Nigerians Teach the World Democracy

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Nigeria Teaches the World Democracy (even if no one is paying attention)


It’s a fact. A story with violence tends to be more interesting than a story without violence.

It’s why Americans know and care more about the American Revolutionary War than the presidential election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. This is why we all know about the conflicts in the Middle East and barely heard any news about the transformation of power in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy. This is in despite of the true historical significance that came with Adams stepping down after losing to Jefferson and Goodluck Jonathan conceding defeat to Muhammadu Buhari in this year’s election in Nigeria.

Just like we confuse our history, we are confusing the priorities of our news.

The world is constantly berated with news about the Syrian Civil War, the Iraqi Civil War, the Afghanistan Civil War, Yemen’s Civil War, Egypt’s civil issues, the religious battle between muslim sects, a possible American war with Iran, and terrorism.

And of course, you heard about Boko Haram, especially after the world campaigned for the return of the 200 school girls this group kidnapped in Northern Nigeria. And of course, from these stories you heard about how this group constantly attacks vulnerable areas of Nigeria, wanting to impose its rule over all Nigerians.

But what else have you heard about Nigeria, other than email scams?

Did you hear about Nigeria’s thriving economy? Did you hear about Nigeria’s growing film industry? Most importantly, did you hear about Nigeria’s presidential election last year?

While so many countries, especially fragmented nations that were contrived and assembled by European colonization and/or America’s economic imperialism, would had forgo an election in the midst of a war, Nigeria chose democracy over Boko Haram, and over war.

Like so many presidents and rulers around the globe have done, Goodluck Jonathan could have used the excuse of recent attacks in Northern Nigeria to postpone the elections, claiming ‘stability must trump democracy.’ He didn’t. Like so many presidents and rulers around the globe have done, Goodluck Jonathan could have used his current power, the seat of the president, and rigged the elections towards his favor. He didn’t.

Instead, Jonathan became the first sitting president of Nigeria to lose an election. More importantly, Jonathan became the first sitting president to concede defeat and congratulate his opponent, setting a democratic precedent for Nigeria, and for all of Africa, and for all of the world.

Even if you heard about this election, did you realize the historical significance of the outcome?If you’re like me, an American, then you might not have recognized its importance. By now, democracy in America has become the obvious systematic way our political process operates, excluding the financial corruption aspect of the election process (that’s another story). However, when Adams lost to Jefferson, democracy wasn’t common place.


Then, it was only heard about in Roman and Greek history books. When Adams granted the wishes of the electoral college and relinquished the presidency, it was a brand new idea actually being executed by a man wanting to keep his authority. If Adams had chosen to ignore the election results, many Americans would not have been shocked. Back then, Americans were not confident as we would be today that a transition of power would occur without bloodshed. Always before, violence was a requisite for such a change.

Just as the War of Independence gave Americans the right to experiment with democracy, and just as George Washington left the office of presidency on his own accord made America bigger than one person, Adams acceptance of his defeat laid the foundation of democracy for the U.S. then and still today.

Adams, like Goodluck Jonathan, recognized his nation’s political process was bigger than his own desire.

Now here’s why this year’s transition of power in Nigeria is even more important for the world. Unlike the U.S., Nigeria is truly a fragmented nation. Within its borders there are rival ethnic groups that have been enemies for centuries. Today and for the last half a century, Nigerians, who have been more loyal to their ethnic heritage, have been force to live and operate together under one political umbrella caused by colonization.

Sounds familiar?

Sounds like the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurd trying to make a single Iraq work and thrive?

Sounds like every nation in Africa and the Middle East?

All these countries have been forced to modernize, operate, and work with their sworn enemies based on arbitrary lines drawn on maps by European/American leaders in the 19th Century.

Knowing this, you can see how arrogant and absurd it is of us, the West, to judge these nations’ dysfunctions.

Knowing how big of an act it is for Jonathan to step down, you can see how absurd it is of us to know about the wars over power in the Middle East and Africa but not know about the peaceful transitions of power in the same region.

While the U.S. continues its attempt to spread democracy by drones and guns in this part of the world, let’s thank Nigeria for being an example of how democracy can peacefully work within a state comprised of ethnically diverse people forced to live together. It might not be as sensational as a coup or civil war, but let’s acknowledge that orchestrating a fair election amongst centuries old rival is far more impressive.

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