The Conduct Of Elections And Electoral Practices In Nigeria

1 Introduction “Those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent change inevitable. ” To a very large extent, elections and electoral practices shape the fate of the modern nation state. The reason for this is not difficult to establish. Elections provide the medium, by which the different interest groups within the modern nation state can stake and resolve their claims to power through peaceful means. Elections therefore determine the manner and methods by which changes in the social order may be brought about.

Where this method fails, individuals and groups may be left to their own means – including assassinations, coup detats, revolutions, insurgency and bush wars – to press their claim to power. It is this fact more than any thing else that makes the subject of elections and electoral practices in Nigeria so crucial today. As we are aware, the controversial elections of 1965 produced the coup detat of January 1966. Again the flawed elections of 1983 produced the military coup of December 31, 1983. Finally, Babangida’s flawed elections of 1993 produced the Abacha palace coup of that year and paved the way to his memorable dictatorship.

As we look now towards 2007 against the background of the failed elections of 2003 and 2004 the question naturally arises as to whether our country can arrive there in one piece or survive it in whatever form thereafter. In order to answer this question or suggest ways in which it can be answered so that we can arrive there, as one country with a renewed faith in the democratic process, there is a need to examine the nature of elections and its place in furthering democracy and development in a bourgeois social order such as ours.

2. Elections, Bourgeois Democracy and Development Almost everywhere, the enlightened self-interest of the ruling class dictated that autocracy be replaced first by the classical form of democracy and that next, the classical form itself be replaced by its liberal form within the context of representative democracy. This is not to say that members of the ruling class voluntarily, willingly and at their own initiative conceded the right of elections.

Even in the Greek city state with which the classical idea of democracy is most closely associated, only free men could participate in the debates and therefore influence the mode of governance of the city. Thus slaves were not allowed to participate in the debates – as the Greek city was divided between the nobility and subjects and freemen and slaves. The emergence of bourgeois society, not only produced struggles to redefine the meaning but also the practice of democracy.

From the bourgeois point of view, democracy becomes: …a political method, that is to say, a certain type of institutional arrangement for arriving at political, legislative and administrative decisions. It is a method by which the individual acquires the power to participate in decisions by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.. it is the competition for votes that is the distinguishing character of the democratic method.. ” Further, democracy ensures:

…meaningful and extensive competition among individuals and organised groups (especially political parties, either directly or indirectly, for the major positions of governmental power, a “highly inclusive” level of political participation in the selection of leaders and policies, least through regular and fair elections, such that no major (adult) social group is excluded, and a level of civil and political liberties – freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom to form and join organisations – sufficient to ensure the integrity of political competition and participation…” (Diamond, 1988:4)

It can be seen that that the concept of elections or the vote and the processes associated with it are seen to lie at the heart of a system of representative democracy. The other elements are the guarantee of civil and political liberties and the existence of an institutional arrangement or government whose function it is to maintain the aforementioned elements through, among other things, the rule of law.

This is not the place to undertake a critique of the theoretical postulations and hence practical implications and applications of the bourgeois concept of democracy (we haveundertaken such a critique elsewhere – Iyayi, 1995). What is important is that elections play a crucial role in the bourgeois understanding of democracy and that the stability of the bourgeois order is premised upon the credibility of its elections. Further, this understanding has provided the benchmarks against which democratic and hence electoral practices have been measured in all bourgeois contexts in the world (Dye and Zeigler, 1971).

As an index of the culture of politics in a context, these benchmarks also indicate that the integrity of the electoral process has major implications for the level of economic and social development that are possible or attainable in that context (Fayemi, Jaye and Yeebo, 2003). As Ake (2001: 1-6) has pointed out, that both the failure of development and the failure to put development on the agenda in Africa are largely attributable to political conditions. One of these more salient conditions is the conception of politics as ‘warfare’ by the politically active segment of the ruling class.

The implication of this however is that there is a recursive relationship between political practices as engendered by the political system and development. A political culture that is defined by violence makes development impossible because by its very nature, such a political culture is destructive of the need and motivation for achievement. A culture of elections that is marked by violence and warfare is thus totally anathema to the possibilities of development. In speaking of elections, it is important that we do not reduce the process to the vote. As Okoye (2003:vii) has pointed out in ‘Do the Votes Count?

Final Report of the 2003 General Elections in Nigeria’: …elections are a complex set of activities with different variables that act and feed on one another. It can be defined as a “formal act of collective decision that occurs in a stream of connected antecedent and subsequent behaviour. It involves the participation of the people in the act of electing their leaders and their own participation in governance. Elections are not necessarily about Election Day activities although it forms an important component. It encompasses activities before, during and after elections.

It includes the legal and constitutional framework of elections, the registration of political parties, party campaigns, the activities of the electronic and print media in terms of access; it includes campaign financing, the activities of the security agencies and the government in power. It includes the authenticity and genuineness of the voters register; it includes the independence or lack of it of electoral agencies and organs. It includes the liberalism or otherwise of the political process in the country and the independence of adjudicating bodies of elections.

An examination of the character of elections in Nigeria must thus deal with these issues, not simply in a theoretical sense but more in terms of the way in which they have functioned over the period. It is particularly important in this regard that such an examination deals with not one but all elections that have occurred in the context in order to discover underlying dynamics and thus to be sure that in suggesting the way forward, it deals, not with symptoms but with causes. For this reason we shall examine elections and electoral practices in Nigeria in four phases. These will be:

v Elections in the colonial period v Elections in the first ears of independence (1960-1965) v Elections during the years of military rule and autocracy v Elections under civilian regimes in between the years of military rule and autocracy 3. Elections in the Period of colonial rule A number of elections were held in Nigeria in the colonial period. These elections began with the legislative councils in Lagos and Calabar from 1922 (Akerele, 2003). The growth of the labour movement and the development of towns led to concessions by colonial authorities that culminated in these city and legislative council elections.

By 1938, for example, the Nigerian Youth Movement, an organisation that was hostile to British colonial interests in Lagos in particular and Nigeria in general was able to win three out of the four available seats in the city council elections. In the same year, it also won all three legislative seats in the legislative council elections. Several other elections took place between 1951 and 1959. While the 1951 Regional Legislative elections took place under the Macpherson constitution of the same year, the 1954 elections took place under the new Federal Constitution.

Whereas all constitutions up to 1954 limited the right of elections to certain members of the population, the Federal Constitution granted universal adult suffrage. In the book, ‘British Administration in Nigeria: 1900-1950 – A Nigerian View’, Okonjo has provided a graphic account of the motives for and electoral practices of the period. In the 1951 and subsequent elections for example, the British colonialists worked assiduously to tilt the political scale in favour of the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC).

Coordinated by Sir Bryan who was to become the Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Northern Nigeria during the crucial run off period to flag independence, these efforts ensured that the genuine pro-democracy forces in the country did not acquire political power. For example, Sir Bryan confessed that in the elections of 1951, he not only helped to prepare NPC’s manifesto, slogans and strategies but that “in the case of more than a dozen, I had to hold and guide the pen hand, after cajoling from them the names of those for whom they wished to vote”.

He also confessed to election manipulations “even in areas where Muslims were in a minority” so that the Northern Peoples’ Congress could win 90% of the votes. Commenting on the 1951 elections and Sir Bryan’s role in it, Okonjo (1974:331) has observed that: “An American scholar has described Sir Bryan’s account of the 1951 elections in Kano over which the latter presided, as ‘revealing as it is obtuse. ’ Sir Bryan became, in the last ten years of his Northern Nigeria service ‘the chief pillar of the administrative establishment’ in that part of the country.

Under him and his other British associates in power, the defense of the status quo became much more than an official preoccupation. In the face of the threats from within the North represented by such “lunatic fringe” anti-British parties as the Northern Elements Progressive Union and the Middle Zone League, and represented from without by such parties as the Action Group or the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon, the British residents decided to throw their weight in support of the fledging Northern Peoples Congress, the only party in Northern Nigeria dedicated to the preservation of the status quo. The 1951 elections to the regional legislature, conducted under the Macpherson constitution, were conducted with the resident of each province as the chief electoral officer. Sir Bryan was the Resident of Kano province at this time, a province which had to select twenty of the ninety seats of the new Northern House of Assembly”.

This pattern of electoral practices was repeated in the subsequent post 1951 elections. Against the background of the Richards and Macpherson constitutional provisions which stipulated that 50% of the seats in Parliament be reserved for the Northern part of the country, it is not surprising that the Northern People’s Congress assumed control of political power at flag independence in 1960.

In effect, the manipulation of the electoral process by the British ensured as Chief Anthony Enahoro (1985:21,22) has succinctly observed, that Nigeria became the only country “in the entire history of the anti-colonial struggles of our time in which those who fought for independence were not those who had the privilege and the historic duty of meeting the challenges of independence…The truth of the matter, which determined efforts to falsify history cannot forever conceal, is that the nationalists who were prepared to work, to fight, to risk, to dare – to die if need be – so that a new and democratic nation might be born, these people lost control of the situation and were displaced or succeeded by those who had remained untouched by the unifying and modernising flames of the new nationalism…

When independence came in the fullness of time, neither the goodwill of progressive forces… nor our trade unions, nor our youth could prevent the inevitable course of events when those who were least disposed towards democracy became the official guardians our fledging democracy”.

4 Elections in the first years of independence: 1960 – 1965 Three sets of elections were held in the period from 1960 – 1965. These were the elections in the newly created Midwest Region in February 1964, the Federal elections of December 1964 and the Regional elections of 1965. The prelude to the December 1964 Federal elections was provided by the census exercise and the creeping crisis in the Western Region from 1962 onwards. The census results released in March 1961 had shown that the South had a higher population than the North. As the time of the Federal elections approached, the Balewa NPC government not only cancelled the 1961 census results but also slated a recount for 1963.

Then just before the elections in 1964, the new census results were released. The results declared that the North had 55% of the population of the country. For the NCNC which had gone into alliance with UMBC, NEPU and its old adversary, the AG to form the United Progressive Alliance and therefore hoped to win the Federal elections because it anticipated the census results to revalidate the 1961 results, and because it was already in control of virtually three out of the four Regions in the federation, the census figures provided the last straw in a litany of pre-election measures by the NPC government that were aimed at frustrating the opposition. Ademoyega (1981:19) recounts that:

…As the elections approached, the NPC government of the North did not hesitate to frustrate the UPGA candidates in the North, so that many of them could not file in their nomination papers. Hence, before the elections, sixty-seven NPC candidates had been declared elected unopposed. That did not go down well with the UPGA leadership who called for an immediate postponement of the elections. But the Belewa Government rejected the idea of postponement. Thereupon, the UPGA led by Dr. Okpara, the Premier of the Eastern Region, called for a mass boycott of the election by its supporters. Again, the Belewa government ordered the election to go ahead in spite of the boycott. Thus, the elections of December 1964 turned out to be a farce.

It was completely boycotted in the Eastern Region, where the NCNC Government used its powers to ensure that no election was held. It was also partly boycotted in the West, North, Mid-West and Lagos, with the effect that the election results lacked credit and were nationally unacceptable. However, while the UPGA rejected them, the NPC and its allies of the NNA, which single-handedly carried out the elections, accepted them. There followed a national stalemate”. The October 1965 elections into the Regional Government of the West were no less farcical. Although the people clearly rejected the Akintola government at the polls and voted massively for the AG opposition party, ‘the Akintola government publicly (interfered) with the results of the elections.

In very many cases, AG candidates who held certificates that they were duly elected in their constituencies later heard their names mentioned as defeated candidates through governmental news media” (Ademoyega, 1981:21-22). These developments, including the simmering TIV revolt in the Middle Belt, the political impasse at the centre, the resulting mass revolt in the Western Region by the people who felt rightly that they had been cheated at the polls set the stage for the first military coup of January 15, 1966. 5. Elections during the years of military rule and autocracy The military rulers conducted three elections during their period of misrule.

These were (i) the elections of 1979, under the first coming of Obasanjo, the 1992-1993 elections under General Babangida and the 1999 elections under General Abdusalami Abubakar. Commenting on these elections, especially on the first and the last, the EU Election Group, which monitored the 2003 elections has suggested that, ‘the most free, fair and peacefully conducted elections in Nigeria were those in 1959, 1979, 1993 and 1999, and the most chaotic, violent and disputed were those in 1964 and 1983. The reason for this is that the first three were ‘transition’ elections in which the regimes in power and responsible for organising the elections had to hand over power to a democratic civilian regime.

So, in 1959 the British colonial regime wanted a smooth transfer of power to Nigerian self-government, in 1979 the military government of General Obasanjo viewed itself as an interim fixture to ensure stability and then hand over to elected officials, in 1993 a combination of internal and external pressure forced General Babangida to organise the elections and in 1999, after the disastrous rule of General Abacha the military had no political credibility and wanted only to disengage as quickly as possible. In contrast, the other elections can be viewed as potential ‘consolidation’ elections, in which an elected civilian government was responsible for organising elections to hand over power to a successor regime. The failure of these elections to consolidate democracy (each led in fact to disruption and eventually a return to military rule) was due to the reluctance of the incumbent regime to allow a level playing field, in case they lost their grip on power. ”

Both the assessment of these elections and the reasons advanced for the judgement are greatly at variance with the historical facts, some of which we have already provided. The assessment is also greatly flawed by the assumption that voter behaviour on voting day is indicative of the fairness and peacefulness of elections. The colonial and military regimes were rooted in force and repression. Thus arrangements for voting were also highly militarised. The 1993 elections, for example, produced the 12 2/3 controversy, which the Obasanjo military regime resolved in favour of its interests. The elections of 1992-1993 were frequently delayed, cancelled, postponed and adjusted to produce a result predetermined by the military.

In the event that this did not happen, the results of the June 12, 1993 were brazenly annulled by General Babangida on the excuse that the military was uncomfortable with them. The 1999 election results were also predetermined. Acting in concert with neo-colonial and imperialist interests, the dominant coalition within the local ruling class drafted General Obasanjo into a political process that ended with him being declared the winner of the process. All these processes occurred with flawed electoral rules, without legitimate and valid constitutions, with electoral agencies under the firm jackboots of military rulers. Thus it was public knowledge that Professor Henry Nwosu who replaced Prof.

Awa as head of Babangida’s electoral agency was brutalised by security agents on account of the fact that he dared in 1993 to announce some of the authentic results. In 1993 as in 1999, the political parties were the creatures of the military despots. They were, as the late Chief Bola Ige characterized them, all leprous fingers on the same leprous hand. 6. Elections under civilian regimes from 1983 onwards From 1983 onwards, three sets of elections were conducted under the civilian regimes. These were the general elections of 1983 under the Shehu Shagari NPN government, the general elections of 2003 and the local government elections of 2004 under General Obasanjo.

In the 1983 elections, the ruling NPN government perpetrated all sorts of electoral atrocities. The voting process, voter registration, and actual votes cast were all grossly distorted. To produce the so-called ‘landslides’, ‘moonslides’ and ‘bandwagon effects’, the order of elections was reversed and voters’ registers inflated. For example, whereas the order of elections provided that the Presidential elections be held last, the NPN government decided that these elections would come first. In Modakeke, a suburb of Ife, voter registration jumped from an original 26,000 voters to 250,000 thus making the voting population there more than the voting population of the whole of Ife.

Indeed, at the national level, the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) announced that voter registration had increased from 48,499,097 in 1971 to 65,304,818 in 1983. This was in spite of the fact that the 1979 figures had indeed been considered to be highly inflated. FEDECO and the state owned mass media became willing and active accomplices in the electoral frauds perpetrated by the NPN government in power. For example, FEDECO played an active role in deepening the crisis that engulfed such opposition parties as the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP). It also selectively accorded recognition and hence registration to political parties that would weaken the opposition to the NPN government.

The state owned media equally crude partisanship in playing its role. The Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) became, in effect, the campaign mouthpiece of the NPN government as it bandied around slogans that were meant to intimidate the opposition and assure victory for the NPN government in power. The NPN government also intimidated political opponents. Alhaji Shugaba was deported from the country on the ridiculous grounds that he was not a Nigerian. The Nigerian Police was equally used to intimidate the opposition. Thus ‘armoured vehicles were imported into the country for the police shortly before the elections’ (Sagay 1995:23) and were subsequently used by the police to perpetrate massive electoral frauds.

Not surprisingly, the results of the elections were rejected by the opposition parties and the ensuing crisis provided the context for the military to stage another coup on December 31, 1983. The final elections by a ‘civilian government’ were the general elections of 2003 and the Local government elections of 2004. Conducted under the Obasanjo government, these elections (including the various party primaries) will go down in history as the most fraudulent and equal only to a coup detat against the people. All commentaries on the 2003 and 2004 elections except those from the PDP government in power are unanimous in their verdict that all aspects of the elections were fraudulent.

The following excerpts from the Report by the Transition Monitoring Group are indicative of the general texture of the 2003 elections: “…Twenty-nine of the registered political parties that either contested or did not contest the elections have variously rejected the results as announced by the INEC declaring the results as fraudulent. Both Domestic and International Election Observers documented massive irregularities that characterised the elections and refused to endorse the elections as free and fair. Some political parties and their candidates decided to challenge some of the results before the various Election Petition tribunals and have gone ahead to do so while others declared “mass action” to pressure a government without popular mandate to abdicate power.

… It is now historical reality that no electoral instrument in the history of Nigeria has been so challenged and so thoroughly discredited like the electoral Act 2001. Its replacement, the Electoral Act 2002 has also had its own fair share of controversy and nobody can now say with certainty whether the operative law is the Electoral Act 2001 or 2002 Act. What we have is a situation where the political gladiators sought to use the instrumentality of any documents which best served their personal advantage, creating an uncertainty in the electoral process. … It is self evident that elements within the political class and the different political parties drawing from their experiences during the 1998 voters registration process perfected the art of rigging the 2003 elections.

The full import of their actions dawned on the country when INEC on its own excluded millions of names from the voters register. From the report of Domestic election Observers during the 2003 elections, there are so many voters’ cards that are still in the hands of “ghost” and underage voters. Those who sought to corrupt the electoral process used those cards effectively and to their advantage during the three strands of elections conducted by INEC. … During the elections, the Nigerian people trooped out in large numbers to cast their votes. In fact, during the registration of voters, most state governments threatened residents of their various states with sanctions if they did not go out to register. The Nigerian people trooped out in large numbers to register.

They repeated the same feat during the National Assembly and Presidential / Gubernatorial elections. They demonstrated patriotism and resilience. In some states, gunmen tried to chase them away from polling stations. In other states, political thugs simply made away with the ballot boxes and or stuffed the ballot boxes with unlawful votes. Yet again, in some states, “ghost” and under age voters took the centre stage while in others, “community leaders and other leaders of thought” did the voting on behalf of their communities. … While the voters waited and persevered in the polling stations to cast their votes, the political class and the political parties had different ideas.

The voters wanted their votes to determine the winner of elections while the political class wanted to corrupt the process and rig their way into elective offices. Besides the electoral malpractices and irregularities that characterized the elections in some states, other issues combined to undermine the process. The political parties on whose shoulders rested voter education and mobilization simply abandoned the duty to civil society groups and organisations. Party agents had to do the voting on behalf of the voters while in other places, security agents assisted those who could not identify the symbol of the parties they intended to vote for.

… INEC contributed its own fair share of electoral problems. The lack of clearly designated compartments for thumb printing undermined the secrecy of the vote and exposed the voters to the machinations of those that would have preferred “community voting”. INEC also did not make adequate arrangements for the transportation of sensitive election materials to polling stations and to collation centres. Result sheets disappeared and re-appeared in different forms at collation centres while corrupt party agents simply sold unused ballot papers to the highest bidder. Following the reversal of the process for the order of the elections by INEC, voters deserted the State House of Assembly elections.

Thus no real voting took place in these elections although winners emerged from the process…” These massive electoral frauds so demoralised the public that by 2004 when the Local Government elections took place, the governments in power simply allocated votes to candidates as they wished. All the elections were characterized by threats of, or, actual assassination of political opponents. The security agencies either simply stood by while these crimes were being committed or took active part in facilitating electoral frauds in order to assist the government in power. Thus in many instances, political candidates who did not stand for elections were returned as having won elections.

These events were helped by others, notably; multiple, ghost and underage voting, violence, intimidation and harassment, stuffing of ballot boxes, stealing and buying votes, disruption of polls, absence of electoral officers, intimidation of election observers, and justification of rigging by the President, Governors, ministers and party officials. (TMG, 2003). 7 Common Features of Nigerian Elections As can be seen from this survey of elections and electoral practices in Nigeria over the period, elections in Nigeria have shared a number of common characteristics. First, they have been particularly characterized by massive frauds, the intimidation of political opponents and controversy. The governments in power have had their own designs and used the instruments of the state in penetrating electoral brigandage, thuggery, violence and warfare.

Secondly, while there has been continuity in violence and warfare, there has been lack of continuity in the political organisations through which both violence and warfare have been conducted. Each period has thus produced new political formations reflecting not only the penchant for lack of principle and shifting allegiance among members of the political class but also the total de-ideologisation of the issues on which members of the class were divided into antagonistic camps. For example, the major political parties in the 1951 – 1966 period were the NPC, the NCNC and the AG. Between 1979 and 1983, the major political parties in the field became the NPN, UPN and NPP. Between 1987 and 1993, the members of the political class were herded into the NRC and the SDP.

During Abacha’s viagra assisted ill-fated self-succession bid, the two herds metamorphosed into the famous ‘five leprous fingers on the same leprous hand’. Between 1999 and 2003, the five leprous fingers changed majorly into the PDP, AD and the ANPP. Thirdly, what is striking about this pattern of lack of continuity in the political platforms used by members of the political class to compete for power is not simply that the names of the platforms keep changing; it is rather that there is simply no pattern to the way in which members of the class change their political allegiance. This situation assumed such tragic proportions in the 2003 elections that an individual politician could and did change party membership three of four times on the same day.

Over the years, this shifting political allegiance has meant that there has been no tradition of party building among members of the political class. Fourthly, the sudden shifts and turns in political commitments and orientations have meant that the parties have not been defined by ideological positions that set them apart from each other. And yet, such defining and at the same time limiting ideologies are crucial to the development of a genuine political culture for several reasons. First, they indicate the ov