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Elections And Democratic Practice In Nigeria’s Fourth Republic: Challenges And Prospects

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The concept of Election and Democracy are two sides of the same coin, in the sense that in democratic setting, election can be regarded as the major feature of democracy. In fact, this wide interest is explained by the fact that elections are a central element in theories of democracy, however, it is impossible to imagine a democratic regime without election. This write up examines the elections and democratic practice in Nigeria's fourth republic, it critically examines the basic challenges facing the elections and democratic practice in Nigeria, and provide the prospects for the basic problems.

The literal meaning of "democracy" comes from a combination of two Greek words, demos (people) and kratos (rule), and at its core, “Democracy is a form of government in which the people rule”. The term originated in Athens and was a part of the standard classification of regime forms that distinguishedrule by one (monarchy), several (aristocracy), and the many (democracy). However, beyond the literal meaning of democracy, there has been considerable debate over the criteria that distinguish democracies from non democracies.

Election involves a set of activities leading to the selection of one or more persons out of many to serve in position of authority in a given nation. It is the process by which the people selection and control their representative, i.e election gives an electorate the sovereignty power to decide who will govern.

It can be argued that, democracy is a system of government where the opportunity to participate in an authoritative decision making is opened to all who are willing and interested to share. However, it is a system of government that recognized individual rights, a system of representation and electoral system based on the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value.

Political Scholars see Democracy as a system of community government in which large member of the community participate or may participate directly in making decision which affect them all, so, Political thinkers linkit with the system of government in which rulers are hold accountable for their actions in public realm by citizen acting indirectly through competitive and co-operations of their elected representatives.

In other words, while elections could not be said to be synonymous with the democratic process in that democracy encompasses other attributes, but elections are so central to the operation and survival of democracy in that it defines the level of freedom exercised by the people in decoding who represent them in government. It also serves as an index of noticing whether the electoral body and the judicial organ of the government are independent of the legislative and executive organs.

Political Analysts argued that the 'democratic' element in liberal democracy is the idea of popular consent, expressed in practice through the act of voting. Liberal democracy is thus a form of electoral democracy, in that popular election is seen as the only legitimate source of political authority. Such elections must, however, respect the principle of political equality; they must be based upon universal suffrage and the idea of 'one person one vote'.

The Black's Law Dictionary defined Democracy as ''a form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens directly or indirectly through a system of representation, as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy''. With this, it could therefore be seen 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.

Political scientist and theorist link free, fair and credible election to democratic governance, peace and development. It can be argued that free, fair and credible election provide the basis for emergency of democratic accountability and legistimate governments with the capacity to initiate, implement and articulate clearly development programme.

In democratic state, election can be regarded as the major feature of democracy to the extend that not only, it impossible to imagine a democratic regime without election. Political analyst claimed that free, fair and credible elections empower the electorate to hold the government accountable and to demand strong credentials and feasible development agenda from the prospective government officials. In other words free, fair and credible election bestow on government, the legistimate authority to initiate and implement policies on one hand, while on other hand, they empower the citizens to hold governments accountable for their actions and inaction, however, it is via elections that citizens participate directly in the political process and are able to hold governments accountable.


In Nigeria, since the environment of democracy and democratic practice in fourth republic may 29, 1999, election have become more regular, between 1999 till date 2015, The Independent National Electoral Commission has conducted four constructive general elections 1999, 2003 2007, 2011 excluding 2015 forth coming election. Several criticisms has been leveled against each election due to same challenges initiate against them.

Despite the fact that election are more regular in Nigeria, the quality of these elections are a matter of grave concern to both the actors and observers. 2003 and 2007 elections were particularly marked by dissatisfaction by candidates, voters and observers. The flows that characterized the conduct of 2007 elections severally dented Nigeria's image and elected integrity. This gravity of electoral offences committed during 2007 elections led to soul searching among the Nigeria leadership, this reflected in the public acknowledgement by former president Umaru Yar'adua that the election that brought him to office fundamentally flowed.

In a similar vein, the open declaration by President Yar'Adua, shortly after the inauguration of his administration in 2007, that the process of his election was faulty and the establishment of the Uwais Electoral Reforms Commission before Yar'Adua's death also helped to confirm that the INEC did not sufficiently perform its role. However, the European Union Election Observer also witnessed many cases of election fraud inclining ballet box stuffing, multiple voting, intimidation of voters, alternative of official result form, stealing of sensitive polling materials, vote buying and under-age voting etc.

In this connection, it is appropriate to recall some of the activities of political godfathers and election financiers especially in the fourth republic can not be overemphasis whose electoral slates, for obvious reasons, are the most attractive. While the governorship tickets of the party in Edo and Ekiti States were, for instance, given to those who did not win the primaries before the 2007 elections, the candidacy for the same office in Rivers State was awarded to a candidate who did not participate in the exercise. In the latter case, Honourable Rotimi Amaechi, who was illegally prevented from contesting in the 2007 exercise, was declared the governor by the elections tribunal about a year after. Similarly, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume from Anambra State was also allowed to contest the senatorial elections. In 2007, only after the court intervention that returned his ticket, which he had earlier won in the primaries.

None of these activities, however, exposed the INEC's abysmal performance as much as the conduct of general elections since 1999. In the controversial 2007 general elections that were followed by the court ordered re-run exercises in such states as Kogi, Adamawa, Osun, and Ekiti, the electoral body displayed incompetence and, sometimes outright bias. Perhaps there is no better evidence for this than the open cases of ballot box snatching, falsification of results and other forms of electoral malpractices, many of which were confirmed in places like Edo and Ondo States where the initial governorship results were overturned in favour of Adams Oshiomhole and Olusegun Mimiko respectively in 2009.

Similarly, the results of the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States were later overturned in 2010 in favour of Dr. Kayode Fayemi and Rauf Aregbesola respectively. It should also be noted that in all of these, the police as an institution is also constantly indicted for its ineffective role that compounded whatever challenges the INEC probably encountered from the exploitative acts of the political class.

Unlike previous elections, the April 2011 elections, Nigeria word adjudged by political analysts and observers as the most the credible election in the series of elections organized since enrolment of fourth republic. The remedial measure taken by both the government and Independent National Electoral Commission headed by Prof Attahiru Jega the political scientist. But 2011 election has it own criticism.

Since the emergency of the fourth republic, Election and democratic practice in Nigeria has been more of a force than a serious fact. Admittedly, Nigeria registered and voted at the elections that brought the ruling class into power, the candidate presented to them for selection were chosen not by them but by the political elites. Voting as observed became for Nigerians a matter of ritual performances than discharge of bounden duty.

Non of the people elected in those shams elections considered himself a representative of a people; neither did the voters know them as such. Public officer both elected and appointed, became masters but not representatives not to mention servants of the people. The Nigerian masses became totally marginalized, both from the sources of political power, political sovereignty and from their political leaders.

It can be argued that elections and democratic practice in fourth republic characterized by electoral malpractices, political intolerance, economic mismanagement, using political office as gateway to personal enrichment, political thuggery, lack of intra party democracy, insecurity, manipulation of religion and ethnicity to achieve selfish political ambitions and other countless misdemeanors were order of the day.

In another related matter, several of the reports and comments of election observers from within and outside the country supported the shoddy and controversial nature of most of these exercises. While the European Union (EU) criticized the INEC for “usurping the role of Nigerians in determining the legitimacy of the outcome of the election,” others noted that the whole exercise “fell far short of basic international standards.” In view of the bloody violence and rigging of monumental proportions, the reporters concluded in part that “given the lack of transparency and evidence of fraud, particularly in the result collation process, there can be no confidence in the result of these elections.” Obviously, all of these and the unending squabbles over the verdicts of the various election tribunals across the country constitute great challenges for Nigeria's democratization as well as threats to national cohesion and stability

However, in the present democratic dispensation of the Nigerian Fourth Republic, events have shown that the electoral body is not independent of the party in power. This has been defined in relation to the manner of which the electoral body had conducted elections in a way that advantaged the party in power through poor planning, the device of excluding electorates from voting in places considered to be the strongholds of opposition, through the inadequate supply of voting materials, or late arrival of electoral officers to polling stations.

Democratilization in Nigeria has it own peculiar impairments which future prominently in the democratic process of the Nigerian's fourth republic. Low literacy mostly among rural dweller seriously affected the attitude of the majority of the voters and inhibited to interact with the rest of the world, particularly the political salient segments.

Poverty is one the basic factors hindrance the success of inedible election and democratic practice in Nigeria, many Nigerians see the election period as an opportunity to demand of the office seeker a slice of their wealth. Thus, their participation in the election process was only influenced by how much they could attract the contestants rather than by deliberate decision based on preventing issues and national interest.

It is not surprising that most of these political parties that suffered from a lack of internal democracy have been unable to imbibe a democratic ethos at higher levels. In addition, most of these parties do not publish their financial activities, including campaign and elections funding, as regularly as required by the electoral laws. Incidentally, elections and campaign finance has been discovered to be one of the greatest sources of abuse and impunity in Nigeria's Fourth Republic.

However, instead of this, political parties in fourth republic engage in voting buying and especially in contemporary time where political patronage is an important social factors. Voters expected material gift from parties and the amount and quality of such gift. These contemporary issues no doubt are antithetical to Nigeria's democratic practice.

As Nigeria ispreparing toward the conductof 2015 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Government, Political Parties, National Orientation Agency, Security Agents, Religion Organization, the Political Scientist, Judicial Body and Individual have a prominent rolesto playin forth coming election. In order to be more pro-active the following prospects are recommended.

In reality, Nigerians need political education in order to improve in their electoral system and democratic practice in fourth republic, the people should learn to abhor tribalism, factionalism, election malpractice in order not to mortgage the rights and future. Here a political scientists have the role to play in conjunction with National Orientation Agency (NOA), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerian Security Agents and Religions Organization, however, they have a responsibility to cultivate the political awareness at the grassroots through the well planned programme of political education. By embarking on political Evangelism, it will make people to be well political active and oriented during the election period.

Political scientists should be more pro-active in providing a search light for dialogue about what must be done to elevate the level of political consciousness and activism of the Nigeria masses. They cannot remain quiescent in the extremely desperate state of democratization in which politicians are most likely to engage in undemocratic practices when there is low risk to be prosecuted punished or to lose their seat in parliament as a consequence of voters dissent with a politician's conduct.

National Orientation Agency (NOA) has a lot to do, well co-ordinated strategies for the awareness of the people rights effectively utilized to promote democracy in Nigeria. However, since the present political scenario in Nigeria is such that political parties because of their lack of focus on the masses has not been able to effectively perform the functions of political socialization, interest articulation, interest aggregation and political communication.

To be more pro-active political parties have a lot to do in Nigeria's democratic settings, By this, political parties will publicize and promote their programmes, they should provide voters with substantial information about current political issues, citizen democratic right, contribute to voter's education and human development. Religion leaders should play a prominent role during election, by this religions organization need to engage in orientating their worshippers i.e. election is not do or die affairs, because some political violence in Nigeria was rooted from religion perspective and ideology.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body saddled with the responsibility of supervising the entire electoral process. Obviously, the formation of this body was also faulty, mainly because its members were chosen not necessarily on merit but, most probably, based on political connections or expediencies. Appointment of the chairman Independent National Electoral Commission must based on merit and such person must have foundation and in-dept knowledge ofPolitical Science and Law. Because, INEC in Nigeria was expected to achieve this feat but has failed woefully due to the non-autonomous nature of the commission.

The Independent National Electoral Commission and security agents were to be non partisan and also expected to be impartial in their operations due to their major roles in election and democratic practice in Nigeria. INEC is expected to discharged their duties. Electoral Commission should be restructure in a way that they will have absolute autonomous and separate from the control of Organs of government, Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, so that they will be able to discharged their duty such as, registration of voters, provision of electoral materials, conducting of free, fair and credible election and announcing the election result without external affairs.

The establishment of an Electoral Crime Commission in conjunction with Judicial Body that will serve as a watchdog of the electoral commission, the political parties and contesting candidates in ensuring that political campaigns and elections are conducted according to the rules of the game. The Electoral Crime Commission should also be charged with the powers to prosecute those caught in the act of electoral violence, thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes and other electoral ills in the Court of law.

Judiciary cannot be left out in election and democratic practice in Nigeria, Nigeria judicial system should also be strengthened and reorganized in a way that the judiciary will have autonomous to discharged their duty, judicial system should non partisan, this will give the opposition the opportunity of wining the election and it will serve as last hope for opposition parties and the politicians.

Election and Democracy, the two are so inextricably linked that in common usage any reference too, 'the Democracy' is usually intended to include the period of 'Election'. Election can be regarded as the major feature of democracy, in fact, this wide interest is explained by the fact that elections are a central element in theories of democracy, however, it is impossible to imagine a democratic regime without election. We have examined Elections and Democratic practice in Nigeria's fourth republic, in order to advance and enduring democracy, Elections and democratic practice in Nigeria, Nigerian should follow the general pattern found in advanced democratic states and properly blended with indigenous peculiarities. This way an enviable political culture sustained by rule of law.

Ajayi, Amos Kenny,
Department of Political Science,
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife –Nigeria.
[email protected],08060936374, 08078896889

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Ajayi Amos Kenny and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Ajayi Amos Kenny