Two days ago, Nigeria’s Fourth Republic clocked 21 uninterrupted years of parliamentary rule. It is a record since the First Republic.

If that record is to be kept and extended, the country’s political elite must find ways of redefining their nation’s politics and laws. They must also find the ingenuity to envision a great republic that approximates civic culture and make life worth living for the people.

Twenty-one years is a record, though undoubtedly a long and fitful period of extended rule in the hands of elected officials.

But the unanswered question is whether Nigeria is enjoying democracy or plain civil rule? No elected or appointed official, indeed no political party with representatives in parliament, will describe Nigeria today as lacking in democratic fundamentals.

They will say that though the system is not perfect, it has gone beyond civil rule and has satisfied most of the criteria that define democracy. They will, however, be guilty of hyperbole.

On a continuum, Nigeria is closer to the characteristics of civil rule than democracy.

The evidence seem to suggest that the political class has an incomplete understanding of the principles of democracy and a difficult relationship with the demands of a democratic polity, whether it concerns the rule of law, the independence of the parliament, and the impartiality of the judiciary — a difficulty they have struggled over the years, and especially in the past one week, to address.

It is encouraging that the Fourth Republic has lasted so long, though in somewhat leprous and epileptic conditions.

But far better to live with political leprosy than to re-engage with military rule, which for decades demeaned and impoverished the country.

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