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2019: Analysing Nigeria's Democracy 20 Years After​ By Adejumo Kabir​

January 25, 2019

The journey, however, began when AbdulSalam Abubakar handed over power to Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999, and since then, the day has been set aside to celebrate democracy.


The term "Democracy" is derived from two Greek words “demo” (people) and “kratos” (rule). Meaning, democracy is a form of Government where everybody has the right to take up representative role in positions of authority in a society. This form of government is preferable globally because of the advantages that are inherent in it which includes: decent standard of living, housing, healthcare, education, equality of persons, freedom of expression and other fundamental rights associated with the concept.

The struggle that brought about democracy in Nigeria did not, however, come with a tea party after several years of military dictatorship characterised by maladministration. Nigerians continued to agitate for democratic governance and the death of Sanni Abacha in 1998 gave hope to the struggle after AbdulSalam Abubakar who succeeded him registered three political parties which were People Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP) which gave birth to democratic governance in 1999. The journey, however, began when AbdulSalam Abubakar handed over power to Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999, and since then, the day has been set aside to celebrate democracy.

However, 20 years after uninterrupted democratic governance, the celebration is vanity due to a high level of corruption, poverty, decay infrastructure, unemployment, insecurity and other irregularities with shall be examined in this piece.


Elections allow the participation of citizens to choose among contestants in various political parties for political offices. Nigeria elections are conducted by the Electoral Commission that lacks institutional and administrative autonomy as fund is being released by the Federal Government. This led to the power Ibrahim Babangida had to annul June 12 presidential election in 1993. However, since 1999, the Independent National Electoral Commission cannot be said to be independent due to weak institutionalisation, and political interference. 

Since 1999, INEC is composed by/with the Federal Government appointment. This makes manipulation very easy by the Presidency and makes their removal possible base on flimsy excuses which was what happened to Humphrey Nwosu in 1993 following the Babangida's decision to annul June 12 election but was contrary to the commission's position.  This makes the capability of the electoral body so constrain. Since the Federal Government appoints those persons at their will, it further makes the commission filled with people without professional competence to lead the body. Maurice Iwu, the former Chairman of INEC who was removed by Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in April 2010 after irregularities in 2007 election had no professional experience in electoral management. 

Also, most ad hoc staff use by INEC yearly are often trained a day about what conducting election entails and after failed electoral processes, the body blames the temporary workers instead of accepting their irregularities. Over the years, INEC has failed to organise an election that every Nigerians will applaud its credibility. The INEC has been able to hold five consecutive elections without military intervention in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. The results of 1999 presidential election which brought Olusegun Obasanjo over Olu Falae where the former had 62.78% over the later who had 37.22% were challenged and even local and international observers including the Transition Monitoring Group, the International Republican Institute and the EU attested to the incredibility. Notwithstanding, Abubakar handed over to Obasanjo.

In 2003, another irregularity occurred. Prior to the election, the electoral bill was changed in 2001 specifying that the presidential election would come first. The president and members of the National Assembly aimed to secure their re-election because they were scared that if the state Governors were elected first, they might use their local power to deny the president and the members of National Assembly re-election. However, lack of autonomy from the end of INEC led to tension across the country. Again, PDP emerged as winner all levels with Obasanjo winning with 61.80% while Muhammadu Buhari of ANPP was second with 32.3%. The power of incumbency also made PDP had 75 of 109 senatorial seats. INEC as an agent of the presidency won the election for the rulling party. According to the reports of local and international observers, the irregularities in the election include; rigging, violence and buying of votes and ballot stuffing. These abnormalities made people lost their confidence in INEC and posed the question of Independence.

Again, rigging was prominent in South East, South South and South West as there were cases where INEC disqualified candidates on the eve of election in 2007. This was the case in Kogi, Anambra and Adamawa states where opposition candidates were excluded. Again, local and international observers condemned the manipulations in the election. Just from the conduct of the election, there were 1,250 election petitions with the presidential election having 8, governorship election had 105, the Senate had 150, House of Representatives had 331 and the state Houses of Assembly had 656. Infact, most of the cases where decided in the highest court. A re-run was mandated in most gubernatorial elections. Nigerians begin to trust the judiciary after achieving great feat in restoring normalcy to the country through judgement delivered on matters surrounding 2007 election. Residents in Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti protested violently against rigging.

Also, observers reservation for 2011 election include: political violence, ballot stuffing, underage voting and rigging. After the April 16 presidential election, the supporters of Muhammadu Buhari who was CPC candidate then protested against President Jonathan's victory and that led to violence in Kano, Zamfara, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Niger, Sokoto, Gombe Adamawa, Katsina and Yobe. The protest and violence damaged properties and claimed lives. Police put the total number of deaths from the violence at 520 and thousands of persons were displaced in 12 northern states.

In 2015, there was much enthusiasm of voters and it was applauded despite fears that the election would come with violence. However, card readers failed INEC this time which made accreditations very slow and late. In fact, as at 4pm in Anthony, Lagos State, accreditation was yet to be perfected. Observers confirmed irregularities in several places such as River State where there was shooting in Ikwerre LGA and in Kano where we reportedly had underage voting and many more. While the Attairu Jega led INEC was applauded after the election, irregularities in some states stained his white cloth.


Since 1998/1999, there had been men who always want to have their personal interests met through briefcases and they disappear from their constituents and constituency after elections. True, democracy has been buried in the last 20 years of democratic governance as there was/is no difference between the PDP, APC and every other political parties. The players of the game prioritise their survival and aim of remaining relevant when things are not going fine. A typical example is Olusegun Obasanjo, an emergency activist whose recent love is open letters to government in power. Meanwhile, the statesman had forgotten that he had all he could to perfect change as a military ruler and again, as a civilian president. Despite, countless number of political parties in the country, only two or three of the parties are dominating the political atmosphere. Infact, with several parties merging together every year and it is becoming clearer to the people that Nigeria is heading towards a two-party system; the rulling party and a strong opposition.

It is pathetic that the same set of people who ruled during the military era are still very powerful in the decision making of today democratic governance. In 1999, Obasanjo who once served as military ruler in connivance with some retired General perfected his emergence as PDP candidates in 1998 at Jos convention. This was the beginning of godfatherism, manipulations and briefcases politics. Godfatherism amongst these elites gave birth to misrepresentation of electorates. It has gone worse to the extent that even Babangida who annulled the fairest election of June 1993 still sit in his house to anoint political parties' candidates. Candidates are selected based on loyalty and whomever the party leaders endorse manoeuvre their way into offices. They settle leaders in kind or in cash and this mostly lead to electoral malpractices.  After emergence, the emergency political office holders end up serving their godfathers instead of the masses. This is one of the reasons why Aisha Buhari said some men are in charge of her husband led administration.

Corruption is a phenomenon that strive in all the three arms of government. The corruption has over the years been a threat to national development as it is already a norm for Nigerian political office holders to loot the public treasury. The corrupt practices of these men and women in power has led to mediocrity in every as aspect of governance. 20 years after uninterrupted democratic governance, corruption increases every second to the extent that the former president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan said that stealing is not corruption. While serving as the Chairman of Economic Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu said many of the governors whose second term lapsed in 2007 were corrupt and should face sanction. It was afterwards that James Ibori who served as Delta State Governor was convicted in London after he was acquitted in Nigerian court. Deprieye Alamaesigha and host of others including Ministers, Senators and Members of the House of Representatives collectively stole and still stealing the collective joy of the masses.

Several contracts are awarded to companies that are not registered under the Corporate Affairs Commission and many of the perpetrators of these corrupt practices still drive freely in their flamboyant cars on the streets. Many of those indicted for subsidy fraud still walk freely because the judiciary appear helpless. The judicial arm which is expected to be the last hope of the poor has failed in its role against corruption. There have been several cases of bribery and corruption against Judges. While many them argue that what they get is gift, it leads to miscarriage of justice.

There have been approval of several budgets with scary figures at the states and national level with unimplemented projects. Trillions have been generated from our natural resources including crude oil but few infrastructural facilities or developments. While government officials continue to award contract to agencies and firms that does not exist, our roads remain death trap, children use underneath tree for school, underneath bridge for home, mortuary for hospital and many other facilities left untouched. Many workers at the state level are not paid properly which amount to governors leaving debt of unpaid salaries and abandoned projects to their successors. 

Large number of members of the National Assembly use their capital/constituency projects fee for frivolities. One of the reasons why many of them love to return to the Senate and House at all time in order to remain in Government. Many contracts awarded to associates of political office holders are arguably for syphoning funds for every next election. Since, 1999, Government is just attending to Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Ore-Benin road and other express ways that have been budgeted since 1999. An average Nigerian is yet to feel the impact of democratic governance. Infact, democracy has been a representation of betrayal. While some countries would love to practice democratic governance for social and economic advantage, we have a democracy for the advantages of few in Nigeria.

The level of insurgence in Nigeria over the years is disheartening despite the huge budgetary amount on security yearly. Nigeria has become a country with kidnapping and terrorism as norms. While the militants continue to burst oil pipes and kidnap in the south east, the Boko Haram have become owners of various territory in the northern part and the herdsmen continue to butcher farmers in every part of the nation. While parents of Chibok Girls are still mourning, Dapchi Girls menace follows.  All these have become disaster and pose major difficulties to democratic governance.

The leadership on their part, are also slow in responding to issues of security. Dasuki and his cohort are still standing trial for huge amount of money on security that was diverted into their personal pockets. Indeed, if we have more autocratic leaders, heads would have been rolling. Since it is democratic governance, cases rust in court. None of the probe panel of the government has ever seen the light of the day. The obvious is allegation and another is rejoinder from the accused with over 100 Senior Advocate of Nigeria representing thief.

Since 1999, hardly we find the government implementing the recommendations of probe panel. The big question is: Why should public funds be spent on probe panel whose recommendations will not be put into implementation? With all these irregularities, it is not inaccurate to say that Nigeria democratic governance is a curse. In my view, the best way to fight these anomalies is through revolution but who will lead the struggle? Will you?

AdejumoKabiris a student journalist at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State. He tweets @AdejumoKabir2