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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
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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 http://www.africaaction.org
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+
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.
International IDEA, Stromsborg, S-103 34 Stockholm, Sweden
Tel: +46 8 698 3700, Fax: +46 8 20 24 22 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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
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
- It must be inclusive and ensure participation of a broad section
- 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
- 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.