Beyond Voting and Rioting: Why Democracy Must Prevail

After my visit to Nigeria in October 2010 to give public lectures in Abuja and Lagos on elections and democracy, I returned to the United States profoundly concerned about many persistent problems and especially the visible impoverishment of the north.

The recent rioting in that region, ostensibly triggered by the defeat of Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential vote, has deeper causes and wider ramifications. Nigeria’s unmet policy challenges require urgent attention.

Nigeria’s many infrastructural and socio-economic deficits are widely known. A return to business as usual, assuming the elections for state governors and assemblies are conducted without major disruptions, is hazardous. Designing collaborative projects on governance and development should be high on the agenda of Nigerian federal and state governments and their international partners.

Five years ago, as concerns mounted regarding the ill-prepared 2007 elections, a conference was convened at Northwestern University, Illinois, that included many Nigerian and American experts. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka gave the keynote address. However, there was little official response to this and other similar consultations. Over the past several months, we have seen a very different response. Decisive actions have been taken to prepare for the 2011 elections, including the appointment of Professor Attarihu Jega as head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Positive consequences followed, especially the conduct of much better elections despite inevitable logistical problem and electoral mischief.

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