After years of military coups and unsuccessful attempts to establish civilian rule, Nigeria eventually made another transition in 1999, with much expectation to end for good military rule in the country. From the 1999 – 2007 of Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and 2011 of Ex-president Musa Yar ‘Adua of the blessed memory, Nigerians and the international community viewed those years as trying periods of a process for democratization that would pave way for political infrastructure in the country. Nigerians were very hopeful that with every election held in the country with its challenges, politicians will learn from their mistakes, make amendments, expand the country’s political landscape and consolidate our democracy.
Well-meaning and patriotic Nigerians ,having tested and witnessed the fascist ,harshness and brutality of the military rules in the country, overwhelmingly embraced democratic rule to military governments in the country from 1999. Though the expectations of Nigerians were very high, however, it could be argued that while the elections held between 1999 and 2011 were to some extent successful in some respects, there were also serious problems of irregularities that compromised the integrity of the process. In particular, the 2003, tested the viability of Nigeria’s weak public institutions, especially the independent Electoral Commission [INEC], the body created by the Act of Parliament, saddled to organise and conduct free, fair and credible elections in the country.
INEC was criticised for its institutional, professional shortcomings and of its inability to conduct a free, fair and credible elections in the country. Also, many Nigerians and international observers perceived INEC to lack the independence it deserves to conduct a free, fair and credible election in Nigeria.
What were INEC shortcomings during the previous elections [1999-2011]
It has been argued by many Nigerians , local and international observers that there were delays and lack of transparency in the voter registration process that disenfranchised eligible voters across the country during the above periods.
-There were high levels of political violence, vandalism, stolen and stuffed ballot boxes ,particularly in Rivers, Kogi and Enugu states during the 2003 elections.
-Alterations of results carried out by the main parties, during the multi-tiered tabulation or “collation” process , all of which took place against a background of last minute transfers of state Residents Electoral commissioners. It is worthy to note that while the elections observers sharply criticized the integrity of the process, they did not challenge the outcome of the 2003 elections.
Although previous elections between 1999 -2011 were held, the cumulative effect of the problems in those elections, to an extent, contributed to a serious lack of public confidence in INEC to conduct subsequently, a free, fair and credible election in the country.
-Due to lack of adequate funding, INEC inability to prepare early in the electoral process raised concerns about its ability and commitment to conduct credible elections in the country.
Late Timing: The electoral calendar was announced late and the voter registration process was characterised by abysmal failure to assemble adequate registration ,equipment ,personnel and insufficient publicity by INEC about the process.
It was argued that in 2003 elections, INEC announced that 61 million Nigerians had registered to vote, but never made public the complete voter registry or explained the process by which these figures had been listed.
However, with these imperfections, it has been argued by international observers that certain positive trends in Nigeria’s democratization process have been recorded. This give reason to hope that the concerns resulting from the previous elections can be overcome. The Nigerian Judiciary has been commended by many Nigerians and international observers for performing admirably in the dispensation of justice . These rulings enhanced judiciary’s organ of government credibility and independence in the eyes of many Nigerians.
The National Assembly, the legislative organ of the government has over the years exercise its considerable oversight functions over an attempted expansion of executive powers. An energised civil society during elections, mobilised large numbers of international and local observers to monitor elections in the country. This process also helps in educating the people before the elections. The media, also created channels for the expression of diverse views and the dissemination of information. Most importantly, millions of Nigerians are commended for their commitment and patriotism displayed to perform their civic and political rights to elect their leaders and representatives during every election in the country.
Nigeria democracy and its electoral process are evolving and improving .Yes, there would be pockets of challenges at the election tribunals as losers ,who feels unfairly treated will seek redress through election tribunals. This writer believe The adjudication of electoral disputes is an integral part of electoral process, but to ensure stability and the sustainability of Nigeria’s democracy, the election tribunals must process complaints expeditiously and in a transparent manner. Should the adjudication process fail, this writer with many well-meaning Nigerians and international observers are of the view that there could be frustration, leading to increased tension in the country detrimental to our nascent democracy.
Since 1999, conducting elections in the country has strengthened and consolidate the country’s nascent democracy and its electoral process. Today, INEC under Professor Jega with the required funding, from President Goodluck Jonathan’s government since 2011, have been able to address challenges which in the past had made it impossible to conduct a free, fair and credible election in the country. President Goodluck Jonathan slogan of “ one man ,one vote “ slogan has not only become an accepted phrase but has been working, as opposition like APC ,APGA, Accord party and Labour parties with no identifiable political ideological leanings, have been trying to wrestle powers from the ruling, people’s Democratic party[PDP] and won some elections in the country.
Nigeria government under President Goodluck Jonathan administration commitment to democracy has recorded far-reaching landmark electoral reforms and to a large extent, overcome the growing electoral process deficit that had marred the previous elections in the country. This writer agrees with well-meaning Nigerians and international observers that a flawed electoral process ,affects the legitimacy of any government that emerges from it, and in the case of Nigeria, can also infect other institutions and subvert its efforts to fight corruption in the country . Paradoxically, it could be argued that if votes can be stolen with impunity, why should anyone take seriously efforts to stop the theft of money? These festering problems which could lead to indifference, apathy and cynicism should and though are being address by President Goodluck Jonathan’s iconic leadership. However, Nigerians expect the government to vigorously do more to address the issue of corruption in the country.
What are the way forward for the consolidation of Nigeria’s democracy and its electoral process?
Based on empirical research ,political parties should develop internal procedures for candidate selection that are transparent and democratic, and exclude those who use intimidation, violence or bribery to gain nomination or office. Nigerian women and youth should be more encouraged to participate more actively and to seek public office. Her Excellency, Dame Patience Jonathan ,the wife of Nigeria’s president should be commended for her 35 % affirmative action campaign for Nigerian women participation in politics in the country .
-The electoral framework, including the Electoral Act 2006 as amended should be enhanced.
-This writer is of the view in line with international and local observers that once a new electoral law is enacted ,the National Assembly and Nigerian civil society organizations and professional associations such as the Nigerian Bar Association should exercise appropriate oversight over its implementation and the actions of INEC.
This writer with many political analysts, writers and political observers encourages civil society organizations to continue and expand their broad civic education efforts to include monitoring and reporting on the adjudication process and to promote non-violence acts throughout the election process .
-As elections brings to the fore the strengths and weaknesses of a democracy , and in the case of Nigeria, highlighted the challenges of elections irregularities, corruption and impunity that political leaders and government must address. Unless alleged perpetrators of electoral fraud ,violence and associated violations of the Electoral Act and the Nigerian criminal Law are urged to quickly brought to justice ,irrespective of their official positions or political associations ,the specter of corruption and impunity that has marred Nigeria’s electoral process in the past and now ,will continue to threaten and undermine Nigerians confidence in the country’s political institutions as a whole.
-This writer with many well-meaning Nigerians urged INEC to endeavour to release results by polling site, and post these figures publicly as stipulated by the Electoral Act .This will enable citizens to independently verify the accuracy of the announced results.
-Where results declared by INEC are set aside by the decisions of election tribunals ,INEC should conduct internal investigations and take the necessary steps to sanction those members of its staff and/or poll workers found culpable of electoral malpractices ,and initiate criminal prosecution where appropriate and applicable.
Yes, today with our improved electoral process, INEC has adopts regulations and procedures that allow effective observation of counting ,transportation, transmission ,tabulation and announcement of results to address concerns about the manipulation of election results during the collation and must be encouraged and sustained .
-Religious leaders should use their considerable moral authority and speak patriotically with one voice to demand a sound and credible electoral process and to promote non-violence throughout the election process.
As the country prepares for the 2015 presidential elections, it could be argued that Nigeria democracy and its electoral process have come an age . INEC today, has been adequately funded, personnel hired and specific administrative ,legislative and constitutional measures have be adopted and put in place by INEC and government to ensure the independence and ability of this organ to organise free, fair and credible elections. Democracy has come to stay in Nigeria and Nigerians are urged to vote for and elect leaders who are democrats, patriotic and mean well for the people and good governance of the country. God bless Nigeria.