2020 US Presidential Election Fiasco: Lessons For Nigeria’s Democracy

Any doubt that there is a perfect system must have been put to test with the unfortunate fallouts from the United States of America’s 2020 presidential elections.

The controversies surrounding the polls was characterised by lengthy electioneering and destruction of polling booths.

Others are tedious counting and recounting of votes as well as litigations alleging irregularities and fraud.

These controversies had brought into sharp focus the democracy in Nigeria and other developing democracies, particularly in Africa.

Nigeria, like many of its peers which gained independence in the 1960s, often look up to the American democracy as a yardstick.

On its part, Nigeria is in its 22 years of unbroken democratic practice, dating back to 1999 when the military regime was terminated.

During these 22 years, the country had seen a president, Olusegun Obasanjo, completing statutory two terms in office.

For the first time in its entire years of nationhood, Nigeria successfully transited from one democratically elected president to another, when President Umaru Yar’Adua replaced Obasanjo in 2007.

Also read: US democracy ‘limping on both feet’ ― senior Russian lawmaker
The joy of this milestone soon ran into a constitutional dilemma with the death of President Yar’Adua in office, barely two years in office.

The Nigerian constitution did not envisage this constitutional dilemma and was not clear on a successor.

This dilemma was, however, resolved when the Nigerian Senate adopted “doctrine of necessity” to transfer power to Yar’Adua’s deputy, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

Jonathan was sworn-in as Acting President to complete the remaining two years of his late principal.

In 2011, Jonathan, from minority ethnic group of the South-South geo-political zone, went on to win a pan-Nigerian mandate of his own to become substantive President.

A series of a coalition of opposition, however, defeated him in 2015, leading to the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, who had failed on three previous attempts.

Yet, this Nigeria’s positive democratic scorecard is hardly celebrated as a significant achievement, as the almost three-century-old U.S. democracy remained the yardstick.

Jonathan’s immediate acceptance of defeat and subsequent congratulatory message to the victorious Buhari contrasted sharply with the dispute that characterised the 2020 U.S. presidential polls.

President Donald Trump, addressing supporters who had besieged the US Capitol building, described the 2020 election as fraudulent.

His rival and President-elect, Joe Biden, described the march on Capitol Hill as insurrection.

Professor Chibuzo Nwoke, Vice-Chancellor of Oduduwa University, Ipetumodu, Ile-Ife, said that the leadership of President Trump had helped to expose the reality of America.

According to him, the turn of events helped reveal the irregularities in the U.S. system and the world has come to a realization that it is just as crooked a society as any other.

“On the other hand, for those who are passionate about democracy and see America as an example of democratic governance in the world.

“It is a sad and ugly development of which a number of questions need to be raised and answered.

“The unruly behaviour of pro-Trump rioters was an ugly sight to behold and in a building where high ranking government officials were present.

“It was quite visible that the act was incited by President Trump,” Nwoke told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

He added that the U.S. was a prepared society and negative acts such as the insurrection at the Capitol Building could not have happened without a significant figure working behind the scenes.

“Could it be said that the security forces did not anticipate what happened; because from videos making rounds, they were quite restrained,” he said.

Nwoke said that despite the ugly play of events, he was confident that at the end of the day, what was going on would still be completed.

“The certification has been done and what that tells us is that America will always bounce back. They always check and correct their wrongs,” he said.

However, he said that it was important for the leadership of emerging democracies to learn to put systems on the ground.

“So that when challenged, the system would remember the national interest, then come together to salvage and bring back the interest of the country,” Nwoke said.

Similarly, Professor Ayo Olukotun, Secretary-General of the Nigeria International Relations Society, said that Trump had diminished his stature and enlisted himself and his followers in a battle he could not have won.

“Both within and outside the U.S., leaders across the globe have jointly condemned the action that was meant to prevent the endorsement of Biden as the authentic and validly elected president.

“The whole world was watching and a significant issue people have raised is the differential treatment between black lives matter protesters and pro-Trump supporters in the same arena,” he said.

Olukotun told NAN that it appeared that Trump rioters were given an easy passage considering the lack of resistance on the part of security forces at the initial stage.

According to Olukotun, the incessant theatrical displays of Trump can only go so far and has run its course.


“Several of his cabinet members have resigned and even Mike Pence who four years ago said he would always stand by Trump has seemingly started to withdraw from him.

“Trump is now being increasingly isolated and some are calling for his impeachment; which apparently can not be concluded before his tenure is over.

“However, they can still make a record of it that he was impeached over serious misdemeanour because he has played what footballers call an own-goal,” he said.

Olukotun said that there would always be anti-democratic forces massing up and challenging democratic system and principles.

He, however, said that a major lesson was to learn to stay the course and see to it that democracy was pursued to its logical end.

“The unruly act of Trump rioters was meant to intimidate the lawmakers, but at the end only angered them to speed up the certification process.

“There is a need for emerging democracies across the globe to maintain the sanctity of democratic institutions, such as the legislature.

“Such institutions should always walk by valid principles of democracy. The ability of the U.S. Congress to bounce back almost immediately is a triumph for democratic institutions.

“It means that those institutions are resilient enough to withstand temporary challenges.

“Emerging democracies, Nigeria included, should build up their institutions and give them the capacity to endure and withstand challenges by dangerous or misguided personalities,” he said.

Also, Dr Henry Ogunjewo, of the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, said that the first lesson the international system has to learn is to ask if democracy is the only means of governance.

“Are there alternatives that will be better than this?

“If America, one of the greatest democratic states has become the way it is today, shouldn’t the international system begin to think of other alternatives?

“Is democracy the only way to rule?

“If emerging democracies think it’s the best way to rule them there will definitely be a need for some adjustment in the procedures of the democratic process

“The problem is that when there is democracy without democrats, challenges will arise, the university don told NAN.

He noted that democracy means that the rule of the people will be upheld, but when practitioners who are not willing to allow for the majority to win, democracy will fail.

According to him, this will lead to a very big problem.

World leaders have also not come short of expressing shock at the turn of events in the US democracy, which has been in practice since 1788.

They called for peace and an orderly transition of power, describing the invasion of Capitol building as “horrifying” and an “attack on democracy”.

The United Kingdoms’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned what he tagged the disgraceful scenes in the U.S.

“The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power,” he said.

Other UK politicians joined him in criticising the violence, with opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer calling it a “direct attack on democracy”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that the scenes from the Capitol were “utterly horrifying”.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: “I have trust in the strength of US democracy.

“The new presidency of Joe Biden will overcome this tense stage, uniting the American people,” he said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the “grave attack against democracy” and the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, described the violent scenes as “deeply concerning”.

Also, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg joined those in saying that the outcome of the election “must be respected”.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was following the situation “minute by minute”.

“I think the American democratic institutions are strong, and hopefully everything will return to normal shortly,” he said.

Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada was “deeply shocked” by the situation.

“The peaceful transition of power is fundamental to democracy – it must continue and it will.

“We are following developments closely and our thoughts are with the American people,” he added.

The Turkish foreign ministry said it invited “all parties” to show “restraint and common sense”.

The Venezuelan government said that “with this regrettable episode, the United States experiences the same thing that it has generated in other countries with its policies of aggression”.



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