On October 1 Nigeria added to its list of vital statistics a new status as the world's fourth largest democracy. The list was already impressive. One African in four is a Nigerian; with a population of 80 million or more, Nigeria is larger than any country in Europe. It is also the world's eighth largest producer of crude oil and has been the United States' second largest supplier for six years, neither joining in the Arab boycott of 1973-74, nor cutting exports for policy reasons subsequently.
Any voluntary handover of government from military to civilian rulers is unusual. Nigeria's was, arguably, unique. Meticulously planned, and including civilians at all stages of the four-year process, it culminated in a change of government as smooth as in a Western democracy. Further, Nigerians set a precedent in breaking from their colonial constitutional heritage. Rejecting Britain's parliamentary form of democracy, which they had continued after their independence in 1960, they chose, in their first wholly Nigerian-made constitution, to follow the American model instead.
They made that choice with characteristic pragmatism: Nigeria, like the United States, is large, complex, heterogeneous; as one of Nigeria's constitution-makers said simply, "What works for you may work for us." Americans, unaccustomed these days to being seen as exemplary, even historically, need to consider the statement Nigerians have made, however indirectly.
Nigeria's new government looks remarkably familiar to an American. The newly elected President has ahead of him a four-year term, with the possibility of a second term thereafter. The national assembly is