Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

Follow Jide Akintunde

View Profile

Subjects of Interest

  • Financial Market
  • Fiscal Policy

Nigeria is at a crossroads with nominal democracy 04 Apr 2023

Democracy is the system of government that is suitable for Nigeria. The country comprises over 250 ethnic groups. Although three of them – Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo – are the largest by population, none constitutes the majority. In such a circumstance, the leader of the country needs to be an elected representative of the disparate peoples. Only then can the central government be legitimate.

The requirement is the same at the federating units: the states. The Nigerian federation comprises 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Given the far greater number of the ethnic nationalities, and because of the constitutional right of Nigerians to live in whichever parts of the country they want, each of the states is a melting pot of people of different ethnicities. It is, therefore, highly unlikely – and even undesirable – that a state governor would be elected only by people of his or her ethnic affinity.

Given this demographic structure, even a constitutional monarchy could not have been a suitable form of government in an independent Nigeria. The central monarchy ever in place in the territory now known as Nigeria was colonial. During the pre-independence political negotiations, the nationalists opted for a constitutional democracy and the country subsequently enacted a republican constitution in 1963. Nevertheless, there have since been three interruptions to the country’s democracy. But all the military regimes ended up discredited and rejected by the generality of Nigerians. The country is now having its longest spell of democratic self-governance since independence. On 29 May 2023, the Fourth Republic would have lasted for 24 years.

Nonetheless, when our democracy has not been interrupted, we have struggled to uphold its basic tenets – most especially free and fair elections. At a more fundamental level, the country has failed to enact a people’s constitution to underpin its democracy. After the 1963 Constitution, which was enacted under the shadow of the retreating colonial administration of Great Britain, the subsequent three constitutions of 1979, 1993, and 1999 have been imposed by military dictatorships. The impositions exemplify the inability of the political establishment of the country to freely agree on the governing parameters for fostering Nigerian nation-building.

Apart from its de facto role of enacting the constitutions, the military has been dominant in the rulership of the country, through military coups, and with two ex-military heads of state serving as elected presidents in 16 out of the 24 years of the Fourth Republic. Emergent with the military autocracies and ‘militarised’ democracy has been lack of legal accountability. The Nigerian president is one of the world’s most powerful leaders, not because he commands one of the most powerful militaries on the planet, but because of the enormous power he exercises without accountability. Years of presidential impunity has made state institutions to terribly – and sometimes, like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), dangerously – malfunction.

Without accountability, the incentive to run the affairs of state efficiently and for the utmost benefit of the citizens is absent. Thus, the incompetence of the Nigerian state has been the immediate cause of widespread poverty, lack of basic amenities, and insecurity. Nigerians now believe that the democracy is operated to, in actual fact, erode their welfare while the political establishment goes to great lengths to retain political power and the booties from exercising it without accountability.

The 2023 general election has laid out the dysfunctions of our nominal democracy in the starkest of terms. The conduct of the national elections on 25 February and the state-level polls on 18 March indicates that the country is not functioning as a republic. Now officially the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, before he even secured his party’s presidential nomination, declared that it was his “turn” to be president. His “Emi lo kan” verbiage, in effect, hijacked the prerogative of the people to elect their leaders.

Such an unconstitutional claim to power was ominous. The presidential election has turned out to be a dangerous charade; reports of voter suppression and violence tainted it. INEC abandoned its own rule on mandatory electronic transmission of results from the polling units and other transparency measures for the election. Several “exhibits” displayed on national television and social media show systematic falsification of results uploaded on INEC’s election server.

The gubernatorial election in Lagos featured scenes similar to urban warfare. Ethnic profiling, threats of violence, actual violent attacks, and destruction of ballot papers characterised the election. Many of these incidents were perpetrated with impunity by political thugs, despite the presence of state security operatives in many cases. The incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari also seemed to look away, as if he had sanctioned the breakdown in law and order.

But it has become apparent that being nominally democratic has proven to be inimical to the political stability and economic progress of the country. To begin to right the wrongs from the recent elections, the electoral tribunals should deliver justice in the cases that have been brought before them challenging some election results. Rather than being rewarded for wrongdoing, the wrongdoers must face the wrath of the law.

The federal government should also investigate INEC for any pattern of malfeasance and audit its election server procured at great public cost. If the electoral umpire has failed to deliver a minimum standard of performance, its leadership should be fired. Other measures to restore credibility to the country’s democracy should follow. We appear to have reached a critical juncture where we cannot continue to embrace democracy in name and scorn it in practice.