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Nigerians celebrate 61 years of independence with sadness and hope

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Idris Bakare

 

As the country gears up to celebrate its independence, many Nigerians wonder if the country is heading in the right direction, as FG refused to celebrate those whose life lost during the End SARS saga last year.

Today, Nigeria marks 61 years of independence from Britain with parades and festivities. But the celebration comes with mixed feelings for its citizens.

Nigeria’s 200 million citizens surely have diverse views on how far the country has come since October 1, 1960, when Nigeria exited colonial rule. But very few will argue that the world’s largest Black population, with massive wealth to spend as the largest oil producer in Africa, is far from where it ought to be.

Nigeria, a country with over 250 different ethnic groups, has gone through brutal civil war and over three decades of military dictatorship to become a democratic nation. Its return to civilian rule in 1999 was widely seen as an opportunity for the country to restructure governance and ensure equity in its distribution of resources.

But growing corruption, Insecurity and a brutal insurgency in the northeast region of the country that has lasted for a decade have contributed to its failure to effectively tackle some of its most critical problems.

“There’s almost nothing to celebrate in a country where almost everywhere is so insecure,” said Idris Bakare, a Nigerian journalist and editor at the Nigerian NewsDirect Newspaper, a Newspaper that covers major business, entertainment and political events. “People are worried about the growing poverty in the country and very few are concerned about celebrating Nigeria at 61.”

Usually, Independence Day celebrations in Nigeria are filled with fanfare, including a colourful military parade and a dramatic air show, but it is unlikely many will appreciate any such display at a time when Nigerians appear to be overstretched by their government.

Thousands of people have on different occasions in September hit the streets of major cities in the country protesting against Insecurity and petrol inflation on food items, with some protesters describing the action as the “highest level of insensitivity and wickedness” from the government.

In my recent research, I examined the role of the principles of democracy embedded in the rights of access to information, participation in decision making and access to justice. I looked at these three principles about environmental impact assessments in Nigeria.

I considered whether these pillars of environmental democracy were integrated into the environmental impact assessment process. I concluded that they were not. Nigerians do not have access to information about development projects, do not effectively participate in the making of decisions relating to these projects, and have little or no access to the courts (and justice).

This means that they will continually be imperilled by the adverse effects of development projects.

These three rights matter because transparency and impartiality in governance enable people to be informed, to influence the outcome of decisions and to hold the government accountable for its actions and inactions.

In response to long-standing incidents of human rights abuses, particularly by a specialised unit of the Nigeria Police – the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, otherwise known as SARS, the #EndSARS social movement emerged. Young Nigerians took to the streets seeking an end to police brutality, harassment, and extortion.

The response to the protests pointed to violations of the three principles of access to information, participation in decision making and access to justice.

Access to information was denied in several ways. In the aftermath of the attack, rather than meaningfully address the demands made by the people, the government imposed fines on television stations that aired the protests.

It also ensured that members of the Panel of Enquiry set up to look into the excesses of the now-disbanded police unit swore to an oath of secrecy.

Participation in decision making was also denied. Backed by the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association, the protesters made several demands on the government.

These ranged from a reform of the police to good governance. Instead of listening to their demands, the government ordered the Nigerian Army to confront them. At least 12 unarmed protesters were shot and killed.

This situation showed that Nigerians are often denied the right to participate in the making of decisions that affect them. This is just as they are denied access to justice.

This is just as they are denied access to justice. For instance, a 2018 Presidential Panel on Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad recommended the dismissal of 37 members of the notorious police unit and the prosecution of 24 others for professional misconduct. President Muhammadu Buhari received the panel’s report in June 2019, but nothing has happened to the implicated officers. This remains the case, even after the End SARS protests.

Many others think that SWAT is no different from SARS, and just the continuation of a long history of obfuscation and inaction. “It’s nothing more than a change of name and acronym” – Idris Bakare, a writer and journalist by profession.

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