Democracy in post-independence Nigeria


“Any society that survives on the rule of men rather than the rule of law falls victim and becomes captive to caprice and arbitrariness. It is a deterioration of such situation that finally replaces the will of the people with the will of one man, the dictator, who then proceeds to personalize the state.”
Justice Niki Tobi, 2005

On October 1 2010, our beloved Country, Nigeria marked her 50th year of Independence from colonial rule. Governments at all levels in the Country, and the nationals celebrated or commemorated this special Independence Anniversary, tagged the Golden Jubilee Independence Celebrations. However, this was marred by bomb blasts that claimed lives, maimed people and destroyed properties around Eagle Square where the ceremonies took place in Abuja, the Federal Capital of Nigeria.

It is imperative to note the difference between holding Elections and having a proper democratic experience. Since the amalgamation of the Country in 1914, elections had been held to elect Nigerians into political positions either into their regional assemblies to represent the interests of people of their regions or into the Parliament where our heroes past determined that the Country should be granted Independence from British rule. These had happened despite the fact that the Country was under a colonial government, which offered little or no democratic experiences for the emergent nation but which however laid a basic foundation for the form of governance the Country would strive towards. Yet, this was preparatory for the political class in Nigeria to push for the nation’s Independence from Britain. Indeed this was the platform needed for nationalism and the evolution of true democracy in the Country.

Some key words shall be defined which shall provide the framework for the examination of the impact of the democratic experience Nigeria has had since her Independence on 1 October 1960: 50 years ago. These
key words include: Nigeria, Democracy, and Jubilee.

The addition of the name of the nation as a keyword may raise a few eye brows. But then a deeper examination would reveal that besides the geographical situation, topography, peoples, languages, cultures among other indices that make up the Country, including her politics; some nationals, foreigners and other stakeholders have not yet come to term to what Nigeria means to them, or how it should be defined after 50 years of Independence.


For nationals of other countries the names of their country hold a deeper and almost fervent religious implication which sadly is not seen in some Nigerians about Nigeria, after 50 years of Independence. The question then is what does Nigeria represent to Nigerians? What were the dreams of the founding fathers? What were their hopes and aspirations for the generations yet unborn, and what foundations did they put in place to enable their visions, ideals, and aspirations to be achieved? The necessity of these questions if the proper answers are given would provide the prism through which Nigeria after 50 years of independence would be seen. Thus, the need to determine what Nigeria means to every Nigerians. Should we see Nigeria as the Country that belongs to all for which every one should be proud of? Or should the Country be seen from an insider-outsider position, where a large vacuum exists in which the people are criminally isolated from active participation in all she has, including the benefit of adequate employment, proper education, and solid infrastructural provision? These are fundamental to our need to define what the name Nigeria means to the nationals.

Secondly, is the word democracy? Without recourse to academic definitions of what democracy meant to ancient Greeks and other philosophers, or the recent implications of the meaning to modern countries such as Britain and The United States of America, it may connote a different meaning both in usage and practice in Nigeria. Ordinarily, democracy is defined as the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Yet, it would seem that such may not have been the same for Nigeria going by some of the recent experiences we are witnesses to. With the inception of the 4th Republic on May 29 1999 it became common to hear politicians of all hues and colours mouth the words, the dividends of democracy. Now, as these politicians did not define what they meant by democratic ‘dividends’, it gave an economic impression of profit making, trading, investments, securities and the like. However, whereas the practice of democracy with good governance would indeed yield positive returns in various forms to the people with whom ordinarily the power lies with, and when properly applied would provide succour in different forms: good governance, participatory politics, free and fair elections on the political front, on the socio-economic level, democracy should also yield an equitable distribution of the resources of the people among them at every level, and within the rural and urban areas, which would translate to employment, growth in agriculture, tourism, provision of an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and create an increase in the foreign reserves of the nation; such would also impact on the provision of adequate security, well maintained infrastructure, provision of affordable houses for all and sundry, and other social amenities, etc.

The last key word to examine is the word jubilee. Historically, jubilee arose from scripture (Leviticus 25). It is described as the fiftieth year of the nation of Israel which is hallowed, and V. 10a states: “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof…” Scriptures went further to proclaim the jubilee as the year when the people should not sow or reap, nor gather the grapes, etc. That year is declared holy, while the people are expected to eat from the increase of the land. Though this may not seem practicable in modern times, yet a lot can be learnt from it. The year of jubilee is recognized as a period when it is not only plenty that is found in the land, there is also seen a developed judicial system, freedom and liberty in the land. This implies that with the passage of time, it is expected that a nation would have put in place structures to ensure that her people are provided for, while there would also be justice, equity, fairness and accountability to the people.

With this overview of the key words necessary for this discourse, it becomes important to examine how democracy has fared in the past 50 years since Independence.

With the formation of the NPC –NCNC led Government in 1960 which had Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the President, as head of State, and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister and head of Government that took over from the colonial government. Nigeria witnessed a period of promising democratic rule, and which if it had not been truncated, would have probably provided the bedrock for a true Nigerian democracy which would have thrived and created a system that would probably entrench those ideals that have strengthen great democratic nations like Great Britain and the US. However that experience was truncated as a result of various factors which rather than uphold the ideals for a true Nigerian State, gave way to individual and other interests. The fall out of this was that Nigerians as a whole became the greatest losers and became alienated from the ruling classes. Further compromises were reached which impeded the democracy Nigerians craved for, which also eroded the tribal and socio-economic respect Nigerian people of different ethnicities had for one another.

With the instability witnessed in the nation after the elections of 1964, the military took over power, and while their initial stay which lasted for 13 years (1966 – 1979) could be described as a period to hold together the straps of the nationhood of Nigeria as a result of the Civil war that ravaged the Country in 30 months, and after which they had the duty to rebuild and reintegrate the different parts of the Country together. However, the discovery of oil in commercial quantities, created another dimension which besides governance should have added to the rebuilding process of the nation. Rather than the discovery increase positive prospects to ameliorate and strengthen democratic ideals in Nigeria, it became a reason to pursue other objectives which were inimical to the growth of the nation, and further threatened to destroy the fabrics of society. This has since become evident with the emergence of militancy, blowing up of oil installations, kidnapping and other like vices, in the Niger Delta region, and other parts of Nigeria.

It is pertinent to note that both the military and political classes in the Country, rather than use the crude oil resources for the betterment of Nigerians, engaged in activities that eroded what developmental aspirations and goals would have been achieved, or attained if democracy led by civilian governments had been allowed to thrive as there would have been checks and balances through the different tiers of government; with transparency, general participation and accountability in governance.

It is critical to note that there was an untainted and uninterrupted military rule of 15 years before civilians took over power in 1999. It lasted between the period the military ousted the civilian government led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1984 till the General Abubakar Abdulsalam- led military government handed power over to the civilians in the 4th Republic after the fortuitous death of General Sanni Abacha. This period also witnessed changes in military governments through coups and counter coups which further destabilized the Country and created instability and tensions among the citizenry. The nation was returned to a democratic rule in a dysfunctional condition which required time to develop and strengthen the foundations of democratic structures. Fortunately, since 1999 till the present, civilians have ruled and strived to fashion out a democracy for the nation, and build on a tentative democratic platform. That is apart from the Westminster Parliamentary model of government led by the late Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa which lasted 6 years, and the Presidential model led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari with duration of 4 years and a few months that totalled 10 years, there was basically no democratic experience for civilians to draw from.

The deliberate attempt to examine political developments in Nigeria became necessary as a result of the consequences of Nigerians’ expectations of what democracy should be, or the results people expect to gain from this new form of governance. For now, a lot of positives may not be taken away from the experiment so far. Indeed with the pandemic corruption and other excesses of the political class, most Nigerians are disillusioned and disenchanted, and yet because of the dictatorial nature of military rule, that is not seen as a preferred option. It should be pointed out that the consequences of military rule are yet to fully dissipate even as democratic processes have become more solidified and entrenched. Bearing in mind that in times past, the military takes over at the drop of the hat, the political class, and indeed most Nigerians do not yet believe that the military has actually left politics, and that they have their destinies to mould by themselves. So, it becomes common sight to see members of the political class engage in crass corrupt practices to enrich themselves since at the back of their minds there is the fear that the military boys may soon take over power. Further, such fears gave rise to both the quality of politicians who render poor leadership in government, and the unwholesome practices most of them engage in which include money politics, thuggery, shallow and poor ability at governance and administration.

The question now is what is the way forward to ensure that democracy is firmly entrenched in the Country? Bearing in mind that the ideal framework on which democracy is built on include; participatory governance, power belonging to the people, accountability, the right to choose, free and fair elections, and representative government at all levels. It is imperative that these ideals be voluntarily and actively upheld at all level of governance at the federal, state and local government strata; while the media, civil society groups and other non-governmental groups should be allowed to participate in governance with the view to not only build society, but serve as a balance for governments at all levels.. Whereas a free press will greatly reduce the incidents of corruptive practices through the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill; an independent judicial system would ensure justice and equity for all, and there will be hope not only for the common man, but also for any aggrieved party in a conflict, political and otherwise. When such structures are built and solidified and become integral parts of the polity, it would naturally dovetail into Nigeria having a democratic system which can right her wrong, without pressure from the outside, or such an action seen as a political vendetta.

I humbly predict that when such exist in the polity, other sectors which hitherto had been ignored would witness growth and progress. Indeed, democracy in post-independent Nigeria is not only an option, it is yet the only viable option, and when it is firmly entrenched, it is my firm belief that other sectors of the Country which needs fixing shall be easily done, especially whereby seasoned and qualified leaders are allowed to create proactive policies, implement and execute the resultant actions. WAM

John Dara is a presidential aspirant on the platform of the National Transformation Party (NTP) in Nigeria. He can be reached on: []