news analysis advocacy
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Print this page

Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Updates and Background, 2 Nigeria: Updates and Background, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 020107
Document reposted by Africa Action

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+


This posting contains brief excerpts from the introduction and synthesis of the November 2000 report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) on Democracy in Nigeria. A related posting also distributed today contains other excerpts and links related to political developments in Nigeria, including more recent documents from the International IDEA Nigeria project.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

International IDEA, Stromsborg, S-103 34 Stockholm, Sweden Tel: +46 8 698 3700, Fax: +46 8 20 24 22 E-mail:

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance has 19 members and four associate members. These are Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, India, Mauritius, Namibia, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Uruguay. The following international non-governmental organizations are associate members: the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR), the International Press Institute (IPI), Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) and Transparency International.

Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Dialogue(s) for Nation-building
Published November, 2000; 14 Chapters, 379 pages.


This publication is a summary of reports by teams of Nigerian and international resource persons who undertook a consultative and empirically based study of some of the critical issues on the political agenda in Nigeria today. ... Intensive consultations first resulted in a work shop with national stakeholders that took place in Abuja in August 1999, at which the agenda and method of the assessment was agreed. Following the necessary preparations, the assessment itself was implemented over a period of two weeks during February 2000. Forty-two Nigerian and six international resource persons were included in the dialogue process.

The assessment entailed extensive travelling throughout Nigeria and consultations with hundreds of representatives from state, civil society and private sector institutions. Sir Shridath Ramphal, Chairman of International IDEA, presided over the Synthesis Conference of the assessment mission where the recommendations were formulated.

Main characteristics of the methodology

The study tapped on an existing wealth of information and knowledge: first by using predominantly Nigerian resource persons, and secondly by taking the debate outside of conference centres. ...

The assessment framework was wide in scope: the size of the country itself and the urgency of the issues in the national debate throughout the country necessitated designing a methodological approach that covered an extremely wide area and broad range of issues. ...

The exercise emphasized an exploratory approach: rather than applying a strictly academic approach, the expert teams used focus groups, individuals, organizations and institutions as data sources in a deliberately participatory and interactive manner. ...


Nigeria is at a crossroads. Now, more than at any other time in its history, Nigeria has the opportunity to build a society that can guarantee justice, human dignity and civil liberties to all Nigerians. It is a propitious time. Nigerians are committed to nation-building and democratic consolidation. The burning question is: will Nigeria's people and leadership grasp this opportunity to move the country forward on the path of justice, peace and economic development or will Nigeria repeat its pattern of a short break of civilian government between long stretches of military rule?

On 29 May 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as Nigeria's first democratically elected president since 1983. Eighteen months into the country's democratic experiment, Nigeria continues to face economic, political and social uncertainties. Flash points of ethnic, communal, religious and resource conflicts persist. The economic environment is still unstable. The Niger Delta crisis has yet to be resolved, and environmental degradation in oil-producing regions remains a problem. Exacerbating this is the public perception that the Government has been insensitive and slow in addressing fundamental issues affecting Nigerians, such as poverty alleviation, resource distribution, infrastructure development, and security. An air of anxiety and uncertainty continues to pervade Nigerian society.

It is generally agreed that since then progress has been made in the area of personal freedom. The transition has made possible a new, more open society in which people no longer live in fear of the military. Nigerians remain loyal to the idea of a corporate entity called Nigeria, despite the conflicts and tensions that have wracked the polity since May 1999. Despite the challenges, Nigerians remain optimistic about the future of democracy in their country. Clearly, while the transition in May 1999 successfully terminated military rule and ushered in an elected civil order in Nigeria, the transition from an elected civil order to a democratic government has only just begun.

Seizing this unique opportunity requires steadfast leadership and an unwavering commitment, on the part of both government and citizens, to continue along the path towards democratization. ... Fundamentally, it requires that the Government deliver on the 'democracy dividend' - meeting people's expectations that their lives will be better off under a democracy and that their immediate needs for basic infrastructure, reduction of poverty and improved security will be met.

Discussions revealed that Nigerians have a significant amount of goodwill and patience towards the Government. They also understand that change will not come overnight and that social delivery is a complicated process that requires time. Nevertheless, in the face of overwhelming poverty, people also strongly expressed their anxiety and frustration. They feel that they have been waiting for the democracy dividend for a long time - since the early 1980s, when structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) were implemented. Nigerians are anxious to reap the fruits of their democracy.

The challenge now is to advance democracy in a way that is dynamic and sustainable. The democratization process must move beyond elections and address such issues as civil liberties, individual and communal rights, basic freedoms, human dignity, the rule of law and good governance. In this climate Nigerians can also acknowledge their responsibilities to each other and to society.

How can this be achieved? The report's overarching proposal is that there is a need for a new social compact - a new understanding and relationship between government and the people and among all Nigerians. This new compact for social justice must aim for the following:

  • It must be inclusive and ensure participation of a broad section of society
  • It must be just, promoting transparency and accountability
  • It must embody the aspirations of all Nigerians
  • It must be the antithesis of the culture of elite pacts that have prevailed in Nigerian society during the last 50 years.
The essence of the social compact should be to initiate a process. This process would reintegrate the Nigerian people into political evolution and development. Furthermore, it would inculcate a culture of accountability - among the Nigerian people and between people and government. This, after all, is the definition of democracy. It is this idea of democracy that Nigerians voiced repeatedly during the consultations; indeed, they have been articulating this sentiment for decades.

Character of the transition

The Nigerian experience demonstrates that countries cannot take democracy for granted. Only through vigilant struggles can a country secure, anchor and deepen democracy. As its history reveals, democratic struggles are not new in Nigeria. In colonial and post-colonial times, Nigerians waged unceasing struggles against colonial officials, warrant chiefs, native authorities, international financial institutions and big business, as well as military rule. These struggles focused on the denial of political and civil rights, excruciating taxation, poor living and working conditions and, above all, military authoritarianism.

Many of the benefits that Nigerians gained during these democratic struggles have been fleeting, in large part because some sections of the elite manoeuvred to curtail democracy while at the same time preaching the cause of democracy. The lingering question, then, is: how probable is it that the current transition will lead Nigeria to a stable democracy?

In Nigeria, the first of such [elite] pacts, itself an aggregate of earlier pacts between the Nigerian nationalists and the British colonialists, led to independence in 1960. Six years later, this first pact collapsed as a result of disagreements on the interpretation and the implementation of the 1960 Constitution. By the mid 1960s, the army made its debut into the political landscape and from there on became an almost permanent feature of Nigerian politics. It was also during this time that Nigeria was plunged into a long and bitter civil war whose historic scars linger.

Thirteen years of military rule followed before the second major pact was made in 1979, ushering in the Second Republic. The second pact was even shorter than the first. Within four years, pervasive corruption, ethnic strife, a collapsed economy and a bizarre jockeying for the perquisites of office by politicians sounded its death knell. It took another 16 years to get Nigeria to where it is today.

These elite pacts failed because they excluded the people by not providing adequate structures for real popular participation. Each time the politicians were forced out of power by the military, Nigerians were left with military authoritarianism. On each occasion, Nigerians took up the democratic struggle to end military rule.

A central task of democratic consolidation is to harness the gains made by Nigerians in half a century of struggle against authoritarianism and disempowerment and to end the persistent ebb and flow of democratic government. In other words, the issue is how to move Nigerian democracy beyond the elite pacts of the last 50 years and ensure that democracy in Nigeria is participatory, living and dynamic. Coming up with practical recommendations on how this can be achieved is the central task of this democratic assessment.

New social compact for social justice

The report outlines a range of ideas on how to advance democracy in Nigeria. Fundamentally, it recommends that a new social compact needs to be negotiated between the state, civil society and the private sector. In content, form and process this would be an inclusive national dialogue.

This new social compact must bring together key Nigerian actors and the international community in a synergy for democratic consolidation in Nigeria. Unlike previous pacts, which were intra-elite, the new pact should be broadbased so that people can identify with it and claim it as their own.

An inclusive democratic process would allow development of consensus on major issues of national importance as well as expression of disagreement. The principle behind this synergy can be stated as good governance and capacitybuilding for social justice and empowerment. It is only with such a social compact that the transition that started with the transfer of power to elected civilians in May 1999 can blossom into a full-fledged democracy. The litmus test for the transition will be the first post-handover elections scheduled for 2003. If they are successful, Nigeria will be well on its way to becoming a mature democracy. There are two main challenges in forging this new social compact.

1. First is the challenge of breaking the alliance among Nigeria's anti-democratic ' troika,' militarism, negative communalism and petrobusiness.

Military rule is only one aspect of militarism. Militarism is a total culture and a way of life. ...

Militarism forecloses debates, discussions, bargaining and compromise. Instead, it elevates force, order, intimidation, compulsion and control.

The second leg of the troika is factionalism. This factionalism is expressed in ethnic supremacy and prejudice, and in religious fanaticism. Factionalism remains a profound threat to democracy in Nigeria. Because factionalism is exclusive and totalitarian, it negates the basic democratic principles of inclusiveness and freedom. Moreover, the violence that has come to be associated with it hangs like a sword of Damocles over the nascent democratic order.

The third aspect of this infamous troika is petrobusiness. Petroleum money funded years of military domination in Nigeria and fuelled conflicts and environmental degradation in the Niger Delta. It resulted in a neglect of other economic sectors that had potential for the Nigerian economy, such as agriculture, manufacturing, mining, etc. An important challenge is to turn petroleum from the curse that it has been to an instrument for serving the urgent social and economic needs of the people.

2. The second general challenge facing democratic consolidation in Nigeria may be described as the task of delivering the 'democracy dividend' equitably, in order to improve the quality of life of Nigerians and thus consolidate their optimism in democracy.

Many ordinary Nigerians believe that democracy may not be worth the pain if it is unable to deliver a higher quality of life. This is particularly pressing because of the profound decline that the economy and society suffered under the military. Nigerians are in a hurry to see the benefits of their long and dangerous struggle against military dictatorship. An important element of this challenge is to show that democracy is capable of delivering. ...

In this regard, it is important to shift the focus from distributive politics, the popular demand for sharing the shrinking national cake, to productive politics, diversifying the economy to increase the size of the cake. At the same time, government needs to be made more responsive to the people. It needs to empower people to make them active participants and entrepreneurs in civil society and the private sector.

The formulation of a social pact could also lead to the emergence of a comprehensive economic policy that focuses on the reduction of poverty and the provision of basic health and educational services. The Government's poverty alleviation programme (PAP) is a step in the right direction. It provides an opportunity to create a more inclusive socio- economic system and should not be used to favour partisan or other select interests. The Universal Basic Education initiative of the present Government, if well- implemented, could also be a useful instrument for achieving the vision of democracy highlighted in this report.

However, much more needs to be done in other areas of policy, especially formulating a comprehensive policy for revamping the economy, improving inter-ethnic harmony and national integration, gender equality and environmental protection. Finally, the social compact could inform the agenda for reviewing the institutional framework of governance; the Constitution.

Constitutional development

A constitution is an autobiography of the nation, Justice Albie Sachs of South Africa once said. Constitution-making is a process by which a nation births and writes itself, its past, present and future. Throughout Nigeria, from North to South, East to West, calls for a constitutional development process resonate. Expressed in different forms and with different mutations and areas of emphasis, one thing became clear. Nigerians want an inclusive, consultative and participatory process in which the composite parts of the whole, called Nigeria, can be examined as equals and partners in the process of nation- building and continued existence.

Essentially, a constitution is the law of the land on which the rule of law is vested. However, constitutions are fundamentally contracts, on which terms the peoples of a nation co- exist. Ordinary Nigerians respond to calls for factional mobilization because in many ways they see their status as vulnerable. A participatory constitution- making process is not a guarantee against that vulnerability, but it provides people with an opportunity to “own” the process to determine their future and to agree on the fundamental terms of such a continued existence.

Nigerians are constantly challenging the legitimacy of the 1999 Constitution because, as they point out, the final draft was crafted and imposed by military officers. It is widely agreed that the Constitution contains several provisions that make it not only unworkable but a stumbling block to democratic consolidation. There is an urgent need to review the Constitution to reflect the proposed new relationship between the state and its citizens. Such a review should not be seen as a one- off episode but as part of an ongoing process of constitutional review. ...

The framework for a revised Constitution should not be the desirability or otherwise of one or a number of specific institutional arrangements, as has been the case in the past. That is like posing the answer before the question. Instead, the constitutional development process should be framed in the context of what is required to create this new compact for social justice. The institutional arrangement that best guarantees this should then be put in place. Consultations throughout the country reveal that the new social compact requires at least the following:

  • Efficient and effective delivery of public services: addressing issues of corruption and government responsiveness, professionalism and fair treatment of the public;
  • Accountable government: government structures and processes that are transparent, decentralized, and participatory;
  • Promotion of human rights and freedom: equality of citizenship and diverse groups based on ethnic origin, religious affiliation, gender, and so on;
  • Peace and security: freedom from fear of crime, and pursuit of national reconciliation and nation-building;
  • Redefining the” federal character” of the Nigerian state: strengthening the two processes of devolution and state integration and, in the process, formulating a new balance among the federal, state and local governments with regard to power, responsibilities and resources;
  • Redefining citizenship on the basis of residency: in order to redress the trend stigmatizing ethnic, regional, religious and gender identities at the expense of the national identity.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

URL for this file: