Elections and Electoral Process in Nigeria


Elections and Electoral Process in Nigeria

All modern democratic nations in the world have evolved a system by which their citizens participate in the process of electing their leaders.

Perhaps, nothing is more important in a democratic system than its electoral process. It allows the citizens to both interact and participate in the political process.

This post examines the history of elections in Nigeria, from the colonial era to date. It also examines the current challenges facing the country in the task of conducting free, fair, transparent, credible elections.

Major Pre-requisites of an Electoral System

The electoral system is a process or the machinery through which citizens in any given democratic state elect their representative in competitive elections that are held at periodic intervals.

While the casting of vote is the highest point of an electoral process, other activities include the division of a country into electoral units known as constituencies, the existence of political parties, registration and periodic revision of the list of registered voters, or revalidation of voters register, the nomination of candidates for the election, political neutrality on the part of the electoral commission, opportunities for parties and candidates to campaign; equal access to government media; an avenue for legal redress for the defeated and power of recall, if the electorates are dissatisfied with the performance of their representatives before the expiration of his tenure.


Colonial Period

The electoral system was first introduced in Nigeria in 1923, with the provision under the Clifford constitution for the election of three unofficial members from Lagos and Calabar into the Legislative Council with a minimum income requirement of 50 pounds per annum.

The introduction of the elective principle brought about unprecedented political awakenings, and the emergence of political parties, notably the Nigerian National Democratic Party(NNDP), led by Herbert Macaulay in Lagos, and Calabar National League, in the South Eastern Calabar Municipality (Okoye, 1964).

The first sign of electoral bickering in Nigerian politics occurred in 1941 over the nomination of a candidate that was to represent Lagos municipality in the legislative council between Samuel Akinsanya, an Ijebu Yoruba, and Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw.

The controversy subsequently assumed ethnic colouration and eventually led to the split of the Lagos Youth Movement.

Under the 1946 Richard’s constitution, no extension of the elective principle to other parts of the country was allowed, other than the reduction of income requirements to 50 pounds per annum.

With the creation of regional assemblies in the North, East and West, however, a system of Electoral College was introduced to elect indirectly members into regional legislative assemblies.

Since the hallmark of the colonial administration was”, the elective principle was grudgingly conceded by the colonial powers, while franchise requirements differed from one region to another, in the line with the British policy of ‘Divide and Rule’. For example, universal adult suffrage was introduced in the eastern region in 1954, but in the north, adult male suffrage was allowed for both the regional, and the 1959 federal elections.

First Republic

The first republic was ushered in with a federal government and three regional governments formed based on elections held under the colonial period. At the 1959 Constitutional Conference Nigerian political leaders resolved that post-independent Nigeria’s Federal House of Representative would be composed of 312 members, elected from a single-member constituency, of approximately 100,000 people per constituency.

The ratio of regional representatives clearly shows the lopsided nature, and far-reaching and decisive electoral implications of the constituency delimitation exercise, which clearly favored the old northern region.

Out of the 312 seats, the north was allocated 167 seats, Western 57, Mid-Western 14, Eastern 70, and the federal territory of Lagos, 4 seats.

With the clear majority of the seats allocated to the North, and considering the regional character of the major political parties.

Northern People’s Congress (NPC), National Convention of Nigeria and Cameroon (later National Convention of Nigerian Citizens) (NCNC) and Action Group (AG), it was obvious that the North would always have the majority of votes in any election.

In the 1959 election, for instance, the NPC won 77% of the seats in the North; the NCNC/Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) won 79% in the East, While the A.G won 53 percent of the seats in the West.

An analysis of the 1959 federal elections shows that 16 out of an aggregate total of 321 successful candidates were independent, or members of minority parties. Their total electoral poll was a marginal 578, 893 votes or 8.1 percent of an aggregate total of 7,185,555 votes (Awolowo, 1966:88).

In the end, in order to become relevant, most successful independent candidates crossed carpets to the major parties, and this largely account for why the provision for independent candidate was expunged from the electoral laws of the subsequent republics in Nigeria.

The victory by the northern region-based NPC was repeated in 1964 when the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) alliance, with NPC as the senior partner, won 198 seats in the federal elections, the bulk of the votes coming from the North.

The defeat of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) an alliance of the major political parties in the south created a feeling of hopelessness among Yoruba and Igbo that the majority lead of the Hausa-Fulani led NPC may be perpetual, and would never be changed through a parliamentary electoral process.

Indeed, the failure of party politics in the First Republic can be remotely traced to the controversial 1964 Federal Elections.

Perhaps the most contentious issue in the 1964 elections and the controversial October 1965 regional election in the West was the alleged partisan disposition of the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN). The commission was reported to have returned candidates of the favored party (notably NPC and NNDP) unopposed, even where others parties (notably AG and NCNC) fielded candidates for the election.

Curiously, the commission did neither recognized the partial boycott in the West, or total boycott in the East of the 1964 elections, nor acknowledged or reflected this in its returns of the elections.

In spite of the desperate action to form a broad-based national government after the disputed 1964 elections, the chain of crises which the two elections generated remained unresolved and generated into in civil disorder in the West, and the subsequent coup d’état of 15th Jan.1966.

Second Republic

In devising the electoral system for the Second Republic, the military, which organized the first transition to civil rule programme in Nigeria between 1975 and 1979, learnt from the experience of the failure of the First Republic.

First, the electoral laws required political associations, to reflect the federal character in membership, executive and territorial spread before they could be qualified for registration.

Only five political association scaled these hurdles and were registered as Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), National Party of Nigeria (NPN), People’s Redemption Party (PRP) and Great Nigeria’s People’s Party (GNPP) to contest the 1979 General Elections, with the sixth-Nigeria Advance Party (NAP) joining others to contest the 1983 general elections. 

The 1979 elections were however marred by constitutional controversies over the legal propriety of declaring Alhaji Shehu Shagari, winner of the presidential election, without a second ballot in an electoral college.

The legal dispute on the constitutional interpretation of 2/3 of 19 states in the federation was finally resolved at the Supreme Court in favour of the NPN’S flag bearer, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who though, scored the highest number of votes, but according to the petitioner, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, of the U.P.N. failed to meet the second element of the mandatory constitutional requirement, of geographical spread.

Commenting on this legal controversy in his memoirs, Justice Kayoed Eso, who delivered the minority judgment in the landmark case averred, “the electoral decrees used both the words” ‘votes’ and ‘states’ in a manner that they would not be synonymous but contra-distinctive’’(Eso 2000:296).

In other words, the requirement of 2/3 of the states in the federation was cumulative to that of a simple majority. The intention was to ensure that an elected president does not merely enjoy a narrow support base, but a countrywide electoral appeal.

This, no doubt, was a significant electoral innovation in a plural society like

Nigeria. The fact that the 1979 presidential Election result had to be resolved in a court of law impose a legitimacy crisis on Shagari’s government, from its inception and this crisis of governance dogged his administration until the 1983 General election, which was also alleged to have been brazenly rigged.

One of the presidential election contestants Tunji Braithwaite of NAP described the 1983 elections as an ‘electoral coup’.


Aborted Third Republic

The main plank of the electoral system, which ushered in the Third Republic in Nigeria, was predicated on a gradual process, re-orientation of political culture, and institutional adjustment which characterized the Babangida transition programme.

In line with the recommendations of the Political Bureau, two political parties-Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) were registered by the National Electoral Commission, (NEC), initially headed by Professor Eme Awa, before he was replaced by Professor Humphrey Nwosu.

Apart from promoting the concept of ‘new breed politics for the first time in Nigerian electoral history, grassroots-oriented politics was also encouraged by Professor Nwosu INEC because it gave prime recognition to the ward, as the primary, but the most significant unit or level of representation.

Indeed, the novel idea of option ‘A4’ method of election was the most politically decisive stage for the nomination of candidates for elections, rather than the state or national convention of a party.

In spite of the introduction of this apparently new electoral arrangement such as staggered elections; government’s involvement in the registration of political parties, along not so clear ideological poles and the open ballot system, which denied voters’ confidently in the polls, the transition programme, eventually collapsed due to manifest, but often denied, insincerity and inconsistency on the part of the government.

It is worthy of note that the electoral arrangement under Babangida, in addition to its prolonged duration is, arguably, the most convulsive and chaotic in Nigerian electoral history.

Under Babangida, and in the name of political re-engineering Nigeria was converted into a laboratory for experimentation. Two governments sponsored political parties were established by fiat (SDP and NRC); the government wrote their manifestoes and constitution; a novel open or modified open ballot system was introduced; nomination of party’s candidates was done through option A4, while the whole electoral process was completely monetized.

However, because Nigerians were no longer willing to tolerate a military dictatorship the June 12, 1993, presidential election, which was the climax of the staggered elections turned out to be free and fair.  

To the astonishment of everyone, General Babangida annulled the election on 23 June 1993 for reasons, which up till today, remain unconvincing.  The annulment of the 1993 presidential election and its aftermath forced Babangida to step aside.

But in order not to allow a power vacuum a contraption unknown to Nigerian law, christened the Interim National Government (ING) was contrived by Babangida until November 17, 1993, when Abacha forcefully set aside the Chief Earnest Shonekan led ING and dismantled all democratic structures that were already put in place.

Under Abacha’s transition programme only political associations promoted by military protégés were registered; a candidate already on a party’s ticket could be disqualified on security grounds even on the eve, or Election Day.

The climax was reached when the five registered political parties viz UNCP, NCPN, CNC, DPN, and GDM adopted Gen Abacha, then a serving military head of state, as their consensus candidate.


Fourth Republic

The transition programme for the Fourth Republic commenced following the death of Gen Abacha. Several political associations were allowed to contest the 1999 General Elections with the proviso that only those associations who were able to satisfy electoral requirements of geographical spread, would be qualified for registration by the

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Eventually, three political parties: People Democratic Party (PDP), APP (later renamed

ANPP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) were registered, with the latter allowed due to a concession given by INEC. President Olusegun Obasanjo of the P.D.P. won the presidential election and assumed office on 29th May 1999 with a lot of goodwill, given his background as a former military ruler who voluntarily handed over power to a democratic government in 1979.

However, after some years in office, particularly during his second term, the former military ruler lost this goodwill including international acclaim when he dissipated his energy to promoting undemocratic policies.

The first major electoral debacle of his administration was when he covertly inserted some provisions into the Electoral Act without the approval of the National Assembly. 

Added to this was the legislative indiscretion by members of the National Assembly who acted under President Obasanjo’s surreptitious prompting to extend the tenure of elected local government councils, by one year, with retroactive effect.

But the Supreme Court later annulled the Electoral Act, with the effect that local councils were dissolved after the expiration of their statutory three-year tenure, as contained in the electoral Decree promulgated by the military, under which councils elections were conducted in 1999.

Another major political development, which largely influenced the electoral process, was the expansion of the political space after a Supreme Court judgment, which liberalized the process of party registration and led to the participation of thirty political parties in the 2003 General elections. But due to several factors, only one of the then newly registered parties, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) could make some marginal impacts during the elections. Others, like the National Democratic Party (NDP) and United Nigeria Democratic

Party (UNDP) that showed some promise, given the political antecedents of some their leaders and candidates, could not rise to the occasion.

The General Elections in 2007 also brought in new parties like the Labour Party and the All Progressive People’s Alliance (APPA) into offices in Ondo and Anambra states, respectively.

In spite of this, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) retained its dominance of the country’s electoral space both at the centre and at the state levels.

Indeed, the governors elected on the tickets of the Progressive Peoples Parties (PPA), in Abia and Imo States including that of Ekiti state were former members of the PDP, who only defected from the party on the ground that the party lacked internal democracy in the manner it conducted its gubernatorial primary elections.

The infamous third term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo not only divided the ruling party, but also the presidency during which the president and his vice, Atiku Abubakar took opposing positions.

Most of the woes and crises that bedeviled the country’s electoral system during the 2007 general elections- manipulated party primaries, cross carpeting among party members, endless litigations and judicial reversal of results- were all linked, one way or the other, to the distrust and acrimony generated among politicians when the third term bid was finally defeated.

Not surprisingly, the dismal electoral performance of the newly registered political parties in 2003 and 2007 led to the clamor by many for the reduction in the number of political parties in the country.

The proponents of this view argue that these parties lack physical electoral presence in the country and that they merely exist to collect subventions from the electoral commission.  Their continued existence, it is argued, will also contribute to the continued dominance of the PDP and the potential danger of turning Nigeria into a one-party state.

Presently, there are 62 political parties in the country, with only a few of them electorally potent or relevant, and others barely visible on the pages of newspapers.

However, the other side of the coin however is that, in spite of the foregoing argument; a multi-party system seems to be the most compatible with Nigeria’s ethnic and linguistic mix.

The appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega in 2010 as the new Chairman of INEC seems to have signaled a wave of optimism in the country. This is largely due to the widely acclaimed radical antecedents and personal integrity of the political science scholar and the fact that he was a member of retired Justice Uwais led Electoral Reforms Panel.

INEC under Attahiru Jega recognised the huge expectations of Nigerians from him to deliver credible elections in 2011.

To realise this and work around the limited timelines, INEC in late September 2010 finally admitted that time constraints would make it impossible for it to deliver credible elections, and it, therefore, suggested a postponement of the elections it had already slated for January, to April 2011.

This new position of INEC seems to be popular with most political parties and some of their leaders who previously had been warning INEC against shoddy preparation for the crucial 2011 polls. Nonetheless, INEC under the chairmanship of Professor Attahiru Jega witnessed significant improvement in the conduct of elections in Nigeria, in terms of fairness, credibility and acceptance, especially with the introduction and use of biometrics in the accreditation of voters during the 2011 and 2015 general elections. However, although the conduct of the 2015 general elections, witnessed the defeat of an incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by an opposition, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and consequent alternation of political powers, (the first in the annals of elections in Nigeria) it is not yet Uhuru in the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.

More worrisome in recent times are the frequency of ‘inconclusive elections’ and the ignoble roles of security agencies in the conduct of elections in Nigeria by INEC under the chairmanship of Professor Mahmood Yakubu.

All these appear to have cast a long shadow of doubts on the ability of INEC, as an unbiased umpire, to conduct, free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.

Read On: Meaning, Types and Functions of Pressure Group

Conclusion on Elections and Electoral Process in Nigeria

The problems confronting the administration of elections in Nigeria include lack of capacity and shoddy preparation by the electoral commission, inadequate logistics, government’s interference in the electoral process and the monetization of the political space.

The way out of Nigeria’s electoral debacle, therefore, is for the government and other relevant stakeholders to partner to proffer appropriate remedies that can help to address these obstacles.  This is the only recipe to free and fair elections and enduring political stability in the country.

In this article, we have looked into the history of elections and electoral process in Nigeria dating from the colonial era. We observed that the colonial period was a form of tutelage that was meant to prepare Nigerians for a representative democracy under a parliamentary system of government.

We also noted that after the failure of the First Republic the military organized its first transition programme with the hope that the loopholes of the past would have been plugged.

Though, we observed that the return of the military into politics in 1983 after a short period of civilian rule shows that politicians in the country have learned no lesson.

The current attempts at electoral democracy and the uncertainties surrounding the conduct of credible elections since 1999 underscored the fact many problems and challenges still

Post a Comment