In Nigeria, elections are usually characterised by thuggery, killings, vote buying and other forms of infractions. Most aggrieved candidates often resort to the courts to determine the winners of such contentious elections. This, sometimes, does not reflect the true choice of the electorate. Thus, Nigeria’s former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was on point recently when he called for a review of Nigeria’s electoral laws to restore the integrity of the ballot. Jonathan said the ballot paper and not the judiciary should determine who wins an election.
He counselled, “If a candidate is declared the winner after a flawed electoral process, what the courts can do is to annul the election and order a fresh one, where a winner will finally emerge through the ballot. The ballot paper should decide who holds any elective office from the councillorship to the presidency. That is democracy.”
A man votes at a polling station in Kano, Nigeria, March 28, 2015. Many Nigerians fear a clash along religious, ethnic, and sectional lines regardless of the result of the presidential race between incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler and Muslim northerner. (Samuel Aranda/The New York Times)
As a former President who had faced the rigours of flawed elections in Nigeria, Dr. Jonathan is in a better position to assess our electoral system. And coming a few years to the 2023 general election, the advice is timely and worthy of further examination by all stakeholders in the nation’s electoral system.
No doubt, our elections are often compromised in so many ways. Instances abound where security agents join thugs in undermining the integrity of the ballot. In the last governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states, security personnel were fingered in the crisis that dogged the process. A good number of people lost their lives. Since the advent of democracy in 1999, thousands of lives have been lost to electoral violence in Nigeria.
This happens because the stakes are high. Desperate politicians know that the winner of any major election in Nigeria has access to huge resources which are usually diverted for personal gains. The President and state governors, for instance, have access to humongous amount as security votes which they do not account for. In spite of this, some elected officials fail to provide dividends of democracy, including infrastructure development, security, job creation and poverty reduction.
Our democracy is the worse for it because most people develop apathy towards elections. They believe it is fruitless coming out to vote since their votes may not count. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the turnout of registered voters across the country in the last two electoral cycles is between 30 and 35 per cent. INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said recently that some recent by-elections recorded as low as 8.3 per cent voter turnout in constituencies of over 1.2 million registered voters. This, he added, unfavourably compared to the average voter turnout of 65 – 70 per cent in other countries including West Africa. In Ghana, for instance, voter turnout in the recent presidential elections was 68 per cent. With such low voter turnout in Nigeria, candidates who are not the real choice of the people usually emerge as elected officials.
Granted that there is no perfect democracy anywhere in the world, advanced nations have institutionalised checks against electoral malfeasance. In the last presidential election in the United States, ex-President Donald Trump and his supporters made attempts to rubbish the outcome of that election. They did not succeed as the American institutions stood firm against any compromise. At the end of the day, Joe Biden was sworn in as the duly elected President.
The upcoming Anambra governorship election is a litmus test for INEC on restoring the integrity of our electoral system. If it could strictly implement the electronic voting system as promised, it will go a long way in ensuring that people’s votes count. Ultimately, we need to comprehensively review our electoral laws and processes to restore the total confidence of voters in the electoral system.
First, we need to review the process of registering voters, which is usually cumbersome and disorganised. People queue for hours to get registered and sometimes end up being frustrated. Even when one is registered, it is not a guarantee that one will vote as the card reader could be faulty.
Second, INEC should put its house in order. Oftentimes, some officials of the electoral umpire engage in acts that undermine the integrity of elections. Last month, Akwa Ibom State High Court 2, sitting in Ikot Ekpene, jailed Professor Peter Ogban three years for electoral fraud in the last senatorial election in the Northwest Senatorial District of Akwa Ibom State. Ogban, who lectures at the University of Calabar, was the collation/returning officer during the National Assembly elections in 2019. INEC in Akwa Ibom State had dragged him to court for manipulating and falsifying the election results in Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo local government areas in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Third, security personnel deployed to maintain law and order during elections should wean themselves off ignoble roles which further smear the integrity of our ballot. The onus is on all Nigerians to join hands to make our electoral process as transparent as possible.