Shagari @ 90: A lesson for the political class

By Chukwudi Nweje  / Acting Features Editor


But for the December 1983 military coup, Nigeria could have been in its 36th year of practising the presidential system of government. Perhaps, some of the challenges man-in-the-newsthe country faces today with its democratic governance since the return to democratic rule in 1999 may have been overcome with years of practise. After 55 years of independence Nigeria has had only 26 years of elected civilian that was truncated intermittently by the military that had held power for 29 years.  The country has been under an elected government for 16 years now but the democratic experience is still regarded as nascent because the tenets of democracy have yet to penetrate the fabrics of the society.

Through these thick and thin, one man that has been around is Alhaji Aliyu Usman Shehu Shagari, Turakin Sakkwato and the former President whose administration was overthrown by the military on December 31, 1983, two months after he began his second term in office.

Shagari entered Nigerian politics in 1954 upon his election to the federal House of Representatives. In 1958, he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He later went on to hold the positions of Minister of Economic Development in 1960, Minister of Internal Affairs in 1962 and Minister of Works and Survey in 1965. During the first military interregnum, Shagari served as Minister of Economic affairs and later Finance in the Gen. Yakubu Gowon government.

In 1976 when the Olusegun Obasanjo-led military government was laying down the foundation for return to democracy with the constituting of a constitutional conference which had both elected and selected members, an organization called the National Movement was formed within the Conference which later metamorphosed into the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), on whose ticket Shagari contested and won the 1979 election.

The former President who incidentally is one of the last of the first generation of Nigerian politicians still standing, clocked 90 years on Wednesday and analysts used the occasion to reflect on the country’s political journey these past years, the nature of politics being played by politicians today, viz a viz how the founding fathers of independent Nigeria played the game.

Some analysts observed that during the First and Second Republics, politics was more of a call to service, whereas modern era politicians see it as a family affair, regretting that democracy would have taken roots in the country but for the military incursions. Indeed a school of thought is of the view that the country is still wobbling even as politicians have deviated from the norm.

For Comrade Adeniyi Alimi Sulaiman, Executive Chairman, Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ) and Convener Save Lagos Group (SLG): “the military junta should be blamed for truncating democracy.  Nigeria would have gotten it right by now democratically. The Political system has been destroyed but the implementation of the confab report will help the nation. The political terrain of the Shagari era was the foundation for democracy. They have turned governance and democracy to family affairs where a father will put all members of his family into it. Nigeria needs overhauling through a new constitution; Nigeria cannot succeed with the 1999 constitution.”

In the same manner, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders argued that politics of acrimony has become the order of the day.  Debo Adeniran, the Executive Chairman of the Coalition said: “It is disheartening that the politics of calumny and bitterness is what is being played today. There was healthy competition among politicians in those days where national issues are thrashed.  Political campaigns were somehow devoid of mud-slinging or abuse rather; they provided an ideal atmosphere strictly for serious and well thought-out discourse.

“We all know that what is ideal and being practised in any democracy is for political actors to be issue-based in their campaigns and debates, thus providing the electorate sufficient or at least a glimpse of idea about what to expect should a particular party or candidate is voted in.

“Basically, there were issue-based presentations, which emanated from the ideologies cum manifestoes of respective parties to address crucial areas of human and infrastructural development and by extension the modality and methodology to be applied in achieving them.

“What we are witnessing today in our political terrain could rightly be said to be a by-product of the systemic decay that has for long bedevilled our polity as a result of the seemingly incurable selfish and exploitative nature of the political class.”

SOURCE: Daily Independent.

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