Electoral Reforms and Successful Elections in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges
Electoral Reforms and Consolidation of Successful Elections in Nigeria
Amb. Dr. Mohammad Ahmed Wali
Reader in Political Science, Department of Political Science, UDU, Sokoto and
Former National Commissioner, INEC, Abuja
Prof. S.S. Muhammad
Department of Political Science, UDU, Sokoto
Mobile: 08066017459, Email: [email protected]
The abstract for adjustment
Using both primary and secondary sources of data, this paper is concerned with the analysis of how can successful elections be entrenched in Nigeria, one in which there is peaceful transfer of power through free, fair, and acceptable elections. The basis of the paper basically arose from a concern with why has many an election in Nigeria fallen short of the basic international and regional standards for democratic elections. While the paper recognizes that successes recorded, such as in the 2015 elections, are important and largely drives from the implementation of some reforms measures, it argues that since electoral reforms are not an end in themselves, the search for successful elections must be a continuous process. Thus, while serve to address election failures, reforms must be sustained and deepened especially in the context of the very high stakes involved in the forthcoming 2019 elections. The paper looks at the meaning and essence of electoral reforms, their dimensions and the global and domestic triggers of electoral reforms. It examines the series of reforms introduced to address electoral deficits, analyses the implementation of the reforms as well as determine the impact of such in the deepening of the democratic process. It drew attention to the need for continuous debate on how can successful elections be entrenched in Nigeria especially in the context that, electoral challenges, such as the desperation of politicians to capture power at all costs, are not just going to vanish easily.
Electoral reform is about improving electoral process: it involves a number of stages, a variety of steps and electoral cycle. Reform may focus on pre-election matter, or election day process, or post-election challenge. Furthermore, electoral reform may be incremental, focusing on few issues or it may be wholistic, covering most aspect of elections.
Triggers of Electoral Reforms, Global and Domestic
Reforms are generally triggered by factors that may be local or global. Electoral reform arose because of the failure of many elections in the country to meet up with regional and international standards, largely because of perennial electoral fraud and violence .
The consequences of the 1964 General Elections up to 2011 elections have all contributed to making of reforms and more reforms to address multifarious electoral challenges. The consequence of 2007 elections led to establishment of Justice Muhammad Uwaise Electoral Committee to address such monumental electoral fraud of 2007 election which was adjudged as the worst election in terms of integrity.
The reform of the political system, leading to the establishment of presidential system of government, discarding the parliamentary system of government was largely to minimize ethnic and regional politics and to promote national unity, whereby becoming a president will require pulling a minimum of 25 percent of votes cast in 2/3 of states in the country.
Bandwagon effect was largely responsible for the craving of the National Assembly to change the sequence of election, from the Governorship and State Assembly Election to Presidential and National Assembly and not vice versa. During the 2015 General Election, the Presidential and National Assembly Election was the first to be conducted, and with the wining of presidential election by the All Progressive Congress (APC), subsequent elections followed to the advantage of the APC.
The Political and electoral reform of 1990s which introduced two political parties, namely National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), was to institute strong opposition party which would make rigging of election very difficult. Where many political parties participate in the electoral process they tended to connive with the ruling party to rig and perpetrate electoral fraud.
As for the international community, their concern for electoral reforms is to deepen and entrench democratic ideal.
Reform and Successful Elections
Focusing on reform and successful elections are important as they are meant to address some challenges, improve the electoral process, building confidence, consolidating democracy, providing conducive environment for contestants and voters, ensuring emergence of truly people’s representatives, containing delays which has characterized the judicial system in adjudicating electoral petition. All this are capable of leading to successful elections. Indicators of successful elections include the following:
I. Transparent election, where every aspect of the electoral process is open to all to see, to observe and to comment where necessary.
II. Well organized election, where voters have adequate access to polling units, where there is no commotion, where election materials arrived their venues in time, where election observers have free access to the polling booth, and where security agents maintain order
III. Where elections are orderly and peaceful, election personal and election material are well protected, devoid of violence in all its forms
IV. Elections adjudge by local and foreign observers as free, fair and credible
V. Acceptance of defeat by losers where it is the practice.
The Success of 2015 General Elections
Our starting point is from the gains made of 2105 General Election following some remarkable reforms undertaken by the INEC. It is not about election failures and how to address them; it is about success and how to sustain it.
The 2015 General Elections consisted of 1,490 elections (1 presidential, 29 governorship, 109 senatorial, 360 federal house of representatives and 991 state assemblies). The results of the presidential election show that Buhari, under the platform of All Progressive Congress (APC), won in 21 states of the federation, out of the 36 states, cutting across all the geopolitical zones of the country, securing 25% votes cast in 26 states, with a total votes of 15,424,921(53.96%), while Jonathan, under the platform of People Democratic Party (PDP) won in 15 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and received 25 percent of votes in 25 states with a total votes of 12,853,162 (44.96%).
Similarly, APC got majority seats at the National Assembly. Out of 109 senatorial seats, APC won 64 while PDP got 45 seats. At the House of Representatives, APC got 225 seats, while PDP got 125 seats and other three parties got the remaining 10 seats. In the same vein, APC won the gubernatorial elections in 20 states, out of 29 states where gubernatorial elections took place on 11th April 2015, while PDP won in 9.
In all this, 31, 746,490 voters participated in the presidential elections, having been accredited, out of the 67,422,005 registered voters, representing 47.09 percent turn out. After the accreditation, 2,314,401 didn’t turn up for voting, thus, only 29,432,083 voters cast their votes, and yet only 28,587,564 were valid votes, with 844,519 as rejected votes (INEC Results for 2015 Presidential General Election).
The elections were peaceful as well as the transfer of power from the ruling to opposition party. In contrast to the previous elections, there was relative peace on the Election Day. The election materials and personnel were protected.
It is not surprising that national and international election observers teams, including ECOWAS, AU, EU, Commonwealth,. IFES, NRI, NDI, Election Observation Situation Room, TMG all commended the outcome of the elections and confirmed that the elections were peaceful, transparent and credible. The Commonwealth Observers Group had this to say:
“Notwithstanding the organisational and technical deficiencies, the conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly elections was credible, peaceful, transparent and reflected the will of the people of Nigeria.” (Report of the Commonwealth Observer Group: Nigeria Presidential and National Assembly Election. 28th March 2015: 41).
Similarly, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducted pre- and post-election surveys in Nigeria focusing on perceptions of electoral integrity, opinions of election administration, and satisfaction with Nigerian democracy. In its 2015 election report, the Foundation observed:
“Nearly three-quarters of Nigerians believe that both election integrity (73%) and the organization of the elections (74%) were better in the 2015 than in the previous polls in 2011. And while the survey indicated voters had to wait for several hours to get accredited and vote on Election Day, overall, 83 percent of voters assessed their voting experience to be good or very good. Indeed, confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also registered a sharp increase by 16 percentage points, moving from 68 percent in pre-election levels to an overwhelming 85 percent after the elections. From December 2014 to July 2015, public awareness of the INEC and its Chairman at the time of the elections, Professor Attahiru Jega, increased by 16 percent and 25 percent, respectively. … Six in ten Nigerians say elections were completely free & fair” (IFES 2015).
In other words, the quality of the election and its outcome was attested to by the majority of Nigerian electorate, including the incumbent president who lost to the opposition (by congratulating the winner before the official announcement of result), other political parties, members of the civil society organizations, and local and international election observer teams.
“By all indices, the election was adjudged free and fair — this much was attested to by international election monitoring teams that monitored the exercise and confirmed that despite few glitches, the exercise met with international best practice” (Olatunde 2016).
“Public satisfaction with the INEC’s performance extends across a number of performance criteria and attributes, including its professionalism in organizing the 2015 elections (90%); being transparent and informing the public about its activities (84%); being competent in managing the voter registration process and managing the electronic card readers (81%); and performing its duties with honesty and integrity (78%). It is noteworthy that the INEC is assessed slightly lower (76%) in terms of its efficiency of distributing PVCs and its independence from political influence (72%).” (IFES 2015).
Reforms leading to 2015 General elections
Context of the 2015 General Elections
The 2015 General Elections, organized by INEC, were guided by the following framework:
1. The 1999 Constitution (as amended),
2. The 2010 Electoral Act (as amended)
3. The INEC 2015 Election Guidelines and Procedures.
4. Other codes and guidelines by a number of organizations, notably security agencies, media and NYSC for the conduct of elections
5. Number of registered voters, 67,422,005
6. Number of polling units, 120,000
7. Number of Political parties 28
8. Number of presidential candidates 14
The polity, before the elections, was characterised by insecurity, following the escalation of Boko Haram Insurgency in the North East, between 2011 and 2015, high rate of unemployment, defections within the major parties, intense campaign between Northern and Southern presidential candidates, hate-speech campaign, using religious, ethnic and regional sentiments where appropriate, putting the system at edge of bursting; and shifting of the election dates for six weeks from February 14 to March 28 for the presidential election, and April 11, 2015 for the governorship and state legislative elections. The postponement was largely due to insecurity in the North East but was seen by the opposition party as politically motivated. Under such tense atmosphere, a National Peace Committee under the leadership of General Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd) emerged and engaged the main opposition candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and the incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan to sign a peace agreement that would commit them to control their supporters against violence after the 2015 general elections (Punch, March 26, 2015).
Before then, other concerned individuals, organizations and governments have all made efforts to ensure that the outcome of the election would be peaceful, considering that some had predicted the breakup of Nigeria in 2015.
Before the 2015 General Election in Nigeria, many reforms were introduced first by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). The Constitutional amendments included the following:
1. Removal of a section which made it mandatory for members of the Commission to belong to a political. That had indeed insulated the Commission members from being partisan.
2. General elections to be held not earlier than one hundred and fifty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term. This provides ample opportunity for INEC and political parties to prepare adequately for the elections
3. Independence of the Commission further guaranteed, as section 160 (1) provides: “its powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval or control of the President”
4. INEC funding is placed on First Line Charge from the Consolidated Revenue of the Federation, as in section 84 of the Constitution. This way the Commission will not be frustrated when it comes to releasing of funds by the Ministry of Finance.
As for the INEC reforms, it included the following:
1. Improvement of the Electronic Register: A total of 67,422,005 were captured as registered voters for the 2015 General Elections
2. Introduction of biometric system in the electoral process. Production of Permanent Voters Card (PVC). The cards contain biometric data, including fingerprints, photographs and other details, and are designed to be used in conjunction with hand-held electronic card readers through which voters have to get accredited on Election Day before being able to vote. These PVCs aimed to significantly reduce voter fraud, which is believed to have marred previous elections in Nigeria. “The IFES post-election survey thus included several questions to evaluate how eligible voters felt about the adoption of PVCs for the first time in Nigerian elections. When asked if the adoption of PVCs has helped improve election integrity, did not make a difference, or made it worse, respondents express positive views with over three quarters (76%) believing PVCs helped improve the integrity of elections, and only 18 percent believing it did not make a difference. The share of those believing PVCs worsened election integrity is negligible. Similarly, when asked if adoption of PVCs helped protect against fraud, a full 72 percent agree. Nevertheless, over three quarters of Nigerians (76%) also believe PVCs prevented certain registered voters from being able to vote. This marks a clear trade-off with the use of PVCs, since while PVCs may have significantly reduced electoral fraud, they may also have created obstacles for certain eligible voters from being able to vote. In fact, the main reason given for not voting by 29 percent of non-voters is related to problems with the PVC or failing to collect their PVC” (IFES 2015).
3. Introduction of Card Reader. The use of card reader was an innovative improvement as witnessed in the 2015 general elections; it helped in reducing the incidences of common electoral fraud such as rigging and multiple voting and in making the elections credible.
4. A comprehensive restructuring of its bureaucracy for better performance
5. Establishing Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security to harmonize and coordinate security issues during elections
6. Quarterly meeting with political parties and civil society organization to exchange ideas and provide information on how to improve electoral process
7. Introduction of Modified Open Secret Ballot System: Two step for voting process. Separating accreditation from voting to minimise double voting. The accreditation process is the first step, where voters’ registration status is verified by the use of card reader, from 8:00 am to 12:30 noon. The second step is the voting process from 1:00 pm until the last person in the queue, who had been accredited voted. Thus, voters had to queue two times: for accreditation on the one hand, and voting on the other, at different time frame. It was a Nigerian unique process because of the enormous challenge of multiple voting.
8. Massive voter education enlightenment. “Awareness and confidence in the INEC improved dramatically between pre-election and post-election levels, reflecting positive public perceptions regarding the conduct of the election and increased trust in the Nigerian election management body. Spontaneous awareness of the INEC increased from 71 percent in December 2014 to 87 percent in July 2015, marking a substantial increase by 16 percentage points. Awareness of INEC is high across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones and Lagos as well. This is not surprising given the large scale voter education campaign carried out by INEC in the months preceding the 2015 elections, which reached a full 71 percent of voting age citizens across the country. During the same time frame, confidence in the INEC also registered a sharp increase by 16 percentage points, moving from 68 percent in pre-election levels to an overwhelming 85 percent after the elections” (IFES 2015).
9. Development of communications and gender policies
10. Reinvigorating of its operational and logistics strategy through the introduction of three core innovations: Election Management System (EMS), Election Project Plan (EPP), and Business Process Review (BPR). Implementation of these reforms had helped to improve election management during the 2015 elections
What were the few challenges encountered?
All general elections in Nigeria, from the First Republic in 1960 to the Fourth Republic, beginning from 1999, have been characterized by violation of electoral process, and challenges of managing the elections. Violation of electoral process can be categorized broadly into two: Electoral fraud and electoral violence. Electoral fraud takes a number of forms: Inflation of voters’ register, rigging, competitive rigging, multiple voting, box stuffing with illegal ballot papers, switching ballot boxes, alteration of result figures to favour a political party and its candidate, buying of votes, under age voting, bribing electoral officials and corrupting security agents. The perpetrators of electoral fraud can be divided into two: First, electoral fraud organized and executed by electoral officials on behalf of ruling (incumbent) or opposition parties and their candidates. In other words, parties and their candidates connived with electoral officials to rig elections. Second, the fraud is organized and perpetrated by political parties and their candidates by buying voters and their votes