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Democracy in Nigeria


The demolition of the Berlin Wall implicated greatly on communism. This was even pointed out by Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History? In which the author tried to purport that communism’s failure simply implied that there were no alternatives that would replace the regimes of liberal democracies as exhibited in the West. However, different historical changes have been witnessed all through. This has led to many new developments in the realms of democracy. As Kesselman and colleagues (p. 3) put it, Fukuyama’s suppositions could be true after all. This is evidenced by the trend to which several countries are exhibiting their form of democracy. According to them, many countries are either democratic or are headed towards it. This phenomenon has led to different forms of democracies for different countries around the world. Accordingly, this paper will analyse the internal democratic structure of Nigeria, its executive-legislative structure, its electoral system and the problems being faced by the country.

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Fundamentals of Democracy

The Humanistic studies branch of the Stanford University identifies democracy as a form of government that has four fundamental principles. These principles include a free and fair method of choosing and replacing the government. In a good democracy, the people choose their leaders and hence hold them accountable for all their undertakings in office, including their policies and their behaviour in office. This is achieved through the citizens’ decision to choose their representatives both at the national and grassroots level from the several competing parties. The people are therefore the basis of the government’s decision making. It is the people who hold the power and pass it on to the leaders who hold the positions temporarily. In a democratic state, the leaders have the obligation of listening to the suggestions and needs of the people and acting accordingly towards these needs. This has to be done in consideration of the minorities also. Another characteristic of a democratic state is that it has elections that are set for a specific time as specified by the law and that leaders have no consent of making any extension of this stipulated timeframe. In addition, the parties must have freedom to campaign while the citizens must have the freedom to make secret votes devoid of intimidation and violence finally, the country must have a tribunal that is non-aligned and neutral whose role will be to settle election disputes should they arise (Wilson, 67).

Secondly, a democracy must offer adequate participation of all the citizens equally. To be precise, a democracy must allow public life participation to all the citizens. Under such circumstances, citizens should be allowed to know what is happening in the realms of power see how the elected representatives are using the bestowed power and hence make their contributions and express their opinions. Another form of participation for citizens include is through voting. Each citizen must be allowed to access all the policies of the different parties and make his final decision. This will assist him to vote wisely. In addition, the citizens should be allowed to campaign for their candidates and parties, debate and issues that concern them, petition the government if need be or demonstrate. This can be facilitated by the participation in civil organisations that represent different people with different ambitions and goals (Wilson, 70).

In a democracy, participation in civil societies is voluntary. No member of the society should be forced to join a society if he is not willing. This includes also the political parties. Equally, members of the society should be allowed to actively participate in Party issues. No one should be forced to join a party through threats or other coercive means. Finally, the participation in all these organisations must be in alignment with the laws of the state. It should also be a peaceful affair where citizens respect the views of each other (Wilson, 73).

Thirdly, a democracy respects the rights of its citizens. It allows each citizen to enjoy his basic rights and hence cannot snatch them from anyone. This should be in accordance with the international human rights laws where every citizen is allowed the right to express himself and the right to believe in whatever one wants to. It also includes right to freedom, right to enjoy one’s own culture, right to association and formation of organizations like trade unions, et cetera like the rest, these rights must be observed in a peaceful manner and in alignment with the law of the state and also in respect of other peoples’ rights (Wilson, 74).

Finally, a democracy must be founded on the rule of law and not on the rule of individuals. This law ensures limits to power by the government, maintenance of order and protection of citizens’ rights. For instance, in case of detention, one is innocent until proven guilty. In addition, one has a right to be tried fairly, publicly and speedily. Taxation and prosecution can only be done under a law that was established prior to the event. Democracy also calls for the courts to be free from other arms of the government and that they should enforce the law fairly and impartially to all citizens. In addition, judges should not be made to make certain decisions by any member of the government. No human being should be subjected to torture or any form of inhumane treatment. Finally, a democratic state does not allow any person in power to enrich him/herself by way of using either power or any corrupt means to get wealth. Corruption should be banned completely in any democratic state (Wilson, 75).

Nigerian Case

Using the above measures of a democratic state, this part of the paper will try to point out how Nigeria fairs in these matters. From an analytical point of view, Nigeria falls under a transitional democracy. This is a country whose democracy does not really include all the characteristics of a good democracy but has a good number of the characteristics. To be precise, the country falls short of a stable democratic state but shows signs of some democratic steps. The country falls in between a democratic state and a non-democratic state.

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What are the characteristics that make Nigeria a country without full democracy but with signs of democratic consolidations? The structure of the Nigerian government shows some loopholes that can cause undemocratic events. For example, since the country attained independence, the structure of the colonial governance was not changed. The post-colonial Nigeria adopted the colonialists’ institutions and economic structures. Accordingly, the civil service, the police and the army maintained the same colonial structure which was meant for advancing the colonial interests. This was facilitated by the political class that was completely loyal to the British government. As a result, the interests of the citizens were not the primary objective of the leaders elected by the electorate (Moda, par. 17). This marks the first weakness in the country’s democracy. According to the mentioned characteristics, a democracy must be founded on the needs and opinions of the citizens and not opinions of the colonialists. Failure to acknowledge this marks a shortcoming in the democracy of the state.

The Nigerian government was also characterised by military takeovers. This was done by ambitious army generals who felt that they could seize power from the political class that they perceived to be serving the interests of the colonialists. However, these are the leaders that the civilians had chosen at their own will. Removing them and assuming power by the military deprives the civilians of their rights of choice and also means that their choice cannot rule. Instead, the military which is not elected by the civilians assumes power. This means that they are not accountable to them because they were not elected by them. As a result, the government fails to advance the interests of the citizens (Moda, par. 19).

In addition, the military rulers do not operate under the rule of law that specifies a given time duration for elections. The rulers stay in power for as long as they love to. This is undemocratic. A democratic state allows for a government that is founded on the rule of law. According to the rule of law, a specific duration must be specified for elections and not ruling for as long as one desires (Moda, par.20).

As mentioned earlier, the post-colonial Nigeria maintained a British structure in both political and economic sense. This has had a great impact on the economic status of the citizens. Within this structure, the rural dwellers and the urban poor are completely discriminated against from active participation in the economic and political lives (Moda, par. 24). This is a form of undemocratic governance. It fails to allow every citizen to actively participate in the daily activities of political and economic development of the country. This and several other characteristics point out that Nigeria has not completely attained a full democracy.

A transitional democracy involves hinds of a democratic state that is not fully incorporated. This means that to some extent, there are democratic consolidations within the country. In Nigeria, the citizens are allowed to vote for their favourite candidates in the multiparty state. This means that there are elections that are carried out. Furthermore, this implies that there is a neutral body that deals with the conducting and handling of the election issues. In Nigeria, this role belongs to the Independent National Elections Commission. This is the body that deals with the formation and ensuring of a free and fair election. The Nigerian electoral system is the type that involves a single member constituency and multiparty state with a system that recognizes the first past the post winner. In this system, the voters are accredited and given a ballot paper where they secretly make a thumb impression on their favourite candidate or party before dropping the ballot paper in the ballot box under full view of officials and party agents. In case of election disputes, the system allows for petitions where relevant tribunals and the judiciary handle the case and hence come up with a solution to the dispute. However, the country is in the process of implementing the electronic voting system that was put in the first use in the 2007 elections. This was meant to reduce the cases of rigging (Umobong, 3).

Despite the drawbacks in Nigeria’s democracy, it can be included among the countries with a consensus democracy. According to Lijphart, such a democracy, the concentration of power is not vested on the executive but is distributed to different arms of the government. In addition, a consensus democracy is characterised by a multi-party system as opposed to a one-party state in the majoritarian democracy. A consensus democracy has a popular representation from of electoral system. This is also evident in Nigeria. Lijphart further points out that a consensus democracy is characterised by a federal state which is also a characteristic of the Nigerian state. However, a transitional government usually runs short of the characteristics of a full democracy. In this case, Lijphart identifies a consensus democracy to be one with a strong constitutional rigidity and also strong constitutional courts. Due to the tumultuous political climate in Nigeria, this could not be identified. Military coups have led to military laws that have failed to observe the rule of law as determined by the constitution. The courts have also been weakened by the military rules hence making them fail to be classified among strong constitutional courts (Lijphart, 43).

Executive-Legislative Structure

Nigeria has a presidential executive-legislative structure. This system was enacted in 1975 during Murtala Muhamed’s rule after drafting the Constitution. This system was adopted from the United States to replace the parliamentary system that existed before. In this form of democracy, the constitution gives the legislature the responsibility to check the powers of the executive and ensure that the executive arm makes decisions that favour the interests of the citizens. This also helps in the distribution of power which could otherwise have been concentrated on the executive and hence causing problems in the democracy (Aminu, par. 7).

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A society that has heterogeneous agents usually has a problem of political economy. The problem is about adopting the best economic policy for the society. It also involves the solving of the conflicts of interest. With Nigeria having a population of approximately 133 million people, there are high chances of challenges in its political economy. Nigeria has a Land of 923,768 kilometres squared that has bountiful natural resources including land for agriculture, richness of minerals like petroleum and other valuable minerals that are worth exportation. However, many misgivings within the government have led to slowed development in Nigeria. These include economic mismanagement, absence of accountability, lack of inclusion of the people’s interests and opinions in decision making, corruption and deep rooted insecurity. Other factors that have led to slowed economic growth include inadequate supply of power, low capacity utilization of industries, inflation, poor education, dipping value of the Naira and rampant poverty. These factors have implicated greatly on the Nigerian economic growth. If the factors were well handled, the growth would have been greater than what is exhibited currently (Musa, 1).


In conclusion, Nigeria is a state in transitional democracy. This means that it has made a step towards democracy but several events have not yet been addressed. The factors that point out its democratic consolidation include its consensus democratic approach which allows for elections and freedom of choice. However, military coups that have marked the history of the country have led to weaknesses in the democracy hence making it short of being a full democracy. These include a weak constitutional rigidity, failure to account for the citizens’ needs and interests economic structure that sidelines the poor and rural dwellers. If all these are put into consideration, the country is likely to witness great improvements in its economic status and its democratic state.

Works Cited

Aminu, Jibril. Improving Executive/Legislative Relationship.  2006.

Kesselman, Mark, &l Krieger, Joel et al. Introduction to Comparative Politics (5th Ed). NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2009.

Lijphart, Arend. Patterns of Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

Moda, Moyibi. Microanalysis of Nigerian Democracy: Anniversary Imprecations. 2009.

Musa, Sani (2006). The Nigerian Political Economy in Transition.

Umonbong, Okop (2006). Paper on the voting system in Nigeria.

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Wilson, Frank. Concepts and Issues in Comparative Politics. New York: Prentice Hall, 2001.

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