WP52: Seeking the democratic dividend: Public attitudes and attempted reform in Nigeria

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Working papers
Lewis, Peter and Etannibi Alemika

In this paper, we particularly investigate how basic preferences, or values, about the political and economic systems in Nigeria relate to one another. Another crucial question is how citizens’ preferences for a democratic regime (or a particular type of economy, whether market-oriented or government-controlled) are influenced by their assessments of current government policy and performance. Moreover, in view of Nigeria’s long history of military rule and efforts at democratization, we are concerned with basic questions of democratic legitimacy, and the relative tolerance of Nigerians for non-democratic alternatives. Issues relating to identity, national affinities, and general social conditions are also important topics.

The third Afrobarometer survey in Nigeria was conducted in September-October 2003. With this survey, the Afrobarometer has tracked Nigerian public opinion throughout the crucial first term of civilian rule. The first survey in January-February 2000 was conducted just six months after the inauguration of the new government, while the 2003 poll measured public views three months after the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo for a second term in office. In previous discussions, we noted the sanguine responses of many Nigerians to the initial transition, and, after the second survey was conducted in August 2001, the growing sense of disenchantment as euphoria gave way to realism in the early years of civilian rule. Public expressions of satisfaction with democracy dropped sharply in 2001, along with approval of government performance. General preferences for democracy also declined, though not nearly as much as political satisfaction. We concluded at that time that Nigerians had come “down to earth” in their assessments of politics and the economy, though there was still a reservoir of democratic attachments.

The 2003 survey reveals further decline in popular assessments of the political and economic system, indicating a basic disaffection among much of the Nigerian public. At the time of the transition from military rule, Nigerians expected a “democracy dividend” in the form of better governance, an improved economy, and rising personal welfare. For the most part, the Nigerian public today feels that they have failed to see a democracy dividend, and they are increasingly critical of government, ambivalent about the democratic regime, and divided about the future direction of the economy.