A Critical Appraisal Of Election Laws In Nigeria

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A Critical Appraisal Of Election Laws In Nigeria


The electoral process is a total process that includes registration of voters, identifying the political parties to be voted for, voting, counting of votes, and declaration of election results. This process is the foundation of civil societies. A strong civil society is vital and needed to serve as the bedrock of a stable democracy. It represents the reservoir of resources — political, economic, cultural, and moral — to complement and, when necessary, to check the power of the state. A dynamic and diverse civil society directly stimulates social and political participation, increasing the involvement and commitment of citizens and promoting an appreciation of the obligations, as well as the rights, of citizenship. By providing many potential avenues for political, economic and social expression, a society with a rich associational life gives people a stronger stake in the social order. This in turn, creates a climate within which mutual respect, tolerance, negotiation, and compromise actually make sense, and flourish.

Nigeria claims to be democratic and seeks to prove that under the banner of representation and multi-party political systems. Elections are used as a means by which representatives and policies are decided. The choice between political parties or individual candidates is made through elections. It should be noted that the public function implies elections. This electoral process is the peaceful transfer of power and legitimate exercise of authority. It demands active, broad-based citizen participation. It is the election that actually determines who shall wield power for a number of years as specified by the constitution. An electoral system may be defined as a process in which the mode of coming to power or the change of government is decided in a particular country at a given time.This paper is going to examine the development of several election laws that has been developed and the progression of the laws.

Chapter One

General Introduction


Elections have become the most acceptable process of changing leadership in any given political system in the present day. The Black’s law dictionary defines election as the process of selecting a person to occupy a position or office, usually a public office.

Another definition is the one which defines election as the act of selecting someone or something; the exercise of deliberate choice.2Election is the cornerstone of democracy and it is essentially a contest for the votes of adult members of the society by aspirants to political office. It is worthy of note however that the concept of elections is quite recent in the history of man as it can be traced to the emergence of democratic government. Professor W. Phillips in his book, power and choice; an introduction to political science said:

“In the long swing of the history , elections with broad mass participation are rather new. Such elections originated with democratic government, which means that they came along at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. Today, elections are widespread around the world, even though a number of world’s states are not democracies”

From the foregoing, it is clear that elections and democracy are intertwined,it is therefore appropriate to touch on democracy which can be defined as a form of representative government based on the consent of the people. Jimmy carter, former president of United States said Democracy is like the experience of life itself-always changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more valuable for being tested

The principal medium for translating the people’s consent into government authority is the holding of free and fair elections. However, history has shown that it is usually difficult to hold free and fair elections, even the united states, which is the model for other democracies was faulted in the year 2000, when the elections that led to the victory of president bush was alleged to be marred by irregularities in the state of Florida. In Nwachukwu vs. Eneogwe; it was held that :

Once an election is found, substantially, not to be free and electorate, either by violence or intimidation, has not been allowed freely to cast their votes, the election where such has occurred, ought to, and must be nullified and a fresh one conducted5

Nigeria has had its fair share of electoral disputes, the presidential and governorship elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007 were reported to be marred by irregularities in vote tabulation and reporting of results by both foreign and local observers.

Electoral law is that branch of law that seeks to regulate the electoral system which ranges from voters’ registration, political parties registration to collation of results. According to Wikipedia, electoral law is a branch of constitutional law which regulates the electoral process.

In this study, the focus will be on Nigeria’s electoral law which has grown a lot from its pre-independence period. Nigeria is on the eve of another election which if successful will mark its third uninterrupted transition of power since the last military intervention in 1999.

Premised on this, the importance of electoral law in Nigeria cannot be over emphasised. The Nigerian electoral law can be traced back to 1922, with the introduction of the ‘elective principle’ by the then governor-general , Sir Hugh Clifford who in the constitution of 1922 which was named after him made provisions for the election of four representatives to represent the Lagos and Calabar region, however, only male adults were allowed to vote.

This ‘elective principle’ is very crucial in the discussion of Nigerian electoral law because it gave room for the formation of political parties which although not like the contemporary political parties, served its purpose back then.6 The 1946 constitution by Sir Arthur Richard did not alter the ‘elective principle’ of 1922, this position changed in 1951 when Sir Macpherson became the governor-general, there were more electoral seats and the people were better represented in the colonial government. The Nigerian electoral law and system has since evolved as both legal and institutional framework are put in place to regulate the system and targeted towards ensuring free and fair elections.

1.1.0 Background to the Study

Nigeria’s electoral development is closely tied to its political experience. Pre-colonial and colonial era did not offer any notable contribution in this regard. Nigeria is a nation of more than 300 ethnic groups and each had a distinct system of operation before the arrival of the British colonial masters through which security and welfare of tribesmen were organized. It was clearly different from the colonial package of political governance of the southern and northern protectorates which were amalgamated in 1914 to become what stands today as Nigeria.

Upon the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates in 1914, Lord Lugardbecame the first governor-general of Nigeria. The white colonial masters were in charge of all the arms of government but from 1922 when Sir Hugh Clifford became the governor general, an elective principle was introduced whereby four out of forty-six member legislative council made up of twenty-seven unofficial and nineteen official members, this was significant because it was the first of its kind. The elective principle expanded and developed all through the pre-independence times with the various constitutional provisions that came after the Richard’s Constitution.

After independence, Nigeria’s electoral system became more expansive and sophisticated.

Various institutions were established to guide and regulate the electioneering process, alongside these institutions, various laws were being promulgated to oversee the electoral process.

With a population of over 120million and many expatriate communities across the globe, the largest economy in West Africa, and great political importance in the region,the African continent, and the global stage, events which affect the future and stability of Nigeria affectsthe entire world .Nigeria being a democratic state especially since recent times, has to have elections from time to time so as to decide who rules the affairs of the nation and who represents the various ethnics in decision making from the local to the national level. The success of the election to the outlined posts is important not just to the citizens but also to the world in general.

Nigeria faces a major challenge when it comes to holding of elections that are free and fair.

The most free and fair and peacefully conducted elections were those in 1959, 1979, and 1993 and the most chaotic, violent and disputed were those in 1964 and 1983. It is also noteworthy that Nigeria has had its fair share of political instability as a result of military intervention at different times in her political history at different times since her independence in 1960.the 2007 election was not without its shortcomings too, in fact, premised on the outcome of the 2007 elections and the reactions of the candidates and citizens which sprung the agitation for a change in the electoral law, the late president Umaru Yar’adua set up an electoral reform committee. However, this is not the first time of such committee or panel at different points in the Nigerian electoral history, various committees have been formed to revise the regulating the electoral system.

From the days of the Clifford’s constitution’s elective principle to the present day, legal and institutional framework has been put in place to regulate the electoral process. Such institutions established include NEC ,FEDECO and now we have INEC. The constitution also provides for election tribunals that hear cases bordering on electoral disputes. On this groundwork, one can say the Nigerian electoral system and electoral law has come a long way notwithstanding the shortcomings.

1.2.0 Objectives of this Study

The broad objective of this study is to appreciate Nigeria’s political dynamism in relation to her electoral development with special focus on the challenges of the electoral system and different provisions made so as to solve existing problems and forestall future ones, the lapses of such provisions made and suggestions on what can be done to rectify such lapses.

1.3.0 Focus of the Study

In order to meet the broad objectives of this study, I will focus on the following specific objectives:

  1. To critically study the historical background of elections in Nigeria with a view to understanding and appreciating the legal and constitutional framework put in place to regulate the electoral process from past times to the present times.
  2. Highlight the challenges facing the electoral system and the laws and suggest ways to which the electoral laws and system can be more reliable than what we have today.

1.4.0 Scope of the Study

This study covers from the colonial period from post colonial period i.e. 1922 to the present day. The post colonial period is very important in this study because 1922 marked the beginning of electoral process with the introduction of elective principle by Sir Hugh Clifford. The study will also cover the various electoral process ranging from voter’s registration to party systems, this will be done with the view of making the research a diligent one. The study will also talk about electoral disputes making use of important cases which serve as major authorities in the present day electoral law.

…chapter continues in the complete material

Chapter Five

Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1.0 Conclusion

Controversies surrounding elections have serious potential to undermine the legitimacy and stability of democracy. There could be the most serious consequences for democratic development if political leaders are unable to reach consensus on rules of political conduct, and if the Nigerian public therefore becomes alienated from the electoral process. Nigerians would universally suffer from further political crises or an interruption of democratic rule.
Even President Umar Musa Yar’Adua acknowledged the fact that Nigerian electoral system needs reform. It was on the basis of the above that Yar’Adua made the issue of electoral reforms an integral part of his seven point agenda.

The Nigerian Electoral Law has witnessed its highs and lows, the instability in the electoral system can be blamed on the youthfulness of the process of democracy in the country, which has witnessed several interruption by the Military at different times. Coupled with this, is also the issue of ‘do or die politics’ that has eaten deep into the Nigerian politics and also frustrated the electoral process and the rules guiding it. Nevertheless, the development in this area of law cannot be overemphasised, however there is still room for improvement and reforms.

The nature, scope and methodology of such reforms have remained topical in national debate.

This chapter is therefore aimed at recommending solutions to some problems that has been identified in the preceding chapters.

Electoral reform is an urgent challenge for Nigeria’s developing democracy. Controversies over past elections in Nigeria have undermined previous democratic regimes. It may berecalled that the controversies that erupted in the 1983 Presidential elections paved way for the military to seize power and put an end to the fledging democracy. Furthermore, 1992 elections conducted by the Babaginda regime led to the June 12 crisis that almost tore the entire country apart. From historical records, it can be deduced that the electoral system in Nigeria has a lot of lapses which makes it possible for political leaders to rig elections. This proposition was confirmed by the court of Appeal sitting in a recent election petition matter which described the Nigerian electoral Act 2006 as an Election rigging manual.

One of the challenges that the Nigerian electoral body faces is the fact that all elections are held within the same period. This alone creates room for rigging because the electoral body is over worked and exposed to poor security arrangement. The electoral body is also faced with the challenges of poor staffing as it has to source ad hoc staff. As the nation continues to grapple with the problems associated with Nigeria’s electoral system, it is essential, to at this juncture address the problems in the electoral system and to prepare the groundwork for smooth, peaceful, and credible elections in the future. There is widespread concern that irregularities in elections could undermine the legitimacy and stability of Nigeria’s democratic system. Urgent reforms are therefore needed to correct these flaws in future polls. 90

5.2.0: Recommendations

Despite the identified challenges facing Nigeria’s electoral system, it must be acknowledged that there are still opportunities available to Nigeria for a viable and efficient electoral system. In this regard, there is the need for the following:

a. Political Commitment to Reform.

Free and fair elections are a key to building a democracy. The first step is for political leaders, from all branches of government and every political grouping, to affirm their commitment to basic principles for a free, fair, and violence-free election in the future. Political commitment at the highest levels is needed for successful electoral reform, and the major participants in contesting elections must unite around common standards of conduct and rules of law.

b. Strengthening the Independence and Capacity of Electoral Body.

The general view among Nigerians is that all the independent bodies set up to conduct elections often lacks sufficient independence or effectiveness to administer fair and transparent elections. Above all, a credible election process requires an independent, non-partisan, competent, and professional election administration. To achieve this goal, the following steps government needs to adopt the following:

i. Appointment:

The process of appointment for future electoral body has to assure that the body members are competent and non-partisan, and that they enjoy a reputation for neutrality. While there are different ways to accomplish this, the overall modalities for selecting such officials should be revised. Electorates should have a say on who becomes electoral officers by way of referendum. Alternatively, a reputable body such as the Nigerian 91
Bar Association (NBA) could propose candidates directly to the Senate for confirmation.

ii. Term.

To secure independence, the senior officials of the electoral body like the commissioners should be career civil servants.

iii. Conducting Election.

Experience has shown that Nigeria’s elections are usually conducted together within the same period. The resultant effect is that such election are hastily conducted paving way for a lot of irregularities that are beyond the control of the electoral body. It is in this regard that this paper argues that there are opportunities for Nigeria to spread its election over the period of complete government tenure.

iv. Funding.

Such electoral body requires a secure source of funding to ensure adequate resources for election administration, and availability of funds as needed. The electoral body should be able to present its budget directly to the National Assembly (as obtainable in Canada, another federal democracy), and its funding should come from consolidated revenue.

The level of funding for such body could be determined by a standard formula that reflects the number of registered voters times the average cost of conducting an election per voter.

v. Party Representation.

The political parties should not directly administer elections, but they need to have a voice in the electoral body to convey concerns, as well as a channel for being informed. Therefore, they could be represented in an established Advisory Council, which could sit in on the electoral body meetings but could not vote. Importantly, there is the need for independent candidacy in all elections.

vi. Professional Training.

Such electoral body should develop a career professional service, equivalent to the career foreign service. Amending the conditions of service and the standards 92of professionalism within the electoral body will raise the capacities and the stature of the institution, better positioning the body to oversee elections. As a point of comparison, Mexico made the transition from a weak electoral system to a highly trained and professional institution in less than a decade, and a key element in its success was training.

vi. Polling and Counting Procedures.

There is great concern that the official count in recent elections did not accurately reflect the preferences of the people, and that the right to a secret ballot was often violated. To address these concerns, both voting and counting procedures should be made more transparent and subject to stronger independent oversight. The following improvements are essential:

  • Polling at each precinct should be done in the presence of party agents and domesticobservers, and procedures to ensure ballot secrecy should be reviewed and improved.
  • Sheets with final results should be signed at each polling station by designated polling officials, party agents, and domestic observers, with copies available for all.
  • Representatives of party agents and independent observers must be allowed to accompany the forms to collation and counting centers, and to witness each stage of tabulation.
  • The results of the ballots should be available on the web down to the precinct level, so that the original signatories can verify that they were counted accurately.
vii. Campaign Finance and Conflict of Interest.

There is a general believe among Nigerians that corruption in Nigerian politics undermines democracy and requires constant vigilance by government and civil society groups. The most assuring approach to stemming political 93corruption, as seen in many countries, includes regulations on contributions and campaign expenditures by parties and candidates, along with clear rules on conflict of interest.


Given Nigeria’s diversity, it is obvious that democracy is the sole political choice for its survival, and the best system for managing the nation’s current challenges is by fostering better governance, and ensuring popular welfare. This can be achieved through an efficient electoral system. The fact remains that the current electoral system is faulty and requires reforms. In adopting electoral reforms, the above stated recommendations can be taken into consideration. 94

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