Tinubu’s Democracy Day broadcast

There are many action points from President Bola Tinubu’s Democracy Day broadcast on June 12, 2024. Essentially, the President touched on the struggles to enthrone democracy in Nigeria, the state of the economy, fundamental rights of Nigerians and the new minimum wage, which organised labour has been agitating for.

It is heartening that the President acknowledged the pro-democracy activists who were in the frontlines of our immediate past democratic struggles. Chief Moshood Abiola, who presumably won the annulled June 12, 1993, presidential election, reckoned among those who paid the supreme sacrifice for our freedom. He described Abiola as the most significant symbol of our democratic struggle. He also acknowledged Abiola’s wife, Kudirat; General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Pa Alfred Rewane, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Abraham Adesanya, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, among others. He urged Nigerians to honour their memories. The struggles of these patriots pushed the military to return power to civilians on May 29, 1999.

Admonishing Nigerians not to reduce or minimalise democracy to mere holding of periodic elections where one candidate and party outdo another, Tinubu noted that “democracy is a way of life that encompasses a broad outlook of which elections are but a part. As such, a nation can have elections without being democratic. But a nation cannot be truly democratic without holding elections.” He said we had established a tradition of holding transparent, open, and fair elections and that this had given credence to our democratic bearing.

We agree with the President to the extent that democracy is not all about elections. But we disagree that we had established a tradition for open, fair and transparent elections. Many of our past elections have been characterised by rigging, vote-buying, ballot-box snatching, violence and intimidation of voters.

Incidentally, election is one of the cornerstones of democracy. The people must have the freedom to exercise their right to vote and the votes must count. Democracy is greatly imperilled when elections are not free, fair and credible. It engenders disillusionment among the people and cast doubts about the genuineness of that democracy. When leaders know that they can be voted out if they perform woefully, they will sit up and do the job for which they are elected. President Tinubu must ensure that he institutes serious reforms in our electoral and political systems to engender more confidence and greater participation of the populace in our democratic process.

The President must also ensure a more robust freedom of expression in the country. In his speech, he boasted about the democratic credentials of his administration, buttressing it with the recent agitation for a new minimum wage by the organised labour. According to him, his government chose not to oppress or crack down on workers who recently went on a nationwide strike as a dictatorial government would have done. He said no one was arrested or threatened. Instead, “the labour leadership was invited to break bread and negotiate toward a good-faith resolution,” he added. The President might not have personally ordered the arrest or detention of anybody but he should realise that some security agencies have violated the rights of many Nigerians one way or the other.

In recent times, there have been reports of incessant abduction of journalists by security agents. In March, for instance, a number of soldiers invaded the house of the former Editor of FirstNews online newspaper, Mr. Segun Olatunji, in Lagos. They whisked him away and held him captive at the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) office in Abuja. They only released him after two weeks following a public outcry that trailed his abduction. There are many other cases like that. Tinubu should warn public office-holders and security agents to desist from such acts. There are channels through which an aggrieved person can seek redress in cases of defamation or libel.

With regard to the negotiations over the new minimum wage, Tinubu said his government had negotiated in good faith and with open arms with organized labour and that he would soon send an executive bill to the National Assembly “to enshrine what has been agreed upon as part of our law for the next five years or less.” Labour leaders have denied reaching any agreement with the government. As far as they are concerned, it is N250,000 or nothing. Government had proposed N62,000. We urge the President to dialogue more with labour leaders in order to arrive at an amicable settlement of the matter.

On the economy generally, Tinubu acknowledged the hardship and the high cost of living which many Nigerians face currently but assured them that the pains were necessary for future growth of the economy. According to him, the reforms his administration embarked upon are necessary repairs required to fix the economy over the long run.  

We wish to remind the President that the whole essence of governance is to ensure the security and welfare of the citizenry. If the majority of the citizens are crippled by hunger and poverty, his reform efforts will be worthless. This is just the first year of his outing as President. A lot is expected from him. Hopefully, he will weather the storm with time.

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