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Nigeria Marks 10 Uninterrupted Years of Democratic Rule Friday

Friday is ‘democracy day’ in Nigeria as the country marks 10 uninterrupted years since the return to civilian rule in 1999.

Nigeria had been ruled by the military for 32 of its 49 years since gaining independence in 1960. But in 1979, former military leader Olusegun Obasanjo was elected to once again usher in civilian rule.

Some say the restoration of democracy has put Nigeria back on the track of becoming one of the economic powers of Africa. Yet some Nigerians say they have very little to celebrate because the democracy dividends that they had hoped for have yet to be attained.

Professor Kabiru Mato, head of the political science department at the University of Abuja told VOA the occasion is not worth celebrating because the democratic aspirations of Nigerians have yet to be met.

“I think this is civil rule day. I don’t think it is yet a democracy day because most of the attributes of democracy are not yet on the ground in Nigeria. The issue that is worth celebrating actually is that this is the first time in the history of Nigeria since independence in 1960 that we are having 10 years of uninterrupted rule by civilians,” he said.

Mato described as arbitrary many things that he said have happened in Nigeria between 1999 and 2007.

“We have seen manipulation of the political processes by way of emasculating political parties by reducing them to mere instruments in the hands of those people in authority. We have also seen to a great extent the failure of the political establishment to abide by the rule of the game by ensuring elections which could be categorized as above average,” Mato said.

He said he does not think Nigerians have done well either during the last 10 years under democratic rule.

“If you look at all the development indexes that are available, the relationship between Nigerians and poverty is still really on the high side. Social infrastructure is basically lacking in the country, educational system is in crisis, our health service is also in shamble, roads are still bad…so if you want to really put in perspective, it would be very difficult for you to say that we have achieved anything positive in the last 10 years,” he said.

Almost every election in Nigeria since the return to democratic rulehas been disputed, including the recent election re-run in Ekiti State. Some blamed the problems on the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Mato said the country will need a truly independent electoral commission if Nigerians are to have free and fair elections in 2011,

“What we are having in Nigeria is that there is a concerted effort on the part of the citizens calling for electoral reform. You will recall that as soon as President Yar’Adua found himself in office in May 2007 he did promise Nigerians and the world all over that he was going to ensure that an electoral reform is conducted. So he set up a committee and the committee came up a very far reaching recommendations that were accepted and friends of Nigeria. Unfortunately the president is not willing to accept most of the critical recommendations of that electoral reform committee,” Mato said.

Mato said Nigerians cannot talk about democracy without an electoral system that will guarantee the citizenry that their right that they have the right to vote and be voted.

He said the restoration of democracy has helped in some respect in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. But Mato said Nigerians must take the fight to a new level by looking at corruption as a social problem that requires social solutions.