Election is the hallmark of democracy. Any democratic regime that does not conduct election will be regarded as a dictatorship. The trust and reputation built up on the electoral process impedes on its credibility, ligitimacy and public acceptability. The higher the level of trust and reputation built around the electoral process, the higher the acceptability of the leaders that emerge. The electoral process in Nigeria is in a state of total relapse, confusion and quagmire. To what extent has the reputation of the electoral system made Nigerians trust its process and output? How can Nigeria get out of the electoral process conundrum for credible leaders to emerge in the country? Today, these and many more will be discussed in our conversation.
Assessment of Nigeria’s electoral process/where we got it wrong again
The extent to which there is a missing link between good governance and credible electoral process in Nigeria is amply reflected in assessment of electoral process in the country. Right from the outset, it is essential not to be under the premonition that all is lost in the nexus between the mechanism of rule of law via electoral process, and good governance through the instrumentation of political leadership in the democratic structure in the country. Far from it. The emphasis on the failures in the above nexus is predominant because of the laagered effect of the electoral process on sustainable development and inability of the process to meet the yearnings and expectations of the people for a better life, a progressive nation and transition from the doldrums of developing nation (third world) to the fortress of a developed nation (first world). By analogy of medical prognosis, the essence of highlighting the causes and symptoms of the nation’s electoral process is to capture the saying that they that are whole need no physician, but they that are sick. If the Nigerian electoral process were to ventilate or portend prospects of good governance, there would be no need to choose and belabor the theme of this article.
Challenges to Nigeria’s electoral process are innumerable. They find expression in the assertion that elections in Nigeria since Independence have gained an unenviable reputation for fraudulent practices; not always free and fair. The general saying is that, since the colonial period, Nigeria has organized about 19 national elections, all of which but only one, the inconclusive June 12 elections of 1993, were congenitally marred by electoral fraud. Electoral practices in Nigeria over the period showed that elections in Nigeria have shared a number of common characteristics. First, they have been particularly characterized by massive frauds, violence, the intimidation of political opponents, the brazen subversion of the ‘sovereignty of the vote’ and controversy. The political actors including some government in power have had their own designs and used the instruments of the state in penetrating electoral brigandage, thuggery, violence and warfare. Secondly, while there has been continuity in violence and warfare, there has been lack of continuity in the political organizations through which both violence and warfare have been conducted. Thirdly, pattern of lack of continuity in the political platform used by members of the political class to compete for power is not simply that the names of the platforms keep changing; it is rather an individual politician could and did change party membership as many times as they wish. Fourthly, the sudden shifts and turns in political commitments and orientations have meant that the parties have not been defined by ideological positions that set them apart from each other. A fifth common denominator of elections and electoral practices is the increasing materialization of politics. Election campaigns are not based on issues rather than on brinkmanship. There is no correlation between good election campaign effort and electoral performance.
The levels at which the challenges are discussed include the following:
1. Legal framework
This consists mainly:
(a) The Constitution
(b) International Human Rights instruments/laws
(c) Criminal Code Act
(d) Electoral Act and Guidelines
(e) Election Tribunal and Court Practice Direction, 2011
(f) The Evidence Act
(g) Case law
As regards the Constitution, section 1(2) provides:
“The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any persons or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”.
The subsection confers the right to vote and be voted for especially when read with sections 117(2), 117(4), 118(5) and 178(5) and 36 of the Constitution. This right is further assured by some international instruments. Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 provides:
“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”.
Article 13, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, provides:
“(1) Every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions ….”
Furthermore, Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966, provides:
“Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors…”
These rights, in addition to importing rule of law, afford opportunity for free and fair periodic elections where the will of the people is expressed. In APGA v. Ohakim (2009), 4 NWLR (Pt 1130) 116, the Court of Appeal insisted that “the purpose of holding an election in a democratic set up is to determine the wishes of the people as to who should represent them.” The challenge is the limited nature of the expression of the people’s will in practice during elections. Cases abound of violation of the Constitution and these international instruments.
The Electoral Act 2022 is the extant legislation to regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory elections. Its provisions include establishment and functions of Independent National Electoral Commission, and its staff; National Register of Voters and Voters’ Registration, procedure at Election; procedure for Election to Area Council; Electoral offences; Miscellaneous provisions. The States have their respective legislation on local governments often embedded in the respective Local Government Laws. The challenges in respect of the laws are centered on non-compliance and enforcement. There is controversy over the omission of electronic transmission of results in the Electoral Act of 2022. Interpretation of section 84(12) of the same Act on the ineligibility of political appointee as a voting delegate or aspirant have become a subject of litigation.
2. Role of security agencies in election management
Security is an indispensable part of electoral process and the principal security agency charged with maintaining internal peace and security is the Nigeria Police Force. Section 4 of the Police Act, 2020 provides for the duties of the Nigeria Police Force. In carrying out its responsibility in guaranteeing election security, the Nigeria Police Force has designed a number of programs. For example, the Force launched “Standard Organizational Guideline of Rules for Police Officers on Election Duty” prior to the 2015 General Elections under which the police are required to perform a general role before, during and after elections.
By the Constitutional and relevant enabling legislations, the military and quasi or para-military security agencies have no direct role to play in elections, except to aid civil authorities to restore law and order. In Nigeria, the military and para-military agencies are involved in election monitoring and discharging general security obligations.
By international standards security agents are supposed to be neutral and impartial in providing election security. They should not be engaged in politics or prefer any party or candidate, but in practice in Nigeria some security personnel flout these rules, allow politicians to harass, intimidate and use them.
There is the question of the role of INEC in providing security. INEC is not a security agency, but it can and does provide support to security agencies. It collaborates with security agencies. It has established the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) jointly chaired by the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Chairman of INEC.
Complimentary to the role of security agencies in election security is the role of Non-State Actors especially the civil society through CSOs, trade unions, professional bodies, faith-based organizations, traditional rulers, the media, etc. They assist in providing information on security challenges to security forces. In this era of social media, dissemination of false information and fake news is not ruled out.
3. Election management institutions
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) are the regulatory bodies charged with the management of elections at federal and state levels respectively. Section 153(f) of the Constitution establishes the INEC, while its composition, powers and functions are provided under Part 1 of Third Schedule of the Constitution. Section 15(a) of that Schedule provides:
“The Commission shall have power to –
(a) organize, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice-President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation;
(b) register political parties in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution and an Act of the National
(c) monitor the organization and operation of the political parties, including their finances;
(d) arrange for the annual examination and auditing of the funds and accounts of political parties, and publish a
report on such examination and audit for public information;
(e) arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election under this Constitution;
(f) monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern the political parties;
(g) ensure that all Electoral Commissioners, Electoral and Returning Officers take and subscribe the Oath of Office prescribed by law;
(h) delegate any of its powers to any Resident Electoral Commissioner; and
(i) carry out such other functions as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly”.
Some challenges that are often ventilated concerning the electoral bodies include their degree of independence; integrity of the members/resident electoral commissioners; ability, willingness and readiness to conduct a free and fair and credible election as and when due; minimize electoral fraud and irregularities; ensure voter education, enlightenment and political sensitization; greater community involvement; disenfranchisement of voters. The outcomes of State Local Government elections give one the impression that if only candidates from a ruling party in the State win all the elections, then the SIEC is far from conducting credible elections. There is the all-important challenge of funding in terms of adequacy and timely release of funds.
(To be continued)
Thought for the week
“Nothing is more unreliable than the populace, nothing more obscure than human intentions, nothing more deceptive than the whole electoral system.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero