By Samuel Edet, PhD

“Democracy alone can supply the vitalising force to stir the peoples of the world into triumphant action against their ancient enemies – hunger, misery and despair. ” – Harry Truman, 33rd President of the United States of America

This is the longest period Nigeria has remained under democratic self rule. Our first experience was in 1960 when the nation came out of British colonialism. Six years after, the military struck and remained in government till October 1979 when democracy returned to Nigeria. That dispensation was truncated in 1983. The soldiers came to power and remained there till 1999 when the present attempt with democratic rule commenced.

True democracy is anchored on freedom of speech. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “democracy is the idea of a commonwealth based on equity and freedom of speech, and of a monarch cherishing above all the liberty of the subject”. Put differently, Walter C. Carrington, one time US Ambassador to Nigeria said; “if there is one political good that democracies deliver more consistently than authoritarian regimes, it is freedom. Democracies are about freedom”. It is in the pursuit of good governance that we seek to compare the two systems – military rule and democratic government.

While military regimes in Nigeria ruled by fiat, decrees and by the use of force, democratic governance is based on consensus. First of all, the people are the ones who choose their leaders and at anytime they are not satisfied with the performance of any of them, they decide against that person by voting him or her out. That is to say the people have freedom of choice. Not just that, even when they have chosen you, they can call you to order by the freedom to criticize your actions in government. Democracy’s true strength lies in its ability to incorporate the needs and desires of a diverse population into a governing consensus. Democracy lets all voices even those against it to be heard. Military dictatorship does not condone differing opinions. During the military era, arrests and detentions without trial were the other of the day. This may have been because the military personnel had no intellectual capacity for sustained rigorous arguments. Consequently, they put people who may try to drag them into such exercise away.

Those who argue in favour of authoritarian regimes say that decisions are faster to take and so things are done speedily. This argument could be punctured when we compare the development in Nigeria these past twenty one years to what obtained during military rule that lasted for twenty nine years. Military dictatorship witnessed stunted growth of half measures. The last twenty one years have seen expanded developmental strides in all areas of human needs. Infrastructural transformation in air transportation, road and water transportation, health care delivery advancement, the transformation of rural communities as well as human capital development. The industrial sector has grown in leaps and bounds while the agricultural sector is receiving urgent attention.

In Akwa Ibom State, the last five years have brought changes in the mindset of the people. They are surprised that, first of all, people could sleep with their two eyes closed. With the prevailing peace and security has come a movement away from the erstwhile civil service status of the state. With peace and security have come the rejuvenation of the industrial sector. Entrepreneurs have come to invest in agriculture and in other areas. In fact, to add verve to the freedoms the people now enjoy, there are at least five private radio stations in the state and numerous private newspapers.

Twenty one years are not enough but we could look back and say that we are not where we were during those dark days of military dictatorship. That is the advantage of having freedoms. The freedom of choice allows us to choose whom we want to lead us. It also makes the leaders to put in their best knowing that the people have a choice to vote them out if they are not satisfied with their performance. The people also have the freedom to criticize government’s actions. By so doing, the leaders also have a choice of reconsidering their actions.

Have we overcome our ancient enemies of hunger, misery and despair? The answer is that we may not have conquered them yet but actions at being triumphant over them are in place in the areas of education, technology development, health care transformation, infrastructural renaissance and human capacity development.

Our common choice should be to come together in unity against all antidemocratic forces, join hands in the development of democratic institutions, willingly and passionately exercise our freedoms to sustain and grow our democracy into a culture that all of us shall be proud of and of which no single individual or group of individuals can truncate.

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