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INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION AND DEMOCRATIC CONSOLIDATION IN NIGERIA
This study investigated the impact of the INEC as an electoral management body on democratic consolidation in Nigeria. This was premised on the observation Nigeria continues to witness with growing disappointments and apprehension as to its inability to conduct peaceful, free, fair and open elections in which results are widely accepted and respected across the country. The objectives of this study were among others, to examine the impact of the introduction of electronic accreditation process on the level of election credibility in Nigeria; and investigate the impact of the introduction of Permanent Voter’s Card on voter’s participation in election process. To achieve the above objectives, the descriptive and historical methods were adopted to generate empirical data. Findings of the study revealed that the electronic accreditation process through the use of Electronic Card Reader (ECR) has reduced the level of rigging, impersonation and other forms of election malpractices in the 2015 presidential election. Findings further revealed that the introduction of Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) in the 2015 presidential election has not promoted the level of voter’s participation due to the poor turnout that was recorded, vis-à-vis the registered voters. Based on the above findings, it was recommended amongst others that, In order to increase voter turnout as well as ensure that elections are more credible, a vigorous voter registration must be conducted and a credible voter registration database produced well in advance of elections. INEC should also address the issue of late arrival of materials and personnel at voting booths so that those who come early can vote and leave for other responsibilities.
1.1 Background of the Study
The process of election administration in many new democracies continues to generate a lot of controversy; particularly with regards to the level of independence of election management bodies, their professionalism and the acceptability of the elections they conduct. In Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy project, the election administration process since the country gained political independence from the British has always resulted in controversy and crisis; arising mostly in part from the perceived collaboration of election management bodies with the successive military and civilian regimes of the country‘s post-independence era. The implication is that the history of election administration in Nigeria has been a history of controversy engendered by electoral malpractices.
A total of six different election management bodies were established at various times to conduct the successive elections that have taken place in Nigeria‘s post-independence history. Indeed, as Agbaje and Adejumobi (2006) notes, over the years, the autonomy and capacity of election management bodies in Nigeria has been suspect as reflected in its endless renaming and restructuring by successive governments‖. In 1959 the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) conducted the first nationwide elections which ushered in Nigeria‘s first republic. The ECN which was composed of largely expatriate British administrators was replaced in 1964 with the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC).
Following a highly contested general election conducted by the FEC in 1964/65, and other existing political problems, the first republic was toppled in a military coup in 1966 and the FEC was dissolved. By 1978 another Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) was established by the outgoing military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. FEDECO conducted the 1979 elections that ushered in Nigeria‘s second republic. However, FEDECO was also dissolved in 1983 by the military administration of General Muhammadu Buhari following a highly controversial election conducted in 1983. By 1987, the Babangida administration also dissolved FEDECO and established the NEC.
In what was described as a transition without end NEC conducted the 1992/93 elections but was also dissolved in 1993 following the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election results and the exit of the Babangida administration. In 1994 the Abacha administration established the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON). NECON conducted elections from the local governments up to the national assembly level; but was also abolished following the death of General Abacha and the emergence of the General Abubakar administration in 1998. The General Abubakar Abdulsalami regime established the current Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which has conducted an unprecedented number of five quadrennial general elections in Nigeria from 1999 to 2015. While INEC is the longest serving EMB in Nigeria’s political history, the elections it has conducted has generated varying degrees of controversy and violent conflicts; particularly at the Presidential level.
The 2015 Presidential election conducted by INEC was historic for two major reasons. First, the introduction of an electronic accreditation process in spite of challenges encountered, seemed to have remarkably increased the credibility of the country‘s election administration process. Secondly, it was the first time in the history of the country that an incumbent President will lose elections and conceded defeat to the opposition. Yet, the 2015 general election administration process as in the previous 4 general elections held from 1999 to 2011 was not without controversy.
For instance, political campaigns in the pre- election period were often heated and non-issue based. In several states across the country, the pre-election period therefore recorded varying degrees of election related violence. Indeed, the election was generally, described as the most keenly contested election in the history of Nigeria. The INEC itself came under severe criticisms for the decision to introduce an electronic accreditation process which critics described as too premature, given the country’s poor state of infrastructure particularly with regards to power supply. Critical to the introduction of the card readers were the issues of disenfranchisement which elicited apathy and loss of interest in the democratic process.
Against the foregoing background a number of issues concerning INECs performance in the administration of the 2015 general elections are germane. What are the basic steps in the election administration process? Which of these steps have been the most controversial and problematic aspects of the elections conducted by INEC from 1999-2011, and how has INEC fared in the administration of the 2015 general elections? Interrogating these issues are critical for understanding the trajectory of election administration in Nigeria and the role INEC is playing in the consolidation of democracy in the country.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Elections in Nigeria continue to elicit more than casual interest by Nigerian scholars due to the fact that despite the appreciation that only credible election can consolidate and sustain the country’s nascent democracy. As observed by most scholars, over the years, Nigeria continues to witness with growing disappointments and apprehension inability to conduct peaceful, free and fair, open elections whose results are widely accepted and respected across the country (Igbuzor, 2010; Osumah and Aghemelo, 2010, Ekweremadu, 2011). The above observation is not out of place because given that elections conducted in Nigeria since independence have generated increasingly bitter controversies and grievances on a national scale due to the twin problems of mass violence and fraud that have become central elements of the history of elections and of the electoral process in the country.
Despite the marked improvement in the conduct of the 2011 elections, the process was not free from malpractices and violence (Bekoe, 2011; Gberie, 2011; National Democratic Institute, 2012). Thus over the years, electoral processes in the history of Nigeria’s democratic governance have continued to be marred by extraordinary displays of rigging, dodgy, “do or die” affair, ballot snatching at gun points, violence and acrimony, thuggery, boycotts, threats and criminal manipulations of voters’ list, brazen falsification of election results, the use of security agencies against political opponents and the intimidation of voters (Bekoe, 2011).
In fact elections remain one of the leading notable sources of conflict which often result to confrontations that continue to threaten the political stability and peace of the nation (Omotola, 2010). Scholars have attributed this problem of election credibility in Nigeria to the weak institutionalization of the agencies of electoral administration, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the political parties and security agencies in the country arguing that elections can only engender the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria if the electoral processes are reformed in ways that fundamentally address the autonomy and capability of INEC to discharge its responsibilities effectively and the security agencies high degree of neutrality, alertness, and commitment to maintaining law and order in the electoral process (Omotola, 2010; Idowu, 2010).
A careful observation of the management of elections by INEC in carrying out their duties while participating in the electoral process in Nigeria is part of the sources of violence and insecurity during elections. Unfortunately, there is however no informed emphasis on the central role played by INEC to ensure that the level of voter’s apathy during elections in Nigeria is reduced. Few of the existing analyses on the subject deal essentially with the mutually reinforcing questions of political violence and electoral fraud and only touch upon the INEC tangentially. As a matter of emphasis, credibility of elections depends amongst other factors on the level of voter’s participation in the entire election process.
Outside the developed democracies, and recently from the Latin American and post-communist European experiences, very little is known about the role of election management bodies like INEC in achieving credible election devoid of voter’s apathy. It has been noted that several African regimes suffered from these democratic setbacks, but could it be that most of these states face a popular participation deficit in the process of democratization? Further research should explore this possibility especially in Africa where elections are often marred by low voter turnout. The discourse on elections often center on free and fair elections for good reasons. But what happens when free and fair elections are by a national majority (or a minority of the voters)? This question leads us to investigate voter turnout as a credible causal factor (even if partly) for democratic reversal or consolidation in Africa. This knowledge gap is most acute in Nigeria and Africa in general. Against this backdrop, this study seeks to investigate the impact of the INEC as an electoral management body on democratic consolidation in Nigeria.
1.3 Research Questions
The following research questions guided the formulation of objectives and research hypotheses:
1.4 Objectives of the Study
iii. To suggest measures that will help to ensure that future elections in Nigeria are more credible and devoid of voters’ disenfranchisement.
1.5 Research Hypotheses
1.6 Significance of the Study
From the empirical point of view, this study will be of benefit to INEC by bringing to the fore the various challenges faced by the commission in the process of conducting elections. It is also hoped that this study will throw-up a world of opportunities for solutions to voter’s apathy and election credibility with regards to the activities of INEC in election administration.
Theoretically, the findings of this study will contribute immensely to the academic community as it will help to contribute to existing knowledge and literature on election management in Nigeria, as well as, provide new grounds for further research by challenging the intellect of scholars, students and researchers.
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