Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nigeria’s April Elections and Consolidation of Democracy

The success or otherwise of the coming fourth successive election under the Fourth Republic (1999 to date) in Nigeria depends largely on how actors and stakeholders decide to engage the political system. There is no gainsaying the fact that election is a process and not an event. Hence, the way and manner operators and regulators of the electoral system play their assigned responsibilities will largely determine if the old order will give way to democratic consolidation or the status quo of flawed elections will abide.

Nigeria’s democratic institutions which have critical roles to play in the electoral process are: the political parties, the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the media, the civil society including the electorates, the security agencies and indeed the electoral management body. These major players in the electoral process have been performing their roles; some noble, some ignoble.

Aftermath of the last general elections in April 2007 which local and international observers adjudged as being significantly flawed, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Ardua set up a 22 member Electoral Reform Committee led by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Lawal Uwais. The ERC submitted its report on December 11, 2008. The report contains about 83 recommendations which could have put paid to Nigeria’s electoral debacle. However, some of the far reaching recommendations were rejected by the presidency. On November 20, 2008 the President of Nigeria’s Senate, David Mark inaugurated the 88 member Joint Committee on Constitutional Reform (JCCR). However, the internal wrangling between the House of Representatives and Senate over status, protocol and seniority stalled the work of the committee. In spite of the delay in the passage of the amended constitution, it is heart-warming to note that for the first time under a civilian administration, the legislature successfully concluded the alteration of the Constitution.

The flip side to that however is that the late completion of the electoral reform agenda has affected the preparation for the elections this year. Work on the amended 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act 2010 was concluded in January 2011 and this has impacted negatively on voters’ education on the new legal regime. The Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) board was also inaugurated late as the chairman and many of the national and State electoral commissioners were inaugurated on June 30, 2010. The good thing is that the new board of the electoral commission is enjoying tremendous goodwill from Nigerians. The parliament have had to amend the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 twice to give the Commission more time to prepare for the April 2011 polls. The National Assembly and the presidency have also treated budget requests from INEC expeditiously and ensured prompt release of funds to the Commission. This has enabled INEC to conduct a fresh Voters Registration exercise between January 15 and February 7, 2011. Over 73.5 million eligible voters were registered in the exercise.

Most worrisome however is the ignominious role some of the 63 registered political parties and some judges have been playing in the prelude to the elections. As a result of the rancorous candidate nomination exercise by the parties between November 26, 2010 – January 15, 2011, many of the aggrieved aspirants have approached the courts to get injunctions and judgements against their political parties and by extension, the electoral commission. This situation has prompted the chair of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega to officially write a letter of complaints to the Chief Justice of Nigeria that his Commission had been served notice of about 150 cases, 70 of which are ex-parte orders from the courts.

Another potent challenge to the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria is the high incidences of election related conflicts. There have been many recorded wilful and malicious destruction of lives and property with the security agencies appearing overwhelmed by the situation. In spite of these enormous challenges, Nigeria’s media, civil society and indeed the electorates are determined to give unalloyed support to the electoral commission to make it succeed in the onerous task of breaking the jinx of electoral debacle on Nigeria. A lot of voters sensitization is ongoing while the massive turn-out of electorates during the just concluded voters registration exercise and their determination to exercise their franchise in April gives hope that 2011 polls will bring about democratic consolidation in Nigeria.