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History Of Democracy In Nigeria

Nation of the world have different system of government that is being practiced which ranges from monarchy, Aristocracy, Democracy just to mention In few, but history will never be completely written if the system of government was not included in the history of the nation. On the bases of this, we shall be examining the history of democracy in Nigeria as a system of government been practiced in the country. 

History Of Democracy In Nigeria

Before venturing fully into the history of democracy in Nigeria, we need to know what a government is and who the government is. We can say Government is a system that exercises sovereign authority over a society. The society could be as small as a family clan and as large as a superpower nation. This system comprises of all the legal and political institutions that regulate a society.

Government, as existed in the ancient society, is quite different from the modern society we are currently. Aristotle-a 5th century B.C political philosopher undertake a study of 158 known constitutions of his time and he introduced these classifications of government which include the Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Polity with other forms derived from the perversion of these 3 forms.

  • Monarchy is the government of one person in the interest of the people, and when perverted by abuse of power, it becomes the Tyranny which is the government of one person in his selfish interest.
  • Aristocracy is the government of a few in the interest of the masses and when perverted, it becomes Oligarchy which is the government of the rich in their own interests.
  • Polity which is the government of the masses in the interest of the masses, while
  • DEMOCRACY, is the government of the masses in their interest.
History Of Democracy In Nigeria
History Of Democracy In Nigeria

But in the Modern Society, these forms of government had evolved, as the Monarchy evolved from the absolute monarchy, where the one person is above the law and share his authority with no one, to the limited monarchy-which is a fusion of the Aristotle Monarchy and Aristocracy form of government, where the one person derives his authority by the dictum of the nobility as seen in the Magna Carta in England, and finally the constitutional monarchy, where the one person derives his/her authority from the constitution of the society and acts as the actual ruler of the society as seen in the Emperor of Japan, King of Swaziland, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

The polity is now institutionalized by the framework of constitutional rights which determine the extent and legitimacy of their authority. This Constitution-backed government exists either as DEMOCRACY or dictatorship. The dictatorship is a re-enactment of the tyranny of the Aristotle classification, but now with the full backing of the constitution. This form of government preaches and practices a form of ideas and political philosophy that even controls the way of life of the masses as seen in Stalin-Marxist philosophy in USSR, Mao Communist-China, and Mussolini- Fascist Italy. The Oligarchy of Aristotle typology also appeared in this form of modern government when the authority of government is shared by ruling party leaders of a state as presently practiced by Communist China.


Democracy is a form of government that has undergone its evolution from the perverted type of government described by Aristotle. Etymologically, Democracy is derived from two Greek words “Demos” which means the people and “Kratos” which means government to describe the form of government represented in the Greek state of Athens. The demos of Cleisthenes creation were the citizens of Athens by birth who are above 18 years who are eligible to participate in governing by attending the Assembly where votes were conducted on the show of hands and majority votes to determine the fate of the decision for the society.

The Assembly is governed by a smaller council of people called “The council of the five hundred” who are representatives, chosen disproportionately from the 139 demes-small territorial areas that surrounded Athens based on the population sizes of each deme. The Assembly and Council of five hundred itself were further subjected to the Dicastery, which are popular courts made up of jurors who are chosen annually by lot, by the assembly. To sit in the dicastery you must be an Athenian citizen above 30 years of age.

The claim to the origin of the democratic system of government is not limited to the Greeks as it appears almost at the same time in Rome under the name Republic in the original Latin word “Respublica” which means the “affairs of the public”. The Roman public, unlike the Greeks demos, is not limited to citizens by birth only, but also by naturalization and manumission of slaves.

The Republic, unlike the Greek Democracy, was a bit complex as it practiced a 4-assemblies system that consists of the Comitia Curiata-an assembly of 30 groups from 3 ancient tribes; Comitia Centuriata-an assembly of 97 military units; Comitia Plebis-an assembly drawn from the common people and Comitia Tributa-made up of the whole citizens, all these assemblies yet still need confirmation from the Senate-a form of Oligarchy that seems to be the real powers in the Roman Empire.

After the demise of the Roman Empire, The Republic continued in fragment states, that were formerly part of the Roman empire but it cannot be said to be Democratic but constitutional oligarchies. In the modern society in the truest sense of it, By the Medieval period, the democracy evolved into a representative government with two forms of the-Parliamentary and later, the Presidential system of democracy. The Parliamentary democracy was pioneered by the British and is practiced in their colonies of Canada, Australia, India etc. This form of government involved representatives from the common people to form the House of Commons from where the Prime Minister or leader of government and all his cabinets are chosen. This form of democracy was exported to all British controlled territories.

The founding of Presidential democracy was attributed to the United States of America, the Presidential democracy is a form of democracy in which the executive powers are separated from the bi-cameral Legislature, as a single executive officer is chosen to exercise executive powers for the state but the power is subjected to the checks of the legislature and the restraints of the judiciary.



Nigeria, started her journey of democracy as a former British colony on October 1, 1960, the Westminster democracy-the Parliamentary democracy was launched with the coalition government of Ahmadu Bello led NPC and Nnamdi Azikiwe led-NCNC, as none of the 3 pre-independence parties achieved majority votes in the Parliament, therefore  NPC, party with the largest seats in the house appointed Sir Tafawa Balewa to assume the post of the Prime Minister, while Nnamdi Azikiwe was rewarded with the honorary post of Senate President and Governor-General, and this settings continued until 1963, when Nigeria became a Republic after severing all ties with the crown and the post of Governor-General was abolished for President, thus Nnamdi Azikiwe was the first President of Nigeria but in an honorary position.

The political upheavals that followed Post-independence politicking’s especially in the Western Region, where the opposition party of Obafemi Awolowo Action Group was schemed out of power, resulting in a political conflagration that consumed the nascent democracy of the nation, as the Prime Minister, the Premier of the North and western region  was assassinated on the morning of January 15,1966 by some young military officers led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, and the bickering that followed after the coup resulted in the military consolidation of power for the next 13 years.


On October 1,1979, General Olusegun Obasanjo drew curtain on the first republic at the end of series of activities, that include the drafting of the first indigenous constitution by the constituent assembly in 1977, by handing power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari who won the largest vote across 12 states in the nation and largest seat in Parliament in the 1979 General elections. The second republic marked the shift in the democracy of the nation from British parliamentary model to the American presidential model as provided in the constitution, which has a provision for an Executive President and a vice-president on a four-year term subject to re-election for the second term of four years.


The model also has a bicameral legislature that makes and ratifies law for the executive and confirms the executive appointment. Judiciary that has the Supreme court as its apex body and each state has its elected governors, a unicameral legislature, and its own judiciary. The second republic was aborted prematurely by the Military again on December 31, 1983, and the supreme military council led by Major General Muhammadu Buhari replaced the civilian government and he was later overthrown by General Ibrahim Babangida.



General Ibrahim Babangida promised to return the civilian rule and the tentative dates were shifted twice and after series of ban and unban, the Senate was convened and the governors assumed a position in January 1992, remaining the Presidential election between M.K.O. Abiola of the Social Democratic party and Bashir Tofa of National Republican Congress, but before the conclusion of the election, IBB annulled the whole election process and the national uproar that followed resulted in him stepping aside in August 1993 and appointing a Transition Council led by Ernest Shonekan to conduct another election by February 1994. By the expiration of the interim government mandate, on November 17, 1993, General Sani Abacha suspended all political institutions and thus aborted the third republic and announced a full military take-over. The death of Sani Abacha on June 7, 1998, and replacement with General Abdul-salaam Abubakar activated the journey towards the actualization of the:



The Military rule of 16 consecutive years was terminated when General Abdulsalam Abubakar handed over the reins of government to Olusegun Obasanjo of PDP who won the 1999 presidential election against Olu Falae of AD. This single act unveiled the fourth republic that has seen series of political scheming that has produced the following successive government:

  • Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar: May 29,1999- May 29,2007
  • Umaru Yar-Adua/Goodluck Jonathan: May 29,2007-February 2010
  • Goodluck Jonathan February 2010-May 5, 2010.*acting president
  • Goodluck Jonathan/Nnamdi Sambo: May 5,2010-May 29,2015
  • Muhammadu Buhari/Yemi Osinbajo: May 29,2015-present.

The democracy journey in the country had been rough, with constant battle lines were drawn between the arms of government, rumors of coup and other governance challenges plaguing a multi-ethnic society as ours, but in the past 16 years, the country democracy has been tested and is been strengthened by laws made by the legislature to the effect and successive government committal to the rule of law, with even the peaceful hand-over of a sitting president with all state apparatus at his disposal, rather than throwing the state into anarchy and landmark judgement given by the Judiciary had proved that the future of Nigeria democracy is bright.



We have been able o examine the history of democracy from the root , the forms it existed the and also history of democracy in Nigeria from the first to the fourth Republic, issues has been raised, different personalities who played a major roles in different Republic were briefly discussed too. That’s all about the History Of Democracy In Nigeria.


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