Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa – one out of four Africans is a Nigerian – has been devastated by serious political and economic contradictions. In national and international affairs, the conventional wisdom in analyzing Nigerian politics is to see Nigeria as made up of over 300 tribes hostile to one another. Still others see Nigerians as Muslims and Christians at odds with each other’s religious philosophy. Others view Nigerians as been enmeshed in regional politics – Northerners vs. Southerners, or Easterners vs. Westerners. But a history of Nigerian struggle for independence from the British rule from 1861-1960 will reveal that conventional wisdom in analyzing Nigerian politics is very misleading.
The recent general election (March 2015) has further strengthened the above position, as it heralds a new dawn for democracy in the country’s history. This was reflected in the way and manner the people conducted themselves during the election, and the consciousness and spirit of national patriotism displayed in the pattern and manner of voting. An election which was hitherto professed to pitch the nation into pandemonium and worse disintegration turned out peaceful, well-organized, and widely acknowledged by both local and international observers as credible.
Nigeria’s democratic journey in contemporary times began with the tacit acceptance by the military hierarchy of the need to demilitarize the nation’s political space. This gained actual fruition on May 29, 1999. For over sixteen years of democratic experimentation, the nation has conducted and witnessed five general elections, which took place in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, and now 2015. All of the four previous elections had their outcomes vehemently contested in courts of law and election tribunals, and heavily repudiated in the domain of the general public. This was the case because these elections were alleged to have been marred by irregularities. These irregularities, in turn, left the electorate and the entire populace dispirited and utterly disenfranchised while at the same time draining a mass of qualified voters into cesspits of mortal political apathy.
The nation had to get this election right for many apparent reasons: Nigeria’s position as the ‘giant of Africa’ is a position highly revered by its citizens and government; it therefore must lead other African countries by setting certain standards unprecedented on the continent. This had to be shown in the country’s ability to deepen democratic values, which can only be professed in the ability to conduct credible, free and fair elections. The protection of human rights and the guarantee of freedom of speech are all tenants of democratic culture which the country must make manifest, and all these were safeguarded in the course of the this election.
This, indeed, is good news for Nigeria’s nascent democracy. However, the challenge now – and indeed in the near future – for the President-elect and the APC will be to convince the people – both supporters and non-supporters alike – that the new era of its administration will offer greater opportunity than the preceding years: for regional and national coordination and integration; the improvement of economic and social conditions; the acceptance of the principle of accountability by ruling elites and the elimination of corruption in high places.
In the end, Nigeria and Nigerians must be applauded and congratulated for the peaceful conduct of the elections so far; the sense of maturity and enthusiasm displayed is unparalleled. Although far from where it’s expected to be economically and otherwise, urgent reforms are drastically needed to put the country on a straight path. Hence, for any country to achieve genuine democracy and improve the living standards of its citizens, the safeguarding of democracy and good governance must be sacrosanct.
Levent Demiroglu, Ph.D. is the head of Political Science and International Relations department and the Coordinator of International Relations Office at Nigerian Turkish Nile University, Abuja, Nigeria.