It was four months after he bagged his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. He was 22. Alhaji Sammani Zango, his father – obviously elated, opened a rice mill for him to manage. On December 4, 2019, while on his way to broker a deal with a customer, he was shot dead by a policeman in popular Niger Street in Kano State, Northwest Nigeria.
That was a glimpse of Mus’ab Zango, a similitude of Tina Ezekwe’s story. But that is also the picture of an average Nigerian citizen in the face of threatening democracy. Morning comes alive and the Sun rises on his path. But it is hard to tell if he’ll see the Sunset.
With the Warsaw Declaration of the year 2000, the collective resolve of member States, otherwise called the Community of Democracies (CoD) to uphold and strengthen democratic principles in their respective States was initiated. By this also, the commitment by the community to support each other – however, within the context of State sovereignty and the Principle of non-interference, to realise these principles were enacted.
19 democratic principles consisting of a varied list of norms and essential practices formed the conditions and framework under which States can effectively establish democratic development: These are;
(1) Free and fair elections,
(2) Equal access to public service,
(3) Equal protection of the law,
(4) Freedom of opinion and expression,
(5) Freedom of thought, conscience and religion,
(6) Equal access to education,
(7) Right of the press to collect, report and disseminate information, news and opinions,
(8) Respect for private family life,
(9) Freedom of peaceful assembly and association,
(10) The right of minorities or disadvantaged groups to equal protection of the law,
(11) The right of every person to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention,
(12) Rights enforced by a competent, independent and impartial judiciary,
(13) An obligation of elected leaders to uphold the law,
(14) The right of those duly elected to form a government,
(15) The obligation of an elected government to refrain from extra-constitutional actions,
(16) That government institutions are transparent, participatory, and fully accountable,
(17) That legislature is duly elected, transparent and accountable,
(18) The principle of democratic control over the military,
(19) And that all human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social – be promoted and protected.
Over 100 countries are currently signed up to the Warsaw Declaration including Nigeria. It is now 21 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria and 20 years of her commitment to the democratic principles through the Warsaw Declaration. Within this period, reservations have risen about the style, form, and essence of the nation’s democratic system within the context of the nation’s peculiar features. Increased violence in its many forms and deepening human insecurity – characteristic of little or non-existent protection for the most vulnerable in the society, as well as widening poverty gap between the elite and the masses have further lent credence to these reservations.
The need to reflect on the outcome of the nation’s democracy to truly evaluate her commitment to the Warsaw Declaration is indeed pertinent. And at a time when Nigeria had recently celebrated her landmark democracy day (June 12), this conversation is all the more imperative.
The Community of Democracies heralds “the will of the people” as the starting point of any democratic governance. The will of the people legitimizes and gives authority to the government to initiate democratic governance for the common prosperity of all. This is why the free and fair election is fundamental to the subject of democracy. Nigeria has sustained progressive efforts on government transitioning through elections since 1999. But whether these elections have truly reflected “the will of the people” remain a collective bane. How do we ascertain “the will of the people” in a complex, cumbersome, manipulative, and exclusionary character that currently defines the nation’s electoral processes? How do we explain the apathy that has become the culture of the middle-class for lack of trust in electoral processes and outcomes? Reminiscent of the nation’s inability to reflect the will of the people in many of its elections are widespread poverty, age-long and worsening underdevelopment and inequality, among others.
Despite this fundamental struggle, people have kept faith in the system. And despite its many obvious shortfalls, the nation’s civic space is expanding. Although the elitist political class is beginning to get accustomed to citizens’ heightening interest in government affairs, there are still deliberate efforts to maintain the status quo. Despite these contentions, civil societies and organizations are becoming a strong voice that is shaping policies and political landscapes. Young people especially are learning new tools and leveraging technology to make visible their cause and concerns to relevant government authorities when and where appropriate.
But the journey to true democratic governance still seems unreachable. And even though the people’s voices are indeed becoming louder, there are indications the ‘listeners’ may truly not be listening. One way to be sure, among others, is to weigh the government’s responses to the need for transparency and public accountability as enshrined in the Warsaw Declaration. It is still uncommon for elected individuals to give a credible account of their stewardship. Many government processes continue to be shrouded in secrecy and it remains alien – to have public office holders present themselves to the people for accountability.
For example, much as elected officials can argue to represent the will of their constituencies, what is clear is that many of them are averse to returning to the people to account for the people’s common resources. And even with the progress made by the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, it remains an uphill task to demand or receives information or accountability from government and its agencies.
The 19 democratic principles of the Warsaw Declaration are primarily hinged on 3 broad themes of (1) Peace, (2) Development, and (3) Human Rights. The Declaration emphasizes the interdependence between these themes and democracy. It acknowledges that effective democracy can only be achieved in conformity with these 3 broad themes. Deep interrogation of these themes in the context of the nation’s current human development experiences will help us reflect on where we are as a nation and what we must do.
Peace and (In) Security
The Nigerian government is conversant with the implications of security or otherwise on her State, citizens, the sustainability of democratic development and continues to sustain its offensive against security threats. However, the challenges are tumultuous. From Boko Haram conflict in the Northeast, armed banditry and kidnapping in the Northwest; rape and extrajudicial killings in the South; from torture to police brutality; from non-inclusion to marginalization, Nigeria’s story is a party of violence against the State and her people. Citizens are a victim of a complex character of a non-empathetic culture – the making of a society characteristic of leaving her citizens in the cold to chart their path through the tones of horrific vulnerabilities. Since 2009, Boko Haram has continued to threaten the lives and livelihoods of the Nigerian State. In 2019, the armed group carried out at least 31 attacks that resulted in at least 378 civilian deaths. The group also killed at least 16 abducted civilians (Amnesty International). It is unclear the premium and value that the Nigerian State currently place on the life of her citizens to ensure it upholds its core mandate to her citizens and the commitment to the Warsaw Declaration. Nigeria must as a matter of urgency increase her political will to protect its citizens. It must strengthen her security agencies’ capacity to effectively investigate crimes and bring offenders to face justice – the elite class inclusive. Domestication of policing architecture to be resident within the locals is now even more paramount.
In the face of challenging security and leadership ills currently undermining democratic principles, the nation has deepened its gulf into currently being the world’s poorest country. Basic livelihoods for many of its citizens living below the poverty line are on a progressive trajectory of decline. What the Nigerian State must do now is to ensure that her citizens can create and sustain their livelihood in a progressive manner that ensures sustainable growth by harnessing and strengthening her local talent.
Development programs that support social cohesion must be rolled out to mitigate the palpable socio-cultural resentments which currently isolate the people into their district enclaves. In a multicultural system like Nigeria, efforts to ensure pluralism cannot be overemphasized. Many civil societies are taking on this task. But a lot more needs to be done. Government effort to support such initiatives must transcend rhetoric to truly deliver on democratic governance, taking advantage of her diverse cultural space for the common good of all. One underlining cause of Nigeria underdevelopment, corruption must also be confronted headlong and those culpable be brought to justice.
Human Rights of citizens as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and as further emphasized in the Warsaw Declaration are fundamental to functional democratic governance to ensure sustainable democratic development. Nigeria has led efforts in establishing Human Rights Institutional frameworks and mechanisms to ensure promotion and protection of citizens’ rights. The National Human Rights Commission established by the National Human Rights Commission Act, 1995 is one of these efforts. Through the Human Rights Commission Amendment Act of 2011, the State has further committed to strengthening this vital institution by ensuring its full independence and authority devoid of government interference.
However, despite the nation’s over 20 years of democratic governance, impunity pervades all levels of government as its agencies are consistent with a culture of disregard for the rights of the people. A long list of detained journalists; harassment; torture; and extrajudicial killings of citizens (as recorded in our introductory story) by security forces is a frequent occurrence. Between February and April 2020, the nation’s security operatives killed 18 civilians and widespread cases of police brutality were recorded in 24 out of 36 states, following the enforcement of Covid-19 lockdown (National Human Rights Commission). To align Nigeria on the path of protection of Human Rights of her citizens, the nation must reverse the worrisome dead-end that usually characterizes demand for justice on Human Rights violations.
Essentially, as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Warsaw Declaration and join others to mobilize support for democratic societies, the Community of Democracies must continue to strengthen and develop more proactive strategies to track practical implementation of the democratic principles. This is in line with the community’s agreement to support member States to abide by the democratic principles in practice.
Lucky Chinwike and Rafiu Adeniran Lawal
Leading Directors, Building Blocks for Peace Foundation