Nigeria’s Democracy and the Challenge of Electoral Process – By Umar Ardo, Ph.D


Like the outline of African map, Nigeria, ‘the giant of Africa’, is today a big question mark. And, indeed, on many major issues of our contemporary world, the current Nigeria’s situation calls to serious question the ability of the country to remain united and develop to be the pride of Africa. One such key issue is the thorny challenge of electoral process to our democratization drive. Since independence, Nigeria has continuously being plagued by elections malpractices, riggings, and a whole lots of elections misconducts. Till date, this problem has not been resolved – in fact, it seems to be growing instead. Yet, enormous efforts were made in vain by government, the legislature, civil society groups, politicians, etc. As we mark our 52th Independence Anniversary, I think it is pertinent to pause and ask, why? Why have we failed to conceive and implement a free, fair, transparent and credible electoral process in which the votes count in producing acceptable leadership? Why? Other than putting the entire blame on the ‘greedy politicians’ who are usually accused of turning every elections as a ‘do-or-die affair’ and therefore all is fair, I think if we take a much closer look at the entire electoral process and its administration since 1999, we will be able to see a lot more than politicians to explain our endemic failure in this venture.


Theoretically, democracy is per forcefully about relationships between peoples, instruments, institutions and processes in the conduct of public affairs. Every nation creates its own constitutions and laws, and establishes rules and regulations guiding the operational processes of these relationships – i.e. its democratic practice. Like all democracies, the Nigerian democracy has its key instruments (and other subsidiary instruments), its principal institutions and its people-based and people-led processes. All these are basically expressed through standard electoral procedures, which encompass but not limited to formulation of election laws, the preparation for elections, political parties’ nomination of candidates, the actual voting exercise, the counting of votes, the declaration of results, constitution of Election Tribunals and disposition of elections litigations.


The key Nigerian democratic instrument is the 1999 constitution (as amended) and its principal subsidiary instruments is the Electoral Act (as variously amended). The key institutions of democratic governance are the three arms of government (the legislature, executive and judiciary), with other added major support executive institutions. In this context, the critical support executive institution is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Although listed under the executive arm, INEC is defined by the constitution as Independent, and clearly has sufficient explicit constitutional provisions to reasonably guarantee its independence in the execution of its duties and powers. In fact, constitutionally INEC can be as independent in its operations as the Judiciary if the officers of INEC so choose.


Practically, the central problem of the nation’s electoral challenges can be squarely located in the gaps, omissions, commissions and inexplicable inconsistencies in the operation of these instruments by the institutions and processes meant to regulate and guard the conduct of voting, both at primary and secondary elections. Throughout the process as outlined above, i.e. formulation of election laws, preparation for elections, the actual voting exercise, the counting of votes, the declaration of results, the resort to the Courts for adjudication, the attitude of INEC to the proceedings and the disposition of the Judiciary towards the entire electoral process, in each and every step of the way there are fundamental failings. But to be fair, while the instruments of democratic governance (the Constitution and the Electoral Act) and democratic institution (the legislature) performed relatively well, the hands of our democratic clock is however been drawn backward by another key democratic institution (the judiciary) and the critical support executive institution (INEC). Over the years, we saw how internal inadequacies and expressive political realities inherent in these institutions conspired to record judicial pronouncements on fundamental national cause that are unhelpful to the development, expansion and consolidation of Nigeria’s electoral process and democracy.


For instance, the Nigerian Legislature has made huge progress in legislating on the key electoral instrument, the Electoral Act, to guide and regulate our electoral processes for the entrenchment, enhancement and advancement of our democracy. Given that the vote is the foundation of democracy, these legislations were progressively aimed at ensuring that the vote actually counts. Other than advancing the cause of general elections, amendments were made to enter specific clauses in our Electoral Acts aimed at entrenching internal democracy within our political parties.  Our parties are required by law to progressively open up to democratic tenets in all their electoral processes. While INEC is empowered by law to monitor all political party elections to ensure compliance to democratic due process, the courts are given jurisdiction to adjudicate on party issues previously declared no-go-areas as internal party affairs.


However, on many critical instances, both INEC and the courts failed to stand up to their responsibilities in ensuring the provisions of the law in the electoral process. While most times INEC looked the other way on critical matters, the court on its part often decline jurisdiction to make judicial pronouncements on the true letter of the law in critical electoral processes. For example, between 2008 and 2011, in line with its constitutional duties, INEC wrote four letters to the PDP rejecting in which the party conducted its congresses in 8 states of the federation as illegitimate and requested the party to reschedule and re-conduct lawful congresses. PDP ignored INEC and continued with those unlawful EXCOs. Oddly enough, these same EXCOs produced and submitted to the same INEC candidates for elective offices and INEC accepted and filled in these candidates for the general elections of 2011. The same epicycle is repeating itself. Since the PDP Congresses and convention in March this year, INEC has again written three letters to the PDP National Working Committee rejecting the EXCOs of the party in 9 states and advising the governing party to reschedule and re-conduct congresses, but the party has again so far ignored these letters. It is left for all to see what INEC will do this time again.


The Court on its part severally declined jurisdiction on fundamental electoral cases even where it is clear that the courts have jurisdiction; or in some cases give illogical and contradictory judgments that only help to further create serious inconsistencies and confusions into the process. Admirably, while the legislature is trying to advance our electoral process, regrettably INEC and the courts are drawing us back. In many instances, the actions or in-actions of the latter gave audacity to dishonest politicians and political parties to circumvent and undermine the electoral process to the detriment of our democracy and national cohesion.  In the final analysis, therefore, these actions and inactions on the part of INEC and the Judiciary have ruined rather than advance our electoral processes, and the course of democracy and democratic rule in Nigeria. This is the central origin to the near total collapse of credible electoral process in our current democratic dispensation, with the consequent erosion of internal democracy within our political party structures.


It is therefore a matter of urgency that Nigerians of good standing come together and arrest the drift before it is too late. Attaining this noble goal for our national politics requires men of courage, honesty and patriotism take serious interest in our electoral processes. Often, Nigerians become keenly interested only in the election proper. This is wrong. The processes leading to the elections are as important as the elections themselves. To this end, Nigerians should be fully involved in the formulation of the election legal instrument. Also, very importantly, close scrutiny and pressure must be put on INEC to ensure that it acts responsibly in all its duties and functions. The Commission must make all its preparatory actions and plans for all elections transparent, and must explain to Nigerians clearly the processes employed to monitor elections within political parties and the manner and method of conducting general elections.



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