Department Of Political Science/
Public Administration Ebonyi State
Political transitions in Nigeria have been marked with violence and electoral Fraud. Violent intra party and inter party clashes resulting in killing of innocent citizens and other members of political class. It becomes necessary that political stake holders and social scientists should involve strategies for the improvement of the electoral process. To this end, this article attempts to proffer some strategies toward improving the electoral process in Nigeria. We discovered that the nature of class interest aggregation and low level of literacy and political consciousness is the bane of our electoral process. The researcher recommends, among, greater autonomy for both the national and state electoral commissions, recognition of independent candidates, prohibition of second tenure, among others.
The issue of evolving strategies for the improvement of the electoral process is crucial and required multi-dimensional approach. It is a matter of fact an issue demanding urgent attention at this stage of our democratic experiment which is bedeviled with electoral fraud, inter and intra -party, crisis, killing and violent clashes in many parts of the country.
The success of any democratic government depends not only on reforming the electoral process but also, on the character of the political elite and the organization of the political parties under which political transition from one regime to another is nurtured and delivered. The nature of the classes and the interest of these political parties represent and determine the character of the emerging political culture.
According to Ball (1977:75) “Political parties may be principally defined by their common aim. They seek political power either singly or in co-operation with other political parties” The paramount aim of every political party is to prevail over others and win political power of the state. Unfortunately average Nigerian politician seem to loose sight of the major aims and proper definition of political parties and thus sees other parties in: this multi-party system of ours as enemies and not friendly competitors. It is this perception of other patties that create tension and conflicts in Nigerian politics.
This article attempts to proffer strategies for the improvement of the electoral process. But before this is done, it is necessary to have a brief historical overview of the Nigerian electoral political patties.
THE EVOLUTION OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN NIGERIA
The evolution of political parties in Nigeria before and after independence reveal the localization of parties and the leadership of the parties tend to undermine the national character of these parties, the party constitution and manifestoes notwithstanding. This was the case with Action group (AG), Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC). These parties had their strong holds in the West, North and the East respectively. Party loyalty was only based on these cleavages. For instance in 1953, the Action group (AG) led by Akintola was prevented from proposed visit to Kano during which, Inna Wada noted as follows: OP (1953).
Having abused us in the South, these very southerners have decided to come over to the North to abuse us, but we have determined to retaliate the treatment given us in the South … We have therefore organized about 1000 men ready in the city to meet force with force … we are determined to show Akintola and his group, what we can do in our land when they come … the Northern People’s Congress has declared a strike in all native Administration offices for Saturday 16-5-53… we shall post sufficient number of men at the entrance of every office and business place … we are prepared to face anything that comes out of this business. This was a show of inter party clashes. This matter later resulted to violent clashes that claimed many lives. Much later in 1965, the Western Nigeria election marked yet another blood bath among the members of the factions of the AG. This marked the most violent intra party clashes. In 1983, the campaign teams of the Nigerian Peoples Part (NPP) clashed violently under the instrumentality of the Ikemba front and Jim’s Vanguard. These two militant organs of the party unleashed terror to non -party faithful. Consolidation of democratic process is haunted by major impediments such as deep- rooted historical, structural andcultural factors which are at the base of the electoral process. Let us briefly look at the problems of the contemporary electoral process in Nigeria,
PROBLEMS OF THE CONTEMPORARY ELECTORAL PROCESS.
The present day electoral process faces some problems resulting from the political administrations. These recurrent issues have challenged open and democratic elections in Nigeria. The following can be seen as glaring cases of electoral fraud.
Rigging: This constitutes the bulk of the electoral problems. The over-bloating of voters registers, fixing of electoral result figure, treating of voters and electoral officials at the polling units in one way or the other facilitates rigging of selection results. Sometimes the ballot materials are taken away outside the polling centre and the ballot papers and results manipulated, and the ballot papers and result sheet destroyed.
The party primaries are bedeviled by these problems which end up in creating confusion and disaffection among party members. For instance, in the last local government election in Ebonyi State, the PDP lost one of her strongholds because, an aspirant who won nomination was rigged out by an unpopular candidate. This resulted to the pull-out of many members to AD where they fielded the candidate. During the election a protest vote was cast against the party in favour of the rival ANPP. Manipulation of party primaries can reduce considerably the strength of the party in an area.
Thuggery: This is the use of force to gain political advantage. This is the bane of Nigerian electoral process. Governments at all levels pay only lip service to this issue. It is those in power and top party officials that arm the thugs and provide fund for their maintenance. Sometimes, top Government officials join the party officials to perpetuate thuggery. I cite an instance of what we witnessed in Uzo-Uwani North State Constituency bye-election of 22nd August 1992. The election was between SDP and NRC. The NRC mobilized all their Commissioners, State Assembly men and touts from the streets of Enugu and of course their party leader. They marched into the constituency with their swords, guns and other weapons, and forced the electoral ad-hoc staff to surrender to their favour the electoral materials. They dealt ruthlessly with all SDP supporters who went into hiding for their life. At the end of the day it was “a land slide victory” in favour of the NRC candidate. In spite of our report from the local government National electoral commission (NEC) office calling for the repeat of the election, it was to no avail. There was a total breakdown of law and order.
The attitude of government in ensuring smooth electoral process can be summed up by the circumstances surrounding the annulment of the June 1993Presidential elections. The election, which one can consider the mother of the smoothest and fairest election in Nigeria, was quietly annulled. This singular act dealt a severe blow to the confidence of the electorates on the electoral process in Nigeria and it requires an effort such as this to reassure Nigerians a fair play in the polls
According to the report of a study group set up by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA 2000:218), the following was identified as undermining competitive electoral politics in Nigeria.
• Lack of discipline in the form, spirit and implementation of the election process
• Excessive monetization of the politics in general
• A “Winner-takes-all” philosophy pervasive among the political elite;
• The general level of poverty and illiteracy;
• The absence of clear ideological underpinning of the parties;
• Religious bigotry and, to a limited extent, ethnic chauvinism.
The above summary can be considered primary to our political culture and requires little or no explanations for further understanding. However, to further situate these issues and evolve tangible practical strategies to improve the intra and inter party relations, we shall attempt to classify the above problems and make some deductive conclusion.
Intra And Inter Party Contest
The party primaries, party campaign and inter party general elections constitute an institutionalized conflict which is a more or less a conflict of ideas. To foster smooth electoral process, the party members should cultivate a broad minded attitude and accept as a matter of fact ideas as a solution to this conflict. They should also accept the fact that only a framework established on a broad consensus to regulate conflict of ideas can move the party forward. The winner should be guided by a laid sown regulation and be willing to hand over power at the next election or when under pressure by popular opinion. This is the fundamental of peaceful democratic process. To be able to conform to the rules requires a measure of discipline among the party members and the parties to respect and accept the rule of the game. In our present circumstance, politics is still being seen as winner-takes-all and all other party members and interest groups are mere appendages and spectators, who at the end of the game should go home and sit down. They can only be required “when we need their votes again” for re-election. This belligerent attitude is the major cause of intra party problems. The winner merely surrounds himself with praise singers for an unwarranted patronage.
Money, Ethnicity And The Electoral Process
In the wider Nigerian society, the ethnic factor may be giving way but yet resilient in local environment where sectionalism seems to be gaining ground. Ethnic politics contributed immensely to the collapse of the first and second republic. We are yet to stamp out this phenomenon in our electoral process.
On the other hand, excessive monetization of campaigns within the party creates intrigues as follower ship depends on how much one can spend not on the sincerity of manifestoes and party program is largely underplayed to the detriment of the larger society. Money is therefore used to buy the conscience of party members and the electorates and rob the people of candidates that can deliver the goods. Money in this sense dilutes the expression of genuine popular will and any party or government thus constituted, denies the state the fundamental tenet of the electoral process as the expression of popular will and therefore, forestall democratic accountability and transparency,
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
To evolve strategies for the improvement of the electoral process in Ebonyi State and the larger Nigerian society requires an inter play of institutions, values and cultural reorientation. It requires some restructure g of the electoral process as we shall outline briefly.
The Role Of The Nigerian State
The Nigerian State has a responsibility to make provision for the proper functioning of the electoral commission (INEC/SIEC) who serve as the midwife of the electoral process. The electoral commission should be properly institutionalized enjoying constitutional provisions in terms of functioning funding and tenure of members. This is to forestall undue influence by the government in power. Adequate budgetary provisions will solve the problems of logistics and foster early delivery of electoral materials and administrative1 confidence. The commission should be staffed with people who have relevant orientation and experience. There should be as a matter of fact clear independent status.
Government should also provide fund for the political parties through the electoral commission to be able to maintain common standard among the parties. Activities of the parties should be supervised to maintain minimum standard of compliance to rules. This does not mean that the commission should run the parties, but to ensure a measure of transparency not interference.
Release of Electoral Result.
There should be an instant release of result at the end of the polls both at the inter and intra party elections and authenticated duplicate results issued to party/Aspirant agent. These duplicate results can also be used in case of any controversy in the original result. The result given to the security and party agent can be compared to produce another one. This will reduce the destruction of electoral results by thugs.
Maintenance Of An Accurate Voter Register
There should be in place an undiluted voter register or party membership register that can be used to conduct elections. The names in the register reflect the electorates from time to time. Accreditation of voters is based on the register. A computerized voters identity cards is also required to reduce multiple registration and reduce the over bloating of the registration figures.
Maintenance Of Geographical Spread
The parties should ensure by constitutional means the spread of elective position to all the wards or constituencies to ensure proper representation. The representatives will maintain communication link with the members in their various constituencies and thereby reduce suspicion and rumour mongering.
The Second Tenure Syndrome
The practice where the elected officials declare intentions to remain in office for second tenure should be viewed seriously as a breach of peace, as this ambition will occupy their minds and they go about amassing money for the purpose of re-election instead of implementing the party programmes. Every party member should be seen as qualified candidate. This attitude can be achieved through periodic campaigns and workshop among party members on the need to consolidate party programmes and promote chances for the parties in the electoral process.
The system of independent candidates should also be entrenched to reduce cutthroat rivalries among individuals within and among the political parties. This will also help to tap the contributions of the candidate who fails to win party nomination. Instead of remaining to work against the party, he can have a chance of trying his chance in the general election,
Adequate Security Arrangement
Adequate security should be provided at the polling units both [or the party primaries and the inter party elections. The practice whereby you have no police or just one or two with baton to patrol on foot two or more polling units is grossly inadequate. Enough logistics arrangement should be made to enable the police provide adequate security patrol at the polling centre. They should also be empowered to deal comprehensively with electoral fraud. Similarly, the use of thugs during elections should be treated as a criminal offence and the parties concerned should be heavily sanctioned in order to sanitize the electoral process. Any politician associated or found guilty of thuggery should be banned from contesting election for at least ten years or more to serve as check on violent clashes during elections.
The political parties should as a matter of urgency re-examine themselves and determine how to improve their popularity through reaching out and enlisting more members. There should be a clear demonstration of democratic principles and practice. There should be avenues and equal opportunity given to members for their views to be aggregated. Electoral process should be seen as a means of building up the Nigerian society and this task demand patriotism as a result we must build the state as a people otherwise we will die and other more patriotic will dine our ruins
Ball R. Allen (1971) Modern Politics and Government, London: Macmillan press ltd.
Amucheazi, E. C. (1980) (eds) Readings in Social Sciences: Issues in National Development, Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers.
Nigerian Crisis 1966, Vol. 7Tthe Government Printer, Enugu
Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Dialogue(s) or nation-Building, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) 2000.
J, A. Corry, (1963) The Changing Conditions of Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.