Three weeks after the country’s general election, Nigerians in 28 states returned to the polls to vote for their governors and state-level representatives. On both occasions, widespread disenfranchisement and violence became the spearheads of the elections. But something else stood out, especially during the presidential elections: Nigerians became joint coordinators with INEC officials.
Nigerians are no stranger to errors during election processes. So they knew their participation would mean more than just thumbprints on ballots. For example, some people had to bring internet facilities to upload results, while others took care of their own security.
They said there was no network to upload results, so someone went home and brought this MTN router pic.twitter.com/owEAMLZmNB
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— blessed_sinner (@Aynoniii) February 25, 2023
At my PU. Everything is OK. Loud Alhajas. Boys with red eyes. The guy who attacked me last time saw my bodyguards and said hi.
INEC is setting up here.
— Editi Effiong (@EditiEffiong) March 18, 2023
But they didn’t stop there. Reading election results from INEC’s website is difficult for many. So Nigerians also enforced transparency by collecting results themselves. Some people have even created digital platforms for this. An example is Oo Nwoye, who launched Collect Africaa live election and monitoring platform.
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What’s interesting is that this behavior didn’t start with the election. Nigerian residents have been self-organizing for decades. And it is arguable why the country has defied the expectations of many observers who believe it should have become a completely failed state.
Nigeria’s public sector has done a poor job of meeting basic needs – education, health, security, power and infrastructure – yet Nigerians are adapting. They show the drive to organize their lives independently, both on an individual and group level. So we see these impulses in millions of Nigerians as they go about their daily business (not in easy circumstances, to be sure) as they try to make a living, get an education, chart a career path, find a husband, children and just generally making sense of life.
It is true that Nigeria is not the only country to use the BYOI (Bring Your Own Infrastructure) model. But what sets Nigerians apart is the sheer magnitude of their self-organizing abilities. For example, The electricity sector in Nigeria only generates about 5,000 MW of electricity. Meanwhile, Nigerians produce privately at least twice that of electricity while coming through large scale network suppliers by using generators.
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Similarly, the powerful Nigerian diaspora is a self-organizing phenomenon with virtually no government interference. Emigrants perform all the necessary tasks to emigrate, including researching, applying for jobs, finding a job, and organizing their departure. Despite this lack of official coordination, Nigerian brains — through the diaspora — have become the largest export earned for Nigeriaeven more than the country’s oil revenues.
Though this ability is a good thing for those of Nigeria anti-fragility, there is a clear disadvantage: Nigerians cannot entrust the government with their taxes. While taxes may not be nearly as high as Ivory Coast’s, people prefer not to pay. Hence, the country’s chances of escaping its much-touted revenue problem are shrinking.
-I dig my own borehole
-Provide my own alternative to light
-Roads are terrible so we pay more to maintain our cars and fix the ones we can fix probono
-Source for my own loan to start business because the government will not frustrate you
— kwesi Amiré Jr. (@kwesiAmir) March 18, 2023
There is a saying that “play is nothing but the spontaneous creation of structure, an improvisational practice illuminating the intersection of freedom and coercion.” In Nigeria, citizens have been forced to play a game with very little structure, but they have found ways to improvise and create new forms of order, against all odds. The result is a fascinating example of human resilience, but also a cautionary tale about the limits of relying solely on individual initiative and the risks of neglecting public goods. And now that the country has had the elections, it remains to be seen whether the country learns fast enough.