Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Nigeria: failed democracy?

Here's one observer's analysis of democracy in Nigeria. The author, Remi Adekoya, is the former political editor of the Warsaw Business Journal.

Democracy has failed in Nigeria when voters no longer care who wins
You know a democracy is in trouble when two out of three voters don’t bother to turn up for a presidential election. In Nigeria’s just-concluded presidential poll, incumbent Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected with the backing of 15.2 million voters compared to the 11.3 million votes his main rival Atiku Abubakar, was able to amass…

The 35% voter turnout was down from 44% in the 2015 presidential election and way down from the 54% turnout in 2011. In fact, turnout for Nigerian presidential elections has been dropping at an alarmingly consistent rate since 2003. So why are increasingly fewer Nigerians feeling the need to vote in elections that decide the most powerful political office?

Poor organisation is one reason. The last three elections were all postponed at the last minute, causing frustration as well as suspicion that politicians were delaying things to perfect their rigging strategies. Voting itself often involves waiting long hours, in a cumbersome and inefficient process. For some, it’s too much hassle.

Then there is the ever-present fear of violence on election day. Indeed, violence erupted in several places across the country in this election. Politics is a high-stakes game anywhere; in Nigeria the rewards of victory are particularly high…

Furthermore, this year’s choice between the 76-year-old Buhari, who governed highhandedly and often incompetently during his first term, and the 72-year-old veteran politician Atiku, who is widely considered corrupt, was hardly inspiring.

However, it is likely that the largest contributing factor to the extremely low turnout was the feeling that whoever won, nothing would change. The system is so corrupt that it makes no difference whether X or Y is president. Pew Research conducted last year showed that only 39% of Nigerians were satisfied with their democracy, 72% said most politicians were corrupt and 57% said no matter who wins elections, things do not change much. Only 38% felt that elected officials cared what “ordinary people think”.

And so here we are. The problem is that it is difficult for a system to maintain its legitimacy if only one in three citizens believe in it. This is the position Nigerian democracy now finds itself in…

Like a marriage, democracy cannot survive without trust. The relationship between the Nigerian government and its people is broken. Apathy prevails. Trust is scarce. Buhari’s second term needs to be focused on tackling this lack of trust that Nigerians increasingly feel towards their political system. Otherwise, the future of Nigerian democracy looks very bleak indeed.

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