According to data provided by the World Bank, Nigeria’s economy has seen a significant boom with a six-fold growth in GDP during this time. But despite the country’s sustained period of civil rule, Nigeria’s relationship with democracy remains underdeveloped and is hampered by tactless politics and failed institutions.

The economic and leadership challenges that plagued Nigeria in 1999, and lead to increased poverty across the country, are still with us twenty years later. Although primary education is officially free and compulsory, the state of the education system has only worsened and more children than ever are not attending school. According to the Transparency International Corruption Index, Nigeria has also managed to become less transparent even though President Buhari purportedly tackled corruption during his first term. Will Nigerians ever reach the promised land?

Lackluster politics and weak electoral process

Since President Obasanjo came to power in 1999, Nigerian elections have been characterized by violence, intimidation, disenfranchisement, vote-buying and ethnoreligious tension. In 2011 alone, about 800 people were killed in election-related violence. 

For reference, 100 people were killed in the 2003 elections and 300 people were killed in the 2007 elections. It’s almost as though elections cannot be successfully conducted in Nigeria without violence

Furthermore, the two leading political parties, All Progressive Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, have successfully sown seeds of distrust in the minds of the citizenry over the past 20 years. Their overly selfish agenda and an insatiable thirst for power have led them to destroy property and steal ballot boxes in various parts of the country, all while the police looked on and did nothing.

On the other end of the spectrum, some politicians took to buying votes, offering as much as 10,000 Naira ($27) to attract support. As a result, citizens believe that their votes don’t truly count, and many see no reason to exercise their right to vote at all.

Then, there are institutional failures. Cancelling the presidential and assembly elections last February should be a national disgrace. There was no serious breach of peace, no natural disaster or any other emergency -- the only grounds permitted for postponement under the electoral law. Yet, the Independent National Electoral Commission decided to postpone the elections, which had taken four years to prepare, based on “logistical problems.”

Postponing the election came at a huge economic cost, with some analysts pegging the losses at about $9 billion once foreign investments are included. But most importantly, postponing the general elections further exposed the gross incompetence of Nigeria’s democratic institutions and the lack of leadership in its politicians.

Nigerian economy mostly rely on earnings from oil.
Nigerian economy mostly rely on earnings from oil.

Nigeria’s Naira economy crashed by 1450 percent in 20 years!

In addition to institutional failure, the Nigerian economy has had massive problems. From N21.89 per dollar at the end of 1999, the naira depreciated by 1,450 percent to N306.59 per dollar in the official forex market. The underlying reason for such a massive devaluation is Nigeria’s overdependence on crude oil as a major foreign exchange earner and the country’s poor attempt at economic diversification almost in every regime since 1999.

Despite President Muhammadu Buhari's promises to diversify the economy, the Nigerian economy is still almost completely oil-dependent, raising concerns about a potential return to recession in light of the recent fall in global oil prices.

Nigeria is unlikely to halt its over-reliance on oil soon because the president neither has the right answers, nor the right people to do so. Little wonder Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world.

Which way forward?

Nigeria’s democracy is hanging by a thread. Although it remains uninterrupted, if the current challenges persist, then there may be nothing more to boast of in a few years. So to fix this, Nigerians need to demand a few changes. 

First, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) needs to restructure its leadership. The president of Nigeria should not be appointing the person that oversees the president’s next election. By creating a system where the chairman of the election commission is appointed by an independent body, fewer Nigerians will believe that their votes don’t count, and the idea that elections are staged will be shattered.


Second, the electoral commission needs to restock its commission with competent people to truly deliver credible elections. The commission seems to have been infiltrated by foot soldiers of politicians and will need to be carefully sanitised.

Finally, the spending limits for electoral campaigns as stated in the 2010 electoral act as amended needs to be monitored. This will go a long way to curb incidences of vote-buying during elections. 

Buhari’s first administration left many open questions, and it’s difficult to imagine that his second term will answer them. But now more than ever, Nigeria needs a leader that can give direction and offer solutions to the country’s recurring challenges. Twenty years of politicking has only landed Nigeria in a big mess, and there is very little to celebrate. Nigerians deserve better.

The opinion is contributed by Abdulsamod Balogun. He is a Young Voices Agora Fellow and a Writing Fellow at African Liberty. He writes about African political economy, economic freedom, and technology.