For many Nigerians, and indeed in the eyes of most foreign observers of Nigerian affairs, the restoration of democratic rule in Africa’s largest country in May 1999 has brought little or no change in the politics of this vast nation of 150-million people. Corruption, electoral malpractice and political violence, the usual causes of governmental instability, have remained intractable despite a deluge of reform initiatives. Yet, as this article will show, while the benefits of most institutional reforms have been difficult to measure, there has been significant progress in a few other key areas of national political life. One of them is the relatively successful reform of the judiciary, which has led to the institution’s gradual emergence as a courageous and impartial arbiter in intra-elite electoral disputes in this chronically unstable federation. The transformation of the judiciary is amply demonstrated by the large number of judicial pronouncements that have upturned the results of several flawed elections and restored to office elected officials, such as state governors, wrongfully removed from their positions. This article argues that these decisions and the new activist role of the judiciary which produced them have, in many ways, helped to reinforce the role of the judiciary as a vital instrument of political control and democratic stabilisation and by so doing have helped to prolong the life of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.
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Categories: Journal of African Elections