Explainer: Why Do Nigerians celebrate Democracy Day?

May 28, 2018|Afolabi Adekaiyaoja

Every year, Nigeria celebrates 29th of May to mark the start of the Fourth Republic (1999 - present). Democracy Day traces back to May 29th 1999, the date of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo's first inauguration as a civilian President, ending Nigeria's dalliance with military rule. 

It also marks the anniversary of every President that has ruled Nigerian since then, because all newly elected Presidents are inaugurated on May 29th.


What about the First, Second and Third Republics?

The First Republic is the period from when Nigeria became a republic in 1963 till the January 1966 coup

After a 13-year spell under military rule, Alhaji Shehu Shagari won the 1979 Presidential elections and was sworn in on October 1, marking Nigeria's Second Republic. The December 1983 of then General Muhammadu Buhari coup brought an end to Shagari's second term and the end of the Second Republic.

The Third Republic refers to the attempted government of 1993. MKO Abiola was the disputed winner of the 1993 elections, but the results were never ratified because Babangida annulled the elections. This led to an Interim Government led by Ernest Shonekan, which was considered impractical and was removed by a military coup on November 17, 1993, led by General Sani Abacha. 

After Abacha's death, General Abdulsalami Abubakar assumed office and continued the transition to democracy. This culminated in the February 1999 elections that saw Obasanjo return as Nigeria's first President of the Fourth Republic.


Why do some people disagree on the real 'Democracy Day'?

Nigeria's democracy is still growing, a fact that means celebrating Democracy day has its detractors. While some are against celebrating our 'flawed democracy', others challenge the choice of date.

Many point to June 12, 1993, a date associated with 'Nigeria's most free and fair election' as a worthier date to celebrate. States in Southern Nigeria declare public holidays on this date to commemorate the president that never was. 

In recent years, primarily those when it has not marked an Inauguration, Democracy Day has often been the source of criticism against perceived excessive government spending to mark the celebrations. At the same time, it has also provided an opportunity to reflect on the progress of the ruling administration, and Nigeria's nascent democracy. 


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