By Odeh Friday, Accountability Lab Nigeria Country Director
Nigeria has a short and difficult history with democracy and with elections on the horizon in 2023, there is both an important opportunity to consolidate participatory decision-making in our country and also a real danger that democratic institutions will be subverted for non-democratic ends.
We were excited, therefore, that the Joe Biden administration chose to host the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and other leaders from across the world as part of the Summit for Democracy (S4D) last December. Buhari made verbal commitments to democracy in Nigeria at that event but has yet to submit written commitments to back up his speech. The S4D is matched with a Year of Action (YoA) and Nigerian civil society has a critical role to play—to hold the Nigerian government to account for its promises and also to push for these commitments to be clearer, actionable and achievable.
So, with this in mind, let’s look at the pledges that President Buhari made in his S4D speech and assess how feasible they are to implement.
First, he said, “I am proud to state that Nigeria has had over two decades of uninterrupted democratic governance and has unequivocally remained committed to upholding the core values and principles of democracy.” Is this true? Not entirely. While Nigeria has elements of democratic decision-making, there are restrictions to freedom of speech (the Twitter ban being just one example); efforts to curtail the media (such as the efforts by the National Broadcasting Commission to control television and radio programming) and serious issues within the justice system (the high profile issues with the Lekki tollgate violence again being just one example).
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