A Reflection on 20 years of Democracy in Nigeria, By Mahmud Jega

The Fourth Republic differs from the three previous Republics we had in Nigeria in several respects. For one, it is the longest. While the First Republic lasted 5 years from Independence, the Second Republic lasted four years and three months while the Third Republic was inconclusive. It had elected state governors, state assemblies and even a National Assembly, to which the AFRC ceded some inconsequential powers including the power to legislate on museums, monuments and public libraries.


However, the Third Republic never had a civilian President. Even though a presidential election was held on June 12, 1993, the Returning Officer, Prof Humphrey Nwosu, did not declare the result until 15 years later, at an awkward and legally inconsequential public lecture in Abuja in 2008. Two federal elections were held in the 1st Republic, in 1959 and 1964; two were held in the 2nd Republic, in 1979 and 1983, and 6 have so far been held in the 4th Republic, in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019.
Throughout the 1st Republic there was only one Prime Minister. Throughout the 2nd Republic there was only one President. Throughout the 3rd Republic there was no civilian President but there was a military President. In the 4th republic however, we have had four civilian presidents so far, even though two of them are former Army Generals. We have had 6 presidential transitions so far in this Republic, five of them through elections and one after a death in office, though three of them were from one person to himself. In fact, the unimaginable in Nigerian politics happened in this Republic when a party ruling at the federal level was defeated by the opposition in a national election, and it peacefully handed over power.


The quality of a Republic is a mishmash and interplay of personalities and institutions. In the Fourth Republic, some institutions have exceeded the role prescribed for them by the Constitution. Many others fell below the role prescribed for them by the Constitution, while still other important elements, namely the citizens and voters, totally misunderstood the role prescribed for them by the Constitution. The performance of different institutions in this Republic is a mixed bag. Let’s begin with the most visible and most powerful institution in the Fourth Republic, which is the Presidency.


The four presidents that we have had in this Republic differ from one another in democratic temperament, in tolerance of criticism, in anti-democratic short fuse, and in overarching ambition to dominate the environment. While some of them kept their political party on a short leash, others dined with their political party with a long spoon.


All four Presidents of the Fourth Republic are better known for their frown than for their smiles. Only one of them had the art of comic relief. None of the four is famous for his oratorical skills. Even though one of them is a PhD, none of the four is regarded to be an engaging intellectual, and certainly none of the four qualifies as a Philosopher-King…

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