General Buhari holding a broom at a campign rally

Title: The Failure of Governance in Nigeria: An Epistocratic Challenge

The failure of governance in Nigeria manifests in the declining capacity of political leaders to recognize systemic risks such as election fraud, terrorist attacks, herder-farmer conflict, armed banditry, and police brutality and put in place the necessary measures to navigate these challenges. In contrast with the current system in which leadership is attained through bribery, intimidation, and violence, Nigeria needs an epistocratic system of governance that is founded on the pedigree of its political leaders and the education of its voters.

At the end of the Cold War, African civil society movements striving for more democratic governance began to challenge authoritarian regimes on the continent. Declining living conditions within African countries and the failure of authoritarian African leaders to deliver the promises of economic prosperity they made to encourage the acceptance of development aid fueled the push for change. International donors’ insistence on democratic reform as a precondition for aid gave impetus for Nigerian civil society to push for domestic accountability. Thus, domestic pressure for political pluralism and external pressure for representative governance have both played a role in the calls for democratic reform in Nigeria.  

But despite some successes, corruption and socioeconomic disparities within Nigerian democracy continue to run rampant. Since 1999, the democratic space has been dominated by political elites who consistently violate fundamental principles associated with a liberal democratic system, such as competitive elections, the rule of law, political freedom, and respect for human rights. The outcome of the 2019 presidential election further eroded public trust in the ability of the independent electoral commission to organize competitive elections unfettered by the authoritarian influences of the ruling class. This challenge is an indicator of the systemic failure in Nigeria’s governance system. A continuation of the current system will only accelerate the erosion of public trust and democratic institutions. In contrast with the current system in which votes are attained through empty promises, bribery, voter intimidation, and violence, Nigeria needs a governance system that will enhance the education of its voters and the capability of its leaders.

Statistically speaking, Nigeria has consistently ranked low in the World Governance Index in areas such as government effectiveness, political stability and the presence of violence and terrorism, rule of law, and control of corruption. Nigeria is perceived in the 2020 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index as a highly corrupt country with a score of 25/100 while its corruption ranking increased from 146 in 2019 to 149 in 2020 out of 180 countries surveyed. While President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 election on his promise to fight insecurity and corruption, his promises went unfulfilled; Boko Haram continues to unleash unspeakable violence on civilians while the fight against corruption is counterproductive.  

At the core of Nigeria’s systemic failure is the crisis of governance, which manifests in the declining capacity of the state to cope with a range of internal political and social upheavals. There is an expectation for political leaders to recognize systemic risks such as terrorist attacks, herder-farmer conflict, and police brutality and put in place the necessary infrastructure to gather relevant data for problem solving. But the insufficiency of political savvy required to navigate the challenges that Nigeria faces has unleashed unrest across the nation and exacerbated existing tensions. The #ENDSARS Protests against police brutality in 2020 is one of the manifestations of bad governance. 

The spiral of violence in northern Nigeria in which armed bandits engage in deadly planned attacks on communities, leading to widespread population displacement, has become another grave security challenge that has sharpened regional polarization. Because some public servants are usually unaware of the insecurities faced by ordinary Nigerians, they lack the frame of reference to make laws that address the priorities of citizens. The crisis of governance is accentuated by a democratic culture that accords less importance to the knowledge and competence that political leaders can bring to public office. These systemic challenges have bred an atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust between citizens and political leaders at all levels of government.  

Political elites in Nigeria also exploit poverty and illiteracy to mobilize voters with food items such as rice, seasoning, and money. The rice is usually packaged strategically with the image of political candidates and the parties they represent. The assumption is that people are more likely to vote for a politician who influences them with food than one who only brings messages of hope. The practice of using food to mobilize voters is commonly described as “ stomach infrastructure ” politics. The term “stomach infrastructure” arose from the 2015 election in Ekiti state when gubernatorial candidate Ayodele Fayosi mobilized voters with food items and defeated his opponent Kayode Fayemi. It is undeniable that Nigerian political culture rewards incompetent leaders over reform-minded leaders who demonstrate the intellectualism and problem-solving capabilities needed to adequately address systemic issues of poverty and inequality. 

Jason Brennan   describes the practice of incentivizing people to be irrational and ignorant with their votes as the unintended consequence of democracy. Brennan believes specific expertise is required to tackle socio-economic issues, so political power should be apportioned based on expert knowledge. As Brennan suggests, Nigeria lacks a system of governance in which leadership is based on capability. Rather, the political system in Nigeria is dominated by individuals who gain power through nepotism rather than competence, influence voters with food rather than vision, and consolidate power through intimidation or by incentivizing constituents with material gifts which they frame as “empowerment” to keep them subservient and loyal political followers. By implication, the failure of governance in Nigeria is arguably the result of incompetent leadership.

Nigeria needs a new model of governance in which political leadership is based on the knowledge and competence of both political leaders and the electorate. One solution is to establish what Brennan refers to as epistocracy , which is a system of governance in which the votes of politically informed citizens should count more than the less informed. For  J ustin Klocksiem , epistocracy represents a political system in which political power rests exclusively on highly educated citizens. This idea drew its philosophical influence from  John Stuart Mill , who believed that the eligibility to vote should be accorded to individuals who satisfy certain educational criteria. The notion that educational attainment should be the prerequisite for the electorate to choose their leaders as proposed by Brennan, Klocksiem, and Mill is an important proposition that should be taken seriously. 

However, one cannot ignore that such thinking originates from societies where civic education is high and the electorate can make informed choices about leadership. In Nigeria, the majority of citizens are uneducated on political issues. Simultaneously, those who are highly educated are increasingly becoming indifferent to political participation; they have lost faith in the power of their votes and the integrity of the political system. For an epistocratic system to work in Nigeria, there must be significant improvements in literacy levels so that citizens are educated about the issues and can use their knowledge to make informed decisions about Nigeria’s political future. 

It is important to mention that Nigeria’s political elites have exploited illiteracy to reinforce ethnic, religious, and political divisions between groups that impede democratic ideals. Since the resultant effect of epistocracy is to instill knowledge, raise consciousness and self-awareness within a polity anchored on the failed system of democracy, decisions that promote the education of uninformed voters are the rationale for an epistocratic system of governance. The Constitution must ensure that only citizens who can formulate policies and make informed decisions in the public’s best interest can run for public office. When the Constitution dictates the standard of epistocratic governance, informed citizens will be better equipped to champion political leadership or determine the qualifications of their leaders. Epistocratic governance will be the alternative to Nigeria’s current dysfunctional democratic system while retaining the aspects of liberal democracy that maintain checks and balances.  

We are not, however, oblivious that implementing such an epistocratic system of governance in Nigeria potentially contributes to more inequality given its highly undemocratic and exclusive nature. Our argument takes into consideration the contextual realities of poverty and illiteracy and the realization that poor and illiterate constituents have less power to evaluate the credibility of public servants or hold them accountable. The benefits of electing epistocratic leaders are that many citizens would desire to be educated in preparation for leadership. The more educated the population the more likely it is that political leaders will be held accountable. However, the kind of education that is needed to significantly transform the governance landscape in Nigeria is civic education. 

We propose three policies to promote epistocratic governance in Nigeria. First, aspiring leaders must demonstrate the intellectual pedigree to translate knowledge into effective, transparent, and accountable governance that leads to national prosperity. As Rotimi Fawole notes, the bar should be higher for those aspiring to executive or legislative office “to improve the ideas that are put forward and the intellectual rigor applied to the discussions that underpin our statehood.”

Second, the government must increase access to education through government-sponsored initiatives that integrate civic education into school curriculums. Currently, little opportunity exists for young Nigerians, particularly those in underfunded public education systems, to learn about their civic roles at the local, state, national, and international levels, including how to emerge as participating citizens through the academic curriculum. 

Third, the government should engage the support of local NGOs to promote civic education across Nigeria in culturally appropriate ways. The NGOs should be empowered to define the legal concept of citizenship and summarize specific civil rights enshrined in the Constitution into a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities modeled after the Canadian Charter. The Charter should include value positions essential to an effective democracy, such as the rights of citizens, social justice, accountable governance, and rule of law. It can then be commissioned as a resource for civics education in Nigeria.  

This article recognizes that Nigeria is grappling with governance challenges orchestrated by two decades of a failed democratic project. Governing these challenges requires knowledgeable leaders and an equally informed electorate. Like any new experiment, there are concerns about the viability of epistocracy as a political system, particularly in a Nigerian context fraught with ethnoreligious and political challenges. But Nigeria will only have effective governance when the right people are saddled with the responsibility to govern. However, change cannot be spontaneous. The implementation of an epistocratic system of governance within the Nigerian context must be incremental, bearing in mind that Nigeria’s democracy is still evolving.  

Obasesam Okoi is Assistant Professor of Justice and Peace Studies at the University of St. Thomas , Minnesota, where he teaches Intro to Justice and Peace Studies, Public Policy Analysis and Advocacy, and Social Policy in a Changing World. His research interests and expertise include governance and peacebuilding, insurgency and counterinsurgency, assessment of post-conflict peacebuilding programs and policies, and peace engineering. He has published in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as World Development, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, African Security, and Peace Review. 

MaryAnne Iwara is a Senior Jennings Randolph Fellow in the program on Countering Violent Extremism at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), USA, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria. Very recently, she was a Policy Leader Fellow at the School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute, Florence, Italy. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Leipzig, Germany.

Image Credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (via Creative Commons)

  • Civil Society ,
  • Regimes & Governance

Recommended Articles

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

What Can Indonesia Learn from Qatar’s Experience in Mediating Conflicts in the Middle East?

Qatar plays a crucial role in mediating conflicts in the Middle East region. Its engagement in negotiations with diverse stakeholders–including countries like Lebanon, Sudan, and Libya and non-state actors such…

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

Arriving at a Crossroads: Can Europe Avoid Replaying the Policy Failures of the 2014-16 Migration Crisis?

As irregular migration numbers once again soar to historic levels, Europe’s migration challenges remain a difficult challenge to surmount. After years of infighting and foot-dragging, an agreement on a long-stalled…

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

NATO: Time to Adopt a Pre-emptive Approach to Cyber Security in New Age Security Architecture

NATO is evolving politically and militarily, as it becomes more technologically sophisticated in the cyberspace realm to meet the multidimensional challenges of the twenty-first century. Specifically, NATO continues…

Nigeria is facing its worst instability since 1970.

Failed state? Why Nigeria’s fragile democracy is facing an uncertain future

In the first in a series on Africa’s most populous state, we look at the effects of widening violence, poverty, crime and corruption as elections approach

  • My father’s senseless murder must be a wake-up call for Nigeria

A series of overlapping security, political and economic crises has left Nigeria facing its worst instability since the end of the Biafran war in 1970.

With experts warning that large parts of the country are in effect becoming ungovernable, fears that the conflicts in Africa’s most populous state were bleeding over its borders were underlined last week by claims that armed Igbo secessionists in the country’s south-east were now cooperating with militants fighting for an independent state in the anglophone region of neighbouring Cameroon.

The mounting insecurity from banditry in the north-west, jihadist groups such as Boko Haram in the north-east, violent conflict between farmers and pastoralists across large swathes of Nigeria’s “middle belt”, and Igbo secessionists in the south-east calling for an independent Biafra once again, is driving a brain drain of young Nigerians. It has also seen the oil multinational Shell announce that it is planning to pull out of the country because of insecurity , theft and sabotage.

Among recent prominent victims of the lethal violence was Dr Chike Akunyili, a prominent physician in Nigeria’s southern state of Anambra, ambushed as he returned from a lecture to commemorate the life of his wife, Dora, who had been the head of the country’s national food and drug agency.

Who killed the widower and his police guard remains unclear. The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), an Igbo secessionist movement whose militancy has grown increasingly violent and which has vowed to prevent November’s elections for governor in Anambra state, has denied involvement. So too has the security agency, the Department of State Services . Eyewitnesses reported that the attackers, who also killed his driver, were shouting that there would be no elections in Anambra .

Dr Chike Akunyili

What is clear, however, is that Akunyili’s murder is far from an isolated event in Africa’s second-largest economy – a country facing multiple and overlapping challenges that have plunged many areas into violence and lawlessness.

From Boko Haram ’s jihadist insurgency in the north, to the escalating conflict between farmers and pastoralists, a growing piracy crisis in the Gulf of Guinea and the newly emboldened Igbo secessionists, Nigeria – under the presidency of the retired army general Muhammadu Buhari since 2015 – is facing a mounting sense of crisis as elections approach in 2023.

Those security issues are in addition to a series of other problems, including rising levels of poverty , violent crime and corruption amid an increasing sense that the central government, in many places, is struggling to govern.

All of which has prompted dire warnings from some observers about the state of Nigeria’s democracy.

One of the bleakest was the analysis delivered by Robert Rotberg and John Campbell, two prominent US academics – the latter a former ambassador to Nigeria – in an essay for Foreign Policy in May that attracted considerable debate.

Women clean bottles recovered from shops burned down after Fulani-Yoruba clashes

“Nigeria has long teetered on the precipice of failure,” they argued. “Unable to keep its citizens safe and secure, Nigeria has become a fully failed state of critical geopolitical concern. Its failure matters because the peace and prosperity of Africa and preventing the spread of disorder and militancy around the globe depend on a stronger Nigeria.”

Even among those who dispute the labelling of Nigeria as a fully failed state accept that insecurity is rising.

Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, accepts that insecurity exists but insists the country is winning the war against its various insurgents.

Lai Mohammed, information minister,

“I live in Nigeria, I work in Nigeria and I travel all around Nigeria and I can tell you Nigeria is not a failed state,” Mohammed told the BBC.

But if the murder of Chike Akunyili represents anything, it is the dangers facing Nigerians in many parts of the country. This has prompted some to argue that the country’s centralised federal model, a legacy of independence and the long years of military rule, is in need of reform.

While Nnamdi Obasi , who follows Nigeria for the International Crisis Group, would not yet brand Nigeria a failed state, he sees it as a fragile one with the potential for the situation to worsen without radical improvements in governance.

“I’d say the country is deeply challenged on several fronts,” he said from Abuja. “It’s challenged in terms of its economy and people’s livelihoods.

Nigeria since independence

From hopeful beginnings in 1960, west Africa’s powerhouse has suffered civil war, years of coups and military rule, ethnic and regional conflicts, endemic corruption, banditry and Islamist insurgencies. Here are some key events.

New constitution establishes federal system with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a northerner, as prime minister and Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, as governor general, the ceremonial head of state.

Government overthrown in what was seen as an “Igbo coup”  and General Aguiyi-Ironsi takes power. Balewa and Ahmadu Bello, northern Hausa-Fulani leader, among those killed

Lt Col Yakubu Gowon becomes head of state. Estimated 30,000 Igbos massacred in riots in northern Nigeria, causing about 1 million to flee to south-east

Between 500,000 and 2 million civilians die from starvation during the war. Gowon attempts reconciliation, declaring “no victor, no vanquished”

Process of moving federal capital to Abuja begins

Succeeded by top aide, Lt Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, who initiates transition from military rule to US-style presidential system

Shehu Shagari, a northerner, becomes first president of second republic, with Igbo vice-president

Coup led by Maj Gen Muhammadu Buhari after disputed elections

Chief Moshood Abiola is apparent winner

In 2000, government declares that Abacha and his family stole $4.3bn from public funds

He is  arrested for treason and jailed for four years

The writer and campaigner against oil industry damage to his Ogoni homeland, is executed with eight other dissidents . EU imposes sanctions and Commonwealth suspends Nigeria’s membership

Clashes with Christians opposing the issue lead to hundreds of deaths

Obasanjo elected for second term despite EU observers reporting “serious irregularities”

This leads to  attacks to pipelines and other oil facilities and the kidnap foreign oil workers

Subsequently more than 100 are killed in co-ordinated bombings and shootings in Kano

A state of emergency is declared in northern states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa. Insurgent violence mounts in eight other states

They are taken from a boarding school in northern town of Chibok. Over the next year, Boko Haram launch series of attacks across north-east Nigeria and into neighbouring Chad and Cameroon, seizing several towns near Lake Chad. Group’s allegiance switched from al-Qaida to Islamic State

The intention is to push Boko Haram out of towns and back into their Sambisa forest stronghold. UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says conflict has caused at least 157,000 people to flee into Niger, Cameroon and Chad . A further one million people estimated to be internally displaced inside Nigeria

He is the first opposition candidate to do so in Nigeria

US thinktank Freedom House claims polls “marred by serious irregularities and widespread intimidation ”. At least 141 people killed in communal clashes between Fulani and Adara in Kaduna state

Youth protests against police brutality, focused on the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) , spread across cities in the south. The #EndSARS movement ends with massacre of still unconfirmed number of protesters shot by security forces at Lekki tollgate in Lagos

They also abduct nine women and girls in Takulashi, Borno state. The following month  Boko Haram abduct 334 boys from school in Kankara, Katsina state; days later, 80 pupils of madrasa abducted in Dandume , Katsina State

Isis-linked militia seizes arms from Boko Haram and integrates former commanders and fighters. Analysts say Iswap’s greater discipline and strategy of both co-opting and coercing local communities has helped it expand across Sahel and poses bigger threat.

Nigeria spends 1.47tn naira (£2.6bn) on servicing domestic and external debt in first half of 2021, according to data from Debt Management Office 

“There is a sense of disappointment in the fact that the country hasn’t developed as people had expected and has suffered reversals in poverty and youth unemployment. Then there’s the dearth of infrastructure and a generally very poor quality of services.

“On the security front there are several main areas of concern. The first is the north-east, which is where Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa (Iswap) are located.

“In the north-west there are armed groups who are generally referred to as bandits but who have, in a sense, grown beyond that definition of ‘bandit’. [Recently] they attacked a military camp in Sokoto state and killed 12 military personnel.

“Then there is the old problem in the Niger delta [Nigeria’s main oil-producing region], which remains unresolved.”

Petrol and newspapers for sale by a road in Maiduguri

But the Niger delta’s bubbling disquiet has in recent years been eclipsed by other conflicts – particularly that between pastoral herders and farmers in Nigeria’s central belt, and the re-emergence of an armed Biafran nationalist movement in the Igbo south-east. This separatist activity is happening for the first time since the end of the Biafran war , from 1967 to 1970, which led to widespread starvation and left a million people dead .

For many Nigeria experts, the lesson is not to be found in the individual parts of the crisis but in the way they are beginning to bleed into one another.

As Obasi points out, the conflicts between nomadic herders and farmers have been in part driven by the displacement south of pastoralists from the north-east and north-west by the insecurity in those regions, while a widening sense of impunity across Nigeria has driven people to arm themselves.

“Insecurity seems almost nationwide,” said Obasi. “People have difficulty moving from one city to another, with kidnappings and danger on the highways.

“It is going from a largely governed country with a few ungoverned spaces to a place where there are a few governed spaces while in the rest of the country governance has retreated.”

It bodes ill for Nigeria’s democratic system of civilian government, adopted in 1999 after long years of military rule that began in 1966 apart from a brief four-year interregnum during President Shehu Shagari ’s second Nigerian republic, which ended in 1983.

ANigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. The northerner’s second term ends in 2023, meaning that the presidency should go next to a southerner – in theory.

It was Buhari – who now calls himself a “converted democrat” – who succeeded him as head of state after he overthrew Shagari’s government in a military coup.

While the 2011 elections were seen by the US as being among the “ most credible and transparent elections since the country’s independence ”, Nigeria’s politics have long been complicated by an unwritten agreement among its elites that power should rotate between a figure from the Muslim-dominated north and the mainly Christian south every two terms. With Buhari’s two terms due to end in 2023, power will then – in theory at least – rotate to the south.

Leena Koni Hoffman, a research associate at the Chatham House thinktank and a member of the Nigerian diaspora, says ordinary Nigerians feel “vulnerable” and “grim”, suggesting that the rotational system of government may no longer be fit for purpose.

“The agreement negotiated by the elites is broken. It is not inclusive and the democratic dividend is not being distributed,” she said.

People carry off bags of food after a warehouse was looted during a Covid lockdown last October.

The consequence, she adds, has been that Nigeria’s politics has fractured, with “people exploiting ethnic and religious differences to give people answers that match questions in any part of Nigeria”.

“To give you an idea of the scale of the conflict happening in Nigeria, I could show you a map coloured pink for where violence is happening – it is pink all over.

“For a country that has not been at war since the Biafran war that ended in 1970 – and in the middle of the longest stretch of civilian democracy – to be experiencing this scale of intense violence should be alarming,” she said.

“We knew a long time ago that the country’s rural population had little security, but now we understand they are being exposed to violent non-state actors who have worked out that the security apparatus is hollowed out.

“My family comes from the middle belt. My father is a retired accountant who wants to farm but he can’t be in his home town because it has been decimated by violence. You hear of incidents where 30 people are killed here, a dozen there. Villages attacked .

“More and more communities are seeing that the government is not stepping in with its security forces and are forming their own vigilante groups.”

Aggravating the sense of a state being hollowed out is an under-resourced and overwhelmed judicial system that has left ordinary Nigerians with little expectation of access to justice.

Police at an area in Lagos where a protest against police brutality erupted in 2020and spread to other cities across the country.

Writing on Facebook after his death , Akunyili’s daughter described their last conversation the day before his killing, with questions that many Nigerians are asking.

“I asked him if he was being careful and he assured me that he was, going on to add that he never went out any more and was sure to be home by six. Convinced, I reminded him to be even more careful and to take care of himself. “We can choose a different path,” she added, referring to ubuntu , a concept of humanity and community based on the idea: “I am because we are.”

“This current [path] leads to more senseless death and pain for one too many,” she said.

  • Crisis Nigeria

Most viewed

20 years of democracy: Has Nigeria changed for the better?

Two decades after the West African country’s army handed power to a civilian leader, many question if life has improved.

Nigeria economy - UpFront

Two decades ago, in a colourful ceremony held in the capital, Abuja, Nigeria’s military handed over power to an elected civilian leader.

Generals had ruled the oil-rich West African country for the previous 15 years.

Keep reading

Nigeria’s women drivers rally together to navigate male-dominated industry, ‘i blame the government’: poor kenyans say no support amid record flooding, ‘we need you’: solomon islands’ support for us agency’s return revealed, ‘triple spending’: zimbabweans bear cost of changing to new zig currency.

The ceremony was attended by heads of state and representatives from more than 40  countries.

The mood was upbeat and the new leader promised prosperity to the thousands of his countrymen who were in the stadium. Millions of others watched the ceremony on television. Others listened to newly elected president Olusegun Obasanjo’s speech on radio.

But after 20 years of democracy and four presidents, where is Nigeria today?

Economic malaise

The country’s economy has seen a boom since the return of civilian rule. Nigeria’s GDP has grown six-fold since 1999, according to World Bank data.

In 1999, despite its vast oil wealth, Nigeria’s GDP was a mere $59bn. That figure skyrocketed to $375bn by the end of 2017.

“The economy is doing much better now because there is a greater level of trust in our economic institutions. There is also more foreign investments now compared to the military era,” Aliyu Audu, an Abuja-based economist, told Al Jazeera.

Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, is still heavily reliant on oil. Petroleum represents more than 80 percent of total export revenue, according to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

When the global oil price crashed in 2016, Nigeria’s economy was not spared. The country went into a recession, its first in 25 years.

The economy, the biggest on the continent ahead of South Africa, has not fully recovered. Unemployment stands at 23 percent and inflation at 11 percent, according to official figures.

“Nigeria’s economy needs to diversify. We need to tap into the agricultural sector where the country can put millions of the unemployed to work. Investment in infrastructure will also put many young people to work and reduce double-digit inflation,” Audu said.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics figures, 43 percent of the country’s 190 million population is either unemployed or underemployed.

Despite the recent economic boom, extreme poverty is common. Some 87 million Nigerians live in dire poverty, according to Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Nigeria overtook India, a country of 1.3 billion people, last year as the country that is home to the most extremely impoverished people in the world, it said.

Vast corruption

Nigeria still remains one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. Transparency International ranked the country 144 out 180 in its 2018 corruption perceptions index.

If corruption is not dealt with immediately it could cost Nigeria up to 37 percent of its GDP by 2030, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a global auditing firm.

This cost equates to nearly $2,000 per Nigerian resident by 2030, PwC said.

President Muhammadu Buhari launched an anti-corruption drive after taking office in May 2015.

“Corruption is still a huge problem, but it is not like what it was before. That is because the people have the choice to get rid of a leader if he is corrupt. That was not possible under the military generals. There are also whistleblowers now,” Audu noted.

Security issues

Since 2009, northeastern Nigeria has been hit by security challenges. Boko Haram, a group that wants to establish an Islamic state following a strict interpretation of Islamic law, has waged a deadly insurgency.

The violence has killed thousands of people and forced more than two million from their homes.

The United Nations and human rights activists accused both Boko Haram and security forces fighting it of putting civilians, including many children, in harm’s way.

The violence has spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition against the armed group.

In recent weeks, the coalition forces have pounded Boko Haram hideouts in the Lake Chad area with air strikes as well as launching ground assaults.

Boko Haram fighters kidnapped at least 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok town. Five years after the attack, more than 112 girls are still missing.

A total of 107 girls have been found or released as part of a deal between the Nigerian government and the armed group.

Boko Haram allegedly operates its largest camp in the vast Sambisa forest in Nigeria’s northeast.

The forest stretches for about 60,000 square kilometres in the southern part of the northeastern state of Borno, which has borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s violence.

“More needs to be done to protect and preserve basic human rights in parts of the northeast. People live in fear from Boko Haram,” Eze Onyekpere, a human rights activist, told Al Jazeera.

“Apart from the areas facing Boko Haram insurgency, rights of citizens have improved significantly since the return of civilian rule. Arbitrary arrests and torture are not common. We also have a constitution that safeguards the rights of all citizens,” Onyekpere added.

Press freedom

Under the military, press freedom was severely restricted. Whistleblowers faced detention and possibly torture in custody.

Twenty years later, Nigeria has a vibrant media with the country also hosting bureaus for some of the world’s major media groups.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Nigeria 120 out of 180 in its 2019 press freedom index.

“Nigeria has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go. We could have been far ahead of where are currently,” Onyekpere said.

  • Pay For Essay
  • Write My Essay
  • Homework Writing Help
  • Essay Editing Service
  • Thesis Writing Help
  • Write My College Essay
  • Do My Essay
  • Term Paper Writing Service
  • Coursework Writing Service
  • Write My Research Paper
  • Assignment Writing Help
  • Essay Writing Help
  • Call Now! (USA) Login Order now
  • Call Now! (USA) Order now
  • Writing Guides

How to write Essay About Democracy in Nigeria?

College and university students are often given controversial assignments that are far from easy to accomplish. One of these assignments can be writing a basic essay about democracy in Nigeria. Actually, writing a paper on controversial “bright” topics is not an easy task because there are numerous aspects and facts to explore. At the same time, it is easy to get lost in the information details and focusing on primary facts will help you to accomplish your writing assignment. Otherwise, look for additional help and follow essay basics writing steps that we will gladly offer you to you. We have gathered a team of writers who will write a professional essay for you that will serve you as an example of what your essay should look like in the first place

Table of Contents

Writing an Essay About Democracy in Nigeria

It is a common knowledge if you want to solve a problem, first you should identify it. After analyzing the problem and studying all aspects of it, it is necessary to provide appropriate recommendations and possible solutions to the problem. When you write basic essay about democracy in Nigeria, you should take the same approach. Without identifying a problem, there will be no solutions to look for. The main aim of essay about democracy in Nigeria is to examine problems of democracy establishment in this country since 1960 when Nigeria became an independent country from Britain.

We can write Your Essay for You! 

Essay Writing

Possible topics to discus in your Essay about Democracy in Nigeria

  • The Dilemma.
  • Democracy, Government and Freedom.
  • Review Democracy in Action.
  • Democracy: Virtual Representation.
  • The People and the Democracy in Nigeria.
  • Democracy Model in Nigeria.
  • Democracy and its influence on Economy of Nigeria.
  • Getting to know the Democracy in Nigeria.
  • The Press and the Democracy in Nigeria.

There is a widespread opinion that the main problem of Nigerian democracy is absence of real charismatic leaders, who can efficiently manage human resources of this country. Mismanagement of the God-given resources in Nigeria resulted in massive unemployment and high level of poverty in the country. Consequently, it led to never-ending tension among people, lack of patriotic feelings and ongoing vandalizing. Political and economic instability influence all the aspects of human well-being in the most negative way.

The essay about democracy in Nigeria aims to find the reasons of democratic problems in the country, providing solutions for already existing problems and preventing prospective threats in the future.

The Reasons of Nigerian Problems with Democracy

  • Nigerian people do not want to learn from their own history, leading to the repeating of the same problems year after year.
  • Failure of country leaders and their inefficiency in ruling of the country.
  • Complexity and heterogeneity of Nigerian population.
  • Existence of several hundreds of mutually unintelligible languages, spoken in the country, provoking misunderstanding among people and government in general.

How to improve situation with democracy in Nigeria?

  • Leadership is a key factor in the development of Nigerian democracy and society in general.
  • Strong leader who will govern the country should be the center of social, economic and political life of Nigeria.
  • If one compares democracy in Nigeria with a ship, the country leader is the captain. Captain’s determination, commitment and skills bring success to the voyage. The country leader as a ship’s captain should have commitment to result, self-discipline, strong faith and in the success of all his deeds.
  • Nigerian leader should have courage to take risks, to make challenging decisions that will lead to the development and growth of the country’s economy.

What is worth mentioning in your Essay about Democracy?

  • One more thing that is obligatory for the development of the country is the belief in democracy. Belief of every society member into success of the country is simply crucial. Even the smallest child should understand that his hands create success of the country. Every person should strive for creation of a better future for his society. Every person should strive for the development of the democracy because democracy supports freedom. Democracy provides equality in high esteem. And these are factors worth to fight for, factors that can be the life goal for people, especially living in Nigeria.

How Can We Help?

If you find yourself struggling with writing a competitive essay about democracy in Nigeria, we believe you can trust your basics writing assignments to our team of professional writers. Having a wide experience in variety of paper writing assignments from students around the globe, we will gladly help you with your assignments as well.

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

National Association of Seadogs


Sep 15, 2020 | Press Releases

In Nigeria’s 60 years of self-rule, her democratic journey has been chequered. From the First Republic government which took the reins from the colonial administration to the present Fourth Republic, Nigeria’s attempts at democratic rule have been interrupted by a cumulative 29 years of military interregnum. The country is currently enjoying her longest unbroken spell of democratic rule since 29 May 1999.

As the world marks this year’s International Day of Democracy, with the theme ‘Democracy under Strain: Solutions for a Changing World’, and this year’s celebration coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasis should be to support human rights, the rule of law, peace and stability, which are all critical democracy development indicators.

The National Association of Seadogs, Pyrates Confraternity, congratulates Nigerians and the Nigerian government for keeping the fire of Democracy burning in the last twenty-one years of the Fourth Republic. Although the challenges have been enormous, the collective will of Nigerians has proven stronger than the divisive forces which habitually scuttled our democratic sojourn before now.

The citizens are the centrepiece of any democracy. While the people confer legitimacy of power through their votes, the elected government is expected to meet their needs and aspirations. Consequently, obnoxious policies like the recent hikes in Premium Motor Spirit pump price and electricity tariff at the same time, without taking into consideration the prevailing socio-economic realities, and the devastating economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, are clearly insensitive, undemocratic, and unacceptable.

Also, the attempted passage of the vexatious Social Media Bill and the latest attempts at restricting media coverage of the National Assembly are potent threats to the guaranteed freedoms which should naturally be entitlements from our hard-won democracy. The loss of confidence in the integrity of the national electoral process, which is ridden with violence, voter intimidation, ballot rigging and complicity by state actors, heightens concerns about the future of democracy in Nigeria.

According to the Global Terrorism Index 2020, Nigeria currently ranks third in the list of most terrorised countries in the world, just behind Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same week, the 2020 mortality estimates released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that Nigeria has overtaken India to become the world’s number one contributor to deaths of children under the age of five; a development that was actualised two years earlier than predicted, according to Thisday Newspaper report of September 10, 2020.

Human security, whether defined as freedom from want (access to a minimum threshold of food, water, healthcare, shelter, education, and work), or freedom from fear (national or territorial security), is an essential entitlement of democratic governance. Therefore, any threat to security in Nigeria, occasioned either by ineffective and harsh economic policies, or the activities of terrorists and other criminal elements, portend great danger to the survival of Nigeria’s democracy. 

Against this backdrop, we demand as follows:

  • That governments at all levels must strive harder towards strengthening the time-tested components and pillars of democracy namely: security and welfare of the people, rule of law, equality, rights, liberties, and opportunities. 
  • That political institutions including the Independent National Electoral Commission, political parties, pressure groups, the arms of government, mass media, and civil society groups, need to be strengthened and accorded full independence from interference in the drive towards deepening our democracy.
  • That President Muhammadu Buhari should revisit and sign into law the 2019 Electoral Reform Bill presented to him before the 2019 general elections, and equally to ensure a conducive environment for a free press and for civil society organisations to flourish, in the interest of democracy.
  • That equality before the law is non-negotiable in a democracy. The recurrent disobedience of court orders granting bail to Nigerians in criminal proceedings initiated by the Federal Government, and such other brazen illegalities deemed injurious to our body polity are major obstacles to the attainment of enduring democracy. Selective justice, preferential or detrimental treatment in the application of the law are an anathema to democracy.
  • That the Federal Government of Nigeria must do more than the jaded rhetoric of “bringing the perpetrators to book” and other such ineffectual clichés towards finding a lasting solution to the ethnic and religious tensions in Kaduna, Plateau, Benue and other affected parts of the country.

Nigeria as the largest democracy in Africa should be the torchbearer and pacesetter in the propagation and entrenchment of democracy across the African continent and beyond. This year’s celebration offers the nation another opportunity to reflect on the imperatives towards deepening and elevating democratic governance in Nigeria. 

Abiola Owoaje NAS Cap’n Abuja, Nigeria

Share this:

You may also like….

Mubarak Bala: A Call For Justice, Equity and Fairness

Mubarak Bala: A Call For Justice, Equity and Fairness

May 3, 2024

Since its official proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993, sequel to the recommendation...

May Day 2024: A Clarion Call to Nigeria Labour

May Day 2024: A Clarion Call to Nigeria Labour

May 2, 2024

The International Workers Day is marked on May 1 across the world, to celebrate workers and further the continuous...

DIA’s assault on press freedom, threat to democracy

DIA’s assault on press freedom, threat to democracy

Apr 3, 2024

Mr Segun Olatunji, the editor of FirstNews newspaper, who was abducted by operatives of the Defence Intelligence...

CIVICUS Global Alliance

Thoughts and perspectives on democratic practices in Nigeria

Open submission by Eziano Spencer

The ruling party in Nigeria is not doing anything different from the past government. For years we have been yearning for internal democracy, but we are still very far from it. The central government and its 36 states have abandoned their manifestos. Promises are not kept.

There is no strong leadership, and decision taking is so slow - it can take months - so we are having many crises and controversies all over. Party members are taking each other to court, up to Supreme Court level. A current case involves the executive, the senate president and the legislature.

Political parties are not inclusive or participatory enough. Nigerian politics is personality based. People want to exercise authority and dictate what happens in parties. Those who have looted the government treasury become godfather figures, winning elections and claiming power, all to acquire more wealth and protect their investments, arrogating power to themselves.

There is no transparency and accountability in the political system. Politicians do not take care of those who elected them into power and reached out to them or carry them along. Candidates are imposed on voters. Those candidates are not their choice and not the right candidates.

Politicians acquire power to deal with their opponents and to solve their personal problems. They are not there to make history for themselves or make policies that will affect the lives of the people.

At the helm of affairs only one person is saying that he will fight corruption. Every other person around is silent about it, and some of them have been found to be corrupt. Some of those who were in the past administration, who are known to have looted the government treasury when they were governors or held other political positions, have changed to the ruling party and are serving in the present government. Ministers, governors and other political office holders are not talking about or fighting corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is not investigating them; it is going after the opposition members, which makes their activities selective. This action has silenced opposition members. Though we know that some huge amounts of money have been recovered from leakages in the system and from corrupt past political office holders, there is silence about those who have defected from opposition party to the ruling party. This is not good for our internal democracy. There is continuing abuse of public funds. Those who have their hands in the public treasury, from local government to state government up to the federal level, run, control and hijack the ruling party. They have become godfathers and kingmakers. They have bought over our traditional rulers. This does not augur well for our democracy.

The Federal Government have refused to recognise the critical problem of the massacre of the Benue people in Benue and Taraba States by terrorist Fulani herdsmen. Over months around 25,000 men, women and children were slaughtered with knives, shot with AK47 rifles or had their houses burnt down and had all their farm produce and farmland destroyed. On one day alone around 71 children, men and women were massacred by the herdsmen. This came without response and intervention from the federal government, which failed to send armed policemen and the military for operations. The state governors have no control over the armed police or the army: they have to wait for orders from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria before they can intervene. In Nigeria it is a serious crime and offence to be seen carrying arms, which should lead to arrest. These cattle herdsmen carried arms about without being arrested by the police. It is generally believed that this was because the president is a Fulani man, which means no one can arrest the Fulani cattle herdsmen.

Just recently at a catholic church, during one of their early morning services, around 20 people were killed, including two reverend fathers. This was followed by a mass protest by catholic church members and their priests in most states, before they buried their members. Professor Wole Soyinka, the Noble laureate, demanded international intervention. The unarmed Benue people and the Governor have for months been crying for help through the media from the United Nations and Africa Union. Thousands of homeless Benue people are internally displaced and in camps looking for help and living in fear. Nigerian people cannot conduct business in Benue or go to a place of worship there.

But politicians are not interested in the killings. We need a new leader to build confidence in Nigerians. The desperation of politicians brings about violence and killings. Feeding on poverty and insecurity, they import small arms into the country, and arm our unemployed youths and students, who are cultist in our higher institutions. They have rigged elections and clamped down on their opponents.

Students and others are recruited by Independent National Electoral Commission for jobs during elections. Their lives are put at risk by the politicians who are desperate. They manipulate them and threaten them with guns to accept rigged election results or face being killed if they refuse to cooperate. This has not helped our democracy.

The only thing the Nigerian government relies upon is oil. Each state is blessed with abundant mineral resources and land for farming. In the past our economy depended on agriculture and the economy was booming. Since the discovery of oil in the south of Nigeria, states have abandoned farming and go to the central government every month to get an allocation from the revenue from oil for their state. If Nigeria is restructured, we will stop depending on oil and develop our economic potential. It is only a few selfish, self-centred people or states that do not want a restructure.

The high levels of poverty in our land have led to the trading of human beings for exploitation for slavery and prostitution. Parents even allow human trafficking agents to take their daughters out of the country to Egypt, Oman and Saudi Arabia, under the guise of becoming housemaids or deceiving them that they are going to become shop workers. These girls, when interrogated, do not know where they are being taken to and what they are going to be used for. This has become a big business between the agents and migration officers at the airport. The agents bring these girls from Kwara State, Ondo State, Osun State, Ekiti State and neighbouring West Africa countries. They travel with Nigerian passports, and some with West African passports. The immigration excuse is that the women are above 18 years and if they were denied from travelling, who would refund their ticket money?

We can rebuild democracy and respond to democratic challenges through the effort of civil society by making sure that the 1999 Constitution is revisited. The desperation, killings, looting of the treasury and the lack of economic development are a result of the huge amounts of salaries attached to political offices, the power of office holders to award billions of Naira in contracts, and the fact that they do not need to declare their assets when they assume office and after their tenure, both at home and abroad. Salaries and allowances should not be attached to political office holders who want to serve the people. The total amount of money to be received monthly by the president should not exceed 400,000 Naira monthly and governors and the Senate President should not receive more than 300,000 Naira monthly. This will help to reduce the desperation for power and the killings that follow and encourage economic development.

Auditors should be recruited and attached to each project and contract awarded, with spending monitored and quarterly reports published.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission office should not be headed by any government agencies like the police. A separate body, like the accounting body, should head that office for accountability and transparency.

More technical schools should be built to train our young people and help them acquire skills. They should be trained for one year before thinking of looking for jobs. More skills acquisition centres should be built by state governors for new graduates to acquire skills. Young people should be trained in how to demand from their government what they need.

Our leaders and policy makers should guide the utterances they make concerning their citizens; recently this has led to some Nigerian youths who had travelled to Tanzania being deported by Tanzania immigration officers after their president had said that they do not want to work.

Peace education should be taught from the primary school to university level to reduce religious and ethnic killings every time there is a conflict.

  • Reimagining Democracy
  • #ReimaginingDemocracy


  • @CIVICUSalliance
  • Newsletters
  • Feedback Form

HEADQUARTERS 25  Owl Street, 6th Floor Johannesburg, South Africa, 2092 Tel: +27 (0)11 833 5959 Fax: +27 (0)11 833 7997

UN HUB: NEW YORK CIVICUS, c/o We Work 450 Lexington Ave New York NY 10017 United States

UN HUB: GENEVA 11 Avenue de la Paix Geneva Switzerland CH-1202 Tel: +41.79.910.34.28

  • About CIVICUS
  • Youth Action Team
  • Member Advisory Group
  • Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action
  • Accountability
  • Strategic Plan 2022 - 2027
  • Civic Space Initiative
  • VUKA! Coalition for Civic Action
  • Enabling Environment
  • Crisis Response Fund
  • CIVICUS at the United Nations
  • Solidarity Fund
  • Affinity Group of National Associations
  • CIVICUS Youth
  • International Civil Society Week
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Civil Society Resourcing
  • Youth Action Lab
  • CHARM Africa
  • Local Leadership Labs
  • CIVICUS Monitor
  • Innovation for Change
  • Resilient Roots
  • Digital Action Lab
  • Digital Resiliency Grants
  • Work With Us
  • Become a Member
  • Grassroots Solidarity Revolution
  • Stand As My Witness
  • CIVICUS In the News
  • Media Releases
  • CIVICUS Blog
  • Annual Reports
  • State of Civil Society Reports
  • Enabling Environment National Assessment Reports
  • More Reports
  • Civil Society at the UN
  • Action for Sustainable Development
  • Toolkits & Guides
  • Press Center

How Nigeria has got better at running elections that are freer and fairer

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

Lecturer, Poliitical Science, Obafemi Awolowo University

Disclosure statement

Damilola Agbalajobi does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

View all partners

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

The conduct of periodic, competitive, participatory, credible and non-violent elections is one of the main yardsticks used to determine the democratic condition of a state.

As such, Nigeria’s 2019 general election is pivotal to the sustenance and consolidation of the Nigerian democracy. The elections have confirmed the Nigerian electorate’s constitutional right to elect new leaders and punish nonperforming ones by denying them their votes.

Because of the postponement , the Independent National Electoral Commission was under pressure to deliver credible and non-violent elections. Its attempts to distribute materials across Nigeria’s 36 states before election day were marred by mishaps. For example, evidence from European Union observers showed that electoral materials and officers arrived late in some units in the region around Abuja.

Similar cases were reported at some polling units in Kano, Lagos and Kaduna states. Voting in some states was also impacted by a failure of the commission’s card reader machines. In Gezewa and Fagge locations in Kano State, voting began late because the voters couldn’t be identified. Faulty card reader machines also disrupted and delayed voting process in Sokoto, Enugu, and Kogi states.

In addition, elections were cancelled in some polling units in Anambra, River and Lagos states because voting was disrupted by rival political party supporters. Some of the hoodlums who caused the disruption were arrested. Voting resumed and the results are currently being collated.

The outcome of the poll now depends on the electoral commission’s ability to manage the vote counting process in line with the rules governing the conduct of elections in Nigeria.

In my view, Nigeria’s main problem both then and now has been the repeated attempts by candidates to manipulate the process. In this particular election, it must be noted that the incumbent has been defeated in a few areas where he should have won. This is significant. As regards the level of violence, this election has been relatively peaceful when compared to the 2015 poll where 55 deaths were recorded. Even then, there has been a glaring display of ineptitude within security circles, especially in opposition strongholds.

Elections conducted by the commission since Nigeria’s return to democratic governance in 1999 have been marred by electoral malpractices. These include violent attacks on voters, commission officials and members of the opposition.

The majority of these attacks were politically motivated and intended to disrupt the voting process. The elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007 were riddled with irregularities and tainted by violence. But the tide turned in 2011 when a major improvement was witnessed. This was courtesy of new election laws and the 2010 amendment of Nigeria’s constitution which created new guidelines for the conduct of national elections.

Some of the changes that contributed to the success of the 2011 election were the use of biometric data in voter registration and that permanent voters’ cards were issued. These two things sealed the loopholes in the manual voting system which had been particularly easy to manipulate.

The use of National Youth Service officers in the registration of voters and execution of the vote on polling day also contributed to the success of the 2011 poll.

But even with that relative success, post-election violence erupted across 12 states in the west and north east of Nigeria. 800 people died and over 65,000 were displaced.

In a bid to conduct a credible and non-violent election in 2015, the electoral commission postponed the poll because of the security threat posed by Boko Haram. Unfortunately, 58 people still lost their lives to pre-election violence that erupted in 22 states.

Expectations of the 2019 poll

Regardless of the technical and logistics challenges in 2019, there was massive voter turnout . The Nigerian electorate is hungry for a government that will solve their everyday problems. Some of the issues that need fixing are the economy, high cost of living, unemployment, widespread poverty, persistent violent killings, and ethno-religious tensions.

While these are valid concerns, some have speculated that the high turnout could also have been a result of voter bribery . This speculation cannot be dismissed given Nigeria’s history of cash-driven elections .

Additional research was done by Dare Leke Idowu. A Doctoral applicant in the Department of Political Science at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

  • Peacebuilding
  • Democracy in Africa
  • Election violence
  • Peace & Security
  • Nigeria elections 2019

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

Compliance Lead

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

Lecturer / Senior Lecturer - Marketing

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

Assistant Editor - 1 year cadetship

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

Executive Dean, Faculty of Health

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, Earth System Science (School of Science)

Challenges and Solutions of Democracy in Nigeria

Introduction, challenges of democracy in nigeria, solutions of democracy challenges in nigeria.

twitter share

Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Read our research on:

Full Topic List

Regions & Countries

  • Publications
  • Our Methods
  • Short Reads
  • Tools & Resources

Read Our Research On:

What Can Improve Democracy?

Ideas from people in 24 countries, in their own words, table of contents.

  • How politicians can improve
  • Calls for systemic reform
  • For many respondents, fixing democracy begins with the people
  • It's difficult to please everyone
  • Economic reform and basic needs
  • No changes and no solutions – or at least no democratic ones
  • Road map for this research project
  • Politicians
  • Changing leadership
  • Political parties
  • Government reform
  • Special interests
  • Media reform
  • Economic reform
  • Policies and legislation
  • Citizen behavior
  • Individual rights and equality
  • Electoral reform
  • Direct democracy
  • Rule of law
  • Ensuring safety
  • The judicial system
  • Codebook development
  • Coding responses
  • Collapsing codes for analysis
  • Characteristics of the responses
  • Selection of quotes
  • About Pew Research Center’s Spring 2023 Global Attitudes Survey
  • The American Trends Panel survey methodology
  • Appendix C: Codebook
  • Appendix D: Political categorization
  • Classifying parties as populist
  • Classifying parties as left, right or center
  • Acknowledgments

essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

This Pew Research Center analysis on views of how to improve democracy uses data from nationally representative surveys conducted in 24 countries across North America, Europe, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. All responses are weighted to be representative of the adult population in each country.

For non-U.S. data, this analysis draws on nationally representative surveys of 27,285 adults conducted from Feb. 20 to May 22, 2023. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Surveys were conducted face-to-face with adults in Argentina, Brazil, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland and South Africa. In Australia, we used a mixed-mode probability-based online panel. Read more about international survey methodology .

In the U.S., we surveyed 3,576 adults from March 20 to March 26, 2023. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way, nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology .

Researchers examined random samples of English responses, machine-translated non-English responses, and non-English responses translated by a professional translation firm to develop a codebook for the main topics mentioned across the 24 countries. The codebook was iteratively improved via practice coding and calculations of intercoder reliability until a final selection of 17 substantive codes was formally adopted. (For more on the codebook, refer to Appendix C .)

To apply the codebook to the full collection of open-ended responses, a team of Pew Research Center coders and professional translators were trained to code English and non-English responses. Coders in both groups coded random samples and were evaluated for consistency and accuracy. They were asked to independently code responses only after reaching an acceptable threshold for intercoder reliability. (For more on the coding methodology, refer to Appendix A .)

There is some variation in whether and how people responded to our open-ended question. In each country surveyed, some respondents said that they did not understand the question, did not know how to answer or did not want to answer. This share of adults ranged from 4% in Spain to 47% in the U.S. 

In some countries, people also tended to mention fewer things that would improve democracy in their country relative to people surveyed elsewhere. For example, across the 24 countries surveyed, a median of 73% mentioned only one topic in our codebook (e.g., politicians). The share in South Korea is much higher, with 92% suggesting only one area of improvement when describing what they think would improve democracy. In comparison, about a quarter or more mention two areas of improvement in France, Spain, Sweden and the U.S.

These differences help explain why the share giving a particular answer in certain publics may appear much lower than others, even if it is the top- ranked suggestion for improving democracy. To give a specific example, 10% of respondents in Poland mention politicians, while 18% do so in South Africa – yet the topic is ranked second in Poland and third in South Africa. Given this discrepancy, researchers have chosen to highlight not only the share of the public that mentions a given topic but also its relative ranking among all topics coded, both in text and in graphics.

Here is the question used for this report , along with coded responses for each country, and the survey methodology .

Open-ended responses highlighted in the text of this report were chosen to represent the key themes researchers identified. They have been edited for clarity and, in some cases, translated into English by a professional firm. Some responses have also been shortened for brevity.

Pew Research Center surveys have long found that people in many countries are dissatisfied with their democracy and want major changes to their political systems – and this year is no exception . But high and growing rates of discontent certainly raise the question: What do people think could fix things?

A graphic showing that People in most countries surveyed suggest changes to politicians will improve democracy

We set out to answer this by asking more than 30,000 respondents in 24 countries an open-ended question: “What do you think would help improve the way democracy in your country is working?” While the second- and third-most mentioned priorities vary greatly, across most countries surveyed, there is one clear top answer: Democracy can be improved with better or different politicians.

People want politicians who are more responsive to their needs and who are more competent and honest, among other factors. People also focus on questions of descriptive representation – the importance of having politicians with certain characteristics such as a specific race, religion or gender.

Respondents also think citizens can improve their own democracy. Across most of the 24 countries surveyed, issues of public participation and of different behavior from the people themselves are a top-five priority.

Other topics that come up regularly include:

  • Economic reform , especially reforms that will enhance job creation.
  • Government reform , including implementing term limits, adjusting the balance of power between institutions and other factors.

We explore these topics and the others we coded in the following chapters:

  • Politicians, changing leadership and political parties ( Chapter 1 )
  • Government reform, special interests and the media ( Chapter 2 )
  • Economic and policy changes ( Chapter 3 )
  • Citizen behavior and individual rights and equality ( Chapter 4 )
  • Electoral reform and direct democracy ( Chapter 5 )
  • Rule of law, safety and the judicial system ( Chapter 6 )

You can also read people’s answers in their own words in our interactive data essay and quote sorter: “How People in 24 Countries Think Democracy Can Improve.” Many responses in the quote sorter and throughout this report appear in translation; for selected quotes in their original language, visit this spreadsheet .

The survey was conducted from Feb. 20 to May 22, 2023, in 24 countries and 36 different languages. Below, we highlight some key themes, drawn from the open-ended responses and the 17 rigorously coded substantive topics.

A table showing that Better politicians are the top fix for democracy in nearly every country surveyed

In almost every country surveyed, changes to politicians are the most commonly mentioned way to improve democracy. People broadly call for three types of improvements: better representation , increased competence and a higher level of responsiveness . They also call for politicians to be less corrupt or less influenced by special interests.


“Bringing in more diverse voices, rather than mostly wealthy White men.” Woman, 30, Australia

First, people want to see politicians from different groups in society – though which groups people want represented run the gamut. In Japan, for example, one woman said democracy would improve if there were “more diversity and more women parliamentarians.” In Kenya, having leaders “from all tribes” is seen as a way to make democracy work better. People also call for younger voices and politicians from “poor backgrounds,” among other groups. The opposing views of two American respondents, though, highlight why satisfying everyone is difficult:

“Most politicians in office right now are rich, Christian and old. Their overwhelmingly Christian views lead to laws and decisions that not only limit personal freedoms like abortion and gay marriage, but also discriminate against minority religions and their practices.”

– Man, 23, U.S.

“We need to stop worrying about putting people in positions because of their race, ethnicity or gender. What happened to being put in a position because they are the best person for that position?”

– Man, 64, U.S.

“Our politicians should have an education corresponding to their subject or field.” Woman, 72, Germany

Second, people want higher-caliber politicians. This includes a desire to see more technical expertise and traits such as morality, honesty, a “stronger backbone” or “more common sense.”

Sometimes, people simply want politicians with “no criminal records” – something mentioned explicitly by a South Korean man and echoed by respondents in the United States, India and Israel, among other places.


“Make democracy promote more of the people’s voice. The people’s voice is the great strength for leadership.” Man, 27, Indonesia

Third, people want their politicians to hear them and respond to their needs and wishes, and for politicians to keep their promises. One man in the United Kingdom said, “If leaders would listen more to the local communities and do their jobs as members of Parliament, that would really help democracy in this country. It seems like once they’re elected, they just play lip service to the role.”

Special interests and corruption

Concerns about special interests and corruption are common in certain countries, including Mexico, the U.S. and Australia. One Mexican woman said, “Politicians should listen more to the Mexican people, not buy people off using money or groceries.” Others complained about politicians “pillaging” the country and enriching themselves by keeping tax money.

For some, the political system itself needs to change in order for democracy to work better. Changing the governmental structure is one of the top five topics coded in most countries surveyed – and it’s tied for the most mentioned issue in the U.S., along with politicians. These reforms include adjusting the balance of power between institutions, implementing term limits, and more.

Some also see the need to reform the electoral system in their country; others want more direct democracy through referenda or public forums. Judicial system reform is a priority for some, especially in Israel. (In Israel, the survey was conducted amid large-scale protests against a proposed law that would limit the power of the Supreme Court, but prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and the court’s rejection of the law in January .)

The U.S. stands out as the only country surveyed where reforming the government is the top concern (tied with politicians). Americans mention very specific proposals such as giving the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico statehood, increasing the size of the House of the Representatives to allow one representative per 100,000 people, requiring a supermajority for all spending bills, eliminating the filibuster, and more.

Term limits for elected officials are a particularly popular reform in the U.S. Americans call for them to prevent “career politicians,” as in the case of one woman who said, “I think we need to limit the number of years politicians can serve. No one should be able to serve as a politician for 40+ years like Joe Biden. I don’t have anything against him. I just think that we need limits. We have too many people who have served for too long and have little or nothing to show for it.” Term limits for Supreme Court justices are also top of mind for many Americans when it comes to judicial system reform.

“There are many parts of the UK where it’s obvious who will get elected. My vote doesn’t count where I live because the Conservative Party wins every time. Effectively it means that the majority is not represented by the government. With proportional representation, everybody’s vote would count.” Man, 62, UK

The electoral system is among the top targets for change in some countries. In Canada, Nigeria and the UK, changing how elections work is the second-most mentioned topic of the 17 substantive codes – and it falls in the top five in Australia, Japan, the Netherlands and the U.S.

Suggested changes vary across countries and include switching from first-past-the-post to a proportional voting system, having a fixed date for elections, lowering the voting age, returning to hand-counted paper ballots, voting directly for candidates rather than parties, and more.

Calls for direct democracy are prevalent in several European countries – even ranking second in France and Germany. One French woman said, “There should be more referenda, they should ask the opinion of the people more, and it should be respected.”

In the broadest sense, people want a “direct voting system” or for “people to have the vote, not middlemen elected officials.” More narrowly, they also mention specific topics they would like referenda for, including rejoining the European Union in the UK; “abortion, retirement and euthanasia” in France; “all legislation which harms the justice system” in Israel; asylum policy, nitrogen policy and local affairs in the Netherlands; “when and where the country goes to war” in Australia; “gay marriage, marijuana legalization and bail reform” in the U.S.; “nuclear power, sexuality, NATO and the EU” in Sweden; and who should be prime minister in Japan. (The survey was conducted prior to Sweden joining NATO in March 2024.)

Of the systemic reforms suggested, few bring up changes to the judicial system in most countries. Only in Israel, where the topic ranked first at the time of the survey, does judicial system reform appear in the top 10 coded issues. Israelis approach this issue from vastly different perspectives. For instance, some want to curtail the Supreme Court’s influence over government decisions, while others want to preserve its independence, as in these two examples:

“Finish the legislation that will limit the enormous and generally unreasonable power of the Supreme Court in Israel!”

– Man, 64, Israel

“Do everything to keep the last word of the High Court on any social and moral issue.”

– Man, 31, Israel

Is the grass always greener?

Notably, some respondents propose the exact reform that those in another country would like to do away with.

For example, while some people in countries without mandatory voting think it could be useful to implement, there are respondents in Australia – where voting is compulsory – who want it to end. People without mandatory voting see it as a way to force everyone to have a say: “We have to get everyone out to vote. Everyone complains. Voting should be mandatory. Everyone has to vote and have a say,” said a Canadian woman. But the flip side one Australian expressed was, “Eliminate compulsory voting. The votes of people who do not care about a result voids the vote of somebody who does.”

The ideal number of parties in government is another topic that brings about opposing suggestions. In the Netherlands, which has a relatively large number of parties, altering the party system is the second-most mentioned way to improve democracy. Dutch respondents differed on terms of the maximum number of parties they want to see (“a three-party system,” “four or five parties at most,” “a maximum of seven parties,” etc.) but the tenor is broadly similar: Too many parties is leading to fragmentation, polarization and division. Elsewhere, however, some squarely attribute polarization to a system with too few parties. In the U.S., a man noted, “The most egregious problem is that a two-party system cannot ever hope to be representative of its people as the will of any group cannot be captured in a binary system: The result will be increased polarization between the Democratic and Republican parties.”

Even in countries with more than two parties, like Canada and the UK, there can be a sense that only two are viable. A Canadian man said, “We need to have a free election with more than two parties.”

A list of quotes showing that People in some countries seek systemic changes which are already present in other countries – but sometimes disliked there

Citizens – both their quality and their participation in politics – come up regularly as an area that requires improvement for democracy to work better. In most countries, the issue is in the top five. And in Israel, Sweden, Italy and Japan, citizens are the second-most mentioned topic of the 17 coded. (In this analysis, “citizens” refers to all inhabitants of each country, not just the legal residents.)

In general, respondents see three ways citizens can improve: being more informed, participating more and generally being better people.

Being more informed

“More awareness and more information. We have highly separated classes. There are generations who have never read a newspaper. One cannot be fully democratic if one is not aware.” Man, 86, Italy

First, citizens being more informed is seen as crucial. Respondents argue that informed citizens are able to vote more responsibly and avoid being misled by surface-level political quips or misinformation.

In the Netherlands, for example, where the survey predated the electoral success of Geert Wilders’ right-wing populist Party for Freedom (PVV), one woman noted that citizens need “education, and openness, maybe. There are a lot of people who vote Geert Wilders because of his one-liners, and they don’t think beyond those. They haven’t learned to think beyond what’s right in front of them.” (For more information on how we classify populist parties, refer to Appendix E .)

Participating more

“Each and every one of us must go to the polls and make our own decisions.” Woman, 76, Japan

Second, some respondents want people in their country to be more involved in politics – whether that be turning out to vote, protesting at key moments or just caring more about politics or other issues. They hold the notion that if people participate, they will be less apathetic and less likely to complain, and their voices will be represented more fully. One woman in Sweden noted, “I would like to see more involvement from different groups of people: younger people, people with different backgrounds, people from minority groups.”

Being better people

“People should walk around rationally, respecting each other, dialoguing and respecting people’s cultures.” Woman, 29, Brazil

Third, the character of citizens comes up regularly – respondents’ requests for their countrymen range from “care more about others” to “love God and neighbor completely” to asking that they be “better critical thinkers,” among myriad other things. Still, some calls for improved citizen behavior contradict each other, as in the case of two Australian women who differ over how citizens should think about assimilation:

“We need to be more caring and thoughtful about people who come to the country. We need to be more tolerant and absorb them in our community.”

– Woman, 75, Australia

“We need to stop worrying that we are going to offend other nationalities and their traditions. We should be able to say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘happy holidays,’ and Christmas celebrations should be held in schools without worrying about offending others in our so-called ‘democratic society.’”

– Woman, 70, Australia

It’s difficult to please everyone

One challenge is that people in the same country may offer the exact opposite solutions. For example, in the UK, some people want politicians to make more money; others, less. In the U.S., while changes to the electoral system rank as one of the public’s top solutions for fixing democracy, some want to make it significantly easier to vote by methods like automatically registering citizens or making it easier to vote by mail. Others want to end these practices or even eliminate touch-screen voting machines.

A list of quotes showing that there are Conflicting calls for change in the same country

People in several countries, mostly in the middle-income nations surveyed (Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa) stand out for the emphasis they place on economic reform as a means to improve democracy. In India and South Africa, for example, the issue ranks first among the 17 substantive topics coded; in Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia and Kenya, it ranks second. These calls include a focus on creating jobs , curbing inflation , changing government spending priorities and more.

“When education, roads, hospitals and adequate water are made available, then I can say democracy will improve.” Man, 30, Nigeria

Sometimes, people draw a causal link between the economy and democracy, suggesting that improvements to the former would improve the latter. For example, one woman in Indonesia said, “Improve the economic conditions to ensure democracy goes well.” People also insinuated that having basic needs met is a precursor to their democracy functioning. One South African man noted that democracy in his country would work better if the government “created more employment for the youth, fixed the roads and gave us water. They must also fix the electricity problem.” A man in India said, “There’s a need for development in democracy.”

Indeed, specific policies and legislation – particularly improvements to infrastructure like roads, hospitals, water, electricity and schools – are the second-most mentioned topic in Brazil, India, Nigeria and South Africa. Some respondents offer laundry lists of policies that need attention, such as one Brazilian woman who called for “improving health care, controlling drug use, more security for the population, and improving the situation of people on the streets.”

Priority differences in high- and middle-income countries

Beyond economic reform , other changes to living conditions also receive more emphasis in some middle-income countries surveyed:

  • In South Africa and Nigeria, both middle-income countries, mentions of economic reform tend to reference jobs . In other, high-income countries, calls for economic change generally refer to other economic issues like inflation and government spending priorities.
  • When bringing up the issue of money in politics, respondents in middle-income countries generally cite corruption more than those in high-income countries. Those in high-income countries tend to bring up special interests more broadly.
  • People in middle-income countries also focus more on issues related to public safety – including reducing crime and supporting law enforcement – than those in high-income countries.
  • For their part, people in the 16 high-income countries surveyed tend to focus more on political party reform, direct democracy, government reform and media reform than those in the eight middle-income nations.
“Democracy is fine because you have the freedom to express yourself without being persecuted, especially in politics.” Man, 26, Argentina

People sometimes say there are no changes that can make democracy in their country work better. These responses include broadly positive views of the status quo such as, “I am very happy to live in a country with democracy.” An Indian man responded simply, “Everything is going well in India.” Some respondents even compare their system favorably to others, as one Australian man said: “I think it currently works pretty well, far better than, say, the U.S. or UK, Poland or Israel.”

“Our current system is broken and I’m not sure what, if anything, can fix it at this point.” Woman, 41, U.S

But some are more pessimistic. They have the sense that “no matter what I do, nothing will change.” A Brazilian man said, “It is difficult to make it better. Brazil is too complicated.”

And some see no better options. In Hungary – where “no changes” was the second-most cited topic of the 17 coded – one man referenced Winston Churchill’s quote about democracy, saying, “Democracy is the worst form of government, not counting all the others that man has tried from time to time.”

In many countries, a sizable share offer no response at all – saying that they do not know or refusing to answer. This includes around a third or more of those in Indonesia, Japan and the U.S. In most countries, those who did not answer the question tended to have lower levels of formal education than those who offered a substantive solution. And in some places – including the U.S. – they were also more likely to be women than men.

Few call for ending democracy altogether

Despite considerable discontent with democracy , few people suggest changing to a non-democratic system. Those who do call for a new system offer options like a military junta, a theocracy or an autocracy as possible new systems.

Related: Who likes authoritarianism, and how do they want to change their government?

One other way to think about what people believe will help improve their democracy is to focus on three themes: basic needs that can be addressed, improvements to the system and complete overhauls of the system. We explore these themes in our interactive data essay and quote sorter: “How People in 24 Countries Think Democracy Can Improve.”

You can also explore people’s responses in their own words, with the option to filter by country and code by navigating over to the quote sorter .

In the chapters that follow, we discuss 15 of our coded themes in detail. We analyze how people spoke about them, as well as how responses varied across and within countries. We chose to emphasize the relative frequency, or rank order , in which people mentioned these different topics. For more about this choice, as well as details about our coding procedure and methodology , refer to Appendix A .

Explore the chapters of this report:

Why this report focuses on topic rank order in addition to percentages

There is some variation in whether and how people responded to our open-ended question. In each country surveyed, some respondents said that they did not understand the question, did not know how to answer or did not want to answer. This share of adults ranged from 4% in Spain to 47% in the U.S.

These differences help explain why the share giving a particular answer in certain publics may appear much lower than others, even if the topic is the top mentioned suggestion for improving democracy. To give a specific example, 10% in Poland mention politicians while 18% say the same in South Africa, but the topic is ranked second in Poland and third in South Africa. Given this, researchers have chosen to highlight not only the share of the public who mention a given topic but also its relative ranking among the topics coded, both in the text and in graphics.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information

  • Election System & Voting Process
  • International Political Values

More than 80% of Americans believe elected officials don’t care what people like them think

Support for democracy is strong in hong kong and taiwan, how people in 24 countries think democracy can improve, representative democracy remains a popular ideal, but people around the world are critical of how it’s working, majorities in most countries surveyed say social media is good for democracy, most popular, report materials.

1615 L St. NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036 USA (+1) 202-419-4300 | Main (+1) 202-857-8562 | Fax (+1) 202-419-4372 |  Media Inquiries

Research Topics

  • Age & Generations
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Economy & Work
  • Family & Relationships
  • Gender & LGBTQ
  • Immigration & Migration
  • International Affairs
  • Internet & Technology
  • Methodological Research
  • News Habits & Media
  • Non-U.S. Governments
  • Other Topics
  • Politics & Policy
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Email Newsletters

ABOUT PEW RESEARCH CENTER  Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of  The Pew Charitable Trusts .

Copyright 2024 Pew Research Center

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Here's how you know

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. A lock ( ) or https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Keyboard Navigation

  • Agriculture and Food Security
  • Anti-Corruption
  • Conflict Prevention and Stabilization

Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance

  • Economic Growth and Trade
  • Environment, Energy, and Infrastructure
  • Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment
  • Global Health
  • Humanitarian Assistance
  • Innovation, Technology, and Research
  • Water and Sanitation
  • Burkina Faso
  • Central Africa Regional
  • Central African Republic
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • East Africa Regional
  • Power Africa
  • Republic of the Congo
  • Sahel Regional
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Africa
  • South Sudan
  • Southern Africa Regional
  • West Africa Regional
  • Afghanistan
  • Central Asia Regional
  • Indo-Pacific
  • Kyrgyz Republic
  • Pacific Islands
  • Philippines
  • Regional Development Mission for Asia
  • Timor-Leste
  • Turkmenistan
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • North Macedonia
  • Central America and Mexico Regional Program
  • Dominican Republic
  • Eastern and Southern Caribbean
  • El Salvador
  • Middle East Regional Platform
  • West Bank and Gaza
  • Dollars to Results
  • Data Resources
  • Strategy & Planning
  • Budget & Spending
  • Performance and Financial Reporting
  • FY 2023 Agency Financial Report
  • Records and Reports
  • Budget Justification
  • Our Commitment to Transparency
  • Policy and Strategy
  • How to Work with USAID
  • Find a Funding Opportunity
  • Organizations That Work With USAID
  • Resources for Partners
  • Get involved
  • Business Forecast
  • Safeguarding and Compliance
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility
  • Mission, Vision and Values
  • News & Information
  • Operational Policy (ADS)
  • Organization
  • Stay Connected
  • USAID History
  • Video Library
  • Coordinators
  • Nondiscrimination Notice and Civil Rights
  • Collective Bargaining Agreements
  • Disabilities Employment Program
  • Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey
  • Reasonable Accommodations
  • Urgent Hiring Needs
  • Vacancy Announcements
  • Search Search Search

There are roadblocks to a strong democracy in Nigeria at all levels of government. Conflict—triggered by political competition and communal, ethnic, religious or resource allocation rivalries—poses a major threat to democracy. Corruption pervades the daily lives of Nigerians. Many government institutions do not adequately engage with citizens or the private sector and lack the capacity to carry out their mandates. Further, civil society lacks both the capacity and the resources to effectively engage with government and advocate for change. 

Civil Society and Media

Although elites dominate the political structure, civil society organizations are becoming a voice for democratic reform. Their efforts to push for inclusive governance have been successful in many ways, but they lack the capacity and resources to carry out their functions fully. USAID works directly with a diverse representation of Nigerian civil society and media organizations, building their internal management capacity and strengthening their ability to engage with the government on issues of fiscal accountability, budget monitoring and transparency within extractive industries.

In 2011, Nigerians participated in what were arguably the most credible and transparent elections since the country’s independence. USAID capitalized on this positive momentum to improve elections by supporting the organizational development of political parties and the independence of the electoral commission, and by increasing civil society input into electoral and constitutional reform dialogue. In 2015, the Independent National Electoral Commission working with civil society organizations-which ran parallel vote tabulations-Nigeria helped usher in the first peaceful, democratic transition of power between two parties.

Nigeria democracy

United States Institute of Peace

Home ▶ Publications

Protests Test Nigeria’s Democracy and its Leadership in Africa

How the government responds will frame the struggle against extremism across the region.

By: Oge Onubogu

Publication Type: Analysis

Nigeria’s protests against police brutality already were the largest in the country’s history before security forces opened fire on a crowd in Lagos on October 20. The protest and bloodshed have only heightened the need for the government in Africa’s most populous country to end the pattern of violence by security forces against civilians. Leaders must finally acknowledge that this brutality has fueled violent extremism. How the Nigerian government will respond to citizens’ insistent demand for accountable governance will influence similar struggles—for democracy, accountability, nonviolence and stability—across much of Africa.

Nigerian youth kneel for the national anthem during one of many protests against police brutality this month. (TobiJamesCandids/CC License 4.0)

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have been demonstrating across Nigeria under the slogan #EndSARS —a demand for the disbanding of a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Nigerians and international human rights organizations have presented evidence for years that the unit’s officers have repeatedly committed heinous violations, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and rape. Amnesty International documented 82 cases of abuse by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.

Such abuses have been committed with impunity. Nigerians mounted #EndSARS protests in 2017 that prompted the first of many still-unfulfilled promises by officials for reforms. The latest protests began after a video went viral last month that showed the aftermath of a killing, allegedly by SARS officers, of a young man. It is no coincidence that the protesters and the victims of police brutality are from Nigeria’s large population of youth. Most victims have been aged between 18 and 35, Amnesty International reports.

But the Nigerian government response to these legitimate expressions of outrage has been dispiriting . A few days after the protests started, authorities announced they would disband SARS, reassign its officers to other police units and create a new unit with properly vetted and trained officers. But the government’s credibility is undermined by its failure to fulfill earlier promises—of investigations, prosecutions and reforms. So protests have continued.

The power of Nigeria’s example

Nigeria is facing a fundamental crisis of governance that reflects a rising set of demands among its young generation—demands shared by youth elsewhere in Africa. And the government’s response is certain to resonate across the continent. With 200 million people, a growing population expected to exceed that of the United States by 2050, Nigeria is the undisputed regional hegemon and has been the decisive force behind the regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). That group last year adopted an action plan to counter terrorism and extremism—an effort that will depend on the region’s governments’ effectiveness, notably Nigeria’s, at tackling their domestic security and governance challenges.

Nigeria’s strengths—demographic, economic and military—confer upon it the chance, and a responsibility, to lead in West Africa. And its influence is often positive, for example in its early, relatively transparent response to the COVID pandemic. Yet the persistence of police brutality and the government’s inadequate, even violent , response shows that Nigeria continues to struggle with the moral consistency needed to inspire others.

An effective response to this crisis should start with political leaders and security officials acknowledging that an important cause for the surge of violent extremism in Nigeria, including Boko Haram, is the very brutality by police and the military that authorities have failed to stamp out. Ordinary Nigerians understand what their leaders refuse to admit: that extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings by those who are supposed to protect citizens continues to drive a cycle of violence. The first leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, was executed without trial by security forces. The brutal military crackdown that followed only escalated the violence and helped fuel more than a decade of insurgency .

Nigeria’s leaders should now see the popular demands for accountable and responsible governance—and a real, rather than superficial, overhaul of the security sector—as an opportunity to make meaningful reforms.

An Approach to Reform

Vital steps for an effective response to this crisis include these:

Get serious about police reform. In 2016, the nonprofit International Police Science Association published a global index that rated policing in Nigeria as  the worst in the world. The government must stop offering the equivalent of window dressing, such as the unfulfilled promises to overhaul the SARS unit and the failure of at least three police reform committees under different administrations (in 2006, 2009, and 2012) to produce results. The government last month announced a new initiative , to hire constables to improve police relations with local communities. The likelihood of tangible results is unclear, but it would be a positive step if it can lead toward the building of an inclusive policing structure that considers perspectives of Nigeria’s different ethnic and religious groups, and that begins to restore citizens’ trust.

While officials discuss steps for “reform,” what will be required will be a thorough overhaul. It may require returning to an old debate in Nigeria on the relative policing powers of the federal and state authorities. It would include investigating and prosecuting abusive members of the police and military, and uprooting ingrained patterns of corruption. A fundamental step will be for authorities to redirect the large numbers of police who currently provide personal security services to wealthy elites, assigning those officers to instead address serious crimes.

Tackle broader, systemic challenges of corruption and dysfunction. The violence of Nigerian policing does not exist in a vacuum, but rather is an integral part of wider failings of governance. The determined protests in the streets are testimony to ordinary Nigerians’ outrage over their long experience with a system of corrupt governance that undermines them at every turn with authorities’ self-dealing, graft and dysfunction. Even the security forces are victimized by this pattern of political, economic and social abuse, and fall easily into the wider culture of corruption . The biggest reason is that Nigeria’s political elite has not shown the collective will to take concrete steps that would cost its members their impunity and subject them to accountability.

Stated in another way, these protests are a critical, generational test for Nigeria’s democracy. They are an expression of civic engagement by citizens—a warning to the state about the risks of continuing to use the forms and the promise of democracy while withholding the accountability that true democracy requires. Nigerian writer Chukwudi Ukonne may have captured the significance of the turmoil in writing this week , “These protests might prove to be the political epiphany for a generation of young Nigerians who have never been seen nor heard but have now made it clear that the government will no longer ignore them.”

Turn local reforms into regional leadership. Nigeria understandably expects to lead regional coordination efforts in West Africa. It has sought to do so in the fight against transnational extremist groups such as Boko Haram. Yet regional security initiatives, such as the five-nation Multinational Joint Task Force , have thus far failed to reverse extremism’s spread. A reform program at home that accepts public accountability in governance, including policing, will strengthen Nigeria’s ability to perform—and also its moral authority in offering leadership to its neighbors. Given its size, regional prominence and diversity, Nigeria is a prize target for terrorism in Africa . Those same characteristics can make it a powerful leader in building peace and security on the continent.

The protests broke out just days after Nigeria’s Independence Day on October 1. Sixty years ago, Nigerians frustrated with colonialism demanded change, fought and won their freedom from the British. Today, Nigerians of the young generation are equally frustrated and demanding change , this time from their own government. Given its decision-making power within ECOWAS, Nigeria’s leadership—or the lack of it—in responding to the protests, and tackling its governance and security challenges at home, will set the pace not only for the future of the country, but for other countries of the region.

Related Publications

Stability in West Africa: Working With Nigeria’s State Governments

Stability in West Africa: Working With Nigeria’s State Governments

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

By: Chris Kwaja; Matthew Edds-Reitman

As coups and other setbacks have stymied military-led efforts to stem upheavals in West Africa and the Sahel, a potent new constituency of leaders has just gathered to plan nonviolent strategies to stabilize their own core area of the region: northern Nigeria. In West Africa’s demographic giant, economic crisis is exacerbating intercommunal conflicts, crime and other violence — and Nigeria’s federalism gives vital roles to its states in addressing roots of these problems. Ten recently elected state governors gathered in Washington last month with peacebuilding and development experts, business leaders and senior U.S. officials; they resolved to strengthen and coordinate state-level stabilization strategies — an initiative that international partners should support.

Type: Analysis

Democracy & Governance

The Current Situation in Nigeria

The Current Situation in Nigeria

Monday, April 22, 2024

In 2023, the Network of Nigerian Facilitators (NNF) helped the Kaduna State peacebuilding institutions negotiate, draft and implement a peace agreement between local groups to resolve a long-standing and violent communal conflict. The agreement built on a 2019 peace agreement also supported by the NNF to resolve a cross-border conflict involving many of the same groups in neighboring Plateau State.

Type: Fact Sheet

For Peace in Africa, Boost Regional Blocs — Like West Africa’s ECOWAS

For Peace in Africa, Boost Regional Blocs — Like West Africa’s ECOWAS

Friday, April 19, 2024

By: Joseph Sany, Ph.D.

As the United States and international partners work to stabilize Africa’s Sahel region — and to prevent its warfare, violent extremism and armed coups from metastasizing into Africa’s densely populous and strategic Atlantic coast — the West African multinational bloc, ECOWAS, has proven its value in resolving crises and promoting stability. Yet, as global security threats have evolved, ECOWAS, like other multinational bodies, needs updated capacities to meet new challenges. International democracies’ most effective initiative to support West Africa’s stability would be to partner with West Africans to strengthen their vital regional community. A similar strategy is valid across Africa.

Democracy & Governance ;  Global Policy

To Help Stabilize West Africa, Bolster a Key Partner: Nigeria

To Help Stabilize West Africa, Bolster a Key Partner: Nigeria

Monday, April 15, 2024

By: Rachel Yeboah Boakye; Chris Kwaja; Matthew Edds-Reitman

Continued violence in West Africa is sharpening America’s critical challenge to reduce extremism and violence, particularly in the Sahel. Violent deaths in three western Sahel nations surged by 38% last year and Niger’s coup has complicated the U.S. military role in the region. The violence is likely to spread further this year into coastal West Africa, a region five times more populous, with commensurately greater security implications for Africa, the United States and the world. A vital partner in stabilizing both regions is Nigeria, and U.S. institutions should consider several priorities for helping it do so.

Measuring African perspectives on democracy and governance

  • Full Transcript

Subscribe to Africa in Focus

Joseph asunka and ja joseph asunka ceo - afrobarometer @joeasunka landry signé landry signé senior fellow - global economy and development , africa growth initiative @landrysigne.

May 15, 2024

  • The rise of coups on the continent can’t be explained by a singular factor.  
  • Collaboration amongst the African Union and other regional economic bodies could lead to stronger policy outcomes.
  • The quality of governance and democracy are more important determinants of constituency satisfaction than economic outcomes.
  • 27 min read

Africa experienced a wave of democratic unrest from 2020-23, with seven countries—Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Gabon—falling to military coups during this time. Why? Host Landry Signé and his guest Joseph Asunka. CEO of Afrobarometer , a pan-African survey research network, discuss Africans’ views on democracy and governance, as well as policy recommendations for reversing the recent trends.

Asunka is author of “ Governance trends in Africa: Resilient demand, flagging supply ,” in Foresight Africa 2024.

  • Subscribe and listen to Foresight Africa on  Apple ,  Spotify , Afripods , or wherever  you listen to podcasts.
  • Watch episodes on YouTube .
  • Learn about other Brookings podcasts from the  Brookings Podcast Network .
  • Sign up for the  podcasts newsletter  for occasional updates on featured episodes and new shows.
  • Send feedback email to  [email protected] .

SIGNÉ: Hello, I am Landry Signé, senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program and the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. Welcome to Foresight Africa podcast, where I engage with contributors to our annual Foresight Africa report, as well as with policymakers, industry leaders, and other key figures. You can learn more about this show and our work at Brookings dot edu slash Foresight Africa podcast.

Today on the podcast, I am pleased to welcome Doctor Joseph Asunka. Joseph Asunka is the CEO at Afrobarometer, a nonpartisan survey research network that conducts surveys on democracy, governance, the economy, and society. Prior to joining Afrobarometer, Joseph was a program officer in the Global Development and Population Program at the Hewlett Foundation. He was also a lecturer at UCLA, where he received his Ph.D. in political science.

Welcome to the podcast, Joseph.

ASUNKA: Thank you so much, Landry. It’s good to be with you.

SIGNÉ: Fabulous. What drew you to political science to begin with?

ASUNKA: That’s, it’s a long, winding story of a combination of planned decisions and accidental academic prospecting. So, I started off my studies at the high school level in the hard sciences. I was into physics, chemistry, and mathematics. And then for my undergraduate degree, I studied statistics and computer science. But right after my undergraduate degree, I started being very interested in applied statistics, courses in applied statistics, biostatistics, economics and the like. But a course that immediately came to mind was economics. So, I decided to pursue a degree, a master’s degree in economics.

After that, I joined the Ghana Center for Democratic Development. This is, a research entity, I think tank based in Accra, Ghana. So, I worked with them for two years and I realized, you know, economics is a useful topic. But if you don’t understand how politics works, it can be a futile exercise to have economic fixes to issues when politics comes into play. So, that’s why I got interested in politics and decided to go back to my Ph.D. in political science at UCLA.

SIGNÉ: Can you explain what Afrobarometer does for those who might be unfamiliar with the organization?

ASUNKA: Thanks for asking. So, Afrobarometer is a Pan-African survey research network. What we do is conduct public attitudes survey across the African continent. And we ask questions on several topics, including governance, the economy, society, and living conditions. The Afrobarometer started actually in 1999. So, this year we are 25 years on.

The main purpose of Afrobarometer is to give African citizens a voice in public policy and decision-making. That when governments are making decisions, or policymakers are making decisions about development issues, they take into account what citizens are experiencing, what their priorities are, and what they are feeling or experiencing in the context of governance. And so, the main purpose is to give citizens a voice in that, in those debates.

We started in 12 countries in 1999. These were the 12 countries that were open enough for us to ask the types of questions we asked in terms of openness, in terms of political openness. But we have since grown out to 40 countries on the continent at the moment, and our data now represents about 75% of the opinions of Africa, the population of Africa.

SIGNÉ: Very insightful, Joseph. Where do you see Afrobarometer’s place in policy?

ASUNKA: So, Afrobarometer started off more as an academic project. It was started by three academics, Professors Michael Bratton, Professor Gyimah-Boadi, and Professor Robert Mattes. And these are professors based on the continent, one in Accra, one in Cape Town, South Africa, and one in Zimbabwe. So, it started more as an academic exercise.

But it has since evolved very strongly into policy space. And that is because Afrobarometer’s main purpose is to give African citizens a voice in policymaking. And there is no way to really do that without actually being engaged in public policy advocacy.

So, we do contribute to public policy in two ways. First is from the data. So, we make sure that we get high-quality data and put it in the public domain for free. So, our data is a public good that we give to the public for free so that policymakers, policy actors, development actors, investors, and all who engage on the African continent when they do so, there is data available to inform them about what African citizens are thinking. That is a first in our space of our policy influence—putting data available, making it available out there for different actors to use.

The second area that we contribute to policy is within the institution itself. So, we analyze the data, and we write policy briefs and come up with policy recommendations that we distribute widely around in different actors. So, we share it widely with the media, we share it with government, with policy actors at the country level where we do the surveys, but also at the regional level, as well as the continental level.

And so, that, these are the two ways we contribute to public policy: making sure that they will have good quality data, and that we can analyze and make policy recommendations for actors to take up.

SIGNÉ: Fantastic. Would you mind sharing a few impact stories, when you provided policy recommendations which have been successfully adopted or implemented?

ASUNKA: Right. So, some of the major ones have been especially anti-corruption efforts. I remember when, after one of our surveys were released, it was about the issues about corruption in Sierra Leone, as well as in Ghana and other parts of the continent. But the then-president of Sierra Leone, Bai Koroma, was, you know, a staunch user of Afrobarometer data. And so, he used the Afrobarometer data as a a reason, as a logic behind his development of what they call the “no pay, no bribe campaign.” And that was driven mainly by the fact that Afrobarometer data showed that there was high levels of perceived corruption in the country, and that drove him to come up with that policy.

Same thing happened in Malawi. When we released the results and there was an indication of the police being perceived as the most corrupt entity. What the police actually did was they called us to come and share more data with them. But one day, what they did, cleverly, was to look at the trends over time. So, over time in Malawi, how has the perception of corruption been in Malawi? And when you look at the data, it actually trended downwards, meaning that Malawian police were doing increasingly better, even though they were still the most … the institution perceived to be the most corrupt. So, they saw value in the data.

And so, usually we have different government entities inviting us to share more data with them so to inform their decisions internally.

SIGNÉ: If this could be helpful, Joseph, I have also used Afrobarometer data when testifying before the United States Congress. So, your impact goes beyond the frontier of the continent.

Joseph, Afrobarometer surveys Africans’ view on democracy and governance, among other topics. And your Foresight essay focuses on governance and the rise in coups across the continent. In your view, what has led to the rise?

ASUNKA: Right. It is really hard to point to one cause. And in fact, the drivers of these coups are also different in different countries. So, if you take the case of Guinea, when President Alpha Condé attempted to, you know, manipulate the constitution so that he could run for a third term, this he did almost entirely against what citizens, the Guineans, wanted. Just right before he started to change the constitution, our data did show that almost 8 in 10 Guineans said they want the president to abide by two terms.

And I should say here that the presidential term limit is the most popular democratic norm on the African continent. In all the countries that we have surveyed to date, we always have a majority of citizens in every single country saying that they wanted their president to abide by two-term limits. And so, when Bai Koroma made the attempt to change the Constitution, this was against the wishes of its own people.

And that would have motivated general public discontent by the fact that he was doing this. And we were not surprised to see people on the streets celebrating because it is a fundamental principle, a fundamental norm that Africans strongly supports. So, in the case of Guinea it was more going against the popular sentiment of wanting presidential term limits.

In other cases, it was probably a combination of economic issues as well as perceptions of corruption, growing corruption, especially in the presidency, and the anxieties about crime and insecurity. And, you know, when you look across the continent, especially in the 2010s, you know, the period of the Africa rising narrative, our data did show that poverty was actually declining between 2009 and 2012, 2015. There was a decline in the rates of poverty in our data. But since then, poverty has continued to grow. And then the latest round of the survey that we conducted in 2021 through 2023, we recorded the highest level of incidence of poverty. So, poverty may have been one of the underlying causes in terms of people’s dissatisfaction with the way our governments were actually working.

And unfortunately, the military juntas actually took advantage of this. They would cite the issues of poverty. They’d cite the issues of, you know, insecurity, especially violent extremism, as a reason why they are intervening in politics. And these were the sentiments that citizens had been expressing: poverty increasing, the perceived corruption in their governments, as well as this anxiety about violent extremist groups, which made the military seem like the only institution that could salvage them. And that may have been the reason we saw the rise in these coups.

SIGNÉ: So, I like how you connect the various causes that you provide as to coups and the Afrobarometer survey results. Are there additional examples of survey results that you want to share, which could further explain the rise of coups?

ASUNKA: Right. So, I think those are the keys. And by if when we look at our data, so I’ll say two things, you know. One, in terms of the issues that we have found to drive people to be very dissatisfied with the way democracy works. And it comes as a result of one, as I said, you know, when there’s perceived the rising levels of corruption in governments, elected governments in particular, especially, how they call it, perhaps perception of corruption in the presidency itself. That’s one critical factor.

The second factor being the level of trust in the military. At the moment, the military in Africa is the most trusted democratic institution. Consistently it has been. So, if you take parliament, the presidency, the judiciary, and with the military, the military is on top of all of them, like, the most trusted institution on the continent. And so, here’s the case, you have an institution that is very well trusted by citizens. And I think that trust is driven by the fact that citizens see the military as a disciplined institution. And they are somehow looking for an entity with a level of discipline that can be brought into the governance system, which is probably one of the drivers.

And of course, if you now take that combined with the fact that there’s the rise in perceptions of corruption in the elected government, and there is this sentiment of insecurity, or people are afraid of violent extremism, then the military it sounds very attractive. But let me put a caveat here that even though there’s that attraction for military intervention, Africans still do not want military rule. They may see the intervention as a useful mechanism for getting rid of their corrupt leaders, but they don’t want the military to stay in power longer than they are welcome.

SIGNÉ: Very insightful. Your essay describes the role of the African Union and other regional economic communities in preventing unconstitutional changes of government on the continent. However, you note that many of these organization governance tools aren’t successfully used, or they are not simply successful because member states don’t comply. How do we reform the African Union and other regional economic communities so their tools are more effective at both deterring noncompliance or enforcing these mechanisms if noncompliance occurs?

ASUNKA: Right. So, the African Union certainly, and the regional economic communities, many have gone through several reforms and there’s a plethora of well written political, economic, and social governance protocols, which if implemented well, will transform the African continent. And these documents, you can read all the protocols about whether it is via the African Peer Review Mechanism, the African Governance Architecture, and the instruments that set all of these institutions up are really well crafted and their mandates are very clear.

I think it’s one, of course, the commitment of elected leaders on the continent to seeing through the implementation of these programs. But it does seem like we’ve gotten to a point where reform is probably no longer the logic, or the driver, but that we have the tools available to actually effectively implement or at least drive this continent forward.

That said, I think there’s one particular reform that hopefully our policy actors will listen. That is the way the African Union operates. This issue of the principle of subsidiarity, where it feels like the African Union sees itself as a hierarchical organization where the African Union and the regional economic bodies operate as a hierarchy, that the African Union is on top of the regional economic bodies. And in that case the principle of subsidiarity, requiring that the Union cede decision-making powers to the regional economic bodies on issues, especially when it comes to conflict or unconstitutional change of government.

I think that principle makes the African Union weak. Weak in the sense that instead of working collaboratively with the regional economic bodies, the Union rather sees the primacy of the regional economic bodies in decision making in the region.

I think, as many other advocates have called for, a better arrangement will be for the African Union do away with the principle of subsidiarity and operate as a collaboration, that the African Union works in collaboration with the regional economic bodies whenever they are trying to address issues. I think that collaboration would help to build more momentum and actually provide some kind of solidarity behind the issues that we are trying to address, instead of standing on the side and expecting the regional economic bodies to be the ones taking the lead. If that rule alone can be reformed, we may see some changes.

SIGNÉ: How should they collaborate?

ASUNKA: Let’s just give an example. If there is a military intervention in the country X. Right. Rather than say the regional economic body—so, for example, rather than say ECOWAS should be making the decisions about Niger, it should be the continental body together with ECOWAS working together to get things done. So, the African Union shouldn’t sit, and the rest of the region shouldn’t sit aloof and wait for ECOWAS to deal with the situation. Because sometimes, even within their region, the countries are not as cohesive as you would imagine. They’ve got, sometimes some of the countries may not even be in agreement as to how to resolve the issue. But having the regional body as the other continental bodies are playing a role alongside ECOWAS can bring a lot more, you know, impact.

Sometimes it may even be useful for ECOWAS to intervene in the East Africa community than some of the countries in the East Africa community intervening in a situation in East Africa, because they have the distance, and they can actually sometimes intervene more impartially. So, I think that kind of collaboration with the continental bodies will make more sense than this principle of subsidiarity.

SIGNÉ: Wonderful illustrations. Joseph, why do you think support for democracy is waning in some countries with histories of democratic governments, such as South Africa or Botswana?

ASUNKA: Yeah, it’s interesting that you ask this question, and this is a critical question for us as well. So, much of the decline in support for democracy on the continent is driven by the poor delivery of democratic or political governance. Our analysis does show that three critical factors. First of all, the perceived rising levels of corruption in the presidency as well as in local government. So, when there’s perceptions of increasing corruption in the presidency and local government. When there is weak rule of law, perceived weak rule of law, that especially parliament and the president do not respect the decisions of the courts. And when elections are not seen to not be free and fair are of the highest quality. These three key factors are the ones that drive support for democracy down on the continent.

What I must say here is that Africans’ support for democracy is actually not affected by economic factors. Sometimes I say this, and people wonder why. So, the commitment to democracy is driven by how people see the delivery of their democratic goods, and the democratic goods being clean elections, effective rule of law, and clean government. That is, no corruption. When there is corruption, the rule of law is seen to not be effective and elections are not free and fair. That’s when you see people begin to, now they … the support for democracy begins to drop.

If you analyze the data using an economic factor—poverty, lack of economic performance on the parts of government—these economic indicators do not affect people’s commitment to democracy and democratic norms and institutions. The things that affect democracy’s support on the continent, as I said, is the political governance outcomes, not the economic outcomes.

SIGNÉ: This is very interesting, Joseph. So, you are saying that the quality of governance and the quality of democracy will be more important in determining whether citizens will be supporting democracy or not. But now, what about economic performance? What makes citizens satisfied about economic performance or not? And what will be their reaction to democratic governance?

ASUNKA: Right. So, the economic factors impact people’s satisfaction with the way democracy works. So, first of all, do you support democracy is asked as one question. The second part is, are you satisfied with the way democracy works? And so, people’s support for democracy, as I said, is not related to economic factors. But their satisfaction with the way democracy works is driven largely by economic factors as well as the political factor. So, the economic factors will dampen people’s satisfaction with democracy. But their support for democracy is only dampened by the quality of democratic governance.

SIGNÉ: And what are the consequences of a low satisfaction for democracy?

ASUNKA: Right. So, the consequences for low satisfaction with democracy. When people are not satisfied with the way democracy works, that’s where the risks of, you know, unconstitutional change of government, especially military coups, can happen. Because people, in terms of their economic livelihoods. Now even the Africans who want a democracy, when their economic needs are not met, then they feel disappointed in the performance of their governments. The leaders’ failure then dampens economic opportunities. In that sense, it creates an environment where there’s anxiety, agitation, and sometimes a public discontent with elected leaders. And that public discontent can then lead into the military, for example, taking advantage of that opportunity to step in.

It can also create an opening for violent extremist groups to mobilize citizens in support of their causes, where they can get into a community, violent extremist groups can live in a community, provide some of the economic benefits that governments are not providing. Maybe they’re providing them with water, they’re providing them with their basic their basic needs, and then they begin to infiltrate in a way that, you know, it can continue to perpetuate violent extremism in these countries, so.

Their dissatisfaction with democracy driven by the economic factors can make governments a lot more vulnerable both to the military, but also violent extremist groups and other groups that want to cause harm.

SIGNÉ: Joseph, how do you reconcile some of the contradictory findings in this year’s survey? For example, youth are more willing to tolerate military interventions and are less trustful of military institutions than the older cohorts.

ASUNKA: Right, So, I wouldn’t characterize it as a contradiction, per se. Yes, it is true, young people are relatively more willing to tolerate military intervention, and the word here that I underline here is intervention and not military rule. So, they are more likely to tolerate military intervention. But there is a condition there: only if their elected leaders abuse power. And so, the extent to which they dislike having their elected leaders abuse power is the driving force behind this interest in wanting the military to intervene. And so, they are willing to get rid of a government that is abusing power. And that is because of their own commitment to democracy and democratic governance.

And as I said, they are not supporting military rule. So, they don’t trust the military to stay in power and rule for forever. Their expectation is an intervention, and there will be a timeline to transition back to civilian rule.

So, the results may not be as contradictory because these young folks are eager to see a change. At some time, they see the military as one vehicle for that change to come, for them to reset and then hopefully get back to civilian rule.

SIGNÉ: We have talked a lot about the rise of coups and reversal of democratic governments. What can be done to reverse the trends we are seeing and promote democratic governance on the continent, Joseph?

ASUNKA: Maybe I would describe the recent coups more as opportunistic episodes and not a trend. And I say not a trend because I do not expect that we will see another coup in the region anytime soon. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that. But at least this is driven by the data that I have, and I at least I can foresee what I I hope would be the case.

The good news is that Africans want democracy, and they have consistently expressed this desire to live under governments that are democratic and accountable. The military is certainly not that option. So, it is therefore important for democracy stakeholders, both domestic and international, to invest time and resources to engage the military rulers now in negotiating a firm timeline to return to civilian rule.

Of course, the African Union and the regional economic bodies all play a big role here. But I hope that, as I mentioned earlier on, that we will do away with this self-defeating principle of subsidiarity, and rather work collaboratively. I think if the African Union, the regional economic bodies, worked collaboratively to engage with the military rulers at the moment to plan a clear transition back to civilian rule, that would be much more effective, as opposed to saying ECOWAS should take care of Niger and somebody else takes care of …, it just doesn’t. I don’t think it works well for us.

So, we need African leadership in these negotiations. It shouldn’t be any foreign intervention, or actor. The African leadership, African Union, the regional economic bodies and our elected leaders in the other countries should be the ones driving this effort forward.

SIGNÉ: I like your enthusiasm and your specific recommendations, Joseph. What governments are doing a particularly good job at listening to and paying attention to their constituencies?

ASUNKA: Right. So, I’d say if you look at the data that we currently have, especially of the survey done in 2021 to 2023, the most enthusiastic citizens have been Zambians and Tanzanians. The governments of Zambia and government of Tanzania are the ones that enjoy the highest performance ratings in terms of democratic governance and economic performance from their citizens. And so, in my view, I mean, these are the countries, at least per the data, these are the countries where we have seen some positive signals.

And I would probably attribute Zambia’s case to their most recent elections, where young people and civil society groups played a very powerful role in bringing to power the opposition that is in power. And that does seem like it has created a sense of enthusiasm and euphoria around the fact that citizens can change their government if they make a determination.

Of course, we just started the next round of the surveys now, and I’m sure we are going to get a similar picture from Senegal after we have are done with those surveys. Because that euphoria of citizens feeling that they can change their leaders through elections is critical to these kinds of … the way citizens appraise their governments on these issues.

SIGNÉ: Fantastic. You mentioned Senegal. Would you mind elaborating more on that case?

ASUNKA: So, Senegal’s case is a combination of the role of the judiciary, and I and I and I can’t emphasize enough how important the judiciary is when it comes to democratic governance, and the need for democracy stakeholders and citizens, as well as civil society groups, to work in ensuring that the judiciary can enjoy a high level of independence in their actions and decisions.

So, the judiciary in Senegal, similarly as it happens in Malawi as well as in Kenya, where the judiciary steps in in an election dispute and makes sure that the president at that time in Senegal, Macky Sall, did not have the opportunity to postpone the elections. This was because of the role of the judiciary, right, in making sure that the decision of the president does not contravene the constitution, which paved the way for Senegalese to be able to express themselves in terms of who they want to be their leader and leading to the opposition coming into power.

Which, as I said, clean elections are one of the critical things that most African citizens want. And when elections are seen to be free, fair, and that citizens can make a change through elections, they can do that. So, I would advocate here for building an electoral system that gives people the confidence that they can change their leaders. And I hope that will also invest in protecting the independence of the judiciary to sustain our democracies.

SIGNÉ: Joseph, how can other governments learn from these countries which have been successful?

ASUNKA: Right. So, maybe I would rather think of it in terms of how citizens and civil society advocates can learn from these countries, because for government sometimes politics and the incentives around elected leaders can undermine, or it at least can undermine their interest in learning about successful countries. But I think the critical thing here will be how can citizens and other democracy actors here on the continent learn from these successful cases.

And I think the learning can come from just what I mentioned, one, making sure that we can find ways to protect the judiciary as an institution of democracy. Secondly, ensuring that our elections are clean. And one thing that I’ve always pushed here for has been, increasingly there’s an integration of technology in elections, to make sure that elections are clean so that technology can play a role, that if we are bringing technology into elections, we want to make sure that that technology is trusted.

And here, again, I believe that the African Union and the regional economic bodies can play a role in the sense that, you know, when you are thinking about how to regulate the use of technology and the kinds of technology you use, if we have a centralized pool of resources that you can imagine having an African-generated technology, election management technology, that sits on the continent. So, that election results do not have to go and sit in a server that is in the United States, or a server that sits in in Europe. But that there is a system on the continent where both the election management software and the hardware can be located on the continent and used for managing elections, so it can provide more credibility and trust among citizens.

SIGNÉ: Is there anything Afrobarometer survey failed to capture this year, and that you are hoping to get more insight into in upcoming surveys rounds?

ASUNKA: Right. So, as for the upcoming survey round, we have actually a very new topic that we have never covered. And this is on sexual reproductive health and rights. So, we want to get our citizens’ attitudes towards safe abortion and access to contraceptives and the like. And I think this module we developed for this time around, which is the first time we are going to cover that topic, was also partly motivated by what happened in the U.S. in terms of Roe v. Wade, because we want to see if it has any ripple effects, but also to just get a general sentiment and cross-country variation in terms of attitudes for sexual and reproductive health and rights. So, that’s a very new topic we are covering in round ten.

But in addition to that, we are going to cover other topics that we had taken a break from. Usually, Afrobarometer sometimes we cover certain topics, but because opinions and attitudes don’t change that frequently, like opinions on certain topics don’t change year to year. So, what we would normally do is give it a break and then we come back to it. So, the topics that we are going to revisit this time around, the surveys which we just launched in January, will be migration, and the attitudes towards refugees and migrants across the continent. And that is in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area, to see what people’s attitudes are in terms of the cross-border trading, but also migration and labor movement on the continent.

The second piece is access to justice, which has been a topic we covered in about two rounds ago. We are revisiting it now to get people’s sentiment on their access to, to justice.

And the final one that we’ll be covering this time will be Africa’s voice in the global context. So, the African Union, now part of the G20 and other, you know, global bodies, their citizens’ views about the role and voice of Africa on this global in this global context. These are some of the topics I will be covering in round ten. And hopefully by the middle of this year, you will start to see new results come out from the different countries.

SIGNÉ: These are all fascinating topics. And I’m enthusiastically looking forward to reading your next findings.

Joseph, thank you so much for joining us today.

ASUNKA: It has been a pleasure to be with you. Thank you so much. And then I really enjoy Africa Foresight , I read all the articles in it. It’s entertaining and also informative in many, many ways. So, thank you for doing this.

SIGNÉ: I am Landry Signé, and this has been Foresight Africa . To learn more about this show and our report, visit Brookings dot edu slash Foresight Africa podcast. 

The Foresight Africa podcast is brought to you by the Brookings Podcast Network. Send your feedback and questions to podcasts at Brookings dot edu.

My special thanks to the production team, including Kuwilileni Hauwanga, supervising producer; Fred Dews, producer; Nicole Ntungire and Alexandria Cordero, associate producers; and Colin Cruickshank, audio engineer. 

This show’s art was designed by Shavanthi Mendis. Additional support for this podcast comes from my colleagues in Brookings Global and the Office of Communications at Brookings.

Emerging Markets & Developing Economies

West Africa Sub-Saharan Africa South Africa

Global Economy and Development

Africa South Africa Sub-Saharan Africa West Africa

Africa Growth Initiative

Online Only

10:00 am - 11:00 am EDT

Shibley Telhami

May 16, 2024

Mark Schoeman


  1. Essay on Democracy in Nigeria

    essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

  2. Democracy in Nigeria: Democratic Structure, Executive-Legislative

    essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

  3. Democracy in nigerian by Alaji Friday

    essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

  4. (PDF) Promoting Transparency & Accountability for Sustainable Democracy

    essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

  5. Democracy in Nigeria: Democratic Structure, Executive-Legislative

    essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria

  6. (PDF) Youths and Sustaining Democracy in Nigeria: Issues, Challenges

    essay on how to improve democracy in nigeria


  1. The Failure of Governance in Nigeria: An Epistocratic Challenge

    But Nigeria will only have effective governance when the right people are saddled with the responsibility to govern. However, change cannot be spontaneous. The implementation of an epistocratic system of governance within the Nigerian context must be incremental, bearing in mind that Nigeria's democracy is still evolving. . . .

  2. Democracy in Nigeria

    206m. people is the population of Nigeria in 2020, according to the World Bank. The more religiously-diverse Yoruba people are the largest group concentrated in the south-west where identity is more influenced by regional culture and values. Nigeria's democracy also has a long and troubled relationship with its military.

  3. Failed state? Why Nigeria's fragile democracy is facing an uncertain

    "Nigeria has long teetered on the precipice of failure," they argued. "Unable to keep its citizens safe and secure, Nigeria has become a fully failed state of critical geopolitical concern.

  4. The Pursuit of Democracy: The Importance of Nigeria's Elections

    However, the international community cannot afford to overlook elections—and importantly, democracy—across Africa this year. Case in point, Nigeria: Africa's most populous country and one of the world's largest democracies. On February 25, Nigeria held its presidential election. Millions of Nigerians went to the polls for the ...

  5. After Nigeria's Elections: Nurturing the Seeds of Better Democracy

    Nigeria's latest elections heighten the country's need for a reset of its democracy. Nigeria's two dominant parties abandoned an informal pact that has rotated power between north and south, papering over the deeper, wider problem of ensuring real political inclusion among Nigeria's disparate regions and communities. The recent national and state-level votes failed to deliver anguished ...

  6. 20 years of democracy: Has Nigeria changed for the better?

    Nigeria's GDP has grown six-fold since 1999, according to World Bank data. In 1999, despite its vast oil wealth, Nigeria's GDP was a mere $59bn. That figure skyrocketed to $375bn by the end of ...

  7. Essay About Democracy in Nigeria: Guide, Tips & Examples

    Leadership is a key factor in the development of Nigerian democracy and society in general. Strong leader who will govern the country should be the center of social, economic and political life of Nigeria. If one compares democracy in Nigeria with a ship, the country leader is the captain. Captain's determination, commitment and skills bring ...

  8. PDF Electoral Reforms and Democratic Stability in Nigeria: a Critical

    The paper interrogates the prospects of attaining democratic stability in Nigeria, via the instrumentality of electoral reforms, taking the Electoral Act 2022 into perspective. Electoral reforms have been generally observed to hold mixed (positive and negative) outcomes on the electoral process and democracy at large. Nonetheless, the case of

  9. Democracy Under Strain: Seeking Solutions for Nigeria

    In Nigeria's 60 years of self-rule, her democratic journey has been chequered. From the First Republic government which took the reins from the colonial administration to the present Fourth Republic, Nigeria's attempts at democratic rule have been interrupted by a cumulative 29 years of military interregnum. The country is currently enjoying her longest unbroken spell of democratic rule since ...

  10. Democracy in Nigeria: Practice, Problems and Prospects

    According to a recent World Bank report, about 100 million Nigerians live in destitution. This implies that 8.3% of the world's 1.2 billion destitutes are Nigerians.58In a newspaper article entitled 'The Story of Cain, Abel and Nigeria' Ademola Adelakun captures the practise of Nigerian democracy thus.


    Nigeria and the world over, everybody and every nation clamor for democracy now. A development informed by the curiosity for greater freedom and right to liberty which everyone yearns for through ...

  12. PDF Performance and Legitimacy in Nigeria's New Democracy

    Nigeria's New Democracy Nigeria's 1999 transition to civilian government culminated a long, turbulent period of military rule and failed democratic experiments. At the time of the political handover, many Nigerians expressed hopes for a "democracy dividend" that would expand political liberties, improve the performance of government ...

  13. State and Democratization in Nigeria: Democracy and Security: Vol 11

    The articles interrogates the relationship between democratization and people power in Nigeria. It argues that the broadening of the Nigerian public sphere has not led to reciprocal development of democratic principles and practice. As civilian rule reigns and economic growth is reported, Nigeria's democratization is fraught with many challenges.

  14. (PDF) Democracy in Nigeria: An Overview

    39 Vol 4 Issue 1 January, 2016. THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF. HUMANITIES & SOCIA L STUDIES. Democracy in Nigeria: An Overview. 1. Introduction. A l ot of attention has been given to democrac y the ...

  15. Thoughts and perspectives on democratic practices in Nigeria

    Challenges. The ruling party in Nigeria is not doing anything different from the past government. For years we have been yearning for internal democracy, but we are still very far from it. The central government and its 36 states have abandoned their manifestos. Promises are not kept.

  16. PDF Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria-Challenges and Prospects

    The objective of good governance is to transform the social, economic and political life of the people within parliamentary democracy. The basic tenets of good governance are rule of law, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, inclusiveness and equity. Ogundiya (2010) observes that good governance "means accountability in all its ...

  17. How Nigeria has got better at running elections that are freer and fairer

    But even with that relative success, post-election violence erupted across 12 states in the west and north east of Nigeria. 800 people died and over 65,000 were displaced. In a bid to conduct a ...

  18. Challenges and Solutions of Democracy in Nigeria

    The following are some of the solution: I. Strengthening Institutions: To overcome these democratic challenges, Nigeria needs to strengthen its institutions, such as the judiciary, the electoral commission, and the anti-corruption agencies. Strong institutions will ensure the rule of law, protect the rights of citizens, promote transparency and ...

  19. Democracy and Sustainable Development in Nigeria: Challenges and

    The paper reveals that Nigeria"s brand of democracy-capitalist democracy, rather than been a blessing is a curse to reducing poverty reduction and improving human development.

  20. Nigerian State and the Crisis of Governance: A Critical Exposition

    The "petroleum-rich" Nigerian state, confronted by sociopolitical instability, high degree of corruption, mass hostility to the "public," and poor macroeconomic management, continue to display the attributes of a state in crisis (Akinola, 2008).Successive governments in Nigeria, like in many African states, lack the political will to initiate or sustain policy or structural ...

  21. [PDF] Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria: Challenges and

    After 55 years of political independence, Nigeria continues to grapple with the challenges of democratic transformation and good governance. All efforts by successive civilian governments to entrench true democracy and good governance in the country seem to have met brick walls in which for every gained step: two are lost. The generality of Nigerians had expected that the return of democratic ...

  22. What Can Improve Democracy?

    One other way to think about what people believe will help improve their democracy is to focus on three themes: basic needs that can be addressed, improvements to the system and complete overhauls of the system. We explore these themes in our interactive data essay and quote sorter: "How People in 24 Countries Think Democracy Can Improve."

  23. PDF Nigeria's Democracy in the Fourth Republic

    institutions. Overall, Nigeria's democracy in the Fourth Republic has been characterised by both progress and challenges. Nigeria's democracy in the Fourth Republic has witnessed progress in ... democracy and improve the well-being of Nigerians. Nigeria has held several general elections during the Fourth Republic, including presidential,

  24. Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance

    There are roadblocks to a strong democracy in Nigeria at all levels of government. Conflict—triggered by political competition and communal, ethnic, religious or resource allocation rivalries—poses a major threat to democracy. Corruption pervades the daily lives of Nigerians. Many government institutions do not adequately engage with citizens or the private sector and lack the capacity to ...

  25. Protests Test Nigeria's Democracy and its Leadership in Africa

    Nigeria's protests against police brutality already were the largest in the country's history before security forces opened fire on a crowd in Lagos on October 20. The protest and bloodshed have only heightened the need for the government in Africa's most populous country to end the pattern of violence by security forces against civilians. Leaders must finally acknowledge that this ...

  26. Measuring African perspectives on democracy and governance

    The quality of governance and democracy are more important determinants of constituency satisfaction than economic outcomes. A Senegalese holds a sign that reads "No to constitutional coup d'etat ...

  27. PDF Democracy and Development in Nigeria Issues and Challenges

    According to Ununu (2005) democracy is essentially a method of organizing the society politically. He suggested five basic elements without which no community can call itself truly democratic. These elements are equality, sovereignty of the people, respect for human life, the rule of law and liberty of the individual.