In an ideal democracy, the observation of a periodic free and fair election is an important pillar and principle for strong systems. Selecting one’s representative in a country is a significant procedure as this shows that the citizens are actively involved in legalised decision-making in governing a country.
Nigeria, however, is an exception to this rule. Despite returning to democracy in 1999, she has arguably never witnessed a credible, free, fair election. Instead, there have been reports of irregularities at all levels, from in-house party issues to the declaration of winners after the polls.
Unlike some countries or territories that allow a candidate to run independently, Nigeria does not have the provision in the constitution. One has to be a card-carrying member of a political party.
Various Issues arise from the current model of political parties that is being run in Nigeria. The prominent one includes the high cost of picking up a nomination form. In the build-up to the incoming 2023 general elections, the price of picking up forms, especially among the two ruling parties in the country, was outrageous.
As a result, competent candidates who couldn’t afford the tickets get relegated to the background while the moneybags pick up the tickets with relative ease. ALso, women are one of the marginalised demographics in Nigerian politics. In a political party hierarchy, the only post available to them is the position of women leader. There hasn’t been a female leader of any political party since 1999. This also reflects on the number of women in power. In the current House of Representatives, out of 360 members, only 18 are women, representing about 4.61 per cent; the Senate has eight women out of 109 members which is 7.34 per cent.
When choosing the party’s representative during an election, the current system is the delegate system. Here, selected party members are given the power to elect the candidate. However, this process is riddled with irregularities, wide-scale violence and intense vote-buying. Delegates are allegedly given thousands of dollars to secure their votes, and in the process, the political system’s integrity gets degraded one piece at a time.
The Independent National Electoral Commission Is the electoral body saddled with the responsibility of carrying out elections in Nigeria. Although established in 1998, the organisation has been involved in many Controversies surrounding the polls conducted since their inception. From the point of registration up to the end of voting, there have been a couple of bottlenecks that render the whole process strenuous. There have been numerous cases of ballot paper unavailability, smart card readers malfunctioning, and significant cancellations of valid votes.
There have been numerous cases of government interference in electoral operations. In addition, the lack of adequate security at the polling unit has led to an increase in voter intimidation at the hands of scrupulous forces. Increased ballot box snatching, vote manipulation and overall voting irregularities are not uncommon at the polling centres. It has also been reported that the excessive presence of security personnel at the booth intimidates some voting demographics from exercising their rights.
And the solution;
Political parties should realise that they are an essential component of the whole process, and they should know that they have rules to play in ensuring the integrity of our democracy. As such, nomination forms for instance, should be given out at a reduced price and ONLY to candidates that have been vetted in a rigorous process.
All political parties should also have a quota system whereby there’s a considerable number of women in the hierarchy of these parties and in the number of political positions they can aspire for. This will boost female participation in politics.
The delegate’s system should also be abolished altogether. Instead, all card-carrying political party members should have a say in the party governance. With the current technological development, Political parties can conduct party elections from the safety of one residence.
Logistics issues on the part of INEC should also be strengthened. For example, transporting ballot boxes from storage to the polling booth should be much more efficient.
INEC should also expand on their outreach operations by collaborating with social and civic groups both online and offline. This will ensure proper voter education and awareness.
The government should also ensure that INEC becomes an independent body free from government interference. A bill should be sponsored to the senate that ensures that they become a body that’s not under any of the arms of the government. This reduces impartiality and sees that the body is non-partisan.
No Democratic system is perfect. Every individual, body and governmental organisation has a role to play in building the democracy of our dreams and there is no better way to facilitate such than ensuring that the electoral system is free, fair and safe from bias.