In February 2019 Nigerians went to the polls to elect a president, National Assembly and other leaders across the state and federal levels. Incumbent head of state Muhammadu Buhari won re-election with around 56% of the votes. It was the sixth general election since the return of civilian rule in 1999. The next round of elections are expected to be held in February 2023.
Nigeria is a federal republic of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Since independence in 1960 the country has had four republican constitutions. The first ran from 1963 to 1966 and was characterised by a Westminster style of government. The First Republic ended by a military coup in 1966 and democracy was not restored until 1979. The Second Republic ran a US-style presidential system. Attempts were made to break from the regional divisions of the First Republic, with parties required to be represented in at least two of the three regions of the country. A coup in 1983, however, brought another period of military rule. The Third Republic was founded in 1992, based on a constitution drawn up by the military regime in 1989. The instability that followed resulted in another period of military rule. This ended in 1999 with the establishment of the Fourth Republic and a return to civilian governance. Nigeria’s current constitution is largely a return to the US-style system of the Second Republic, with several amendments to the constitution made in 2011 and again in 2017.
The president is elected every four years after a two-round ballot; each president is limited to two terms. The president is the head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of government. As such, the president appoints and leads the Cabinet, known as the Federal Executive Council, which is composed of the heads of all federal ministries. The Federal Executive Council has a convention that each of the 36 states be represented in the Cabinet. There are 26 federal ministries, and Cabinet members can be active in more than one ministry at a time. This means that there are ministers of state, acting as assistants to the heads of ministries, who also sit in the Cabinet and ensure all states are represented. Permanent secretaries from the civil service assist and are directly accountable to ministers. Ministers must also gain approval for their appointment from the Senate.
Parastatals, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the National Broadcasting Commission and public universities, fall under the relevant ministry. Others are under the president’s remit, such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent National Electoral Commission. The president has the power to appoint judges for the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council of Nigeria, subject to the Senate’s approval.
Nigeria has a bicameral legislature comprising a lower chamber, the House of Representatives, and an upper chamber, the Senate. Together, these constitute the National Assembly. The lower chamber consists of 360 members, each elected by a first-past-the-post vote in single-member constituencies. Members serve for four years, with elections held concurrently with the presidential vote. All adults over the age of 18 can vote. The chamber is presided over by the speaker of the House of Representatives – currently Femi Gbajabiamila – who is elected by members of the chamber. As the Fourth Republic is modelled on the US political system, the lower chamber has oversight functions and committees to examine government policy and appointments, as well as public officials. As part of the National Assembly, the lower chamber may move to remove a president or vice-president, which requires a two-thirds majority vote of both houses and constitutional due process. The Senate consists of 109 members, with each of the 36 states electing three and the FCT electing one.
Senators are similarly elected for four-year terms with no term limits. The Senate also has the power to approve some presidential appointments, and is required to consent to treaties with foreign states for their approval. The chamber is presided over by the president of the Senate, currently Ahmed Lawan.
Four legal traditions exist within the Nigerian judicial system: English law, common law, sharia law and customary law. The court system, meanwhile, consists of two levels: federal and state. At the federal level, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are above trial courts, which also exist at the state level. Within each state and the FCT, there are also appeals courts and sharia and customary law courts. Sharia law is found in nine Muslim-majority states and parts of three others. There is also a sharia Court of Appeals at the federal level. The National Judicial Council (NJC) exists to protect judicial independence, and it advises the president and National Assembly on judicial appointments. The Nigerian Court of Appeal consists of 66 justices. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is headed by the chief justice and 13 associate justices, who are appointed by the president on the advice of the NJC. The current chief justice, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, has occupied that position since 2019.
States share sovereignty with the federal government, giving them particular constitutional rights. Each state has a unicameral House of Assembly, with the number of members set at three times the number of members the state has within the National Assembly. The executive authority is the governor, who appoints a state executive council as his or her Cabinet, subject to approval by the state’s House of Assembly. State-level ministries are headed by commissioners. Members of the House of Assembly and the governor are directly elected for four-year terms, with governors serving a maximum of two terms. The 36 states break down into a total of 774 local government areas (LGAs). Each has a Local Government Council, consisting of an elected chairperson and councillors. The LGAs are further subdivided into wards, from which councillors are elected. Local councils have some tax-raising, oversight, registration and licensing roles, along with the provision of some public services, such as waste collection and street cleaning.
Nigeria experienced a challenging 2020 in the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices. Measures such as budgetary allocations and stimulus spending have alleviated the impact of the health crisis on individuals and businesses to some degree. The economy, which contracted by 1.8% in 2020, is expected to grow by 2.6% in 2021, according to revised estimates from the IMF released in October 2021. This was up from the 1.5% growth rate the organisation had estimated in January. The international community’s economic recovery will prove essential to local performance, and the rebound of global oil consumption will be a key element of Nigeria’s forecast growth. Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought, the most populous country in Africa has a youthful population that can be tapped to fuel expansion.