• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Nigeria’s democracy @25: Growth tainted by worsening electoral process

Feb 25, March 18 elections’ ghosts haunt supplementary exercise

Nigeria has marked a significant milestone in its journey towards democracy. Over the past 25 years, the country has experienced notable development in its democratic journey.

However, this progress has been overshadowed by persistent challenges within its electoral process. As Nigeria celebrates a quarter-century of democratic governance, it is imperative to evaluate the state of its democracy, particularly through the lens of its electoral history since 1999.

Nigeria’s Fourth Republic commenced on May 29, 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo was inaugurated as president following a series of military dictatorships. This transition marked a hopeful era for Nigerians who yearned for stability and democratic governance.

Read also: Celebrating 25 years of Democracy amidst challenges: A call for reflection and action

The 1999 elections, organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), were seen as a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s political landscape. Despite some irregularities, these elections were largely viewed as a step towards consolidating democracy.

The 2003 elections were a critical test for Nigeria’s democracy. Obasanjo sought re-election amid allegations of electoral fraud and violence. Reports indicated widespread irregularities, including ballot box snatching and vote rigging. Despite these challenges, Obasanjo secured a second term. This election highlighted the deep-rooted issues within Nigeria’s electoral process, emphasising the need for reforms.

“In April and May 2003, at least one hundred people were killed and many more injured during federal and state elections in Nigeria. The majority of serious abuses were perpetrated by members or supporters of the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

“In a number of locations, elections simply did not take place as groups of armed thugs linked to political parties and candidates intimidated and threatened voters in order to falsify results. The violence and climate of intimidation facilitated widespread fraud, invalidating the results of the elections in many areas,” a report by Human Rights Watch titled, ‘Nigeria’s 2003 Elections: The Unacknowledged Violence,” stated.

The 2007 elections were marred by even more significant controversies. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua emerged victorious in a process described by the international observers as deeply flawed. The elections were characterised by logistical problems, violence, and accusations of manipulation.

The presidential election held on April 21 that year was the first and only in Nigeria’s history in which there is no state-by-state breakdown of the candidates’ scores.

At that time, Maurice Iwu, who served as the chairman of INEC, announced that Yar’Adua of the PDP had garnered 24,638,063 votes. However, he did not provide further details.

This figure stands as the most substantial number of votes ever secured by an individual in a Nigerian election to emerge president.

For context, Obasanjo obtained 18,738,154 votes in his 1999 victory and 24,109,157 votes for his re-election in 2003.

Despite persistent efforts by poll analysts and journalists over the years to unearth a detailed breakdown of these results to discern voting patterns in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, such information has remained elusive.

Yar’Adua himself acknowledged the electoral deficiencies and promised reforms. Unfortunately, his tenure was cut short by illness and his subsequent demise. Goodluck Jonathan assumed the presidency in 2010.

The 2011 elections, held under Jonathan, were considered relatively more transparent and credible compared to previous ones.

INEC, under the leadership of Attahiru Jega, implemented several measures to improve the electoral process, including the introduction of biometric registration. Despite these efforts, the elections were not without incidents of violence and malpractice, particularly in the northern regions.

“The April 2011 elections marked a genuine celebration of democracy in Africa’s most populous country and a key member of the Commonwealth. Previously held notions that Nigeria can only hold flawed elections are now being discarded and this country can now shake off that stigma and redeem its image,” a statement released by the Commonwealth after the election stated.

However, the election was regarded as the most violent in the history of Nigeria.

“Nigeria’s 2011 elections were the most violent yet, claiming 800 lives in three days. Breaking the cycle of violence includes ending impunity for political violence, cultivating local peacebuilding initiatives and strengthening local democratic institutions,” a publication titled Nigeria’s 2011 Elections: Best Run, but Most Violent,” published by the United States Institute of Peace in August 2011, stated.

The 2015 elections marked a significant turning point in Nigeria’s democratic journey. For the first time, an incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, was defeated by an opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.

The relatively peaceful transition of power was lauded globally as a sign of Nigeria’s maturing democracy. However, underlying issues such as voter intimidation and electoral violence persisted.

In the 2015 state elections, voting generally proceeded smoothly across the country, according to the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), a U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) partner organisation in Nigeria. Even so, “significant incidences of shootings, protests, arson and fatalities were recorded in most geopolitical zones,” the CDD reported.

The 2019 elections saw Buhari secure a second term amid allegations of electoral malfeasance. Reports of vote-buying, ballot box snatching, and violence were rampant. Despite technological advancements such as the use of smart card readers, the elections were still plagued by logistical challenges and accusations of partiality.

The 2023 elections continued to highlight the complexities of Nigeria’s electoral process. With INEC introducing additional technological innovations to enhance transparency, the elections were keenly observed. However, issues such as delayed poll openings, equipment malfunction, and political violence were noted. The results saw Bola Tinubu elected as president, but not without significant controversy and dispute.

The US government recognised that despite challenges and irregularities, 2023 national elections were widely reported to have reflected the will of voters.

The US Department of State revealed this in its recent report titled, ‘2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria.’

As Nigeria reflects on 25 years of democratic governance, it is evident that while significant strides have been made, the electoral process remains a major challenge. The recurring issues of electoral fraud, violence, and administrative inefficiencies undermine the credibility of elections and, by extension, democracy itself.

How to make Nigeria’s democracy work – political analyst

Tijani Oluwatosin, a political analyst and public affairs commentator, has identified rule of law, inclusive government, press freedom, and distributive justice as ingredients to improve democracy in Nigeria.

Oluwatosin emphasised the rule of law as the foundation for development. He argued that the judiciary’s shortcomings, such as potentially enabling misconduct by politicians and electoral officials, hinder democratic progress.

“Rule of law is the basis for development in any part of the world. Event has shown over the years that the judiciary as an arm of government poses threat to the development of democracy in Nigeria by aiding and abating the improper conduct of political operators and electoral umpire,” he said.

The current system, according to Oluwatosin, fosters a political climate ripe for violence, electoral malpractices, and voter manipulation. He proposed a more inclusive approach that prioritises national unity over sectional dominance.

“The winner-takes-all politics has greatly hampered the development of democracy in Nigeria, creating room for a political atmosphere that sponsors violence, ballot snatching, and voter inducement,” the political scientist said.

Oluwatosin further argued that Nigeria’s democracy has failed to guarantee fair distribution of resources and opportunities. He emphasised the need for a system based on equity and equality to address ethnic marginalisation and promote stability.