1. As we celebrate this year’s Democracy Day, I congratulate all Nigerians on this occasion. It is noteworthy that unlike before 1999, we have sustained the semblance of a democratic system for 22 unbroken years.
2. There is no doubt that Democracy is the best system in evolving a modern government and it remains the most acceptable globally. However, the celebration today should also help us to raise the question of whether democracy is working to serve the interest of Nigerians. After all, it is known widely that democracy is not just the absence of military rule or the routine conduct of elections after which some individuals are announced to have been elected. The real end product of democracy should be good governance.
3. It is obvious that in Nigeria, democracy has not given birth to good governance. We have inadvertently operated a democracy which instead of being the government of the people is rather creating a distance between the people and what should be their government. Elections should be for the purpose of allowing free choice between competing ideologies, manifestos, policies, and programmes. Elections should not just be about putting people in office and when they get there, they start groping in the dark or thinking about what to do and where to start from. This approach has set us back for many years and deprived our people the opportunity to enjoy good governance or earn what in the national cliche is known as ‘Dividend of Democracy’.
4. Today, our country faces security challenges and the government is not able to adequately protect the citizenry. There is massive unemployment which has impoverished a high percentage of the population and many citizens are questioning the basis for the unity of the country. These are pointers to the question of whether democracy is actually working in our clime.
5. However, since we have accepted that the best form of government is democracy, we have no option than to make the system work for our country and her people. Thus, I appeal to all stakeholders to give peace a chance. This is because nothing can be achieved in the absence of peace. The quest for peace places a burden on all of us who are leaders, both those in and out of government, to effectively shoulder our responsibilities to our country.
6. That is the reason why as we mark this year’s Democracy Day, there should be a departure from the usual rhetoric. We must find new approaches to remind ourselves that democracy is continuously being undermined and endangered in our country. General insecurity, poverty and other socio-economic problems continue to make what should be a representative government look strange to the people. The electoral process and the attitude of politicians do not support the claim that we operate a democracy. Also, our elections still lack appropriate legislations and conventions that are aimed at entrenching free, fair, peaceful and credible elections. That is why today, the courts, more than the votes cast by the electorate, determine who occupies top political posts.
7. However, we cannot continue to lament and enumerate the problems. That is why I want to enjoin all members of the political class that it is time we all focused on debating the Nigeria that we want after the next round of elections. We should all concentrate efforts in discussing solutions to the problems that are threatening to bury our country or push her down the precipice. This is the time for all discussions to shift to solutions, creative and innovative ideas.
8. Every body who wants to occupy any position in post-May 2023 Nigeria and all those who love this country must as a matter of urgency and patriotic duty enter the arena in discussing ideas that will solve the problems our country is facing. Our public space must now become an arena or open market for contest of innovative ideas and we should allow the best in time to prevail.
9. However, it is logical to say that as we talk about post-2023, Nigeria, we must also give a thought to what is happening today in our country. This is because there cannot be tomorrow without today. We need to use this Democracy Day to reflect, double our determination in seeking for peace and engage one another in fruitful conversation. It is important that we all work to keep this great country together. We must continue to engage each other tolerate each other’s views. We owe it to ourselves to eschew all forms of violence. We must douse the tension that is threatening to envelope our country. From my reading of the present situation, the aggrieved ones among us only become disenchanted and fall into despair because of the terrible state of affairs in our polity. Once they can see a brighter future ahead, they will embrace peace and rededicate themselves to the development of their country.
10. We have two years to the formation of a new government. That should mean two years for us to have brilliant ideas on issues of security, education, health, youth employment, revolutionising agriculture, human capital development, improving capacity for delivering good governance to the populace and fostering unity among the people. It should be time for considering how to entrench discipline, equity, justice, respect for the law and accountability as part of our national ethos.
11. The present period presents a challenge to all presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial aspirants and aspirants into other legislative houses, others who seek to be appointed ministers, commissioners, other executive positions as well as all lavers of Nigeria. We must start to think. We must pre-occupy ourselves with how to make democracy survive and how we can use it to better the lives of our people. I believe this is the best way to ensure we continue to celebrate democracy for many more years.
12. Once again, I congratulate Nigerians on Democracy Day 2021. I pray that Almighty God will heal our country and restore peace, unity, development, justice, equity and other indices of good governance in our country. Long live Nigeria !
Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, CON
Immediate Past President of the Senate
June 11, 2021