Bad Governance and Poor Political Selection in Nigeria

In the current wave of globalization, Nigeria is part of the ‘global village’. The fact that Nigeria is the eighth largest exporter of crude oil, endowed with human and natural resources, and still has more than 59% of its population living below the poverty line depicts a paradox in the country. claimed that, out of about 170 million human populations, 100 million Nigerians are living in destitution. Factors such as corruption and injustice are undoubtedly behind this suffering. This is because the logic of the current crop of Nigerian political leadership class has been that of self-service and personal goals.


Nigeria’s poor socio-economic performance, human rights abuses, widespread poverty, insecurity, corruption, and lack of trust in the political system have led to disenchantment amongst the electorate, especially the youth who make up 51% of the 84 million registered voters. This matters in a fast-growing population of over 200 million, with more than 60% of people under 25.


There can be two possible effects from such disenchantment on voter turn-out in the 2023 elections; it can motivate high turn-out in which people demand better governance or lead to apathy and low turn-out. It is expected that the high stakes at play will mobilize the former. There is a need for people to participate in choosing political leaders who will serve the public’s interest and promote good governance.


While fighting poverty by a government is an integral aspect of security measures, lack of security of life is another pressing issue that can necessitate prompt intervention. And going by what transpires at the moment, the national security threat has been a major issue for the Nigerian government in recent years.


At the core of Nigeria’s systemic failure is the crisis of governance, which manifests in the declining capacity of the state to cope with a range of internal political and social upheavals. There is an expectation for political leaders to recognize systemic risks such as terrorist attacks, herder-farmer conflict, and police brutality and put in place the necessary infrastructure to gather relevant data for problem-solving. But the insufficiency of political savvy required to navigate the challenges that Nigeria faces has unleashed unrest across the nation and exacerbated existing tensions. The #ENDSARS Protests against police brutality in 2020 is one of the manifestations of bad governance.


The spiral of violence in northern Nigeria in which armed bandits engage in deadly planned attacks on communities, leading to widespread population displacement, has become another grave security challenge that has sharpened regional polarization. Because some public servants are usually unaware of the insecurities faced by ordinary Nigerians, they lack the frame of reference to make laws that address the priorities of citizens. The crisis of governance is accentuated by a democratic culture that accords less importance to the knowledge and competence that political leaders can bring to public office. These systemic challenges have bred an atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust between citizens and political leaders at all levels of government.


Political elites in Nigeria also exploit poverty and illiteracy to mobilize voters with food items such as rice, seasoning, and money. The rice is usually packaged strategically with the image of political candidates and the parties they represent. The assumption is that people are more likely to vote for a politician who influences them with food than one who only brings messages of hope. The practice of using food to mobilize voters is commonly described as “stomach infrastructure” politics.


Therefore, it can be said that Nigeria needs a new model of governance in which political leadership is based on the knowledge and competence of both political leaders and the electorate. One recommended solution is to establish what political philosopher Jason Brennan refers to as epistocracy, which is a system of governance in which the votes of politically informed citizens should count more than the less informed. For Justin Klocksiem, epistocracy represents a political system in which political power rests exclusively on highly educated citizens. This idea drew its philosophical influence from John Stuart Mill, who believed that the eligibility to vote should be accorded to individuals who satisfy certain educational criteria. The notion that educational attainment should be the prerequisite for the electorate to choose their leaders as proposed by Brennan, Klocksiem, and Mill is an important proposition that should be taken seriously.


However, we cannot ignore that such thinking originates from societies where civic education is high and the electorate can make informed choices about leadership. In Nigeria, the majority of citizens are uneducated on political issues. Simultaneously, those who are highly educated are increasingly becoming indifferent to political participation; they have lost faith in the power of their votes and the integrity of the political system. For an epistocratic system to work in Nigeria, there must be significant improvements in literacy levels so that citizens are educated about the issues and can use their knowledge to make informed decisions about Nigeria’s political future.

November 4, 2021

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