Nigeria’s Democracy at 20: Reflections and Reform

October 22, 2019
09:00 am - 01:30 pm

about the event

In February 2019, Nigeria held its sixth national election since the country returned to democratic civilian rule. While the elections were ultimately deemed largely free, fair, and credible by international and domestic observation groups, they were marred by intimidation, irregularities, and public indifference. The recently concluded election reflects both the strengths of and deficiencies in Nigeria’s democracy. Political space is pluralistic and competitive. The public has real expectations for government officials, and failure to meet these expectations can result in removal from office. Government structures and systems, including the electoral management bodies, security forces, and the courts are guided and constrained by democratic rules. And yet, politics is exclusionary. Government officials and agencies often fail to operate transparently and to respond to the needs and demands of the people. Officials and agencies fail to abide by the rule of law.

As Nigeria enters its third decade as a democracy, how can it both consolidate and deepen its democracy? What roles can civil society, the government, the public, and the international community play in accelerating this process?

about the Speakers

Yemi Adamolekun currently serves as the Executive Director of Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), a non-partisan network of individuals and organizations committed to building a culture of good governance & public accountability in Nigeria through active citizenship. EiE has led some of the most impactful citizen engagement campaigns in Nigeria with the largest footprint of any CSO on social media and radio. She has a 20-year diverse career spanning the public and private sectors in the US and Nigeria with degrees from the University of Virginia (BA Mathematics & Economics); an MSc in Development Studies from The London School of Economics (LSE) and an MBA from Oxford University’s Said Business School.

Hussaini Abdu is a scholar, public policy analyst and a development practitioner.  He is currently the Country Director of Plan International (an international development and humanitarian organisation). He’s been extensively involved in gender, democracy, governance and development issues in Africa in the last 25 years and has served in the Board of many institutions.  He is the Chairman of the Governing Board of YIAGA-Africa, a leading independent democracy and governance organisation in Nigeria and also the Chair of the Board of Partner West Africa, a rule of law, citizens’ empowerment and security governance organisation in Nigeria. He was previously the Country Director of ActionAid International, also in Nigeria. He has held different other responsibilities in some other International development organisations in Africa. As the Head of ActionAid International Democracy and Governance Programme in Africa, he coordinated and supported democracy and governance programme in 23 different African countries, working closely with state institutions, International and regional organisations like African Union, Southern African Development Corporation (SADC), Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) and the UN system amongst others.

Jennifer Cooke is the director of the Institute for African Studies at George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs. Cooke is formerly the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where she led research and analysis on political, economic, and security dynamics in Africa. She is a frequent writer and lecturer on U.S.-Africa policy and provides briefings, testimony, and policy recommendations to U.S. policymakers, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. military. Cooke is a frequent commentator in print, on radio, and on television, and she has testified before Congress on Boko Haram in Nigeria, the political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, and the African Union. She travels widely in Africa and has been an election observer in Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria, and Ghana. Growing up, she lived in Côte d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic, as well as Belgium, Italy, and Canada.

Mufuliat Fijabi is the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund with more than 20 years progress experience in gender and development. She was formerly a Gender Advisor of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, (IFES), Nigeria Country Office and a National Expert on Gender on the  Democratic Governance for Development, (DGD II) Project of the United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP) Nigeria. A former journalist in print and electronic media, Mufuliat is passionate about the practice of inclusive democratic governance.

Okechukwu Ibeanu  is Professor of Political Science and concurrent Research Professor in Development Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He has been on secondment to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as National Electoral Commissioner since 2016 and previously served as the Chief Technical Adviser to the Commission. Professor Ibeanu was at various times the Dean of Postgraduate Studies, Dean of Social Sciences and Director of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nigeria. From 2004 to 2010, he was the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the adverse effects of toxic wastes on the enjoyment of human rights and also a member of the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures of the Council.  In the course of an academic career spanning over thirty-five years, Okechukwu Ibeanu has been a Fellow of the United Nations University, a visiting scholar at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University and at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, as well as visiting Professor at King’s College London. Professor Ibeanu has taught and conducted research in the areas of democratization, elections, human rights, environment, development and security at the university level, and produced over 100 publications in the process. Some of his publications include Nigerian Federalism: Continuing Quest for Dialogue and Nation-building (2016); Approaches to Civic and Voter Education: Nigeria’s Experience in Comparative Perspective (2014); Beyond Resource Violence: Civil Society and the Challenges of Peacebuilding in West Africa (2010); Between the Theory and Practice of Democracy in Nigeria (2008).

Samson Itodo is the Executive Director of YIAGA AFRICA, a community of change makers focused on building sustainable democracies in Africa anchored on the principles of inclusion, justice, accountability and constitutionalism. He plays a leading role in implementing the organization’s mission and objectives which entail strategic planning, policy research and analysis, grant seeking and stakeholder engagement. He has 12 years of experience and expertise in elections management,  legal research and analysis, parliamentary strengthening, constitution building and social movements.

Paul James holds a Masters of Arts Degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy with over 15 years working experience in the non-profit sector in Nigeria. He has supported the deployment of Parallel Votes Tabulation (PVT)/Sampled Based Observation in over 18 off-cycle states elections in Nigeria and 3 national elections, 2011, 2015 and 2019. His experience in elections transcends the borders or Nigeria, having supported election observation efforts in Liberia, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia. He is currently the Training Manager Watching The Vote (WTV) project with YIAGA AFRICA and has special interest in data driven programming, governance, democracy, technology and media. He is convinced that Nations can enjoy peace and popular leadership through credible transitions which is a prerequisite for political and economic development.

Carl LeVan is an Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University, where his research focuses on political institutions, democratization, and African security. His latest book is Contemporary Nigerian Politics: Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror (Cambridge 2019). He is the co-editor of three books, including most recently the Oxford Handbook of Nigerian Politics (Oxford 2018), a collection of 44 new essays, co-edited with Patrick Ukata. His interests beyond Africa include the politics of constitution-making. Constituents before Assembly: Participation, Deliberation and Representation in the Crafting of New Constitutions (Cambridge 2017), co-authored with Todd Eisenstadt and Tofigh Maboudi, demonstrates participatory constitution-making has long term positive benefits for democracy. His current research project, In Search of Solidarity, examines tensions among knowledge, democratic institutions, and technology in “post-truth” America. Prior to joining academia, LeVan worked in the U.S. Congress and then as an adviser to Nigeria’s National Assembly. He publishes the blog, Development4security and tweets @Dev4Security. He has appeared on PBS NewsHour, NPR’s Diane Rehm Show, Voice of America TV, BBC World Television, al Jazeera, MSNBC, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!

Cynthia Mbamalu is a dedicated human and gender rights advocate, youth pro-activist and a development practitioner. A lawyer by profession with an LLM in Comparative Constitutional Law from the Central European University (CEU), she specializes in legislative, public policy, human and women rights advocacy, youth political development, constitution building and elections. As a founding member of YIAGA AFRICA ( she has dedicated the past 12 years to development work specifically targeted as building sustainable democracies and promoting human rights. She currently serves as the Program Manager for YIAGA AFRICA and she manages the Annual Youth Organizing School for young people in Nigeria and West Africa on how to organize for Policy advocacy and Civic Engagement. She is also one of the leaders of the Not Too Young to Run movement and the Ready to Run campaign, committed to promoting youth political leadership and democratic principles and she provides mentorship to a cohort of young female politicians. She has participated in several election observation missions and studies and is currently the Project Director for #WatchingTheVote which is a data and tech-driven movement of citizen observers committed to promoting electoral integrity.

Ezenwa Nwagwu is an election and governance enthusiast and currently chairs Partners for Electoral Reform. He is also a Convener of Say No Campaign Nigeria, which helps promote electoral democracy and strengthen citizens’ capacity to fight corruption and impunity. In the course of his development work, he has worked with the National Democratic Institute, the Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria, and has provided consultancy and training services for many domestic and international organizations, including Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the International Republican Institute, INEC, and ActionAid. He served as a member of the 2014 constitutional conference set up by the administration of former Nigerian president Jonathan. Nwagwu also sits on the board of several nonprofits.

Clement  Nwankwo is a leading Nigerian human rights lawyer and Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC). He is also the Convener of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room which observes elections and advocates good governance and Citizens’ participation. Nwankwo has good knowledge and understanding of the Nigerian Legislature and the intricate legislative process. Nwankwo has deep involvement in the founding of the modern Nigerian civil society movement and created the idea of, and co-founded Nigeria’s first human rights group in 1987 – the Civil Liberties Organisation. He also founded and led the Constitutional Rights Project, CRP – a leading Nigerian human rights group and was founding Chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG). Nwankwo has received several national and international honours and awards for human rights work, including the Martin Ennals Award, Human Rights Watch’s Monitors Award (twice) and the Democracy Award given by the National Endowment for Democracy.  He is a Fellow of the Centre for Democracy, Development and Rule of Law, Stanford University, California, USA. Nwankwo has also given lectures severally at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA, in the 1990s on the African Human Rights System.

Ayo Obe is a Lagos-based legal practitioner, and a member of the boards of trustees of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, the Senegal-based Gorée Institute and the Madrid-based Common Action Forum.  Previously she has been President of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Nigeria’s oldest indigenous human rights organisation and a member of the country’s Police Service Commission.  She also led the Transition Monitoring Group in Nigeria and the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy.  From 2006-2009 she headed the Elections Programme of the National Democratic Institute’s Abuja office.  Currently she presents IDEAS Radio, a weekly programme on integrity, ethics and accountability in democracy in Nigeria.

Christopher O’Connor is the Senior Program Officer for West Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. Christopher oversees a diverse civil society grants program in West Africa that aims to strengthen democracy, improve human rights, and consolidate peace. Prior to joining NED, Christopher served as an International Development Fellow with Catholic Relief Services in Abuja, Nigeria, where he worked on peacebuilding and good governance projects. He received his MA in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and his BA in African, Asian, and Russian History from Washington and Lee University.

Kemi Okenyodo is the Executive Director of the Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative also known as Partners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN), a non-governmental organization dedicated to enhancing citizens’ participation and improving security governance in Nigeria and West Africa broadly. She also currently serve as the team lead of the Policing Component of the Security Justice Reform Program supported by the UK Government Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) where she provides technical, strategic and programmatic leadership for the Nigeria Policing Programme (NPP), a program working with policing providers, government and civil society for accountable policing services in Nigeria, and where applicable programme partners.

Eghosa E. Osaghae is a tenured Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where he is also Leader of the Programme on Ethnic and Federal Studies. He was most recently Vice Chancellor of Igbinedion University Okada, Nigeria (2004-2018). Professor Osaghae has also been the Emeka Anyaoku Chair of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London (2014), Van Zyl Slabbert Chair of Politics and Sociology at the University of Cape Town, and is currently the 2019 Claude Ake Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University and Nordic Africa Institute. Author of Crippled Giant: Nigeria since Independence (Indiana University Press 1998), Professor Osaghae has written extensively on ethnicity, federalism, governance and state politics in Nigeria and Africa in books and learned journals.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is a Senior Vice President and Africa Practice Lead at Albright Stonebridge Group, where she draws on her long and distinguished career as a U.S. diplomat to help the clients of ASG’s Africa practice. She joined ASG after serving as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (2013 – 2017). In this capacity, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield led U.S. policy toward sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on peace and security, democracy and governance, economic empowerment and investment opportunities. Prior to this appointment, she served as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources where she oversaw all personnel functions for the U.S. Department of State’s 70,000-strong workforce. Previously, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield served as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia (2008-2012) and held postings in Switzerland (at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations), Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Her Washington postings include the Bureau of African Affairs, where she served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, where she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary. Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield taught political science at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield also serves on NED’s Board of Directors.

Event image is modified from original photographs by Flickr users GPA Photo Archive under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license, and jbdodane under a Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.