UNO IJIM AGBOR
Department Of Political Science
University Of Calabar
The article focuses on democracy .and electoral malaise in Nigeria. The aim is to suggest an alternative approach to conducting elections in Nigeria that would guarantee fairness and restore democratic dignity in the polity. The article assumes that the absence of “democratic-principles in Nigeria’s electoral process is largely fertilized by the reliance on an old, moribund and slow manual ballot system, which is prone to easy manipulation. To verify this, an intellectual excursion was taken into the 2003 general election to identify the fraud associated with the use of the old manual, ballot system. The enormity of malpractice associated with the election was confirmed by many “sources including the EUEOM and TMG. Against this occurrence, the study suggested an application of information Technology to elections in Nigeria by relying on an electronic voting system. This, it is hoped, would curb the level of thuggery and fraud in Nigeria’s electoral process.
It is no sarcasm to hold the view that elections in Nigeria have never recorded the
hallmarks of democracy-transparency, fairness and equal participation. As successive
elections come, the values of democracy keep waning conspicuously and completely
absent in extreme, cases. In fact, it became worst in the 2003 general elections. ,
Ordinarily, as an emerging democracy, Nigeria should have shown remarkable improvement in the process of electing its state officials in the 2003 elections but it turned ‘out to be one of the most rigged elections and manifested a volatile selfish display of the power of incumbency.
The 2003 general elections have come and gone in Nigeria but how democratic was the election? The problem that is confounding is that rather than the 2003 elections restoring democratic confidence in the people, it has succeeded in placing Nigerians in a deeper confused state of the place of democracy in the Nigeria polity.
Everybody seems to be disappointed in the entire electoral process owing ostensibly to-the enormity of fraud witnessed especially in the April 12 and 19-2003 general elections. The international observers precisely the EUEOM and Local election monitors scored the conduct of the election below average in terms of transparency, fairness and totality of democratic practices. The danger the- pretence of democratic practice or what I may refer to as shadow democracy poses to the Nigerian society is devastating: it has eroded the peoples’ confidence in the leadership and the entire Nigerian system thereby reducing the level of National Identity. It makes a caricature of the country in the comity of nations and presents the citizens as a bundle of unserious persons inrelation to other citizens of a more stable, and responsible country. The effect is that our chances of competing favourably with other citizens of other stable countries will be marred by the negative stigma already created in the minds of assessors.
These entire unending rigging sprees which characterized Nigeria’s elections are as
a result of the country’s reliance on an old, .slow and weak manual balloting system which
is prone to easy manipulation. A system, that has long been discarded by more serious
countries of the world.
The need to discard the atavistic, slow and weak manual ballot system could be liken to Nzimiro’s (1986:2) position on an ineffective social theory. He holds the view that “when, any social theory cannot give man insight into the workings of his society, and cannot therefore guide his actions, then that theory is in crisis. It is the crisis of irrelevance. In such a situation, a re-examination of the existing theory and the substitution of old ideas with new ones become imperative. Otherwise, human society will decay mentally and therefore, culturally”.
From all indications, the old manual ballot system has failed to ensure free and fair elections in Nigeria and is degrading fast the Nigeria’s electoral integrity. The system needs a re-examination and substitution.
It is obvious that a country that has a faulty electoral process like Nigeria would find development very far to fetch. How, can this faulty electoral process, be corrected? How can democratic practices be guaranteed in the election of political office holders? These are the concern of this paper. The paper hypothesizes that the achievement of a democratic election in an emerging society like Nigeria depends largely on an operational method that is not prone to easy manipulation. “Something must be done in this direction. As Paul Baran once observed “the desires to tell the truth is one condition for being an intellectual. The other is courage, readiness to carry on rational inquiry to wherever it may lead, to undertake ruthless criticism of everything that exist; ruthless in the sense that the criticism will not shrink either from its own conclusions or from conflict with the powers that be”. In the same vein, Wayne Booth has-noted that “’the scholar is the only person charged by’ the society to parry the burden of thought to its extremes, even when thought hits back”. This article draws inspiration from these quotations above, therefore, will attempt to identify concrete ways of reducing the enormity of fraud associated with voting, counting and declaration of election results in Nigeria.
PERSPECTIVE ON DEMOCRACY AND ELECTION
Nigeria seems to have begun its movement into the “Third wave” of democratic expansion with the-conclusion of the 2003 general elections and eventual march into the fifth republic. A wave of democratization as Huntington (1991:15) describ.es it “is a group of transitions from non-democratic to democratic-, regimes that occur within a specified period of time and that significantly outnumber transitions in the opposite directions”.Does the Nigerian transition in terms, of election reflect the ideals of democracy? It would assist immensely in the under-standing of the import of this paper if we take an excursion into the definitional exposition and clarity of the subject matter of democracy.
Democracy by contrast, derives from the political discourse of ancient Greek city-states especially that of Athens, in the fifth and fourth centurie’s BC, where it denoted a particular kind of regime, or political formation. It meant, literally, “rule by” or “power of people” -more accurately, perhaps, “the common people” (Demos in jay, 1994′: 120).
Myriad definitions later emerged from this position including the one developed by Abraham Lincoln. What is discernible from the Athenian democracy is that it connotes the emergence of a regime in which citizen’s access to power and participation in debates that affect the public remains the legitimate preserve of the many. What they refer to as the “hoi polloi” and not the exclusive preserve of the few.
Population explosion and increase in geographical size of countries have made it impossible for direct democracy to be practiced; rather arrangements are more on indirect or representative democracy where few persons are periodically elected to conduct public affairs on behalf of the people. This brief analysis presents democracy in two views: Direct and indirect democracy. Whatever the explanation of these views are, one picture stands clear, and that is the fact that the “people” constitute the pivot upon which democracy revolves, be it direct or indirect. At any given position they are meant to decide through contemporary accepted mechanism who should occupy what elective position in government.
Perhaps, this understanding has brought about series of definitions of democracy revolving around the recognition of the people as the core of democracy. For instance, Austin Ranny cited in Eminue (2001:224) defines the concept as a form of government organized in accordance with the principles of popular sovereignty, political equality, popular consultation and majority rule.
Our concern in this definition is the democratic element of political sovereignty identified. This is a principle that rest governmental decision-making power in all the members of the community or in particular person(s) and allows the community the only right to delegate this ultimate power to an individual or collectivity. The community here refers to the people who are qualified by law to participate in decision of who should represent the community. They also have a special privilege to aspire to any position if they are qualified by law. The outcome of this democratic practices produce the voice of the people which according to Eminue (2001:225) means for all practical purposes, the voice of the majority of people, heard through the ballot, and must be the ultimate arbiter.
The prevailing conception of democracy in Nigeria is based on just having a civilian government in place Splendid. Even if we have to limit the understanding of democracy to that level, how much of democratic elements were exhibited in the process of putting the civilian regime in power? A precise and non-ethnocentric definition of the term as presented below would further help to decompose the foggy subject matter of election and democracy.
Democracy is defined as a system of government that meets three essential conditions: meaningful and extensive competition among individuals and groups (especially political parties) for all effective positions of government power, at regular intervals and excluding the use of force; a highly inclusive level of political participation in the selection of leaders and policies at least through regular and fair elections, such that no major (adult), social group is excluded; and a level of civil and political liberties- freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom to form and join organizations-sufficient to ensure the integrity of political competition and participation (Diamond, Linz and Lipset, 1989:XVI).
The attempt, one is making here is to locate Nigeria’s elections within the second clause of the definition above. Seen from this perspective, one would be at liberty to aver that major elections in Nigeria can never pass for democracy. Participation in the choice ofwho should represent the people is limited by wanton electoral fraud and unrepenting rigging spree. Deliberate limitation of a people’s franchise, which of course is a common occurrence in African Politics, can reduce a people’s confidence in such a government that emerges. They often brag of being democratic irrespective of the way and manner they won their elections. In several cases, especially in Africa and Nigeria in particular, Okoye(2000:84) had maintained that allusion to democracy by the political class is nothing short of mockery of democracy. In such instances, participation of the electorate in the electoral process is simply a veil to the political manipulations of the political class. Moreover, the governing class behaves like Lords and actually Lord their interests over the governed.
When those occupying state positions force themselves into such offices through various electoral frauds, such government cannot be regarded as government by the people. The hallmark of democracy, which connotes free and equal participation in that choice, is absent. We are living witnesses to the way the 2003 general elections were conducted and won in Nigeria. Participation of the people was limited and in some cases, not there at all, yet people emerged as having won the elections. One could argue that in whatever form, it could still be regarded as the government of the people. This is because the government and the state ideally belong to the people. On the other hand, such a government is not a government by the people because they are not true representative of the choice of the people as the tenet of democracy demands. It could be regarded as a government by a chosen few and for the interest of that few. I will align with Gaetano Mosca in his discussion of the concept of democracy on the basis of elite theory, quoted in Okoye(2003: 83) that “democracy was government of the people, it might even be government of the people but it could never be government by the people”.
The point we are trying to make in this exposition is to establish the fact that the people are the core of democracy. Any election that does not reflect the participation of the people is not qualified to be christened “democratic”. Anthony Arblaster also quoted in Okoye (2003:83) had argued that at the “root of definitions of democracy, however, refined and complex, lies the idea of popular power, of a situation in which power, and perhaps authority too, rest with the people”. Richard Jay (1994:121) had also noted that “the people are a permanent force in politics … Legitimate authority springs, rather from the many, the people. ‘ They alone are entitled to determine what political role they shall play and who should be held to speak in their name.
A democratic electoral system provides the electorate with the opportunity and the right to choose their representatives. Eminue (2001) further describes a democratic electoral system as the one that eschews all forms of discrimination among voters and candidates alike. It should be clear that free elections and universal suffrage lie at the heart of democracy. This, of course is lacking in Africa and attest for the widespread disenchantment of the people with the various governments in. Africa.
A free and fair election would guarantee stable polity, it would reduce conflict
and restore confidence in the government and the state. On the efficacy of a fair ballot on
the reduction of conflict, Abraham-Lincoln at the start of the American civil war stated that
the greatest task of the American Republic since its foundation was “to demonstrate to the
world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots
are the rightful and peaceful successor of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and
constitutionally decided, there can be ho successful appeal back to bullets” (Lincoln in
Let it be known that peace would reign, cooperation would be and hope would be
restored when ballots are fairly and constitutionally conducted. This is exactly what this
paper attempts to establish by identifying different methods through which free and fair
ballots can be achieved.
RIGGING AND THE 2003 GENERAL ELECTIONS
Election rigging constitutes criminal assault on democratic principles, justice and
public accountability. It has become a recurrent factor in Nigeria’s electoral processes. It
was widespread in both the elections of the first and second republic and worst in the 2003
general elections. It had become and effective mechanism for electoral victory and heavily
relied upon by all politicians. As Authur Nzeribe once noted; all politicians rig polls, but
the point at issue is who is smarter. Every political party and politicians in Nigeria rather
than resort to mass appeals count more on perfecting strategies for election rigging. This,
they do in connivance with certain groups I refer to as institutional agents of election
rigging in Nigeria. They include:
- The electoral body conducting the election in this context, we refer to the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC)
- The security system involving mainly the Nigeria police.
- The political party in power.
They directly involve in or abet election rigging of all kinds including ballot box stuffing, changing of result, absence of polling units result sheets, lack of accurate register of waters in some polling stations, harassment of voters by security agents, deliberate delay in the distribution of electoral materials, provision of inadequate voting materials in some .areas depicted to be strong holds of the opposition and over supply of materials in the strong hold of the favoured candidates, forgery of result, falsification of result sheets, ballot box snatching etc. All these were made possible by the assistance of the already mentioned Institutional agents of election rigging in Nigeria.
The widespread rigging in the 2003 general elections was made possible by the connivance of the INEC, the security agents and the party in power.
The report of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) attests to this. The report has it that observers witnessed and obtained evidence of widespread ballot stuffing in several states, including Benue, Cross River, Delta, Enugu, Kaduna and Rivers. For instance, in Kaduna, INEC staff was observed thump-printing ballots in favourof the ruling party, in Cross River, in Calabar Municipality, a party agent and the presiding officer were seen stuffing the box when EU observers arrived. In Enugu, observers saw a member of the police force stuffing ballots in the box. Also, during the collation, observers saw presiding officers writing in their results sheet figures dictated by the returning officer. In a cluster of four polling stations in Imo, the count revealed that 1,100 ballots were cast when only 800 were officially issued. It was also observed in one of the Local Governments in Kaduna that election materials were not allocated to one of the eleven polling units. In some states, polling station results show improbable turnout figures, up to 100%, while actual voter participation was visibly lower (EUEOM 2nd Preliminary statement, cited in Insider Weekly, May 5, 2003: 30-31).
In Delta state discrepancies were observed between polling station results and those recorded at different collation centers. In Edo, observers collected evidence of forged results, as additional 200 votes were added to the collation sheet for two polling stations (EUEOM Report, in Insider Weekly, May 5, 2003:33). It is obvious from theabove as noted by the EUEOM that the presidential and the gubernatorial elections were marred by serious irregularities and fraud. Minimum standards for democratic elections were not met. Other observer missions seem to agree with one another that the elections were devoid of basic democratic practices. The International Republican Institute (IRI) noted “many observed instance of obvious premeditated electoral manipulation”, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) observed that the four-tier collation method was prone to manipulation and lapse in transparency. The Nigerian Domestic Observer group, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) noted: “The observable flaws were significant enough to undermine the credibility of the process (Odion-Akhaine, 2003:3). Festus Okoye, head of the TMG also noted that results already declared by the INEC in Rivers, Bayelsa and Enugu are far from being credible. In Brass in Bayelsa State, the ruling party (PDF) gave itself all the 75,000 votes claimed to have been cast. Pockets of violence enveloped Bayelsa as party thugs engaged in a free for all fight. Direct evidence of ballot box stuffing and gross falsification of result forms were reported in Nasarawa State by the IRI. According to the IRI, “at least one polling station opened late and closed early after merely two hours, producing 100 percent of the votes for one party”. It reported further that another four polling stations closed before 1.00pm with the entire votes going to a single party (Awowede, 2003:19-20).
One thing is clear here, in the history of general elections in Nigeria, the 2003 general elections manifested the worst form of irregularities, fraught, with brazen malpractice and enormous contempt for public morality and decency. As was noted by Awuse quoted by Ihejiofor (2003:29), there was proven active collaboration among the INEC officials, security agencies and the ruling people’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Rivers state to deprive the people from exercising their rights of electoral choices. Polling stations were not issued with results sheets only for those same sheets to be filled with imaginary figures by members of the PDP sitting in private houses. All these forms of malpractices were possible because the operational method of INEC is so weak that it gives room for easy manipulation by officials. This is what we want to correct in this study. As one politician retorted and amplified by Odion-Akhaine “The outcome of the election is known”. “And the process leading to it is glaring to all. Nigerians must now begin to take in the prospect of coping with state actors rudely thrust on them in a highly flawed electoral process. What is very likely is that the present public officials will not give them pipe-borne water, electricity, good roads and uninterrupted educational system. Instead they will bear the brunt of an increase in fuel prices and inflation from a broad spectacle of travesty of governance that will be characterized by the philosophy of chop-and-go”.
The point that is discernible from the expressions above is that the people never participated in the choice of the present government. Since that was the case, one would conclude that there was absence of democratic practices, which should characterized a typical election. Certain structural deformities are responsible for the blatant exclusion of the people in the election of leaders. Most clearly is a faulty method of voting, counting and declaration of result which are prone to manipulation by selfish, overzealous and insensitive politicians. It is suggested that unless we approach the issue of elections in Nigeria from the information technology perspective, we would not be able to minimize rigging talk less of witnessing substantial amount of fair polls in Nigeria in the next five dispensations.
THE ALTERNATIVE APPROACH: INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY OPTION
The prevailing problem with the Nigerian style of conducting election is that it does not give room for a popular candidate to emerge. The man who is smarter at rigging wins the election irrespective of the desire of the majority. Very often the blame has been on the body constituted to conduct election in Nigeria. The notion has always been that a set of electoral structure including the personnel are always responsible for the failure to organized democratic elections in Nigeria. In order therefore, to restore hope in the people and confidence in the political system, various regimes in listening to the people’s complaints have often resorted to reconstituting electoral bodies beginning from the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), through the National Electoral Commission (NEC), National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) to the Independent National Electoral Commission (MEC).
What should be clear here is that the problem does not lie much on the structure nor would the reconstitution of such structures solve the problem. After all a rose flower by any other name smells as sweet. The major problem lies on the operational mechanics of the electoral body. The instruments and methods used for conducting elections are vulnerable to easy manipulation. That is why commission’s officials make themselves easily available for rigging because the method of counting votes with the final authority to announce results resting at the top creates room for manipulation. By the time the result leaves the polling units to the ward, to the local government, to the state and to National Headquarters, it becomes a different thing from what it was at the polling unit. To curb this occurrence, the electronic voting system is hereby suggested.
The old manual ballot boxes should be replaced with computer ballot boxes with such computers harbouring the captured thumbprints or fingerprints of voters. The computer should be packaged in a way that votes can be electronically counted with a single vote cast indicating in a central monitoring room in all the state capitals.
This computer voting should have a paper trail. As noted by Mecuri Rebecca the integrity of an electronic voting system lies in the presence of the following components -a voter, a ballot, a computerized voting machine, a printer, and an optical scanner. The operation of the method takes three basic steps. First, the voting machine registers a voter selection both electronically and on a paper ballot – Second, the machine then displays the paper ballot behind clear glass or plastic so that the voter can review their selection, but not take the ballot home by mistake. If the voter’s selection does not agree with the ballot or the voter makes a mistake, the voter can call a poll worker to void the ballot, and then re-vote. And third, the paper ballot is optically scanned preferably at the local government electoral offices, providing a second electronic tally. If anything goes wrong with either the voting machines or the optical scanner, the paper ballots can be hand counted as a last resort or as part of audit.
This method would reduce the incessant falsification of results, which has always brought about squabble in the system. The advantages associated with this method are myriad: it presents a voting system that is fully auditable and creates room for checks and balances and transparent review. It can be expected that employing electronic voting method in the electoral system would introduce better efficiency by adding some measure of reality to voting. It would further motivate the voter by making voting easy and more interesting as well provides the electoral staff with more reflective time for improving voting. Most interestingly it makes record keeping and evaluation easier. These would introduce a productive voting system that ensures equal participation, which is a hallmark of democracy.
Besides, it would eliminate multiple voting, as the computer would reject double voting. Also, if it is successfully done, it would restore sanity as the snatching of ballot papers and multiple thumb printing would be an exercise in futility. Again, it would bring about calm and normalcy as election thugs and agents of rigging would be redundant and jobless. Candidates elected through such method would be popular rather than unpopular candidates hoisted on them by the so-called few kingmakers.
It is noted also that the incumbency factor is wrongly applied in elections in Nigeria. This is because it is often difficult to divorce party interest from national concern. This thinking has often led to political office holders rigging or influencing elections in favour of their party. Since this has remained the case in Nigeria, this paper further suggests a single term of five years for all political office holders. Incumbent office holders should resign their positions ninety days to the start of the election. Invariably, the Washington model should be discarded. This invariably would require a constitutional amendment. Therefore, the constitution should be amended to accommodate this change.
It is hoped that when these suggestions are religiously adhered to, it would reduce markedly the fraud associated with elections in Nigeria.
Election in Nigeria is always a sham. It became worst in the 2003 general elections. A period where Nigeria’s consolidation of democracy would have been marked by an improved conduct of elections devoid of any form of malpractices, the reverse however, was the case as available records and experiences show. As it is, the integrity of the voting process in Nigeria has already been damaged.
The reason for the persistent rigging is not too hidden. From onset, the state has been conceived as a medium for transforming one’s financial misfortune. It is therefore seen as a source of wealth and political power rather than as an instrument for local transformation of the economy and political stability.
Against this perception, politicians go all out including the use of foul means to get to power to influence decisions corruptly in their favour. Ake describes it as politics of anxiety, which is characterized by normlessness, recklessness and warlike.
We have often blamed some of these woes on the Independent National Electoral Commission, which in recent past has remained an agency of democratic subversion rather than for fair play and public order. This paper has noted that the problem with the conduct of elections does not lie with INEC as a structure but with the operational method. The paper, in the preceding section, has suggested several ways through which a free and fair election can be conducted in Nigeria in order to restore hope in the people and confidence in the polity. There can be no real democracy where the electoral process of a given country is fraught with irregularities and malpractices. Manual ballot is an invitation to across the board malfunction and malfeasance. With the legitimacy of Nigerian Democracy at stake, it’s time to take a bold alternative.
The country needs to think quickly along this line because from every indication Nigeria and Nigerians have refused to grow. The 2003 general elections have proven that we are still very backward in our perception of democracy and elections. Something must be done urgently to arrest this ugly trend otherwise our democracy will remain a rhetoric and mystification of reality.
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