Nigeria @ 50

October 3, 2010

Are elections programmed to fail?

CALL it ambuscade! The air of apprehension in the build up to the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, was so thick a knife could cut through it. With the path to the elections strewn with land mines of different nature – judicial and political – many Nigerians had thought the elections might not hold after all.

To enlarge the spectre of gloom, a midnight judgment by Justice Bassey Ikpeme, in favour of the Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, less than 36 hours to the election, made it all the more unimaginable. Alas, the military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida went ahead to say the election should hold.

If Nigerians had thought that with the unexpected peaceful conduct of the elections, a new lease of democratic life would be heralded, they were wrong. The elections of that year, still regarded as the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria, was annulled 11 days later.

How paradoxical!

Yet, that epochal event may have just been designed to fail from its outset. The ABN which obtained a late night judgment served the interests of some people in government who did not want the elections to hold or at best, stonewall the process and create confusion.

The group succeeded. The tragic trajectory between a failed electoral system and the lack of good governance can be located in Nigeria’s level of development 50 years after independence.

If elections are the process of choosing leaders at any level of governance, a process that respects procedure in the breach should not be expected to throw up good leaders. The first elections that largely conformed to global standards were conducted in Nigeria in 1954.

The National Electoral Commission, NEC, conducted the elections.
Then the 1964 elections, which contributed in no small measure to the collapse of the First Republic, were conducted by the Federal Electoral Commission, FEC, chaired by Mr E. E. Esua. Unfortunately, the outcome soon degenerated into chaos and was a major factor in January 1966 coup that saw off the First Republic.

In 1978, the military regime again changed the name and nomenclature to Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, to conduct elections into public offices for the Second Republic – that republic collapsed on December 31, 1983.

In 1987, the name again changed from FEDECO to the National Electoral Commission, NECO, but this acronym did not last long at all.  After the local government elections of December, 1987, there were other elections into legislative bodies in the country.

And whereas there was a military president in power, the National Assembly was inaugurated in 1993, along with state governors who had been elected on the platform of the two registered political parties – Social Democratic Party, SDP, and the National Republican Convention, NRC.

The June 12, Presidential Elections has been variously described as the freest elections in the history of Nigeria but the winner, Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the SDP, was never allowed to have his mandate.

Sani Abacha took over on November 17, 1993.  Elections were held for the Constitutional Conference in 1995. The commission was again re-christened National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECON.

NECON conducted another set of transitional elections, into state and federal legislative bodies. These elected institutions were however not inaugurated owing to the passing on of the then military leader.

This development also led to the abolition of NECON and to the institution of the current INEC in 1998.

INEC was tasked with the conduct of all transitional elections that ushered in the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999.

Of all these elections – apart from that of June 12, 1993 – none has received any good grade.  Rather, the failure rate had increased.

From 1999, to 2003 and 2007, the Nigerian nation has had to contend with the opprobrium oozing from the conduct of such elections so much so that international observers have used damning words to describe their conducts.

Now, the question is:  Why have elections never been successful in Nigeria?
In many ways, the conduct of elections in Nigeria has always been regarded as peculiar. This is rooted in the general perception of politics and power. In the other climes, politics and power is generally regarded as an important instrument of service to the people.

But in Nigeria, over the years, the perception of politics and power as a means to personal aggrandisement has persisted. It is, therefore, not surprising that the average Nigerian politician views the acquisitions of political power as a do or die affair.

In a country where interests clash at the speed of light, it should not be surprising that Nigeria’s democracy had always been slaughtered on the slab of electoral systems.  The remote cause of the collapse of the First Republic can be traced to the rigging of elections in the Western Region which then led to a series of other ugly events.

The outcry over the massive rigging which took place during the re-election exercise in the Second Republic led to the coming of the military in December 1983.

There were elections in 1999, 2003, 2007 and council elections as well, Nigeria’s voyage in the realm of electoral systems have been a grand parody of what the real thing is all about.  Almost all elections in Nigeria are challenged in court.
This is because of a lack of faith in the system.

When the Samuel Cookey Committee, set up by General Babangida in 1987 went round the country, seeking views on what type of electoral system Nigeria should engage, there was a preponderance of views supporting an open ballot system.

Those who wanted this system premised their desire on the major fact that openness would be a first step to ensuring a free and fair electoral system where one man’s vote would mean one man’s vote.  But it would take countless mishaps, before Professor Humphrey Nwosu, then chairman of the National Electoral Commission, NEC, to come up with Option A4.

Well, there has been many misconceptions and misinformation about the almighty Option A4.

Truth is that Option A4 was suggested by Nwosu as a test option for the party primaries.

It meant voters would simply queue behind their candidate of choice after being certified as eligible voters using the Voters’ Register.  It worked.  He then suggested that it be introduced for the general elections but the political elite, not wanting daylight in their magic killed the idea and then introduced Open/Secret Ballot System.

The Open Secret Ballot System ensures confidentiality and, therefore, does not open any voter to victimization, which was the only drawback of the Open Ballot System, otherwise called Option A4.  But if sincerity of purpose was the driving spirit, why would any voter expect to be victimized for voting his conscience.

Imposition of candidates

In a polity where the school principal of a voting centre is fired because the ruling party in the state lost in the polling centre domiciled in the school, or a situation where a party leader in the person of a former state governor threatens his party members that they either accept imposition of candidates or suffer the consequences of sole administrators being appointed to run councils,

or a situation where the President orders his party executives to disenfranchise members from party primaries just to ensure the emergence of a favoured candidate or, worse still, which electoral system ensures that the political party dominant in a state clinches all council seats during council elections, because the electoral body handling the election is in the pocket of the state governor – be it Action Congress, AC,

All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, or the ever shambolic Peoples Democratic Party, PDP?

Whatever the electoral system, with progress being made in the wrong direction, Nigerians do not appear ready for free and fair elections.

Today, the talk is about a new voter register.  There is a consensus that with a new voter register, it would be a necessary first step to ensuring credible elections. But looking at the time lines set by INEC and its chairman for the voter registration exercise and elections, it is as if the process has already been ambushed even before kicking off.

So much hope is being invested in the process now, in the firm belief that it would turn out well.


Mr E. E. Esua,             1964-1966
Chief Michael Ani, CFR     1976-1979
Justice Ovie Whiskey     1980-1983
Prof Eme O. Awa         1987-1989
Prof Humphrey Nwosu     1989-1993
Prof Okon Edet Uya     1993-1993
Chief S. Dagogo-Jack     1994-1998
Justice Ephraim Akpata     1998-2000
Dr. Abel Guobadia         2000-2005
Prof Maurice M. Iwu     2005-2010
Prof. Attahiru Jega        July2010 – to date