In any given democratic dispensation, the electoral system plays a significant role in the sustenance and configuration of the political atmosphere due to its deterministic influence on political culture, political participation, good governance, and sustainable development in a country. And for a fledgling democratic experiment like Nigeria, the manner of conducting the election is even more important to democratic consolidation.
However, it would baffle any discerning mind as democracy in Nigeria seems to be regressing; as the election process, which is the nucleus of the democratic process, becomes a “do or die” affair marred by rigging, thuggery, snatching of electoral materials, abduction, assassination, selection in place of election, absence of internal party democracy, lack of party discipline, money politics, lack of confidence in the electoral body, among other plagues. In dealing with this predicament, successive governments with different levels of seriousness came out with reforms to improve certain aspects of the electoral system with an attendant variant level of impact.
Even though there have always been calls for thorough reconfiguration and improvement in the electoral system to enable the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deliver a truly free and fair election in Nigeria, political and personal interests have always taken prominence over public interest, thereby limiting the growth and development of democracy in the country. For instance, the disappointing outcomes of the 2007 election – the worst since the return to democracy in 1999 – intensified the demand for electoral reforms and led to the Justice Mohammed Uwais headed committee during the Yar’Adua administration.
Yet, more than ten years after, the recommendations of that committee are far from being wholly implemented, calling into question the commitment of the Nigerian political elites in building a system that genuinely reflect the choice of the people. Again, despite the widespread criticism in the wake of the 2019 elections, the current administration is yet to sign into law the critical Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 owing to unconvincing political excuses, resulting in loss of hope in the electoral system and heralding widespread political apathy.
Indeed, there have been improvements over the years in the area of restructuring of the commission, streamlining of the voting procedure and biometric register of voters, the introduction of transfer of registration location, simultaneous accreditation and voting, the announcement of elections results from the polling unit, amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act to empower INEC to de-register parties, and accountability in the campaign or party finance. Nevertheless, for the most part, the major structural reforms critical to democratic consolidation remained stalled.
With regards to the latest attempt at reforming the electoral system through the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, the fact that essential provisions such as the electronic transmission of results were jeopardised because of a clause stipulating direct primaries for political party candidate selection shows that the game at play is neither in the interest of the Nigerian populace nor the transparency of the democratic process. This trend spells doom for the future of democracy in Nigeria.
Evidently, there is a growing deficit in the electoral process and alienation from the political process with the progressive decline in voters’ turnout due to a lack of belief in the electoral system. The recent FCT municipal elections were another stunning addition to the catalogue of elections with less than 30% turnout among registered voters in Nigeria, which is a cause for serious concern.
Therefore, to take democracy in Nigeria to the promised land, there must be deliberate efforts to reverse this trend. Not only must there be institutional reforms, but there must be attitudinal and behavioral reorientation to build a solid and independent electoral body and promote a democratic political culture within parties and among the populace.
In addition, the Ninth National Assembly must also rise to the occasion and either take the historic decision to override the president’s veto on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 or take the necessary legislative steps to effect any necessary changes and return the Bill to the president for reconsideration in response to the will of the Nigerian masses towards democratic consolidation, before it is too late.