The struggle for democracy in Nigeria was never conceived only as an end in itself to end military rule or as an externally propelled initiative. It was a deliberate means of achieving responsible political leadership and strong institutions, which promote a transparent government that is responsible and accountable to the people. Nigeria’s democracy has not been able to give political and socio-economic dividends and empowerment to its citizens. Good governance has remained an illusion. Today, we shall further x-ray this vexed issue.
The courts and election tribunals
While the courts and Election Tribunals have, generally, discharged their judicial duties creditably, there are issues of concern: conflicting judgments/rulings/orders of court; disrespect for rule of law; allegations of corruption and ethnic and religious bias; role of members of the bar; remuneration of election tribunals, judges, volume of litigation and election petitions before Election Tribunals. INEC Report in 2015 show that there were 150 election petitions filed in 2003; 1,250 petitions in 2007; 400 in 2011 and 150 in 2015. All these petitions were time-bound.
Political parties and politicians
A lot of the violations of election laws on credible elections, rule of law and good governance are attributable to the political parties and politicians who take elections and quest for power as do or die affair. They want to remain in power perpetually, monopolizing power and attendant benefits. In line with Vilfredo Pareto and Graetano Mosca theory, there is always concentration of political power in the hands of this minority in the society which perform all political function, monopolize power and enjoy the advantages that power brings. From recent happenings, elective political offices are fast becoming an inheritance. Impunity including use of security agencies of political leaders and politicians are unequalled. Party discipline is thrown overboard as far as elected political office holders are concerned. There are also the more serious issues of lack of party ideology and political parties being dominated by ethnic and religious forces rather than being built on ideological persuasion.
The people and the voters
There is general ignorance on the part of the people and voters. Material and monetary gains play an influential role in the attitude and behavior of the people and the voters. Voting is also predominantly influenced by some identity factors such as ethnicity, religion, family lineage and other primordial factors. Consequently, the political elite exploit these factors to their selfish ends of creating an oligarchy of themselves. Apart from a few cases of spontaneous reactions to electoral injustice, most cases of electoral violence and protests are actuated by the manipulative devices of the political elite.
At the risk of not being value-free, many scholars and analysts are of the view that one of the greatest challenges to conduct of credible elections and to democracy in the country is the failure of government to solve critical problems. These include inadequate basic needs of life such as food, health amenities, improved wages for workers, quality education, uninterrupted power supply, good roads, objective reform of electoral system, inequitable distribution of wealth, injustice, unfairness, lack of freedom of information, unemployment and insecurity. These create restiveness amongst the populace, and make the down trodden vulnerable and consequently susceptible to political manipulation. These conditions are crimo-genic capable of triggering frustration, aggression and violence. They also help to explain voters’ apathy and refusal to partake in political activities.
Low female participation/involvement and political positions won
One cannot, in contemporary clime conclude a discussion of challenges to Nigeria’s electoral process without harping on the vexed issue of marginalization of the female group and complaint about imbalance in political positions won by males and females.
1. The greatest prospect within the context of our discourse is adoption of a legal framework including constitutional provisions whereby there is rule of law under which elections are being conducted to constitute leadership at both legislative and executive arms of government. It is the platform on which representative government and quest for good governance are being expressed. This postulation is not unmindful of the imperfections that exist in the electoral process. Until there is a change, the debate continues whether the Constitution, as it is today, represents the will of the people.
2. No one can deny that there are some visible dividends of democratic system of government in the country. These are in the form of freedom and liberty and enjoyment of other fundamental human rights; infrastructural development, social inclusion policy, etc.
3. Electoral reforms are being effected and there is ample room for agitation for more reforms. The Electoral Act, 2022 is a product of the reforms. The successes recorded in 2015 elections and the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections of 2020 are the result of new strategies employed by the INEC and the use of technology, including Direct Data Capture Machines and card readers among other things.
4. More than anything else, the judiciary is in the forefront of sanitizing the electoral process through its role in adjudication of election disputes and interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution, Electoral legislation and some other laws. Such landmark cases as Amaechi v INEC & Others (2007) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1040) 504, INEC & Another v Balarabe Musa & Others (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt. 806) 72, Ngige v INEC (2010) 5 NWLR) (Pt. 1186) 92, Abubakar Atiku v. Yar’Adua 2003) 3 NWLR (Pt. 806) 72, and Buhari v. INEC(2008) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1120) 246, are ground-breaking in bringing credibility to the electoral process. This is not to say that some judicial decisions are not taken with a pinch of salt. Neither the issue of delay in adjudication in election petition cases, nor delivery of conflicting decisions are salutary. The courts have also been able to deliver judgments in election petition cases within the time stipulated by law. To some extent, therefore, the judiciary has performed creditably in its contributions to the stability of the current democratic experience in the country.
5. INEC, has in conformity with its statutory functions made efforts to monitor elections and ensure that there is peace during election. Although INEC is not a security agency, it has initiated Consultative Peace Committee and Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on election security management. It is disagreeable the extent to which this initiative has removed violence from the electoral process. INEC has also adopted a system of election observation and monitoring by observers, and monitors. The domestic observers and monitors included the “Transition Monitoring Group”, (TMG) a body of over 170 NGOs which deployed over 10,000 monitors to all parts of the country, the Catholic Church “Justice Development and Peace Committee” (JDPC) which trained and deployed over 20,000 persons to all parts of the country; the Media Monitoring Group (MMG) and many others. The major international monitoring groups include (EU-EOM) with 118 observers, Jimmy Carter Foundation in Collaboration with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) had 50 observers from 12 nations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the U.S.A.
6. Despite all odds, there are election observers that adjudged some elections in the country especially the 2015 and 2020 Edo and Ondo Governorship elections as peaceful, free and fair. There is no denying the fact that none of these elections were devoid of infractions, in any way.
7. Furthermore, with a few exceptions, elections were conducted as scheduled.
Conclusion, recommendations and /or the way forward
By the theory of liberal democracy which is adopted by the Nigerian Constitution, the people are expected to elect and control their leaders and demand accountability from them. Rule of law principles enshrined in the Constitution reinforce this practice. Credible elections are therefore a sine qua non for good governance and development. Quoting D, Working, the court in Amechi v INEC (Supra) stated that “true democracy is not just statistical democracy in which anything, a majority or plurality wants is legitimate for that reason, but communal democracy in which majority decision is legitimate only when it is a majority decision within a community of equals…” Electoral process, as a component of the rule of law, is an expression that leaders who emerge from this process should engage with rational legal regulations. The essence of election and electoral process is to afford opportunity to the citizens to participate in the choice of their leaders. Such leadership is not, ipso facto, to subvert the electoral integrity of the country, but to abide by rational legal regulations and procedures that are key to democracy and good governance with multiplier effects on development. While it is true that democracy does not guarantee Eldorado or good governance, a leadership with the political will to actualize laws will trigger off positive responses from subordinates and the governed leading them to associate more closely with the goals of a society. There are prospects of credible elections in Nigeria, however, the emerging challenges must be surmounted to create, at all times, a culture of upholding standards for such credible elections that will usher leadership that will engender good governance and development of the country.
Recommendations/ the way forward
1. Politicians should desist from conducting politics as a warfare/do-or-die affair, as these make citizens who are supposed to benefit from good governance scapegoats of the democratic process.
2. Elections should be conducted on a free and fair basis, upholding the tenets of the rule of law such that Nigerian citizens are given the fair opportunity to choose their representatives and also to contribute in the policy making process.
3. Corruption fighting institutions (e.g. EFCC, ICPC) should be strengthened and given the necessary support to bring to book all past political leaders in Nigeria who used state apparatus while in government to accumulate wealth so as to always buy their ways into political offices.
4. Politicians who have ascended into governance must know that they owe the electorates explanations for their current acts. They should see themselves as servants of the people and not the other way round. As such, they should contribute to the stable growth of the economy and the actualization of the needs and aspirations of the citizenry programs.
5. Lack of continuity and shift in approach by successive governments trailed socio-economic development programs in Nigeria as each administration comes in with different ideas.
6. In addition, there is need to improve the process of voter education and political sensitization especially for the young people as they will greatly influence the success of the elections.
7. To reform the conduct of elections and electoral process in Nigeria, something of a radical departure is also required. A legislative framework must be created to make transparency and good governance a necessity. The goals of that radical departure must include:
(a) The completion of the Nigerian independence project by making the country truly united, invisible and indissoluble and for the purpose of promoting good a government and welfare of all persons in the country.
(b) The subordination of the Nigerian state, the ruling class in general and the political class in particular to the will and sovereignty of the Nigerian people.
(c) The creation of a new political class whose defining values will support both democracy and development in Nigeria.
(d) The creation of a politics that is value-driven and therefore truly competitive; that enables the separation between interest groups and their political platforms on the basis of their defining ideologies and hence programs. (To be continued).
(To be continued)
Thought for the week
“I believe that democracy is about values before it is about voting. These values must be nurtured within society and integrated into the electoral process itself.”