Safeguarding the people’s will for democracy to thrive
THE challenge of democratic development, for a country such as Nigeria, is how to avoid a regression and reversal, and continuously bring about incremental positive changes towards consolidation.
Given Nigeria’s complex political dynamics and past history of prolonged military rule, reversal is a strong possibility. How to avoid it, indeed how to prevent it, and keep on moving decidedly on the democratic trajectory, is a near herculean task.
Nigerians, like many Africans (Jega 2019), have strenuously struggled for democracy under authoritarian military rule, and have equally strenuously aspired for democratic development and consolidation since return to civil rule in 1999.
However, the Nigerian elite and the so-called ‘political class’, perhaps due to lack of an enlightened self-interest, have tended to treat, and engage with, the process of democratization with kid gloves.
For example, in such significant areas as the electoral process, the integrity of which is crucial to democratic consolidation and good governance, the prevailing mode of participation and engagement of the elite is akin to kids playing with fire: at the least, they get burns; and at worst, they set off a conflagration that consumes the entire edifice.
As commonsense dictates that we must stop kids playing with fire, so is it that we must stop the elite, especially the reckless segment of the ‘political class’, from setting off an electoral conflagration that could consume our entire democratic edifice.
The only way to successfully do this is to strive for, and imbue the Nigerian electoral process with requisite integrity that would guarantee the actualization of the aspirations of Nigerians for both stable democratic development and consolidation.
Crass lack of electoral integrity has been the bane of civil rule, transitions to democratic rule, governance and development in Nigeria. Electoral malfeasance and malpractices have historically undermined the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, have rendered the electorate powerless and have thereby significantly eroded public trust and confidence in the electoral process. It is only by restoring integrity into the electoral process that we can appropriately safeguard the will of the Nigerian people for democracy to thrive.
In elaborating upon this, I first provide the situational and contextual analysis of the Nigerian electoral process, highlighting the challenges, which have bedeviled it and which have constrained and undermined electoral integrity. This is followed by an exposition on how restoration of integrity to the management and conduct of Nigerians is a task that must be done, because it is the panacea for safeguarding the people’s will for democracy to thrive, be stabilized and consolidated, and catalyze good governance by elected representatives and executives for sustainable national progress and development.
The Nigerian electoral process: Situational and contextual analysis
Scholars and practitioners have long agreed that elections are a process and not an event. This is in the sense that “every election comprises numerous elements and involves multiple institutions and actors throughout the pre-election, election day and post-election periods, all of which affect the transparency, inclusiveness, accountability and competitiveness of the election” (Open Election Data Initiative The Nigerian electoral process has historically been flawed, and replete with profound challenges in all the three key phases (See Jega, 2018). These can be summarized as follows: Pre-election phase:
- Inadequacy and/or inconsistency of the legal framework for the conduct of elections
- Epileptic, insufficient and delayed funding for the elections
- Inadequate and/or unfocused sensitization, public enlightenment, political and voter education
- Inadequate EMB engagement and sharing of information with the key stakeholders (i.e.: political parties, candidates, Civil society organizations, security agencies, the media)
- Over-bloated and/or ‘incredible’ voters’ roll (Registration of voters
- Lack of a level playing field for parties and contestants in the pre-election campaigns, which obstruct competitiveness
- Costly and corruption-laden pre-election litigation, associated with undemocratic and fraudulent conduct of party primaries.
Election day activities
- Poor arrangement for, and deployment of, personnel and logistics
- Lack of transparency and accountability, and corruption in the management of polling units and collation centres, as well as with regards to compilation, transmission and announcement of results
- Chaotic and ineffective arrangement for reverse logistics after elections
- Ineffective and inefficient management of the polling units and results collation centres, due to lack or inadequacy of training of poll workers
- Insecurity, conflicts, violence and disruption polling day activities, due to inadequate and ineffective role by the police and other security agencies
- Crass harassment, intimidation and/or inducement of electoral officials
- Commission of Electoral irregularities and offences by key stakeholders.
- Lack of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms
- Costly and corruption-laden post-election litigation
- Poor storage and archival of sensitive election materials, which denies litigants access to original official records of elections.
- Inadequate and/or poor review, assessment and evaluation of the conduct of an election, which constrains the factoring of ‘lessons learned’ into the preparations for future elections
The manifestations of all these challenges in varying forms were evident in all elections, since the First Republic (1960-66). The 2007 elections, considered by most observers and analysts as the worst elections in Nigeria’s history, provided even more graphic and obnoxious illustrations of these challenges, which have bedeviled the Nigerian electoral process.
Relatively more determined efforts were made since 2007 to improve the integrity of Nigerian elections, with relatively appreciable results. From the 2011 elections, INEC has, learning from comparative global experiences of nurturing and engendering electoral integrity, introduced reforms to upscale the integrity of Nigerian elections in the following areas:
- Introduction of use of voting technologies, in the context of
- Compilation of a Biometric Register of Voters
- Issuance of a smart permanent voters card (PVC)
- Introduction of verification and authentication of voters, using the smart card reader (SCR)
- Utilization of enhanced security features on all sensitive electoral materials, such as ballot boxes, ballot papers, result sheets
- Improvement in the logistics of deployment and retrieval, as well as storage and archiving of sensitive election materials
- Improvement in coordination and creation of synergy in the role of security agencies in elections, through the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), and utilization of an Electoral Risk Mapping (ERM) Tool
- Improvement in the legal and other regulatory frameworks for the management and conduct of elections;
- Restructuring and reorganization of INEC for improved efficiency and effectiveness in the management and conduct of elections
- Undertaking rigorous Strategic, Election Management (SEM), as well as Election Project planning.
However, these notwithstanding, serious challenges have still remained unresolved in the Nigerian electoral process. For example, so-called ‘money bags’, ‘godfathers’ and undemocratic party leaders still impose candidates on the electorate or fraudulently manipulate electoral outcomes in their favor, either by using thugs and violence or by crass buying of votes.
These have, thus, engendered remarkable trust deficit by the electorate in the electoral process and a deep-seated perception that both the EMB, INEC and the ‘political class’ obstruct the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, and thereby undermine the integrity of elections, with damaging negative consequences on democratic development and consolidation, as well as good democratic governance, which are requirements for meeting and satisfying the fundamental needs and aspirations of the citizens.
Perhaps the clearest evidence of this loss of trust and confidence in the electoral process is the declining voter turnout in elections since 1999. For example, the reported data of voter turnout as a percentage of registered voters for elections between 1999 and 2019 are as follows:
2011 55.4 %
Sources: CDD 2019: 15 and INEC 2019
Enhancement of Electoral Integrity is key to Safeguarding People’s Will for Democratic Development and Sustainability
The best way to safeguard the people’s will for democracy to thrive in Nigeria, is to leave no stone unturned to ensure that elections are conducted with integrity; i.e., elections are free, fair, credible, and are characterized by inclusiveness, transparency, accountability and competitiveness. In other words, elections which have little, marginal if any malpractices and misconduct; which are conducted professionally and impartially by the EMB and which substantially comply with international standards and expectations of being free, fair and credible. Indeed, elections, which attract and retain public confidence, trust and support in each step of the electoral process.
It is not sufficient to merely conduct regular and periodic elections and presume that this would in itself stabilize, deepen and consolidate representative, electoral, democracy. Scholars of democratic transition and democratization in Africa have jettisoned Lindberg’s postulation that regularly held elections in themselves point to democratization in Africa (2006; 2009). Regularly held elections are necessary but not sufficient conditions for deepening democracy and nurturing good governance. It is only regularly conducted elections with integrity that nurture and consolidate truly representative democracy based on good governance for satisfying the will and aspirations of the people (Norris 2014)