DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN NIGERIA
The level of citizens’ involvement in a democracy is largely determined by a country’s political climate. The Nigerian example provides a veritable springboard to this essay. Nigeria’s first step towards attaining a full fledge democracy after incessant military rule was truncated by the General Muhammadu Buhari led coup in 1983, which ousted the democratic administration of Shehu Shagari. After years of efforts in restoring the country’s democracy occasioned by the infamous annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections, Nigeria transitioned into democracy in 1999.
However, the country’s democracy is littered with remnants of military rule which to a large extent has stiffened political participation of the citizens. Since the advent of the current democracy in Nigeria, political leadership has been saturated more with past military officers and leaders who have little or no regard for democratic principles. This invariably has weakened the awareness and interest of citizens in the political process. For example, a good number of Nigerians believe that their votes do not count and so, consider voting as a waste of time and putting them at unnecessary risk in the event of electoral violence at polling stations. Odebode quoted the former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega as saying,
That there exists voters’ apathy in Nigeria is no longer contentious. Voters’ turnout in the just concluded general elections had provided a scientific and empirical evidence of the existence of voters’ apathy and disinterestedness of sections of the electorates in elections…This ugly scenario has implications for popular participation and governance.
The system of democracy has choked political participation in Nigeria. However, the narrative is gradually being overturned especially with the advent of the social media. The social media has been used a powerful tool for Nigerians, especially the youth who make a larger percentage of the country’s population to engage politically. The various “hashtags” particularly on twitter have been instrumental in influencing some political decisions made by government at various levels. Popular amongst such “hashtags” was the “#Endsars” campaign. The campaign was triggered by the various complaints of police brutality especially that of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The movement enabled Nigerians especially young people share their various ordeals with the Nigerian Police Force. The enormous pressures forced a directive by the then Acting President for Police Reform and overhauling of SARS. Although there is relative political awareness and engagement by Nigerians, it goes without saying a vast majority of the population still needs to be integrated into the acts of governance. A country where an incumbent president or governor determines who succeeds him even against the wishes of the people, automatically weakens the level of political participation.