The Irony of Nigeria's Democratic Politics

by Priye Torulagha

As Nigerians head to the polls to determine their future political leaders, the one billion Naira question is: whether Nigeria will finally become a democratic state or continue as a pretender to the throne? It is necessary to occasionally ask this question in order to put everything in perspective and thereby direct the political system toward a truly representative system.

After almost four years of the post-military civilian political experiment, it is very difficult to typify or characterize what has transpired in Nigeria as either a democracy or a plutocratic authoritarianism. The reason why it is so difficult to put a definitive appellation on the system is due to the fact that the politicians did not really play by democratic rules even though they claim to be democrats.

In fact, Nigerian civilian rulers have never ever played by democratic rules. For instance, during the First Republic, a vast majority of Nigerians wanted the creation of more regions or states but the politicians refused to do so. Instead, they penalized those who called for the creation of states by castigating and ostracizing them. Likewise, the demand for more institutions of higher learning was ignored blatantly. It was the military which created states and established the educational policy that every state must have an institution of higher learning. During the Second Republic, the politicians elevated sycophancy and embezzlement to advanced art forms. The purpose of government was redefined to mean self perpetuation and self enrichment. The Third Republic was no republic at all since Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was a military ruler who pretended to be a “president.”

The Fourth Republic seems to represent the worst of all the things that can go wrong in society. There is not a single group, apart from the power-wielders and their cronies, who can claim to have faired well since May 29, 1999. The Fourth Republic can be characterized as a plutocratic authoritarianism. The reason being that the system is dominated by plutocrats, including the very rich, the ambitious, and the undemocratic elements who do not mind killing in order to perpetuate themselves in power at the expense of the people. While a vast majority of Nigerians are barely surviving, the very rich did not hesitate to show off how much they are worth by giving out hundreds of millions of Naira to the political parties. While many public and private sector employees struggled monthly to collect their paychecks, the super rich showed off their wealth by giving lavishly to the candidates and the parties. Nobody asked about where they got those millions.

Nigeria is really ironic. When the military was in power, the politicians constantly attacked it for lack of democratic representation. The politicians cried wolf constantly and could not wait for the military to go back to the barracks. Due to the political pressure, the military left and decided to go back to the barracks in May 1999. Now that the politicians are in power and the military has gone back to the barracks, the politicians find it almost impossible to rule without the presence of the military.

In fact, since Nigeria gained independence, the civilians have never been able to conduct elections without the presence of heavily armed police and military forces. Although many politicians believe very strongly that the military’s sole constitutional responsibility is to defend the country against external threat and decry any form of military intervention in politics, yet, they have never been able to conduct elections democratically. Mr. Bayo Benson (2003, April 13) noted “At three different times in the post independent Nigeria, attempts at institutionalizing an enduirng democratic have remained a fleeing illusion. The firs republic collapsed partly because of over-ambition, political intolerance, electoral malpractice, violence and endemic corruption in the system The same ingredients were present in the second republic and eventually brought it to its knees.” As a result, during political elections, the country is always temporarily militarized so as to ensure tranquility. In the ongoing elections, the entire country has been temporarily militarized so that political emotions are not expressed violently. This means that between April 12 and 22, 2003, the police and the members of the armed forces would be fully mobilized to make sure that politicians and their supporters do not subvert the electoral process.

In fact, the federal government announced even before the elections that troops would be deployed in 12 states of the federation to ensure peace during the elections. While on a campaign tour of Kwara State, the president stated that “soldiers would complement the effort of the police in maintaining peace before, during and after the elections. Nigeria could not afford another jinxed civilian-to-civilian transition.” (Akinyemi & Johnson, 2003, March 25). The Inspector General of the Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun warned “those who are nursing the ambition of coming out to disrupt the election to have a rethink.” (Odunniyi et al., 2003, April 12).It is reported that the police will mobilize about 250,000 officers during the elections.

It is interesting to note that since May 29, 1999, Nigeria has actually depended more on the military and the police to keep the peace than during the military era. The reason being that the politicians have tended to violate the democratic rules of procedure. As soon as current office holders got into power in 1999, they ignored the people who voted them in and behaved like dictators. They looted the public treasury and enriched themselves, opened foreign bank accounts, traveled overseas frequently to conduct personal businesses, hired thugs and hooligans to threaten and kill those who oppose them, and made it impossible for the opposition to challenge them democratically.

In addition, they have elevated self-perpetuation to a degree which violates every democratic norm. They have done so by sowing very poisonous intra-ethnic and interethnic discords that have made life even more unbearable than during the military era. As a result, all over the country, there are hot political spots: Warri, Plateau, Ife-Modakeke, Benue, Sharia, Christians vs. Moslems, Hausa vs. Fulanis etc. Instead of attempting to resolve these problems, they actually exacerbate them by instigating further destabilization. The life of an average Nigerian does not worth much in today’s political climate. Nigeria’s political life is like a Greek tragicomedy in the sense that more Nigerians have been killed under the current civilian rule than during any of the military regimes. It is actually much easier to kill anybody today in Nigeria than at any other time in the history of the country, except during the civil war.

It seems that whatever Nigerian politicians touch turns into political rheumatism, hence, even the police and the armed forces are reeling from the current political situation. These forces are being used as instruments to perpetuate the authorities of those in power against the interests of the general population. These forces are constantly called upon to temporarily solve political problems generated by political intrigues. Even when a situation requires political solution, the politicians expect the forces to handle it militarily. As a result, the forces are being victimized, just as the general public. In many parts of Nigeria, the security forces are looked upon as “occupation forces” because they are required to use force to maintain order. Consequently, various youth groups are increasingly disrespectful of political authority and willing to launch attacks against soldiers and police officers who try to prevent them fro achieving their political and financial goals. Due to their close association with those in power, the members of the armed forces and the police are viewed with disdain in many parts of the country.

The feeling that public officials are using the security forces to clamp down on the right of the people of Niger Delta led the youths at Odi to attack a group of police officers. The same feeling led Tiv youths to attack some Nigerian soldiers in Benue State in October 2001. Nigerian soldiers and police officers have been attacked in various parts of the country. Two weeks ago, Warri exploded following the failure of the politicians to resolve the local council ward issue that has persistently led to interethnic conflicts involving the Ijaws, Itsekiris, and the Urhobos. In the recent Warri fracas, instead of dealing with the ward issue squarely, the politicians, both at the state and national levels, called upon the police, army, and the navy to dealt with the matter. The military involvement actually escalated the conflict and resulted in the reduction of oil production and the flow of oil from a pipeline near Warri to the Warri and Kaduan refineries.

Some of the soldiers sent to Warri to suppress the interethnic violence have expressed their dissatisfaction with the deployment. A soldier commented that they were not happy with the way many of them “are being killed by the illiterate youths. The annoying thing is that the authorities have continued to send us there not minding how many of us are being slaughtered” ( Ojiabor, 2003, April 6). At the same time, the conflict between farmers and cattle herders in Wase have led to the deaths of some policemen and soldiers in Plateau State (abdulsalami, 2003, April 14). A mob attacked and set a police station ablaze in Kadawa village in Bebeji Local Government Area of Kano State (Musa, 2003, April 2). It can be said that the members of the police and armed forces are as disgusted with the current political system as the general population. Air Vice-Marshall Hamza Abdullah (rtd), the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory spoke for the entire armed forces and the police when he described the “military as the punching bag of politicians.” (Lohor, 2003, March 23).

It is really ironic that Nigerian democrats would depend so much on undemocratic institutions to attempt to maintain a democratic system. This is a very serious contradiction that has made it impossible to stabilize the system without the presence of security forces. Like wise, in a typical Nigerian style, the struggle for the leadership of the democratic system is dominated by two former military generals: Obasanjo and Buhari.

As Nigerians go out to vote, they should think very seriously about the political health of the nation. They should search their conscience and vote for those they consider to be the most able and competent. If they want Nigeria to become a very durable and progressive modern African nation state, they should avoid voting for candidates who have no intention of doing anything to make a difference in the lives of Nigerians, except themselves. In particular, they should not vote for candidates that have been tainted with corruption or have dubious reputations.

Nigerians, this is a great opportunity to right the wrongs that were committed when some of the current public officials were put in power. Take your vote very seriously if you want your future and those of your families, neighbors, friends, and children to be a bright one. Do not invalidate it by voting for those who have consciously contributed to the traumatization of Nigeria for the last three and eleven months through undemocratic tendencies. Do not allow money to influence your choices. A wrong choice of leaders will only prolong the agony of instability, unnecessary bloodletting, economic stagnation, unbridled corruption and abuse of power.

So far, the April 12, 2003 elections have gone very well, despite some hitches. It shows that Nigerians truly want a functioning democratic political system that is truly representative of the peoples will. The final test as to whether Nigeria undergoes a smooth civilian-to-civilian political transition will come after all the various elections have been conducted and the results published. When all the results, including the presidential race, are published around April 20 or 21, 2003 and there is not a major opposition to the results, then Nigeria would finally begin to take its place among the comity of democratic nation-states in the world.

Even if the current elections were to be successfully carried out without major opposition to the results, Nigerians cannot rest but press on the battle to democratize the entire polity through eradication of political and financial corruption and the solving of various intra-ethnic, interethnic, religious, and economic problems. In short, the Fifth Republic should be focused on taking care of the peoples business, particularly the provision of services to the masses. Likewise, to avoid overstretching and angering the armed forces, political problems must be solved politically and not through the military. Let the military remain in the barracks and take care of defense matters. Finally, the oil matter must be solved equitably to calm the Niger Delta.


Abdulsalami, I. (2003, April 11). 10 Feared dead in fresh Plateau crisis. The Guardian.
Online: 4/11/03.

Akinyemi, D. & Johnson, D. (2003, March 25). Government Moves to deploy troops to volatile state ahead April poll. 3/27/03.

________, (2003, April 13). Transition: Nigeria decides.
Online: 4/13/03.

Beson, D. (April 3, 2003). Civilian to civilian transition: can Obasanjo break the jinx? Vanguard. Online: 4/14/03.

Ebiri, K. (2003, April 11). Harry’s son queries police claim on murder suspect. Gurdian, Online: 4/11/03.

Lohor, J (2003, March 23). Military, punching bag of politicians- Abdullahi. This Day News. Online: 3/23/03.

Musa, Y. (2003, April 2). Mob set police station ablaze in Kano. This Day.Online: 4/2/03.

Oduniyi, M. Onabu, O., Nzeshi, O., Musa, Y., Olaleye, W., Anucha, C., & Epia, O.
(2003, April 12). National Assembly Polls: Tension amid tight security. Online: 4/12/03. Ojiabor, F. (2003, April 6). Mayhem in Warri. Online:
htpp:/a;; 4/9/03.

Onyekamuo, C. (2003, April 12). AIG raises alarm over arms build up in Anambra. Online: 4/12/03.

Oyadongha, S. (2003. April 14). Violence mars polls in Yeangoa. Online: 4/14/03.

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winnietyna April 22, 2007 - 1:01 pm

the article is virtually a brief of the nigeria's good.

Anonymous February 22, 2006 - 9:31 am

i like this


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