Electoral Reforms And Democratic Sustainability In Nigeria (1999 Till Date)
Since 1999 when civil politics was restored to Nigeria nothing seems to galvanize the nation’s democratic agenda than the discourse on the appropriate electoral system for the country. The sustained interest in the choice of electoral regime is better appreciated when juxtaposed with the fact that no election in Nigeria since 1959 has gone undisputed. The immediate past effort at electoral reform collapsed in large part due to the insincerity of the authors of the reform project. The Yar’adua / Jonathan regime in Nigeria at inauguration promised to commit itself to reforming the electoral process in a manner that protects the sanctity of the ballot. The body language of the regime at the onset appeared to inspire high hopes for a credible reform process. This was partly demonstrated in the administration’s demonstrable respect for the rule of law and due process which represented a radical departure from the governance style of its immediate predecessor.
1.1 Background of the Study
The golden pages of the New World Order bears that good governance and development are the desiderata of every state, which according to Western scholars can exclusively be achieved by upholding the tenets of democracy to which election remains it central nexus. As rightly noted by Gesset “the health of any democracy, no matter its type or status, depends on a small technical detail: the conduct of elections. Everything else is secondary.” (Animashaun, 2010:2).
Universally, elections are litmus tests of any democratic political system. Infact, democracies are all founded upon election, for it is the process that confers legitimacy upon power. Scholars are however quick to note that, not just elections but credible elections not only confers legitimacy on political leadership, it provides citizens with the freedom to choose their rulers and to decide on public policy and also crucial to the sustenance of democratic order. Under any democratic system, citizens who are legally qualified to exercise franchise are provided with opportunity to choose political alternatives and to make decisions that expresses their preferences. In a multi-party dispensation, this choice is made out of the several parties and candidates competing in the electoral market. (Ibid).
Like all channels of political communications, elections are a ‘two way street’ that provides the government and the people, the elite and the masses with the opportunity to influence one another. Be that as it may, it is therefore important to acknowledge that in all democracies, elections perform legions of functions which can be summarized as follows; recruiting politicians and public decision-making, making governments, providing representation, influencing policy decisions, educating voters; building legitimacy; strengthening elites, providing succession in leadership and extension of participation to many people. (Anifowose, 2013:24).
Probing further on the concept of election, Dahl espoused that there are three essential conditions before any election can be worthy exercise which includes: competition among individuals and political groups (political parties); inclusive system of leadership recruitment; and existence of a regime’s civil political rights. These conditions underscore the importance of elections both as a regime legitimizer and as a guarantor of citizen’s participation in governance which is central to the political stability of the polity. However, the extent to which election advances democratic order depends largely on the existing electoral system, its nature and its acceptance by the stakeholders in the electoral process. (Bello-Imam 2008: 85).
From the foregoing, it is obvious that not just elections but credible, free and fair elections represent the lifeblood of modern democracy and an important feature in consolidating democracy. It is within this premise that the crux of the polity in Nigeria has been the quest for transparent, credible, accountable and legitimate elections since independence to ensure that the best candidate emerge the winner. However, experiences have shown that in most new states like African states, election managers usually substitute meritocracy with mediocrity by way of perpetrating electoral fraud, in this case, rigging (Olaniyi, 2006: 174).
A case in point is the various elections held in Nigeria. Unlike the 1959, 1979, 1993, 2003 and 2007 elections organized by incumbent civilian governments were marred by serious electoral fraud/corruption such as ballot stuffing, multiple voting, thuggery abduction of contestants, disappearance of ballot boxes and electoral officers, rigging and the list is inexhaustible. (Thisday, 2009.23). Thus there is no gain saying that the history of elections and electoral politics in Nigeria has been a conquered one as it has suffered from both institutional and experimental deficits. As rightly noted, if the institutions saddled with the responsibility of managing the electoral system in consonance with its statutory obligations, does not handle the issue of elections with sincerity and patriotism, it could generate animosity which in few case has instigated military incursion into political governance most notably in 1966 and 1983 and in most cases, it has threatened the corporate existence of the country. This exposition will be suicidal without mentioning the violence that attended Nigeria’s most historic election that was annulled- the June 12, 1993 Presidential election as it remains a veritable case in point. (Animashaun, 2010:3).
Moreso, it should be borne in mind that there are other structural institutional and psycho-cultural factors which have combined to make open, competitive and meaningful electoral politics elusive. These factors includes but not restricted to; the dependent and underdeveloped nature of the Nigerian economy; the limited autonomy of various electoral bodies; excessive monetization of politics in general’ a “winner take all” philosophy embedded in the First Past-the Post system operative in Nigeria; religious bigotry and to some extent ethnic chauvinism and the most central being ‘politics’ (Ibrahim, 2003: 36-42). The fall out of this, has been the public outcry and the quest to change the tide by democratic forces and patriots (like the coalition of Democratic for Electoral Reforms (CODER)) to mobilize our people to ensure electoral reforms which will serve as the basis of recreating, re-building and sustaining our democratic heritage. (The Nations, 2010:59).
It is against this backdrop that several administrations in Nigeria’s fourth republic have embarked on several electoral reforms which have metamorphosed into Electoral laws and Acts. One of such reform is that drafted by the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) instituted by the Yaradua/Jonathan administration in 2008 which was indeed an important milestone in consolidating democracy in Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of Research Problem
It is evident in Nigeria that the problematic nature of elections which is usually accompanied with various degrees of electoral malpractices has been a recurring decimal in politics with dire consequences in the polity both in retrospect and contemporary. In order not to allow history to repeat itself, statesmen thought it wise to work out modalities on how to improve elections and electoral system devoid of irregularities towards a better Nigeria. This was however done in the form of a reform usually tagged ‘electoral reforms’ which has become a front burner issue in Nigeria’s political discourse. This issue of electoral reform therefore becomes a matter for research in order to determine how it has contributed to ensuring legitimacy and democratic sustainability in Nigeria.
1.3 Research Questions
In the course of the research there are some questions that came up and will form the basis of what will be the content of our study. This includes:
- Is there any need for electoral reforms?
- To what extent has elections influence democratic sustainability in Nigeria?
- Are there factors debilitating the conduct of free and fair elections?
- What implications has the electoral reforms in consolidating democracy in Nigeria?
- How has the electoral reform helped in enhancing the electoral process in Nigeria?
- To what extent has the electoral process improved Nigeria’s international relations or Nigeria’s image in the international community?
1.4 Objective of the Study
This study seeks to accomplish the following objectives:
- To expose issues of electoral fraud in the past
- To identify and analyze areas necessary for reforms.
- To expose and predict the possible ways of conducting free and fair elections in future
- To reveal the relationship between democratic process and national development.
- To evaluate the importance of electoral reforms on democratic sustainability and nation building.
1.5 Significance of the Study
The importance of this research cannot be overemphasized as it is embarked on to serve the following purpose:
- The research will serve as a blueprint to the government as they are presently tinkering on how best to ensure free and fair elections in the spirit of true democracy.
- The study will open doors for further studies into election-related issues.
- It will serve as an academic material for political science and other social science students alike.
- To add to the avalanche of knowledge and scholarship.
- It will also serve as yet another study that will proffer relevant suggestions and recommendations from the findings which will in turn improve Nigeria’s electoral process.
1.6 Scope and Limitations of the Study
This study is majorly concerned with electoral reforms in Nigeria and its impact in sustaining democracy in Nigeria. It is within this premise that the study is organized into chapters, precisely four chapters dealing on specific but interrelated issues that are systematically linked. Chapter one lays the foundation of the work, chapter two critically reviews related literature and theoretical framework of the study, chapter three evaluates the research topic- Electoral reforms and Democratic Sustainability in Nigeria and the last chapter, chapter four deals with the summary, recommendation and conclusion.
The limitation of the research basically hinges on the fact that the research topic is a contemporary issue in political discourse, hence, the dearth of publications on the subject. Also associated is the inability to access some materials owing to the fact that some information is classified and those made available are distorted.
1.7 Research Methodology
The content of this research work is basically on secondary sources of data such as related books, newspapers, articles, journals, magazines and other relevant information from the internet. These data are sourced from libraries such as: the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Library, Victoria Island, Lagos and Department of Political Science Library, University of Benin, Benin City. The method of data analysis will be content analysis.
1.8 Conceptual Clarifications
This is a major requirement for any scientific or empirical research. It lays the basis for outright understanding of major concepts that will be used; this is because concepts are the “building block” of any given discipline. The following concepts therefore, need operational clarification.
This is the process by which a people decide their rulers and assign person or persons to rulership positions in a state or society. (Ikelegbe, 2004: 120)
This is the method by which a person is elected to public office or the taking and counting of votes.
This refers to a complex of rules and regulations that govern the selection of office holder in an organization or State. (Nnoli, 2003: 230).
This is a systematic way of improving the electoral system to enhance good governance and politics. (Adama, 2008).
A political system providing for the participation of citizens in political decision making, often by the representatives of governing bodies. (Giddens 2001).
Summary, Recommendation and Conclusion
Our country’s electoral process and indeed all of its political system have been characterized for long by crisis of value and methods. As many times as our country has tired in all of it fifty years to organize what should be normal civic duties of democratically choosing its leaders and representatives, the exercise almost always snowballed into acrimonious interest group disputations. In many cases, election relates disputes do end at polarizing the society and promoting discontent which is bad enough.
From our discussion so far, it is clear that Nigeria voters do not really attach sufficient promissory content or psychological value to their votes. The mandates claimed by politicians are dubious products of devalued votes. Electoral promises are outright falsehood and as such empty. In terms of content value, Nigerian voters perceive their votes as unequal for the fact that actions of corrupt electoral officials, party leaders, security agents and the presidency count more in determining electoral outcomes than vote. Finally, the bulk of Nigerians have no illusions about the irrelevance of their votes and there is no psychological satisfaction in voting because they are aware that their votes will not count. But given the grand vision of electoral reforms such egregious actions will be corrected and thus, the integrity of the ballot will be guaranteed.
Considering the centrality of elections in the survival of democracy, democracy requires a strong ethical foundation. Thus, the following policy recommendations are hereby made for electoral reforms:
- Given the consensus that INEC is not truly independent, it is imperative that measures to secure it autonomy be put in place, particularly the present procedure for
- Appointment: The appointment of the chairman and commissioners of INEC should be changed from the presidency to the National Judiciary council and two thirds of the senate should approve the appointment. In this regard, an amendment of Section 153(1) and Section 154-157 becomes imperative.
- To secure its independent, the commissioners should have a term that exceeds that of the president by at least a couple of years.
- Its funding should come from consolidated Revenue Fund. It budget should be directly submitted to and approved by the National Assembly.
- INEC should be restructured and administratively reorganized so as to reduce the wide ranging functions it performs to make it more effective and efficient.
- INEC should immediately start to work to improve the voter’s register, by removing double registration, underage entities, entries without pictures and other shortcomings. This should be undertaken with a view to ensuring public and political confidence at all stages of the process.
- Computerized identity card should be introduced and used in the forth coming 2012 state elections and subsequent elections.
- The power to disqualify nominated candidates should rest only with the court and not with INEC or political parties.
- That an accurate list of polling stations, including locations, number of registered voters, should be made available to political parties and election observers in a timely manner.
- Civil Society organizations must intensify efforts in sensitizing communities about the need for peace building and prevention of violence related to elections.
- The electoral act should be amended to provide time limits for the determination of petitions, shorter deadlines and single appeal processes, in order to ensure that all post-election disputes are settled before a winner assumes office. This way more cases like that of Governor Obi of Anambra would be avoided forever.
- Collation of results should be done in the presence of party agents and election monitors, and results should be signed by party agents and released immediately at each stage of the counting and collation process.
- Sanction for electoral fraud must be robust and consistently applied.
- There should be penalties for persons sponsoring political violence not just the actual perpetrators but the money bags and godfathers.
- Campaign finance legislation should regulate the funding of political parties; ban the use of state resource for political, personal or campaign purposes; regulates and strictly enforce the provision of free airtime and media space to all political parties and candidates.
- Any member of a political party who decamps to another shall vacate any elective office that he or she contested and won on the platform of his former party and shall not be eligible to contest in the bye-election to fill the vacancy.
- The military must be kept out of the administration of elections. The police must be trained to be neutral vis-à-vis parties and candidates and to protect the rights of all voters against harassment and intimidation.
Finally, the Machiavellian politics of “the end justifies the means” where the desires to gain political power would be justified through electoral fraud should be avoided.
It has been pointed out that the conduct of elections is very vital to the democratic process the world over, and Nigeria cannot be different. There can not be representative democracy without the conduct of elections. The conduct of credible elections that has been a perennial problem in every democratic experiment in Nigeria needs to be fundamentally restructured. It is this consciousness that perhaps propelled the late Yar’adua’s government to embark on a noble cause in establishing the Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms, in an attempt to deal with some of these problems in finding when and how it all went wrong. Despite this commitment, as we are all aware that both the executives and the legislatives who could be said to be beneficiaries of flawed elections in Nigeria, virtually passed a death sentence on the recommendations of the Uwais Committee before the National Assembly. If Nigeria’s theoretical commitment to democracy is not matched by strong sense of commitment, the present experience may yet represent another wasted effort in the annals of the country’s democratic tragedy.
At this moment in time, I verily feel like Mikhail Bakunin, the famous Russian revolutionary writer, who disgusted by the spirit of inertia among the proletariat of this day, was moved to write: “to my utter despair I have discovered and discover everyday a news that there is in the masses no revolutionary idea or hope or passion”. We must develop a passion for change, especially if we are governed by men, who think that it is beyond their dignity, to have a change of heart-but it is the only thing that makes us truly human. As William Blake has observed, “the man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of his mind”. And we must ask why the incumbents in power, are so afraid of political change, to the extent that they would rather have the nation in chains, and be willing to exalt order, at the cost of liberty.
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