How flawed elections cripple democracy in Nigeria since independence

Flawed elections overseen by 12 electoral chiefs remain a stubborn stain on the democratic history of Nigeria since Independence in 1960, denying the country quality leadership it desperately needs, political experts have said.

Moshood Salvador, a former member of the House of Representatives and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); Martins Onovo, a US-trained petroleum engineer, and former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), and Kunle Okunade, political scientist and analyst, are on the same page in this belief.

According to them, Nigeria has not made progress in the enthronement of the two pillars of democracy – the rule of law and the integrity of the ballot.

Moshood, Onovo and Okunade, who spoke in separate interviews with BusinessDay, note that faulty electoral process has helped to perpetuate wrong persons in power, and this has become an impediment to achieving democratic gains.

Salvador says the fraudulent electoral process in Nigeria’s electoral history had continued over the decades because it was benefiting some people, adding that electronic transmission of results was the way forward.

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“The controversy that has trailed elections in Nigeria even from the First Republic is man-made, and is for selfish interest; go and check history, and I don’t think it will stop soon,” he says.

“But it is a matter of choice. Kaduna State is now showing them the way out with the successful use of e-transmission of results in its LG elections. The National Assembly is kicking against it because they are benefiting from the faulty system of ballot box snatching and all the manipulations,” Salvador further notes.

Martin Onovo laments the failure of the nation’s electoral process to positively affect its democracy.

According to Onovo, “The rule of law is corrupted; the integrity of the ballot is corrupted because votes have never counted in Nigeria since independence. Nigeria was founded on election rigging. We have the confession of our colonial officer, Harold Smith, who said the colonial authorities rigged the first election. So, Nigeria was founded on rigging.”

Kunle Okunade blames politicians for their refusal to play politics by the rules, adding that lack of punitive measures for political offenders had also contributed to the trend.

“Nigeria’s electoral process is still at the infancy stage because of the abnormalities displayed by the electoral actors. Smooth conduct of elections in any democratic state can only be achieved if all stakeholders, including the electorate, abide by the rules and regulations guiding the process of elections.

“The poor state of the economy has strongly affected the electoral process such that members of the political elite are currently exploiting it to their advantage by engaging in a new sharp electoral malpractice called ‘vote buying.’ This new twist would continue to desecrate the electoral temple, which will not do the country any good.

“As it is, the electoral process in this system still lacks transparency, fairness, and credibility. Once an electoral process lacks these three ingredients, it remains a charade in its totality,” Okunade states further.

Nigeria has had 12 chairmen of electoral commissions since 1960, but the quality of the elections continues to grow worse. Several attempts at electoral reform have also not yielded the desired result.

In the First Republic, serious dispute among the political parties and political leaders about the conduct and result of the federal elections of December 30, 1964, which were described as neither free nor fair, and serious malpractices were reported from many parts of the country, contributing to the reasons for the bloody 1966-1970 civil war.

Similar disagreement resurfaced in the Second Republic, 1979-1983. The victory of Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) for a second term was disputed by most of the major parties, and serious questions were raised on the astronomical increase in the voters’ register occurring in NPN strongholds by the Victor Ovie-Whiskey-led Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO).

Although Ovie-Whiskey was openly condemned across the country, the NPN hailed the election, praising him for his competence.

Election dispute again resurfaced in the aborted Third Republic, where there was an attempt at democratic transition between 1985 and 1993, under the regime of Ibrahim Babangida, who was ill-fated with the annulment of June 12, 1993, presidential election.

The election conducted by the Humphrey Nwosu-led Commission, was won by the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO). It was considered the freest and fairest in the nation’s history.

Since the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999, election results have continued to be controversial, while violence and other electoral malpractices have also been on the increase.

The 2007 general election, conducted by Maurice Iwu, was adjudged to be one of the worst in the history of Nigeria. The late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was elected in that election, confessed that the election that brought him to power was flawed.

Experts say the current process does not satisfy the quest for democratic governance in the country.

In its final report on the conduct of the 2019 general election in Nigeria, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) concluded that there was a need for serious electoral reforms due to the systemic failings and low level of voter participation recorded during the polls.

The mission observed that the 2019 general election was marked by severe operational and transparency deficiencies, including electoral security problems, low turnout and abuse of incumbency power.

On the implication of incremental deterioration of the electoral process—voter apathy and rising loss of confidence in the judicial process that deliver jaundiced justice that throw up pseudo-leaders who only contribute to the underdevelopment of the country, Onovo says it has destroyed the very fabrics of Nigeria.

“The increasing level of apathy being exhibited by voters shows that things are only getting worse. Over the years, elections have been flagrantly rigged and wrong people, who do not have anything to offer to Nigeria, are put in government. It is garbage in; garbage out; that has been our leadership story,” he further states.

“Nigerians believe it is a sheer waste of time to go vote when their votes will not count. This is not about the All Progressives Congress (APC); it was the same story during the dispensation of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It would still be the same if any other party is in power today. The problem is systemic. The earlier it is permanently addressed, the better for Nigeria,” Onovo adds.

Amid the current electoral crisis, part of the reforms canvassed by stakeholders was that the INEC should transmit election results electronically to check manipulation and fraud.

But the suggestion did not get a favourable response from the National Assembly in the recent amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act.

While the House of Representatives passed Clause 52, allowing INEC the discretion to decide whether to transmit election results electronically, the Senate said the clause was amended to allow the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to decide on where and when electronic voting and electronic transmission of results should take place.

With the country inching toward another general election, stakeholders have expressed fear that the decision of the federal legislature may have erased any hope of a free and fair election in 2023.

Salvador says: “This sort of voting for electronic transmission of results should have been unanimous, but look at what happened. The issue would have been a thing of the past if that amendment was done. It is because these people, the incumbent, know they have failed and people are not happy with them.”

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