WAEC announces likely date to release results
September 27, 2020
British Minister urge Premier League to render financial support
September 27, 2020

Improved Electoral Practices

The saying that practice makes perfect apparently doesn’t apply to Nigeria’s elections. For if it did, we would be far along the way. Yet, now and then, there are glimpses of the possibilities. And therein lies the hope for an electorally sturdier Nigerian democracy.

The reality that practice won’t lead even to the periphery of perfection came quite early in Nigeria’s democracy. In 1964, the first post-independence elections precipitated massive violence in the Western Region, where the result of the premiership election was vehemently disputed. So, that election was re-conducted in 1965. But the result only triggered much greater bloodshed, destruction and riots.

In effect, things got worse with practice. Perhaps, the wrong things were being practiced and perfected. The mayhem inspired a bloody coup, which spurred an even bloodier counter coup, which engendered a much bloodier civil war. Had the experience caused Nigerians to give up on practicing, the country would have perpetually remained under dictatorship.

No sooner had the 30-month-long civil war ended in January 1970 than politicians began to pressure then head-of-state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon to establish a timeline to civil rule. The horrors brought about by the last election were readily a distant memory. In its place was the itch to try again.

So, on October 1, 1970— about nine months after the end of the war— Gowon set 1976 as the date for return to civil rule. His government needed the time to implement nine objectives that would get the country set for the transition, he said in the Independence Day broadcast. Third on the list was the “eradication of corruption.” In retrospect, that meant that he would still be in power in 2020 and beyond.

But then Brigadier Murtala Muhammed had a different idea. In July 1975, he led a bloodless coup that overthrew Gowon and installed himself the new head of state. Another coup followed, barely seven months later. It was squashed, but not before the putschists had killed Murtala, along with others. Then Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo — Murtala’s second in command, who marshalled forces against the coup—succeeded him.

The two coups in seven months only galvanised advocates of a return to civil rule. It had been over 10 years since Nigerians practised the art of electioneering and voting. Rust had to be setting in. So, the pressure mounted on Obasanjo, and he acceded with a three-year timeline. So, in 1979 Nigerians went to the polls again for the first time in 14 years.

With the military supervising, it went relatively well. The next test of whether practice can now make perfect came in 1983. Alas, it was an election in which the number of ballots collected in many precincts exceeded the number of registered voters. Call it rigging, if you will. I prefer to say it was mathematical wizardry.

By whatever name, the perfection was obviously going in the undesirable direction. Then Major General Muhammadu Buhari certainly thought so. At least, that was one of his justifications for leading a coup just months later that overthrew President Shehu Shagari and installed himself.

“The last general elections were anything but free and fair,” Buhari said in a nationally televised speech in January 1984. “The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thuggery were relative to the resources available to the parties.”

And so saying, Buhari set forth a stretch of military rule that lasted until 1999. It was a stretch of 15 years during which Nigerians didn’t get to practice electioneering and voting, for better and for worse. Quite a few critics maintain that that was a period of regression in the learning curve.

That regression ended with another Obasanjo transition. In 1979, he was a general handing over to politicians. In 1999, he was a politician taking over from generals. Where Buhari’s first coming set forth a stretch of 15 years of military rule, Obasanjo’s second coming has so far ushered in 21 years of electoral democracy.

Over that period, Nigerians have partaken in six presidential elections and a myriad of state, legislative, and local elections. When balloting re-dos are added, that’s a lot of practice. Yet the trajectory has not necessarily been toward perfection. If anything, there have been lurches back and forth.

A reasonably sound election in 1999 (overseen by the military) was followed by a dubious one in 2003. It didn’t approximate the 1983 election in infamy, but history will judge it to be in the vicinity.

It was an election in which one state governor claimed more than 90 per cent of the ballots cast. His aide even bragged that “you cannot rig where you are not loved.” And that begs the question of why one would rig where he is loved. The only plausible explanation would be what psychologists call obsessive-compulsive behaviour. But I digress.

The next three presidential elections—2007, 2011, and 2015— would have been acceptably imperfect, were it not for the violence and bloodshed. That of 2019 straddles the boundary, even without the violence.

The worst cases of rigging and violence seem to be in the elections for governor. That’s why Ekiti in 2014 and Edo 2020 particularly stand out as hopeful signs, with apologies to the many other states that have conducted clean elections over the years.

Ekiti in 2014 and Edo in 2020 stand out because they were hotly contested and there were loudly expressed fears of rigging. Yet, in each case, the balloting was not marred by violence and the results were credible. Those outcomes came about because the candidates were committed to the values of fair play, the bedrock of democracy.

It is another evidence that the people are ahead of their leaders in the learning curve. Left to voters, practice would have got us much closer to acceptable electoral imperfection. It is leaders’ lack of a sense of fair play that causes them to sponsor mayhem and to rig.

The people just have to continue with their remarkable forbearance and wait for the leaders to catch up. Afterall, a President Obasanjo is preferable to a General Obasanjo. And a President Buhari is definitely preferable to a General Buhari.

Source: Punch

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.