Author: Bertelsmann Stiftung
Site of publication: www.bti-project.org
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: 2022
The evaluation period coincides with a modest economic recovery in 2019 and a serious recession triggered by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. By mid-January 2021, the pandemic had cost the lives of more than 1,300 people, while close to 100,000 were infected with the virus. There is broad consensus that the reliability of data is fairly low and that the real number might be several times higher. Apart from the pandemic, the ongoing and unabated Islamist insurgency in the northeast, increased sectarian crises and organized crime in central Nigeria and the northwest, ongoing piracy along the coast, well-organized kidnappings and killings in many parts of the country and violence in the Niger Delta constituted other major challenges. Despite all these challenges Nigeria managed to hold presidential, gubernatorial and parliamentary elections in February 2019, which were marked by widespread irregularities.
The presidential election was in particular seriously flawed, paving the way for a second term for the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari. Under these circumstances, his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), won majorities in both houses of the National Assembly and most gubernatorial elections. The poor performance of President Buhari’s first term continued and even worsened because of the pandemic and his inability to professionalize the military in its campaign against the Islamist insurgency.
The increase in violence and crime indicates that endemic corruption has reached new heights, and the militarization of state and society is increasing. The political system still faces fundamental problems regarding state coherence, institutional efficiency of the political and administrative system, internal security, patterns of democratic representation and attitudes, enforcement of the rule of law and economic reform
The military suffered repeated setbacks and faced new challenges in central Nigeria and in the northwest, where several thousand people lost their lives, killed by organized criminal gangs that specialized in cattle rustling, looting villages and kidnapping ordinary people and students for ransom. In addition, the only halfheartedly pursued anti-corruption campaign did not yield any significant results. The increase in violence and crime indicates that endemic corruption has reached new heights, and the militarization of state and society is increasing. The political system still faces fundamental problems regarding state coherence, institutional efficiency of the political and administrative system, internal security, patterns of democratic representation and attitudes, enforcement of the rule of law and economic reform. Likewise, economic structure and performance still suffer from major shortcomings: very modest economic growth rates and a COVID-19-induced recession in 2020, poor handling of economic and financial affairs, a high unemployment rate, poor handling of the pandemic. At the same time, the communication sector, the religious industry, retail trade and domestic construction flourished, although on a smaller scale than previously, due to the effects of the pandemic. Significantly decreased crude oil and gas prices during the pandemic only began to recover on a modest scale toward the end of the period under review. This may pave the way for a slow recovery from Nigeria’s worst economic recession in its history, depending, however, on how quickly the pandemic can be controlled globally and nationally.
History and Characteristics of Transformation
Gaining independence in 1960, the economic and political transformation process in Nigeria is marked by small steps of progress and many setbacks. Apart from two brief phases of civilian government (1960 to 1966 and 1979 to 1983), the current dispensation (from 1999 onwards) is the third serious attempt to establish a democratic political system. In between, various military regimes had ruled after gaining power through coups d’état and palace coups. The first two coups d’état, in January and July 1966, triggered the Biafran civil war (1967 to 1970). It was only in 1979 that the military under the leadership of Olusegun Obasanjo more or less voluntarily handed over power to an elected government. On New Year’s Eve 1983, the second attempt at establishing a democratic political system failed, and the military under Major General Muhammadu Buhari took over. Almost two years later, a palace coup brought General Ibrahim Babangida to power. He initiated a firmly controlled economic reform and democratization program, which, however, was meant to fail. After the annulled elections in mid-1993 and a military-controlled controversial Interim Government, General Sani Abacha took power in November 1993. Until his sudden death in 1998, Nigeria experienced the worst military dictatorship ever, and this experience contributed to the complete loss of legitimacy of military rule. General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over power, released all political prisoners and paved the way for elections and transfer of power to an elected president.
The state’s monopoly on the use of force is still limited. The Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram, other break away factions and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) continue to control several parts of the states in the northeast and are able to engage military and police forces. The insurgents still challenge any state authority. In the meantime, more than 30,000 people, both Christians and Muslims, and quite a number of security personnel have lost their lives. In northwest and central Nigeria, sectarian clashes with noticeable ethnic undercurrents and widespread organized crime hold the state at bay. In addition, criminal gangs with sophisticated weapons are involved in cattle rustling on a large scale, killing and wreaking havoc in northern Nigeria. Criminal gangs are also active in other parts of the country. Militias in the Niger Delta engage in oil theft, kidnapping and piracy along the coastal area. Radical activists in the Igbo heartland still keep the spirit of a sovereign Biafra alive, although less vocally than previously.
All Nigerians are considered Nigerian citizens, and the nation-state is widely accepted as legitimate. However, subnational identities are strong and prevalent. All citizens possess equal civic rights. This fact notwithstanding, the federal quota system enshrined in the constitution and upheld by the Federal Character Commission to a large extent determines access to offices and institutions on federal and state level according to ethnic, regional and other identities. By and large, it thus has a strong discriminatory effect against people who are qualified but cannot be hired because of the quota system. Furthermore, the very concept of indigenousness is discriminatory against the “non-indigenes” of a federal state, that is, migrants from other federal states. Although the political class and most elites are aware that this is an important issue, no real efforts have been made to deal with it. The manipulated presidential election of 2019, tantamount to a “silent coup d’état,” however, cast doubts on the legitimacy of the state among some parts of the population, although not in the sense of the legitimacy of the nation-state.
Under the constitution the separation of state and religion is guaranteed. But secularization suffered a substantial set back through the introduction of Shariah, or Islamic law, as generally applied law in 12 northern states where the vast majority of the population is of Muslim faith. In these states, however, non-Muslims are entitled to take any lawsuit to a secular court or be tried by such a court. An approximately equal number of Christians and Muslims live in the Middle Belt, dominated by ethnic minorities, and the Yoruba-dominated southwest. However, fundamentalism in both denominations is increasing and both religions are increasingly permeating politics in all tiers of government.
The state’s monopoly on the use of force is still limited. The Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram, other break away factions and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) continue to control several parts of the states in the northeast and are able to engage military and police forces
No interference of religious dogmas 4 Under the constitution, the three tiers of the federal system – federal, state and local government – offer a differentiated administrative structure with the federal government and the two chambers of the National Assembly, 36 governors and state assemblies and 768 local governments and six councils in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. In addition, the statutory revenue allocation aims to finance the three tiers of government according to certain criteria, but in fact legally sustains the system of distributing the wealth among the elites. While the federal government, the National Assembly and the state governors execute real political power and have access to state funds, most of the other administrative institutions and the local tier suffer from very low political skills. The serious crisis in the entire north, considerable parts of the Middle Belt and in the Niger Delta is to a large extent due to the breakdown of the local government structure.
Universal suffrage and the right to campaign for elected office exist. The elections in 2019 with presidential, National Assembly, gubernatorial and state assembly elections were one of the most fraudulent and unlawful elections in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. Shifting the date of the election at the eleventh hour saved the incumbent president from a crushing defeat and secured him a second term in office. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) performed very poorly. When the election eventually took place a week later than originally planned, armed security personnel in great numbers patrolled the streets in the south, thereby preventing hundreds of thousands of voters from casting a ballot. In addition, many southerners decided to register with their government of origin in case the election outcome resulted in violence because the incumbent was defeated. However, because of the costs of travel from their places of habitation to their respective polling stations, which were in many cases quite far away, numerous voters did not make a second journey after the last-minute postponement of the elections.
President Muhammadu Buhari and his government have the power to govern. As noted above, however, elections do not meet the standard of free and fair. Poor political performance concerning, particularly, internal security in large parts of the country, a lack of economic expertise and the tremendous socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed many weaknesses and highlighted the administration’s inability to govern effectively. In addition, the many conflict hotspots served as further proof of the government’s lack of response capacity to urgent problems affecting the majority of the Nigerian population. The military, in former periods a powerful veto actor, did not exert open veto power. However, according to the U.S. State Department, civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.
Shifting the date of the election at the eleventh hour saved the incumbent president from a crushing defeat and secured him a second term in office
Effective power to govern 3 According to the constitution, civic organizations can generally form and meet freely. However, civil society is severely fragmented and mostly active at a very local level. Thus, organizations’ abilities to bridge the country’s numerous social cleavages are limited. For example, during the anti-SARS protests that culminated in October 2020 when young people, mostly in southwest Nigeria, denounced widespread police brutality, the peaceful demonstrations got out of hand. Hoodlums and organized looters kidnapped the protestors, wreaked havoc worth millions of dollars, leaving several demonstrators and security personnel dead. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced a nationwide lockdown. Some citizens, however, did not observe the restrictions. During that period, more citizens died from gunshot wounds, mostly inflicted by government security forces, than from the virus. An increasing number of former high-ranking military officers, administrators, politicians and personalities from organized Christian and Muslim groups are founding their own NGOs.
Rule of Law
The most important democratic institutions – the presidency, the two chambers of the National Assembly and the structures on state level (governorship and state assemblies) – are still reasonably stable despite the precarious security situation in almost all parts of country. The positions of the vice president and the deputy governors have been strengthened to avoid political instability and turmoil in case of leadership crisis. The controversial re-election of the incumbent, President Buhari, and the pandemic have weakened the power of the legislature. This entails a significant erosion of the constitutionally enshrined checks and balances. Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no need to declare a state of emergency ever since legislators surrendered to the executive without any resistance. Parliament suspended activities for two weeks on March 3, 2020 but resumed its activities thereafter. The judiciary is generally not well equipped to provide full checks and balances. The Supreme Court serves inter alia as constitutional court, and any verdict concerning constitutional issues automatically becomes law.
The Court of Appeal is the first court of jurisdiction for presidential and gubernatorial election petitions. Its verdicts can be petitioned at the Supreme Court. Petitions concerning parliamentary elections are dealt with at election tribunals – a dubious inheritance from military rule and military tribunals. Rulings can be appealed at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. During the period under review, the courts passed dozens of verdicts in the aftermath of the 2019 elections and made decisions regarding several petitions concerning parliamentary by-elections and gubernatorial elections. The rulings of the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal and the Federal High Courts were generally accepted. Shortly before the 2019 elections, however, without resistance from legislators, the executive illegally interfered in the Supreme Courts’ internal rules of procedure and forced the then-chief justice to resign.
He was eventually sentenced for having breached the Code of Conduct by not declaring all his assets at the time he was appointed. The newly appointed chief justice and his colleagues paved the way for the re-elected president by rejecting all petitions about his election victory and his eligibility as a candidate. Buhari’s school certificate was a serious bone of contention, since he could not present any legal documentation to provide proof of the necessary level of education to run for high office. As far as Islamic law is concerned, no case has so far reached federal courts to question the constitutionality of applying completely different legal systems. Corruption and white-collar crime are endemic.
The most important democratic institutions – the presidency, the two chambers of the National Assembly and the structures on state level (governorship and state assemblies) – are still reasonably stable despite the precarious security situation in almost all parts of country
Government efforts to master the problem through the anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and, to a lesser extent, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) have some public support. The government under re-elected President Buhari has vowed to strengthen the fight against corruption, after anticorruption results during his first term in office were at best mixed. Toward the middle of his second term in office, the government’s efforts made via the attorney general more or less stopped short of taking serious action. Some well-known and high-ranking people, such as the former national security adviser, were arrested and prosecuted. But later those same people were released on bail, meaning that the whole process will come to naught.
Stability of Democratic Institutions
Democratic institutions at federal and state levels such as the federal government and the state governments, the National Assembly and state assemblies were reasonably stable, despite a high number of violent conflicts in most regions of the country. In addition, they were still able to carry out their main realpolitik task of redistributing wealth to the political class and the elites. This, however, does not apply to the local government level, which suffers from incompetence, lack of funds and legitimacy. The standing of the judiciary suffered a setback after the previous chief justice was forced to resign in contradiction to established procedures and eventually was sentenced in a court of law for breaching the justices’ code of conduct.
As a result of the manipulated elections in 2019, the performance of the INEC also suffered a setback. The elections have promulgated a loss of trust in the commission as well as in the electoral process as a whole. However, a somehow-reliable voters’ register, efforts made to issue Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC) and the use of card readers at a number of polling stations have partly compensated for these weaknesses and the INEC’s poor performance under the current leadership. The public administration at large, however, barely delivers statutory services for the majority of Nigerians. Most influential political, social and economic actors within and outside the state system are formally committed to democratic institutions and regard them as legitimate.
In contrast, Islamists such as Boko Haram, ISWAP and other Islamist fundamentalists consider the Nigerian state in general and the democratic institutions in particular as illegitimate. In addition, small radical groups among the Igbo still demand a sovereign Biafran state although on a smaller scale than previously. Militias in the Niger Delta legitimize their armed struggle by referring to the late Isaac Boro and his short-lived Niger Delta Republic in 1966. With or without a pandemic such as that caused by COVID-19, the administrations at various levels normally use their executive powers as they see fit, as long as this suits and benefits them.
Political and Social Integration
Institutional inefficiency was closely related to the lack of stable patterns of organization for political representation. Two socially embedded parties have been more or less firmly established. The ruling PDP has dominated elections at the federal and state levels from the time the democratization process began again in 1999 until the elections in 2015, when the PDP suffered a crushing defeat. The APC, however, a conglomerate of different factions of the elites including PDP strongmen who defected, managed to establish a formidable platform, which, under the leadership of the former military dictator Buhari, ousted the president.
The widespread mistrust among the electorate, the increasing grievances with regard to the current party system, a lack of interest in the concerns of the vast majority of the population and the very low voter turnout – 35% in 2019 – are proof of this
With the apparent unlawful support of the electoral commission and the top echelons of the military, the APC remained in power at the federal and state levels after the controversial elections in 2019 (the results of which do not allow for an assessment of volatility, which however is not very high). Neither dominant party, however, has partisan objectives (so ideological polarization is low). Both are dominated by money bag politicians and local godfathers and basically serve as networks to regulate distribution of the country’s wealth among the elites, in general, and the political class and the state and security apparatus, in particular.
The widespread mistrust among the electorate, the increasing grievances with regard to the current party system, a lack of interest in the concerns of the vast majority of the population and the very low voter turnout – 35% in 2019 – are proof of this. There are only weak traditions of organized interest groups. Despite the fact that the number of active NGOs is increasing, the landscape of voluntary organizations is still meager and plagued by scarce organizational resources and controversial state regulations. However, at times, in particular in the run up to elections, interest groups such as civil society and business groups attempt to sway the possible outcome. But they are not able to rouse broad citizen participation. This also holds true for the development of a civic culture in support of democracy, which suffered a setback after the 2019 elections and the end-SARS protests in October 2020.
The “godfather system,” characterized by local strongmen all over the country and deeply enshrined in Nigeria’s political, socioeconomic and cultural systems, still has a strong impact on national and regional policies. In addition, small groups of both religious faiths play dubious roles by politicizing religion. Due to the slow pace of civic development, serious security problems, the manipulated elections in 2019, the state’s high-handed and brutal attitude toward the end-SARS protests in October 2020 and many shortcomings concerning the state’s capacity to resolve widespread problems, such as corruption and lack of adequate infrastructure, public faith in the democratization process has suffered a serious setback.
The outcome of the elections in 2019 and the end-SARS protests against police brutality demonstrated the contempt of the elites and the political class of democratic principles and citizens’ commitment to democracy. An unprecedented 35% of eligible registered voters totaling over 80 million cast their votes in the presidential and National Assembly elections. In 2020, the very low voter turnout continued in several by-elections on national and regional levels. The state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic further undermined the already-fading trust in democratic institutions, in particular, against the backdrop of the violent attitude of the security services toward citizens during the temporary lockdown.