AS Nigeria looks forward to the February 16 presidential election, one nagging question I have encountered from many Nigerians who have accepted that we live under a dictatorship has been “will Buhari leave power if defeated?” I consider the question funny in relation to a president who got power through a concession from his predecessor, even when there were many grounds to challenge his victory. However, on the two occasions President (Muhammadu) Buhari has had good things to say about former President (Goodluck) Jonathan, it was to marvel at his decision to concede victory to him.
While speaking to State House correspondents in May 2016, President Buhari said it was the congratulatory call from Jonathan that prompted him to visit the Villa in company with former head of state, Abdusalami Abubakar, for appreciation. He said: “I will talk about my experience here in Aso Villa. I underrated the influence of the PDP for 16 years, watching from outside as three consecutive governments went by… This is where I pay my respect to former President Goodluck Jonathan. This is actually a privileged information for you. He called me at a quarter past five in the evening. He said ‘good evening Your Excellency sir’ and I said good evening. He said ‘I have called to congratulate you and have conceded defeat.’ Of course, there was dead silence on my end because I did not expect it. I was shocked. I did not expect it because, after 16 years, the man was a deputy governor, governor, vice president and was president for six years.
“For him to have conceded defeat even before the result was announced by INEC was quite generous and gracious of him. Abdulsalami recognised the generosity of Jonathan to concede defeat and said we should go and thank him immediately and that was the first time I came here.”
Those who read between the lines said somewhere in the mix was letting out the fact that Mr President could be saying that it would have been difficult for him to do same if he were wearing the shoes on his feet. And when the way power has been deployed in the last three and a half years is carefully studied, there is every reason to be concerned. The president, till date, has refused to congratulate Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State for defeating his candidate, Timipreye Sylva, in 2016. This is why I share with readers this week the study on the issue of dictators and elections by REIGN dataset.
“Almost 40 per cent of dictators suffer an election loss.
Dictators in Chile, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines lost elections and stepped down. When and why do dictators make the decision to allow elections and accept the results of those races? The REIGN dataset developed by OEF Research allows us to investigate these questions. For instance, peer-reviewed research produced with the help of OEF Research has demonstrated that dictators (who normally rise to power through unconventional avenues) are much less likely to exit through conventional methods such as elections.
Using the REIGN dataset, we identify the proportion of leaders who leave office following elections in dictatorships as compared to democracies in all countries from January 1950 to the present.
Figure and Data Analysis by Clayton Besaw
Only 12 per cent of dictators leave office after losing an election.
Though our focus is specifically on dictatorship, we use democratic elections as a comparison. The first panel calculates the portion of leaders who face elections in democracies as compared to dictatorship. Similar to democracies, the majority of dictators will hold an election while in office (as was discussed in the two previous posts in this series here). Interestingly, the second panel shows us that almost 40 per cent of dictators will suffer an electoral loss while they govern the country. With that in mind, the third panel shows us that only 12 per cent of dictators will make the decision to leave office after facing such a loss, with 88 per cent ignoring the results and maintaining their control of the government.
Who stays in office and who leaves? The type of election matters
Figure 2 provides more guidance as to which dictators stay in office and which leave. It appears that the type of election matters. The two panels chart the kernel density of leadership tenures for dictatorship. For instance, dictators who host irregular elections tend to have longer tenures as compared to dictators who host regular elections. Tenures also tend to be longer when dictators host legislative or mixed elections. This is especially true after the first twenty years in power.
Dictators who have shorter tenures tend to not experience elections or only experience executive elections. Specifically, the density peak for dictators who host only executive elections is much shorter than density peaks for legislative elections. This finding is supported by academic research. As noted by Jennifer Gandhi and Adam Przeworski, dictators often host partisan legislative elections to identify potential challengers in society and incorporate them into the government.
Figure and Data Analysis by Clayton Besaw
Military dictators are the most likely to step down from power.
Twelve per cent of dictators who lose elections accept the loss and leave office. As noted by Curtis Bell in a previous post for this series, dictators may be caught off guard by a sudden loss. It should be noted that this is often the case for military dictatorship. While the data above do not answer this question, previous academic research suggests that of all dictator regime types, leaders of military regimes are the most likely to step down from power.
When military dictatorship hold multiparty elections and maintain a legislature, they are much more likely, as compared to other dictatorship, to transition to democracy. Equally, the presence of legislatures that host (at least nominal) opposition parties significantly reduces the likelihood that former dictators will be killed or jailed once they step down from power.
This is largely because military dictators are able to return to the barracks. Military dictators may assume a leadership role of the armed forces once they abdicate power. This was the case for Pinochet. Once out of office, he maintained control of the armed forces for eight more years. Equally, he was granted immunity given his status as a former president of Chile. Though he was finally stripped of his immunity in 2000, the old dictator avoided conviction for crimes against humanity until his death in 2006.
It is rare for dictators to step down, but when they do it is because, like Pinochet, they have a feasible alternative, such as rejoining the military, that allows them to avoid accountability for human rights abuses.
The conclusion of this report is the reason Nigerians must do all that is necessary to make clear the direction they want their country to move into. The global community must also be sensitised to the danger of a civilian dictatorship seeking other means “to avoid accountability.”