Harnessing the gains of Nigeria’s democracy – Ifeanyi Nwoko

“Today, our unity is firm, our purpose is strong and our determination unshakable. Together, we will unite our nation and improve the living standards of all our people, whether in the North or in the South; in the East or in the West.

“We must grow the economy, create jobs, and generate enduring happiness for our people. I have great confidence in the ability of Nigerians to transform this country.’’

Those were the words of President Goodluck Jonathan when he assumed office on May 29, 2011 amid jubilations and hope for a better Nigeria.

When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became the country’s President in 1999, political analysts then expressed the hope that the restoration of democracy in Nigeria would solve virtually all the socio-economic and political problems of the country

14 years into the democratic dispensation, observers are, however, quick to wonder whether democracy, as practiced by the country’s politicians and understood by its electorate, has made any significant difference in the lives of the citizens.

Cynics continue to criticise successive administrations for non-performance in spite of enjoying the inherent benefits of democracy.

They insist that it is only when a democratically elected government is able to positively affect the lives of the citizenry that a democracy could be said to have yielded dividends.

In a nutshell, they contend that the efforts of successive governments to provide basic amenities such as electricity, roads, health care, water and schools are simply not enough.

On the other hand, optimists and social commentators insist that Nigeria is practising a true democracy, which has, indeed, produced a lot of social, economic and political gains for the country and its citizens.

They argue that since the onset of the current democratic dispensation, Nigeria has, by all means, fared well.

The government’s mouthpiece, the Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, stressed that President Goodluck Jonathan had fulfilled his campaign promises to Nigerians.

He listed the areas in which the president had fulfilled his promises as improved investments in the power sector, road constructions, revival of the railways and job creation through the Subsidy Re-investment Programme (SURE-P), among others.

Maku noted that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had grown more than that of any country in Africa in the last few years.

On the issue of power, the minister assured the citizens that the Federal Government had been tackling the electricity supply challenges facing the country frontally, saying that more power projects would soon be inaugurated.

Maku conceded that although a lot still needed to be done, the Federal Government was determined to complete all the major road projects as well as other infrastructural projects.

“The ongoing East-West Road project would be completed by the end of 2014.

“The SURE-P programme alone had impacted on no fewer than 3,000 persons in each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

“In the 19 states so far visited during the good governance tour, we have seen some concrete development brought about by democracy, and what we saw is far better than what was obtainable during the military era,’’ he said.

Sharing similar sentiments, the Minister of Works, Mr Mike Onolememen, said that the Federal Government was committed to expanding road constructions from 200,000 km to 300,000 km within the next five years.

Without doubt, tangible efforts have been made in this regard. For instance, work has started on the Abidjan-Lagos transnational highway, which is expected to be completed in 24 months, while the construction of the 37-km Nkporo-Abiriba-Ohafia Road in Abia and to Osso Eda in Ebonyi, which was abandoned a long time ago, has resumed.

Apparently irked by the condition of roads across the country, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved the award of contracts worth N51.4 billion for the construction and rehabilitation of 13 roads across the country.

“The roads for construction and rehabilitation are Vandeikya-Obudu-Obudu Cattle Ranch road (Phase One) in Benue, Mbaise-Ngwa Road in Imo and Abia and Abriba-Arochukwu-Ohafia Road, also in Abia.

“The Makurdi-Gboko road (Phase One) in Benue, Ohafia in Abia to Oso in Ebonyi, Sections 1A and 1B of Sokoto-Tambuwal-Jega-Kontagora roads in Sokoto Kebbi and Niger states respectively were also among those awarded,’’ Maku announced, after the FEC meeting.

This somewhat demonstrates the government’s commitment to constructing and rehabilitating roads across the country, even as the government plans to spend N921.4 billion on 925 ongoing road projects, which are expected to be completed soon.

As part of efforts to enhance roads’ construction and maintenance, the Federal Government is proposing a new Road Sector Reform Bill to replace the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency Establishment Act No 7 of 2002 and herald the birth of the Federal Roads Authority (FRA) and National Road Fund (NRF).

In the health sector, the Federal Government has, over the last 14 years, made some remarkable achievements.

For instance, NAFDAC has been repositioned and strengthened to curb the prevalence of fake drugs in the country.

Observers commend NAFDAC for its efforts to stamp out the production, supply and sale of fake or adulterated drugs in the country, describing the agency as an epitome of quality service delivery.

Besides, the groundbreaking efforts of the Federal Government to eradicate polio from the country cannot be over-emphasised.

From all indications, Nigeria is set to be certified free of guinea worm disease, which has ravaged parts of the country over the years.

Reports from the Nigeria Guinea Worm Eradication Programme (NIGEP) indicate that Nigeria has attained a guinea worm-free status and she is eagerly awaiting the visit of the International Certification Team (ICT) next month.

As part of efforts to make healthcare delivery accessible to the citizens, the government also introduced the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), in which workers contribute a token sum every month to benefit from quality health services.

In the last six years, the NHIS has been able to cover not less than 4.7 million people in the formal sector, according to its Acting Executive Secretary, Dr Abdulrahman Sambo.

Mr Emmanuel Okafor, a civil servant, said that he and his family had been enjoying excellent health care delivery via the NHIS since 2009, describing the health programme as a true dividend of democracy.

Moreover, the country has experienced a remarkable growth, particularly in the agricultural sector where significant efforts have been made to equip farmers and enhance food production.

In particular, the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Jonathan-administration is aimed at reviving and boosting agricultural production in Nigeria, while reducing the country’s dependence on food imports.

The government’s agricultural transformation agenda has received support from international agencies like the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which committed 88.5 million U.S. dollars (about N14.2 billion) towards the project.

Besides, the Federal Government introduced the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES), under its Agricultural Transformation Agenda, to boost supplies of agricultural inputs like fertilisers to farmers and cut off the activities of middlemen in the inputs’ distribution chain.

The Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, stressed that 4.2 million registered and certified farmers were to get fertilisers and improved seedlings directly from the government, while fish farmers would also get fingerlings.

In the area of agricultural mechanisation, the government has been making efforts to expand the farmers’ access to tractors and other agricultural machineries, as it stressed that 400 tractors would be made available in 80 centres across the country for hire at subsidised prices.

The government has also distributed high-yielding seedlings and seeds to farmers, even as the bio-safety bill, which is currently awaiting President Jonathan’s assent, is aimed at transforming agricultural production in the country via biotechnology applications.

In pragmatic terms, the government has initiated plans to improve dry season rice farming, as part of designed efforts to boost rice production in Nigeria and reduce its over-dependence on rice importation.

The government’s agricultural programmes have been yielding tangible results and it is very pertinent to note that in spite of the floods that ravaged many farmlands across the country in 2012, the country’s food security is still assured, as food prices have been quite stable.

By most accounts, the government’s policy on the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry has been quite beneficial.

Observers note that the traditional long queues at fuel stations have completely disappeared, while petroleum products are now readily available across the country.

One particular feat that excites observers is the growth of the telecommunications and the ICT sectors.

Statistics from the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) reveal the exponential growth of the telecommunications sector has been instrumental to the creation of thousands of jobs and the employment of millions of Nigerians.

The data particularly reveal that currently, there are 110,000,000 GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) subscribers in Nigeria, while the country’s tele-density peaked at 78.21 per cent by the end of 2012.

Even as analysts insist that a lot still needs to be done in the nation-building efforts, they reiterate that the citizens have been enjoying the dividends of democracy since 1999.

(A News Analysis by Ifeanyi Nwoko, News Agency of Nigeria – NAN)