Elections: Lessons Nigeria Must Learn From Smaller Countries

Nigeria continues its cycle of election misadventures even as smaller countries get their act together and put the Giant of Africa to shame.

Even though the 2019 general election has come and gone, the injuries inflicted on many by the elections may take a long time to heal. In the build-up to the elections, comments by some political actors, especially leaders of the major parties, left no one in doubt that the elections would be garnished with crisis. The magnitude of the crises, with the accompanying consequences on human and material resources, was, perhaps, not envisaged. Not only did Nigeria lose millions of naira spent on logistics, wages and electoral materials destroyed in many states, the country also witnessed bloodshed, as a good number of citizens lost their lives before, during and after the ballot. 

According to unofficial reports, at least 20 people died during the elections across the country. 

In Rivers State, for instance, about seven persons reportedly lost their lives. While Bayelsa, Yobe, Ebonyi, Kogi and Delta states allegedly lost two persons each, Oyo, Zamfara, and Lagos states lost one person each.

Adjudged by some analysts as worse than the 2015 elections, the 2019 exercise was marred by violence, rigging, disruption of collation and voter apathy in many states, resulting in either suspension or cancellation of elections in such places. Even before the elections, some offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had been set ablaze by suspected political thugs to make it difficult for elections to hold in such places. And in places where INEC offices were not torched, the same suspected political thugs made it a point of duty to cause chaos at different polling units just to ensure that elections were disrupted. 

During the February 23 presidential polls in Rivers State, elections were suspended in Abonnema, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area, as well as Okrika and Bonny, following large-scale election-related violence. In the March 9 governorship polls, elections in 23 polling units were cancelled in Abi LGA of Cross River State, in addition to some other units in other parts of the state on account of violence, which was mostly caused by ballot snatching and molestation of voters. In fact, Simon Odey, the collation officer for Abi LGA, reportedly said that 16,170 registered voters could not vote as a result of ballot box snatching and other violent activities in the affected polling units. Cases of ballot snatching, sometimes alleged to have been aided by uniformed men, including the police and army, characterised the elections. And some of those killed in the mayhem met their death while trying to resist the perpetrators.

In many ways, the elections of 2019 were a huge setback for Nigeria, which is reputed to be the largest economy in Africa. Despite its esteemed position in the continent, the country has consistently failed to get it right on electoral matters, whereas smaller countries in Africa conduct cleaner polls.

On October 25, 2018, Ethiopia held a presidential election that produced Sahle-Work Zewde as president. Though the country runs a parliamentary system, the election of the diplomat as the first female president of Ethiopia was without rancor. A few days after the Nigerian presidential election, Senegal went to the polls to elect its president. At the end of the exercise, Macky Sall, the incumbent, was re-elected for another term. Though there was a report of clashes between rival supporters of the president and Issa Sall, another contestant, a few days to the election, reportedly resulting in the death of two persons, the election was adjudged fair and credible. 

Elena Valenciano, head of the European Union election observer group, described the election as “calm and transparent.” Such a verdict on the Senegalese election probably informed the decision of four other contestants in the ballot not to go to court even though they rejected the result.

As reports have it, the stability of Senegal’s polity is responsible for the country’s economic growth. Though, a modest country in West Africa by size, Senegal, said to have escaped terrorist attacks that have been rampant in Mali, its neighbour, is increasingly being regarded as a model of stability in Africa.

In 2018, Liberia held its third successive post-war presidential election. Unlike the Nigerian scenario, the election, which saw the emergence of George Weah, former Liberian striker and FIFA World Footballer of the Year, as the winner, was not bloody as witnessed during the Nigerian elections and the outcome of the exercise was acceptable to contestants, citizens and observers. 

If smaller countries in Africa can conduct credible elections acceptable to the international community, many have wondered why free and fair elections remain an uphill task in Nigeria. Contrary to the situation in Senegal where those who lost in the election have resolved not to toe the legal path, Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has challenged the re-election of Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, as the president. Declaring that as a Nigerian, he was ashamed of the way the elections were rigged, the major opposition candidate predicated his decision on the plethora of reported cases of violence, election malpractices, harassment of party members and disenfranchisement of voters in places said to be PDP strongholds.

Some have argued that Nigeria’s large size is one major problem in conducting credible elections as the electoral commission finds it difficult to cover the logistics aspect of its mandate. But those who criticise such arguments insist that population has nothing to do with conducting credible elections. In fact, Michael Ogbe, a political analyst, cited India, which he said is the largest democracy in the world. While the Nigerian population hovers around 200 million, the Asian sub-continent is said to have about 800 million registered voters, who would be voting in the country’s upcoming elections. India is about four times the size of Nigeria and it is expected that the elections would be credible, going by the country’s past elections.

Eminent Nigerians have said the way out of this logjam is the amended Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly in the run-up to the elections. Veteran Journalist, Ray Ekpu, in a recent contribution, said President Buhari had a lot to do in this regard. Ekpu said: “Now that Buhari has been declared the winner by INEC, maybe he would like to try to be a statesman from now onwards. If he wants to establish a legacy that will enable history to remember him kindly, he has to reform the electoral system. 

“He refused to sign the revised version of the Electoral Act that provided for electronic collation of results. Now that he has no election to be afraid of, he should be ready to do a drastic review of not only the Electoral Act but also the Constitution.”

For Patrick Ogbodo, an Ebonyi State-based legal practitioner, the trouble with Nigeria is corruption. “Nigeria is one place where campaigns are devoid of tangible policies. Not just that they don’t have clear agenda to present to the electorate, Nigerian politicians indirectly make it clear that they are contesting for electoral offices to make money and not to serve. They only tell you to vote for them for continuity and not for any special programme they want to execute. Even when they promise anything during campaigns, it is only for them to deny it afterwards to avoid being held responsible for anything,” Ogbodo said.

Wilfred Isiguzo, a civil servant, shares the same view. He blamed the violence witnessed during the last elections on politicians’ unbridled lust for money. “Those who have real money in Nigeria today are politicians. All you need to do is find your way to political office and millions of naira drop into your pocket every month. This is why they will go to any length to secure political offices. They are not seeking office because they want to serve. No, they only want to secure it so as to have access to the nation’s treasury,” Isiguzo stated.

No doubt, the Nigerian situation is a sharp contrast to what obtains in other climes. In Senegal for instance, President Sall reportedly anchored his second term campaigns on building an emerging Senegal through infrastructural development to promote economic growth. In fact, even his critics say he is obsessed with infrastructure development but does not show such energy in job creation. 

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