John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: Corruption’s Impact on Voting in Nigeria and Mexico

by John Campbell
February 22, 2012

A policeman stands near a polling booth during the local government election in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos October 22, 2011. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Asch Harwood, the Council on Foreign Relations Africa program research associate. Follow him on Twitter at @aschlfod.

John Campbell has regularly made the point that from 1999 to 2007  increasingly bad elections led Nigerians to withdraw from the political process. Despite official proclamations, the 2007 elections were thought to have had an extremely low turnout.

A recent paper (PDF) by the National Bureau of Economic Research (h/t to Chris Blattman), “Looking Beyond the Incumbent: The Effects of Exposing Corruption on Electoral Outcomes,” provides what could be some empirical evidence from their randomized experiment in Mexico to support this observation.

To conduct their experiment, researchers deployed varying levels of information on candidates’ corruption to different groups of voters in municipal elections in Mexico–and then measured voter behavior. Specifically, the researchers were interested in whether knowing more about corruption would cause voters to cast their ballot for the opposition candidate or not to vote at all. They found that “exposing rampant corruption leads to incumbents’ vote loses, but it also leads to a decrease in electoral turnout, and a decrease in challengers’ votes… Thus, under some circumstances, information about corruption disengages voters from the political process.”

Underlying their findings is the idea that “flows of such information about corruption are necessary but not sufficient to improve the governance and responsiveness because voters may respond to information by withdrawing from the political process rather than engaging to demand accountability.”

While clearly Mexico and Nigeria have distinct political, economic, and social contexts, I think the authors’ findings fit the pattern in Nigeria. The Giant of Africa’s well-known culture of impunity, coupled with an increasingly disenchanted (and even alientated) electorate, culminated in what came to be known as Nigeria’s 2007 “election-like” event. (It would be interesting to replicate their experiment in Nigeria. Among other difficulties, we don’t have much information on how much money local government areas receive or spend, which researchers did have through Mexico’s Federal Auditor’s Office.)

While Nigeria’s 2011’s electoral turnouts were considered better (and in some cases, too high to be credible), this can be at least partially explained by a newfound credibility bestowed by Attahiru Jega’s INEC leadership as well as the end of “zoning,” (power alternation between North and South) and overt appeals to ethnic and religious identity.

Read the paper here (PDF).

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Maduka

    Asch Harwood,

    The Federal Ministry of Finance publishes allocations to local governments. Expenditure will be more tricky to track.

    “Overt appeals to ethnic and religious identity” did not start with the 2011 election and the 2011 election wasn’t even a watershed event in that regard. I think that needs to be corrected.

    Contrary to the impression created by this blog, Nigerian history did not start in 1999. Neither did democracy in Nigeria. Ethnicity and religion have always been part of politics and democracy in Nigeria.

    In fact, the most overt appeal to ethnic and religious identity, ever ,in the history of Nigeria was the institution of Sharia criminal code in Northern Nigeria. Sharia was not declared because politicians suddenly became more pious and wanted to lead the people to heaven. It was introduced for cheap political gain.

    We can see its effects: a deepening of the wedge between Muslims (usually ethnic Hausa-Fulani or Kanuri) and non-Muslim minorities. From Jos to Zangon-Kataf to Yelwa we see the results of mixing ethnicity and religion with politics.

    Jonathan’s victory was built on these differences. The Northern Muslim elite scored an own goal!

    Zainab Usman (who I almost never agree with) has an interesting piece on this issue:

    Secondly, you mentioned the end of “zoning” in passing. One suspects that you share the same views as John Campbell who suggests that zoning should be re-instituted.

    I need to remind you that an agreement between the members of the corrupt elite on which office should go to who is neither legal nor binding on right-thinking Nigerians like me. Zoning is a PDP issue, not a national issue and I resist any attempt to deny me my right to vote for whoever I choose for irrespective of ethnicity or religion.

  • Posted by John P. Causey, IV

    The CFR published an article in its magazine this week outlining the different trade practices of the US and China, vis-a-vis Africa. Here is a link to the article:

    One theme outlines the different approaches to African Development that both China and the US take. To date, China’s policy of tough business deals, and noninterference has proven fruitful as compared to the US’s stance that aid and democratization are paramount.

    The good and bad part of the US approach is that US interests are linked with the interest of the people. As they gain more influence and have stronger more effective institutions, American influence and posture in the continent improves. When the converse is true, US interest wane.

    Morgan Stanley predicts that Nigeria will overtake SA as the continents ‘super power’ by 2025. If Nigeria can sort itself out, and establish a more responsive government the prospects bode well for improving Nigerian-American relations. If not, America must either learn to conduct business as the Chinese, or accept our non-participatory role on the continent for the foreseeable future.

  • Posted by Maduka

    John P. Causey IV,

    If you are remotely of the opinion that “US interests in Africa are linked with the interest of the people”, you either live in an alternative universe, are extremely naive or you are being deliberately dishonest.

    Egypt, if I must remind you, is in Africa and US interests in Egypt (for more than thirty years) had absolutely nothing to do with the interests of the Egyptian people. Ask any Egyptian and he will tell you what he thinks about the US government and its foreign policy.

    What about America’s love for dictators like Obiang, Zenawi and Museveni? Are the interests of the people of Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia or Uganda taken into consideration?

    What about US policy in the Niger Delta? Is it more driven by the interests of Chevron or the interests of the people of the Niger Delta?

    The Chinese may be bad, but we don’t have to put up with amazing levels of hypocrisy that characterise American relationships with Africa. For one, they don’t pretend to be the “only shining city on a hill” and “the hope for all mankind”.

    We hate bad guys but we hate hypocrites even more than we hate bad guys.

    If the truth must be told, America is popular because it has a lot of money to spend and it spends this money liberally. The day the Chinese have more money to spend in Africa than the Americans is the day America will be consigned to the back burner like other washed up former imperial powers like Portugal and Spain.

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