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Challenges Facing Democracy in Nigeria and Solutions

See the challenges facing democracy in Nigeria and solutions. Democracy is defined by the WordNet dictionary as a political system in which supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them. Nigeria currently “operates” a constitutional democracy which recognizes the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.


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Nigeria is currently enjoying the 16th consecutive year of democratic governance for the first time in her post-colonial history.

After the military handed over power to the Olusegun Obasanjo led administration on May 29th 1999, democracy in Nigeria witnessed a rather smooth change of power from one civilian led administration to the other as was seen in 2007 when then president Obasanjo handed over to Late Umaru Musa Yar Adua, and Dr Goodluck Jonathan handed over to president Muhammadu Buhari in a first of a kind event when an opposition party took over power from a ruling party in May 2015. This was a history making event since the beginning of practice of democracy in Nigeria.

While some people are of the opinion that democracy in Nigeria has indeed come of age, considering the largely peaceful way that Dr Goodluck Jonathan conceded and handed over power to President Buhari, others are of the opinion that Dr Goodluck Jonathan is a “one of a kind politician” whose sacrifice cannot be replicated by the average Nigerian politician, hence democracy in Nigeria is still in its teething stage

They have argued that democracy is yet to be fully entrenched in the hearts and minds of politicians and average citizens alike.

Prior to talking about the challenges facing democracy in Nigeria and solutions to them, let us take a quick look into the post-colonial democratic history of Nigeria.

Brief Post-Colonial History of Democracy in Nigeria

After Nigeria won her independence from the British on the first day of October 1960, the power to govern Nigeria was handed over to Nigerian politicians. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was appointed Head of Government, while Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became the Prime Minister, in a British styled parliamentary system of government.

Things went rather smoothly for democracy in Nigeria until the unfortunate events of January 15th 1966. On that day, a group of young military officers led by Chukwumah Kaduna Nzeogwu carried out Nigeria’s first ever coup d’état.

This coup d’état led to the death of prominent Nigerian politicians such as the Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier of Northern Region and Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Western Region, Chief S.I. Akintola, Federal Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and other senior military and political leaders.

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The coup plotters cited corruption of politicians as their reason for staging this coup.

After the coup of January 1966, Nigeria went into a period of continuous military rule until then General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to a democratically elected government led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979.

Nigeria enjoyed a brief spell of democracy from 1979 to 1983 when the military struck again in a bloodless coup which saw the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State in 1983.

During the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, he launched a program to transition into democratic rule, which led to the annulled June 12 1993 election believed to have been won by Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The trouble that erupted as a result of the annulment of the election led to the formation of an interim government led by Chief Ernest Shonekan. This interim government was removed on the 17th of november1993 in a palace coup led by late General Sani Abacha. Abiola, who had declared himself president was later arrested and died in detention on the 7th of July 1998.

Nigeria endured another spell of military rule until 1999 when then Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to a democratically elected President Olusegun Obasanjo on the 29th of May, 1999.

Haven looked at the abridged history of democracy in Nigeria, let us now see the problems faced by democracy in Nigeria.

Challenges Facing Democracy in Nigeria

  • Political Godfatherism

One of the major issues bedevilling democracy in Nigeria is the nagging concept of political godfathers in the various political parties in Nigeria. The concept of godfatherism in politics is not altogether a bad one. The most important factor is the motive and leanings of the political godfather. One of such situations in Nigeria was the fiasco involving then governor of Anambra state Dr Chris Ngige and his erstwhile political godfather, Chris Uba, where Dr Ngige was temporarily removed from office by his godfather for not playing to his (godfather’s) tune.

  • Poverty Amongst Citizens

According to a UNICEF report, about 70.8 percent of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day. This means that a large population of Nigerian citizens are poor and vulnerable. Due to the prevailing poverty situation in the country, it has become quite easy for the few rich to buy out the majority poor during elections. This in the long run leads to a situation where only the rich and their cronies have access to political power, thereby tossing away democracy and establishing plutocracy which is a government of the weathy.

  • Inefficient Electoral Umpire

The continuous incidences of inconclusive, cancelled and upturned elections in Nigeria have gone a long way to show that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is significantly inefficient in conducting free, fair and credible elections. Cases of vote rigging and other forms of electoral fraud are common place in Nigerian elections.

  • Dictatorial Tendencies of Nigerian Institutions

Despite the fact that Nigeria has been practising democracy for the past 17 years, it seems that most of the government institutions are yet to imbibe the basic principle of a constitutional democracy, which is the rule of law. It seems like Nigerian institutions are still yet to recover from the hangover of decades of military rule. Acts of impunity by government officials and their agencies bring back memories of the days of military rule.

  • Lack of Recognition of Separation of Powers

According to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, there are meant to be three arms of government i.e. the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. These three arms are meant to be separate and independent of each other in order to ensure adequate checks and balances. Unfortunately today, the legislative and judiciary arms of government seem to be tied to the apron strings of the executive arm which seems to see itself as primus inter pares, making it almost impossible for there to be adequate checks and balance.

Solutions to the Problems Facing Democracy in Nigeria

Despite the long list of problems facing democracy in Nigeria, they are not without solutions.

Some of the solutions proffered are;

  • Strict Adherence to the Rule of Law

Most of the problems associated with successfully practising a constitutional democracy in Nigeria bothers on the unfortunate deviance from practising the rule of law which basically states that no one is above the law.

If all the political actors and players adhere strictly to this, we would not be have issues of dictatorial acts or problems with the separation of powers.

  • Proper Orientation of Citizens

Nigerian citizens must be properly oriented on the roles they must play and the importance of these roles, during a democratic process. The ordinary citizens must be made to understand that our democracy is solely ours to nurture and protect and not something that should be bought or sold for the next meal.

  • Improvement of the Efficiency of INEC

INEC must be provided with more funding and legislation to enable it to carry out her duties in a more efficient manner. INEC must also be given the powers to prosecute electoral offenders. This will act as a deterrent to would be offenders.

In as much as Nigeria still has a long way to go, it is pertinent to note that quite a lot has been achieved and we are currently heading in the right direction, on the path to practising true democracy.

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Ikponmwosa Aikhionbare

Ikponmwosa Aikhionbare is a Content Developer at InfoGuideNigeria.com. InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Ibanga. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Ibanga. If you need a personal assistance on this topic, kindly contact us.

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