Nigeria and Democracy

To define, a democracy is a governmental system by the people with the rule of majority for elected officials. According to Freedom House, currently as of 2018, only 39% of the world’s population is free, while 24% is partly free, and 37% is not free – based off of democracy. Freedom House stated that 2017 was the year democracy had faced the most serious crises as seventy-one states had declined in civil liberties and political rights, including the United States.

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In order for a country to be a democracy it must have a strong middle class, strong civic culture, high urbanization, rich GDP, high education, functional state, as well as nationalism. One country that has been on the verge of democracy for some time is Nigeria. The most populous country in Africa, located next to democratic Benin and from the coast of Sao Tome and Principe, the country is ranked at 50% free from Freedom House. Since Nigeria is half free, as they are currently a federal republic from electing the governmental president and representatives. However, the country is currently facing many challenges that restrict it from becoming a stable democracy at the time. The lack of free and fair elections, lack of human rights including freedom of expression, speech and publication, as well as high level corruption and financial impropriety with abuse of state resources of government officials are just some of these challenges. Upon these challenges, the government is slowly becoming more of a totalitarian democracy, while fighting an extremist Islamic group over governance; which deems the country to essentially challenge modernization theory.

From 1860-1960, Nigeria was a British colony and became a center of agricultural trade to Europe. In 1947 the United Kingdom introduced a new government in Nigeria under a new constitution that was based on the three regions: Eastern, Western, and Northern. This constitution was to bring together the different regional and religious tensions of the diverse ethnic groups: Ibo, Yoruba, and the Hausa and Fulani (Nigeria History & Pre-Colonial Era). The British granted independence to Nigeria in October of 1960, leaving them with a Prime Minister and a form of government. However, in 1966 there was a coup d’état forming a Military Junta and creating the Supreme Military Council, before a civil war broke out, primarily in the southern portion of the country.

The Nigerian civil war was the first modern war in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the bloodiest. One of the main reasons for the civil war was that the southeastern region wanted independence from the country as a whole, creating the Republic of Biafra. The war last three years 1967-1970, and killed around 1-3 million people, as well as causing malnutrition and devastation across the country (Akresh). Due to the lack of nutrition provided, many young children suffered loss of stature and many had died under the age of five; the birthrate also declined by half a million over those three years. During the civil war, the British had stayed to support the Nigerians, and eventually they were capable of claiming victory over Biafra, which surrendered and ended the civil war.

At the end of the civil war, the Supreme Military Council was still active until 1979 when Nigeria’s Second Republic was formed completely. Before the complete formation, the main idea that the Second Republic proposed was the writing of a new constitution, which the Supreme Military Council had drafted in 1978 (Laitin). Shehu Shagari was elected as the only president of Nigeria’s Second Republic from 1979-1983, before being over thrown by a second coup d’état from the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria (separate from the Supreme Military Council). The Supreme Military Council of Nigeria lasted until 1985, when it was overthrown by another coup d’état, the palace coup, led by another coup in 1990, another in 1993, before leading the current status of an elected presidency. Currently, the president is Muhammadu Buhari, was previously in power from the military coup of 1983, but was forced out from the 1985 coup.

The 1983 Second Republic’s election was rigged, much like other elections they would further have, from ballot-box stuffing, summarization of votes, and manipulation of results (Tar). Nigeria has a zero-sum nature of power politics, where it is essentially winner takes all in elections. The country’s electoral democracy is significant for the support of liberal democracy. There have been many Nigerians who have been prevented from voting because they did not acquire a voting card in time or because they were involved in the Boko Haram insurgency, a rebellion that has been going on since 2002. Omon Merry Osiki discusses in his writings ‘Gold, Guns and Goons’: the complexity of electoral irregularities in Nigeria, 1999-2007, the problems with the irregularities of the Nigerian electoral system, quoting:

“Bribery, use of thugs and physical weapons continued to be part of the political development of Nigeria and the country’s electoral politics between 1999 and 2007. Elements of money politics, use of thugs and dangerous weapons were effectively used by the political class to alienate the electorate and have a firm grip on the machinery of government. The trend helped to sustain the phenomenon of “godfatherism”, which assumed a potent force in Nigeria during the period. The fact that the Nigerian electoral system thrived on patronages made the illegal use of money, weapons and goons the surest option available to the political elite.”

This quote essentially describes how the governmental officials had used bribery and violence to get people to vote for their party. The use of “godfatherism” refers to the symbiotic relationship of someone, the godfather, using their political power to create or secure a political position for someone else, their godson. This system has become a normality in the Nigerian government

The people of Nigeria have been capable of creating different political parties, as there have been multiple such as the Nigeria Advance party. This party was registered in the 1983 election, however had no chance in winning due to the rigged election and coup. As for the country’s 1999 elections which were also rigged, it was essentially what was the first base in the trajectory of electoral irregularities with the use of thugs, weapons, and illegal money which would continue until 2007 (Osiki). The following 2011 election was the end of this trend in the country, regarding it to be freer and fairer. Although, according the Freedom House, there was still plenty of violence in this election that killed around 800 people and had 65,000 people displaced. There were sill people who could not vote in the election, or did not want to because of ties with Boko Haram.

In retaliation of the Nigerian government brought the uprising of Boko Haram in 2002. A militant Islamist extremist group that wants to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state with sharia criminal courts (Felter), an Islamic tradition of religious law. The group, consisting of around four to six or more thousand people, is responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in the country. These attacks included kidnappings, suicide and car bombings, assassinations and urban assaults, and in the first half of 2014 over 2,000 people were killed from the attacks (Ashkenas, Watkins, Tse). Members of Boko Haram first included woman and children, unemployed graduates of university, and school drop-outs, they believed that the Nigerian government was imposing Western education, however neglected to manage their own countries resources and benefits (Alozieuwa). Boko Haram has not simply stayed in the boundaries of Nigeria, the extremist group has found itself to continue the violence outside the country into surrounding countries along the Lake Chad Basin (Felter).

When it comes in Nigeria’s human rights, Freedom House rated it as a 9/16. This is largely due to the Joint Task Force, a terrorist group that has been criticized recently for human right abuses and essentially tied to murdering Boko Haram detainees. They are said to have done more than 600 illegal killings in 2014. Violent crime has remained to be a serious problem throughout Nigeria, along with trafficking of drugs and small arms, and abductions. With the freedom of expression, according to Freedom House as of 2014, it has been signed into law that people in a same-sex marriage or union would be sentenced to a maximum of fourteen years in jail, and anyone who supports the marriage would have up to ten years. This law had received international negative feedback, as it challenged the human rights towards the Nigerian LGBT community, however nothing was changed from it. Gender in the country has improved as women do hold 24/360 seats in the Nigerian House of Representatives and 8/109 seats in Senate, according to Freedom House. The country does have laws against rape, female genital mutilation, child marriages, and domestic violence. However, there is still discrimination in employment and women are still denied equal rights in regards to inherit property because of customary practices and laws. There is still also illegal human trafficking with forced labor and prostitution within Nigeria, which the government has made small efforts to combat the issues.

Modernization theory is essentially a way to explain the process of modernization or change of a state from a “pre-modern” to a more “modern” society. Modernization could derive from the use of newer technologies, education, and politics within a country. When looking at Nigeria, it is relatively poor when compared to modern countries, with over 70% of the population living under the poverty line (Bell). Since the poverty rate is high, it has a negative effect on the education level and economic well-being of the country. This essentially challenges the modernization theory, as Nigeria is a high populated and on the verge of being a democratic country. However, these factors are holding it back from becoming more modern. With the modernization of the country, to be able to support the theory, the country would have to be increasing drastically in its technology and especially its education system.

To conclude, Nigeria has been on the verge for democracy for a while now. Nigeria’s governmental system started off as a British colony to having multiple coup d’états from military juntas, to a form of presidency. Although the country has made efforts in evolving more as a democracy, there are still challenges that the country faces on being stable. One problem includes the challenge of fighting with Boko Haram, the extremist Islamic group that essentially wants to change the government to their viewings. Other challenges Nigeria faces includes the lack of free and fair elections, lack of human rights including freedom of expression, speech and publication, as well as high level corruption and financial impropriety with abuse of state resources of government officials. Upon these challenges, the government is slowly becoming more of a totalitarian democracy, which deems the country to essentially challenge modernization theory.

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