The Dividends of Democracy

Article excerpt

Democracy Day--history on display

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Democracy Day in Nigeria has been celebrated every year since 1999. It marks the return of democracy throughout the country. Every state chooses its own way of marking the occasion, and in Borno State the uniqueness of the celebration is enhanced by the rich cultural heritage of the people. Sadiq Adamu and Ben Asante report.

Borno State is inhabited mainly by the Kanuri, the Shuwa, Babur and Fulani, and they are proud of their history and colourful cultural heritage. The symbols of these are always displayed during ceremonies and celebrations, and Democracy Day is no exception. This year, however, Democracy Day, on 29 May, was special. As early as 8am, all the roads leading to Ramat Square in Maiduguri, the state capital, were crowded with people from all walks of life, heading for the venue of the event.

They came from all parts of the state--from Bayo to Bama, and Askira/uba to Malam Fatori. Many of them admitted that they had come because this was likely to be the last opportunity to interact with the state governor, Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, who was going to give account of his three-year stewardship.

Outside Ramat Square, lorry loads of people disembarked in a vast park reserved for occasions like this. Many of the people came on foot, while others came on horseback. There were also federal, state and local government functionaries, and other VIPs. A special stand accommodated traditional rulers, led by the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Mustapha Umar El-Kanemi. They were joined by their counterparts from the Republics of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

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The palace attendants of the traditional rulers, known as Dogaris, lined up in front of the huge crowd, resplendent in their flowing green and red gowns.

A few minutes before 10am, Governor Sheriff, dressed in a splendid, light blue "babariga" (the traditional gown of the northern peoples) drove into the square and was welcomed with a mighty roar of voices, shouting "2007 sai S-A-S!", reminding him of his 2007 presidential campaign.

This incredible outpouring of salutations took many dignitaries by surprise because it indicated clearly the support of the masses. This ceremony had not been billed as a campaign event, but it was in all but name.

The Shehu of Borno had asked for a colourful durbar to mark the seventh Democracy Day, the third year of good governance by Sheriff, and the 30th anniversary of the creation of Borno State in 1976.

The durbar attracted hundreds of horses and professional jockeys from all around the state for a massive display. This had set the tone for the main event. As hundreds of flags of the ruling party in the state, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the main opposition party in Nigeria, fluttered in the morning breeze alongside the national flag, the mood of joy and fulfilment was unmistakable.

There had never been such a big gathering in recent years, and Bulama Umar, a 70-year-old man who resides in the palace of the Shehu of Borno, said he had never witnessed such a ceremony in his entire lifetime.

The ceremony proper commenced when the secretary of state, Ahmed Baba Jidda, a former ambassador to Burkina Faso, asserted in the opening remarks that the return of democracy had opened a new chapter in the history of the state. He said that the election of Sheriff brought back compassion and mercy to the process of governance. According to him, "Once again government has a human face. Again, we could speak of government as the father of all. This indeed is a remarkable time in the history of Borno State."

For the first time in the 30-year history of the state, the welfare of the people has become the central concern of government. Jidda outlined the achievements of Governor Sheriff's administration in the last three years in the areas of housing, provision of potable water, health care delivery, educational development, poverty alleviation programme and road construction. …