What Nigerians think of their democracy ahead of elections

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. (Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP)
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. (Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP)
  • 70% of Nigerians believe democracy is the best way to choose leaders.
  • 63% say that Nigeria is a democracy with major problems.
  • Most citizens believe elections don't work well to ensure voters' views are reflected.

Most Nigerians agree that elections are the best way to choose political leaders, but ineffective in punishing failure, a new Afrobarometer study shows as the country heads for polls at the end of February. 

This year's elections in Africa's largest democracy are the seventh since 1999 when the People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Olusegun Obasanjo returned to power as a civilian president.

Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, the outgoing president, both served as military and later civilian presidents when Nigeria oscillated between coups and democracy.

This year's presidential election is tipped as the tightest race in history between three main candidates, Labour Party's Peter Obi, a two-time governor of Anambra state; two-time Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu from the ruling All Progressives Congress; and Atiku Abubakar from the People's Democratic Party.

Abubakar was vice president of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007.

But all in all, there will be 18 presidential candidates on the ballot paper, a show of political pluralism. 

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According to Afrobarometer, "seven in 10 Nigerians (70%) say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government".

Since independence in 1963, military coups resulted in the removal of five heads of state: Nnamdi Azikiwe, Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Buhari and Ernest Shonekan.

Two presidents Aguiyi-Ironsi and Murtala Muhammad were assassinated during coups, while the other two, Sani Abacha and Umaru Musa Yar'Adua passed away from natural causes while in office. 

Obasanjo and Abdulsalami Abubakar resigned following the country's democratic transitions in 1979 and 1999, while Ibrahim Babangida was compelled to retire after he invalidated the presidential election of June 1993, which the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate Moshood Kashimawo Olawale "MKO" Abiola won. Babangida annulled the result causing a crisis that led to Abacha seizing power.

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With such a history, 63% of those interviewed by Afrobarometer said theirs was "a democracy with major problems".

Ahead of the elections, violence, and mistrust in the electoral commission are two major issues that could affect the result's credibility.

Between the most recent election in 2019 to the end of 2022, at least 50 attacks by armed groups on the electoral commission's employees and infrastructure were documented.

There are also fears that the election might not even happen in some parts of the country because of the security situation.

According to Afrobarometer, "more than three-fourths (77%) of Nigerians say they are not satisfied with the way democracy works in the country. Dissatisfaction has increased by 20 percentage points since 2017".

But there's no better alternative to choosing leaders, they said.

The report said:

More than seven in 10 Nigerians (71%) support elections as the best way to choose leaders. But 27% say that since elections sometimes produce bad results, the country should adopt other methods for choosing the country's leaders.

"Most citizens believe that elections don't work well to ensure voters' views are reflected (70%) and don't enable voters to remove leaders who don't do what the people want."

The elections are slated for 25 February to choose a president, vice-president, and members of the senate and house of representatives.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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