation’s development and growth aspirations. The fulfilment of these promises reinforces the citizens’ trust and faith in the government. 

“As we celebrate 25 years of unbroken democracy. We look to the future with the hope that democracy has come to stay and that democracy will continue to take firm roots in our nation, and we will have cause to celebrate a centenary of uninterrupteddemocratic governance. “To attain such a feat, the political actors and everyone at the helm of affairs in this country must listen to the voices of the citizens. The lifestyle of the political class should reflect the current realities in our land.”

Earlier, Secretary to Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume, highlighted the sacrifices made by heroes and heroines who fought for democracy, with many paying the ultimate price.

He saluted the courage of Nigerians in upholding democratic values despite challenges. “Our democratic journey is one of optimism as reversal is never contemplated. Today provides an opportunity to salute the resilience of our people in believing in democracy,” Akume stated.

Also speaking, former Governor of Katsina State, Hon Aminu Bello Masari, has warned that Nigeria’s democracy is at a critical juncture, requiring urgent attention to address declining faith in the system, especially among youths. 

Giving the Keynote Speech at the Public Lecture in celebration of Nigeria’s 25th Democracy Day anniversary, Masari noted that while 70% of Nigerians prefer democracy, 77% are dissatisfied with its performance, citing a 2022 Afrobarometer survey.

The former Speaker of the House of Representatives emphasized the need for continuous attention to shifting perceptions of democracy among Nigerians, warning that complacency could undermine the system’s endurance. 

He stressed that democracy’s value lies in its ability to deliver tangible benefits to citizens, urging leaders to prioritize poverty reduction, inequality, human capacity development, and opportunity expansion.

Masari highlighted the importance of engaging youths, who constitute a majority of Nigeria’s population, and creating an enabling environment for their growth and contribution to the country’s development. 

He noted that most youths are dissatisfied with the current system and are seeking opportunities abroad, emphasizing the need to create incentives for them to stay and invest in Nigeria’s future.

His words: “The first point is that we need to pay serious and continuous attention to the shifts in the perception of Nigerians about our democracy. It is easy to think that our democracy can continue to weather the storms because we have had 25 years of unbroken civil rule. That might be misleading. 

“Democracy can continue to endure only when the people think it is desirable and thus worth keeping and defending. According to a 2022 survey by Afrobarometer, 70% of Nigerians polled prefer democracy to other forms of government. That is the good news. But 77% of those surveyed are not satisfied with the way democracy works in Nigeria, up from 57% in 2017. 

“This should get us worried. We need to understand why our people are gradually losing faith in democracy, and we need to consciously strengthen their faith in democracy. 

“The second point, which is related to the first, is that we need to put more effort in delivering the benefits of democracy to the vast majority of our people. Democracy as an idea is great. But people cannot eat it. Scholars such as Amartya Sen, the Economics Nobel Laureate, talk about the instrumental value of democracy, which is about how democracy should serve as an instrument for or a bridge to a better life for the people. 

“Our people call it the Dividends of Democracy. People do not want democracy for its sake. They want democracy to translate to materials benefits for them. They want concrete dividends from democracy. We thus need to redouble our efforts to eliminate poverty, reduce inequality, deepen human capacities and expand opportunities in our society. 

“My third point is that we need to pay special attention to the needs and mindsets of our youths. The youths constitute an overwhelming majority of our population today. It is projected that by 2050, Nigeria will be the third most populous country in the world, with a preponderance of young people. 

“Nigeria can become a global economic powerhouse if we harness the full potential of our youths. To realise this benefit, the so-called demographic dividend, we need to create the enabling environment for our youths, and by extension our country, to thrive. 

“Most of our youths are not satisfied with the system today, and they are checking out of the country in large numbers, mostly because of lack of opportunities for them to actualise their dreams. Let’s create the opportunities for them to stay back at home and contribute their quota to the development of our country. 

“On a related note, more than half of our population today are under the age of 25. This means that most of our citizens were born after 1999. This group includes a significant number of people of voting age today. I call them critical voters. It is important to pay close attention to this group of citizens. 

“On one hand, they can be called the children of democracy. They should be natural defenders of democracy. But on the other hand, they have no memory of how bad the alternative to democracy could be, and they may not be keen about defending democracy. Our task as leaders and elders is to sustain the faith of our youth in our country and our democracy”, Masari said. 

The former governor also advocated for a redefinition of local governance, citing constitutional confusion surrounding the status of local government areas. 

He proposed allowing states to determine their administrative units based on resources and needs, rather than imposing uniformity across the country.

Masari made passionate appeals to politicians to prioritize citizens’ needs over personal interests and embrace democratic culture, acknowledging that democracy is slow and complex but remains the best form of government. 

He also encouraged citizens to be patient with the democratic process, recognizing that nation-building takes time.

The ex-governor prayed for democracy to continue growing in quality and benefiting the majority of Nigerians, emphasizing that democracy is a collective responsibility requiring effort and commitment from all stakeholders.

“The fourth point I want to make is the need to redefine our concept of local governance. We need to ensure that there is adequate and effective governance where it matters the most: at the local level, which is where most of our people live. One of the reasons why local government areas are not functioning effectively is because of the constitutional confusion about their status. 

“On one hand, the local government areas are supposed to be autonomous of the states and are all listed in the constitution. But the same constitution creates joint accounts for states and LGAs, puts the LGAs under the supervision of the states, and mandates the state parliaments to make laws for the LGAs. 

“My considered opinion is that we should redefine the functions and structure of local Governments and remove the confusion enshrined in the constitution on their status. This doesn’t mean that we are going to abolish the local government areas. 

“But we should allow each state to decide how many administrative units it wants to have based on its resources and needs. We should also allow local governance to be adapted to local realities, rather than aim for uniformity across the country.  

“My last point is a passionate appeal to my fellow politicians and the populace. We all need to continue to do our parts in strengthening and deepening our democracy. Politicians need to be more sensitive to the needs and the feelings of the people. We need to continue to remember that democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people. 

“It is not just the government of the politicians by the politicians and for the politicians. In representative democracy, elected politicians merely hold power in trust for the people. We therefore need to prioritise the needs of the populace ahead of our own needs. We also need to become better democrats. We need to fully imbibe the culture of democracy. We need good winners and good losers.

“On their part, our people also need to be more patient with the country. While 25 years of civil rule or 64 years of independence is a long time, it is just a speck in the life of a nation. Most of the countries that we are eager to compare Nigeria to today went through their challenging moments too. They were totally different from the countries that we know 200 years ago. Nation-building takes time. 

“We also need to be more patient with democracy, which by its nature is slow and complex. Democracy is about process, which may make it difficult for issues to be addressed or resolved with immediate effect. It is not without challenges, but democracy is still the best form of government. We need to stay faithful to it. 

“I want to conclude by praying for democracy to continues to grow in our land, not just in years but also in quality, and for the overall benefit of the mass of our people. Thank you for the opportunity”, Masari further said.

Deji Elumoye in Abuja 

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