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Quest For Enduring Democracy in Nigeria

Quest For Enduring Democracy in Nigeria
By Ehidiamen Isibor

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 beginning of democracy in Nigeria can be traced to the early years of independent Nigeria, particularly, the first republic. Even though Nigeria acquired Republican status in 1963, the first republic in Nigeria began on the 1st of October, 1960 and came to an end on the 15th of January, 1966.

Before the commencement of the first republic, structures had been put in place in the course of the late 1950s which ensured that Nigeria adopted the “Westminster” model of parliamentary democracy. Elections were held in December 1959 which ushered in the first republic in which the NPC and NCNC formed a coalition which led to the emergence of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as governor general and later on, as President. From the second year of Nigeria’s independence, there was massive instability and unrest that lasted till the 13th of January 1966 when a military coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu toppled and overthrew the democratically elected government and thus, ending the first republic of Nigeria.

Nigeria was sitting on thin ice, characterized by religious divisions and polarized by governing coalitions that drew their power either from the Christian south of the Muslim north; it was a matter of time that a civil war ripped the country apart from 1967 until 1970. Then, in the ensuing years, civil war turned into failed government after failed government. A few privileged took advantage of the situation, Nigeria was country rich for exploit, with oil profits to pad many pockets. However, such corruption fueled many coups and led to even more unrest. As a result, Nigeria was far from democratic for the first four decades of its existence. Not many thought that the vicious cycle could ever end until October 1979 when Democracy was, once again, restored, thus, announcing the second republic.

The general elections held in August 1979 were won by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) consequent upon which Alhaji Shehu Shagari became the president. Soon enough, corruption allegations were in constant increase against the government and thus producing tension and unrest in the country until finally the democratically elected government was again overthrown by a military coup which ensured that Major General Muhammadu Buhari became the military leader in on the 31st of December, 1983.

The third republic which was fraught with some bit of drama, was aborted prematurely. The elections which held on the 12th of June, 1993 was won by Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, known as MKO Abiola. However, Democracy was not allowed to have its way as Ibrahim Babangida, the then incumbent military leader annulled the elections, hence aborting the Third Republic.

Democracy took a completely different turn in Nigeria from 1999 till date. After the death of the military dictator, General Sani Abacha in 1998, General Abdusalami Abubakar who took over governance from him is known to have worked out Nigeria’s return to Democracy or Democratic rule. The election that was conducted in April 1999 ensured that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won as a result of which former military leader, Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as the President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in May 1999. Obasanjo also won the April 13th, 2003 elections and ruled for another term as provided by the constitution. In the 21st, April 2007 elections, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of the People’s Democratic Party was elected and sworn in. However, things took a little bit of a different turn when Yar’Adua died on the 5th of May 2010 and Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in, in his place. Jonathan completed Yar’Adua’s term and also won the 16th of April 2011 elections with 22,495187 votes. Powers, however, changed hands in Nigeria’s Democratic rule in the 28, March 2015 elections which when the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the elections and thus, former military leader, Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in.

In the annals of democratic evolution in Nigeria, June 12 has been a recurring decimal in the debate on how best to remember the struggle which led to the return of democracy on May 29, 1999 and the roles played by the democracy icons and activists, the most prominent being the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO)

June 12 1993 is believed to be a watershed in Nigeria’s history. Some leaders, which came to power after the botched June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola, popularly known as MKO, had tried to wish away that date, but the date has survived political suppression over the years. The June 12 presidential poll was adjudged the freest and the fairest in the history of elections in the country.

However, 25 years later, precisely June 8, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari took a bold step by proposing to recognise June 12 as the nation’s Democracy Day as against the May 29 date that had been celebrated since 1999.

Following Buhari’s pronouncement, the Senate, on May 16, 2019, passed the Public Holiday Act Amendment Bill to recognise June 12 as the new Democracy Day. This enactment is symbolic and instructive.

The June 12 struggle started in 1993 immediately after the presidential poll won by MKO was annulled by the Gen Ibrahim Babangida-led military junta. The annulment of the election immediately precipitated political crisis, which was driven by mass protests organised and coordinated by the pro-democracy activists whose goals were to end military dictatorship and to ensure a thorough democratisation of the polity and all aspects of the national life.

MKO Abiola, who was the flag bearer for Social Democratic Party, had defeated Bashir Tofar, who was the presidential candidate of the National Republican Convention, to the chagrin of some vested interest in and out of government. The result of the election was annulled by the military junta and the battle to actualise the mandate kicked off but not without its attendant human carnage and wanton destruction of property.

Tried as they could, democrats and political activists, who led mass revolt struggles to reverse the annulment during the brief Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan between August and November 1993, did not succeed. The late dictator, Gen Sani Abacha, who eased out Shonekan and inherited the June 12 campaign sustained the junta’s resolve not to reverse the annulment.

The Abacha five-year junta, was the high point of the struggle as some activists, including the symbol of the June 12 struggle, MKO Abiola, ended up being imprisoned , while others were either assassinated or forced to go on exile through what was then known as the ‘NADECO Route’.

Abacha’s regime ended abruptly in 1998 due to the dictator’s controversial and sudden death which paved the way for AbdulSalam Abubakar who handed over power to Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999.

After 20 years of uninterrupted democratic governance, Muhammadu Buhari takes oath of office for a second four-year term as president of Nigeria following his victory as flag bearer of the All Peoples Congress (APC) over Atiku Abubarka of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the February, 23rd 2919 presidential election. 

However, beyond the celebration, we need to reflect on some factors bedeviling the evolution of true and enduring democracy in Nigeria. Some of these factors include but not limited to high level of corruption, poverty, decay infrastructure, unemployment, insecurity and other irregularities.


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.


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. In fact, 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.


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.


Since 1999, hardly we find the government implementing the recommendations of probe panel. It is puzzling that public funds be spent on probe panel whose recommendations will not be put into implementation.  Even with all conditions for enduring democracy are met if the government of the day lacks the much needed political muscle to muzzle evil and bad political practices militating against good governance and democracy, the country will continue to falter and perpetuate in democracy remedial as a relapsing giant. This is not my prayer for Nigeria. 

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