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Democracy in Nigeria

The election of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was made possible through largely free and fair polls in Nigeria, suggesting that democracy was "back on track" in a nation dominated by the military in the past. Violent incidents were orchestrated by opposition groups following the elections but conciliatory statements by the opposition candidate bode well for the settlement of differences. The administration has now got to address a range of vital issues affecting the citizenry.


Democracy in Nigeria

Parvathi Vasudevan

Territory (FCT) of Abuja. Following this criteria, president Jonathan was declared the winner by the chairman, INEC on 18 April 2011. Jonathan had secured about 57% of the votes cast and 25% and more of the

The election of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was made possible through largely free and fair polls in Nigeria, suggesting that democracy was “back on track” in a nation dominated by the military in the past. Violent incidents were orchestrated by opposition groups following the elections but conciliatory statements by the opposition candidate bode well for the settlement of differences. The administration has now got to address a range of vital issues affecting the citizenry.

Parvathi Vasudevan (parvathivasudevan@ formerly of the Centre for African Studies, University of Mumbai, now lives in Abuja, Nigeria.

n 16 April 2011, Nigerians made their choice for the office of the presidency. In a keenly contested poll, the clear winner was Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), with the former general Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) coming second. The prominent among the other contenders were Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau representing the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

The conduct of the election has been regarded by most observers as being well organised and transparent. There was no report of serious violence on that day. The election was singularly different from those in 2007 which were widely described to be highly rigged. Both the domestic and international observers have applauded the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) headed by Attahiru Jega for a well done job. Some of the well-known international observers included the former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae, the Commonwealth director of political affairs, Amitav Bannerjee, and the former president of Ghana, John Kufour of the African Union Election Observers Mission. Besides, 141 European observers on long-term and short-term basis had overseen the entire process in different states (The Guardian, 17 April 2011).

The PDP in its first competitive electoral test has ensured the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, which has had a long history of military rule. In doing so, the party has clearly got “the mathematics of winning the presidential polls” right (Business Day, 14 April 2011). As per the constitution of Nigeria and the Electoral Act, the candidate is declared elected only when he or she fulfils two conditions:

(a) the candidate has to secure the majority of the votes cast; and (b) he/she has to secure at least 25% of the votes cast in twothirds of the number of states (i e, 24 out of 36 states) and the Federal Capital

May 14, 2011

votes cast in 31 states and the FCT, while his chief rival, Buhari, secured about 31% of the total votes cast and over 25% of the votes cast in 16 states and the FCT, according to the INEC chairman. However, even before the official declaration was made, the outcomes were known, resulting in widespread rioting in several cities in the northern part of the country causing losses of lives and destruction of properties including some churches as early as on the day of the declaration of results. The CPC did not concede defeat and Buhari clearly stated to the BBC Hausa service on 19 April that his party would contest the results (, 20 April 2011). The position of the CPC, however, has not elicited support from other political leaders and most observers.

Massive Violence

The violence that erupted on 18 April was massive, the likes of which were not seen in the last three presidential elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007. This was partly facilitated by the fact that the counting of votes, collation of the outcomes from different polling stations and the preparation of final score sheets were done over 48 hours. Violence was justified on the ground by supporters of Buhari who alleged that the procedure adopted in the polls had many irregularities and that there were malpractices perpetrated by the ruling party.

The president on his part was quick to condemn the violence and reached out to his erstwhile opponents emphasising that a peaceful and stable Nigeria is in the interests of all Nigerians, irrespective of differences in social and religious practices and political and economic viewpoints (This Day, 18 April 2011). Buhari issued a statement saying that the violence which started “as a political protest” has included even “the burning of worship places”. He termed this “sad, unfortunate and totally unwarranted”. He however added that the violence was not initiated by his supporters or by his party, the CPC (Daily Trust, 20 April 2011).

vol xlvI no 20

Economic & Political Weekly


The Nigerian presidential elections have to be seen from two perspectives that emerge from the developments in recent times. First, the yearning for democracy and freedom of speech and the rejection of authoritarian rule by the people in north Africa (Tunisia, Egypt and Libya) and in west Asia (Bahrain, Syria and Yemen) had such a profound impact on the Nigerian psyche that there has been a sharp desire on the part of ordinary Nigerians to showcase their country as a perfect democracy. The second development touched their raw nerves more profoundly. In many countries of Africa, elections have been openly rigged in favour of the ruling party or leader in office as seen, for example, in Uganda and Benin in recent months. In some countries, the transition of power to the person declared elected was rejected by the incumbent. This had happened in Kenya and Zimbabwe during the last two years and more recently in Cote d’Ivoire. Nigerians clearly did not want such outcomes. The large turnout of voters braving inclement weather and exhibiting enormous patience to go through the elaborate procedures of first having to get accredited and then to vote is a testimony to the spirit of Nigerians to establish their enthusiasm to voice their strong support for democracy through the medium of voting.

With President Jonathan’s victory, the issue of the zoning arrangement that almost ripped the PDP apart before the primaries, would take a back seat at least for the present (see for zoning arrangement, “A Test for Democracy and Development in Nigeria”, EPW, 16 October 2010, pp 19-21). This however does not mean that the issue is dead and will not rise again before the next presidential elections in 2015.

Now that the elections have been conducted successfully, a number of Africa scholars and observers believe that the now-established democratic credentials of Nigeria would boost its ability to further strengthen its might as a powerful economic entity in the continent – and soon Nigeria could “compete” with South Africa. Nigeria, as the most populous country and a mighty west African economic power would be increasingly seen as setting a good example to emulate for countries that are due to hold elections this year. They include Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Liberia, Madagascar, Seychelles, Zambia and Niger.

Critical Issues

The new administration under President Jonathan that will be formally installed on 29 May 2011 has many challenges to contend with. As promised by the president, the three Es – energy, education and employment – are critical and how the administration acts on these issues will be put to public scrutiny. Besides, the president has to tackle the problems of the Niger delta, home to Nigeria’s oil wealth. Issues such as balanced regional development, energy security, economic diversification and employment reign as important vis-à-vis the delta.

Employment as an issue is possibly the most critical. Nearly 99 of the population of 150 million are below the age of 24 and many among them are unemployed. The country could reap the benefits of a rich “demographic dividend” with the provision of training and educational opportunities to the youth. This point was put forth forcefully by the managing director of the World Bank and a former finance minister of Nigeria, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently. She asked the Nigerian youth to stand up for their rights and say “enough is enough” to secure Nigeria’s future for all Nigerians (The African Report, No 3, March 2011).

Now that oil revenues are likely to go up, Jonathan has to ensure that they are spent wisely on productive activities that provide employment in both the current and prospective periods. Oil revenues in normal times exceed $30-40 billion a year as per one estimate (The Economist, 16 April 2011). However, the general impression is that much of the oil revenues are cornered by corrupt politicians across political party and regional affiliations. This needs to be rectified by expenditure reforms and a sound investment strategy. Two priority areas for investment may be mentioned here: restoration of the unused refineries and expanding their capacities in order to save the precious foreign exchange being expended on import of refined products and fostering of better education and healthcare facilities for improving the quality of human capital. Besides, measures need to be urgently taken to diversify the economy. For realising these, the very development strategy needs to be reoriented. In this context, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, made a forceful argument that unless the leadership, fast-tracked the country’s socio-political and economic development and diversified its growth strategy by moving away from focusing “too much on oil and gas”, the future would be uncertain. He reminded people that the country was the world’s largest cassava grower, it had a large cotton belt and had substantial quantities of hides and skins but did not have the required skills to process any of these into high quality export products. In his view, what is needed is for the leadership to make serious efforts to make “Nigeria, the China of Africa” (This Day, 27 February 2011).

Democracy is, as Amartya Sen has often argued, the best recipe for development, in particular inclusive development. This would now be rendered possible in Nigeria if reforms over a wide area of human activity are undertaken along with effective economic and political governance. There is much to do for the leadership in the years to come for giving Nigeria its pride of place in the comity of nations.

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Economic & Political Weekly

May 14, 2011 vol xlvI no 20

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