By Prof. Protus Nathan Uzorma (The Reformer).
The problem with the Nigerian democracy centres on electioneering process, and on its wheel to be on power at all cost notwithstanding the interest of the society and the choice of the masses. Every political party that is on power, wants to retain power for their selfish interest, every elective office aspirant, aspires to the position with the resolution of the Latin dictum, nisi ego, nemo sera- unless I, none will be; every public servant in office stays therein with the thought of eternity in mind, every elected representative considers himself the proper wealth dragging-net of his own in-group and especially his own turn to prepare life-wealth in an alienated reservoir for his generations unending.
In the course of actualising these resolutions, political aspirants, their supporters and sponsors map out strategies that will enable them rig elections either by crook or hook. Most of the aspirants make physical appearances, coming out openly to fight with their last breath in order to win elections. This is the genesis of electoral malpractices in Nigeria.
These undemocratic dispositions and electoral malpractice have eaten very deep into the Nigerian electoral system, and on daily basis, acquire new and sudden dimensions. Recently, even religious leaders have turned to spiritual sponsors of elective office aspirants, with constant pulpit-anointment and profit-sayings than prophesies on candidates after their God’s own heart, ignoring their vows and responsibilities to the people by preaching the gospel which proffers rather to rain encomium on politician(s) who come to their congregation for thanksgiving to God and testimonies on theistic goodness.
Richard A. Joseph in his study of Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria, thus remarks that our electoral process is always reduced to a “Hobbessian state of war” making it seem as if political violence is both a culture and an article of faith for Nigerians. The reasons for this are much and they are founded on the truth that the Nigerian political system is premised on election as a zero-sum game where the winner takes all, while the looser looses all and is vanquished. Consequently, the average Nigerian politician is dangerously desperate to win an election at all cost.
Tonie Iredia berated these features of the Nigerian electoral system, and rightly wondered ‘How can we have free and fair elections when those who mar them are officially protected? In addition, if a near illiterate citizen can win an election by whatever means and thereafter becomes entitled to, among other items, a vehicle maintenance allowance that is higher than the salary of a director in the public service, when shall we have free and fair elections?’
In view of these problematic, this paper attempts to x-ray how free and fair elections can be a universal remedy or panacea for sustainable democracy in Nigeria, through the principle of one man, one vote. It thus, explores in great depths, through vivid linguistic analysis, clarifications and expository realism, the difficulties and possibilities of having free and fair elections in Nigeria.
I will begin this discussion by attempting some clarifications on the principal concepts in the topic, seeing free and fair election and panacea for sustainable democracy as phrasal-concepts. This article will from these conceptual clarifications consider the implications of having a free and fair election on the credibility of the electoral system. It further x-rays the historical features of the Nigerian electoral system, beginning with some contemporary characteristics of the Nigerian electoral system, which include vote-buying and money-politics, godfatherism and elitist materialism, hijacking of ballot-boxes, thuggery and armed intimidation, as well as other prevalent causal factors of electoral malpractices in Nigeria.
I will conclude this little discussion by drawing our attention on the need for urgent change in our societal paradigm and orientations on electioneering process and democratic dispositions in Nigeria and most especially in our State, Imo.
Before we proceed, it will be nice to make some conceptual clarifications about the phrases in our topic. This will help in proper reflection on the topic and would go a long way in helping our investigation on how free and fair election could be a universal remedy for sustainable democracy, obtainable through the principle of one man, one vote in the present trend of democracy in the Nigerian polity.
The term free has various meanings. But with reference to free and fair elections, it implies exemption from external authority, or any form of manipulation, interference or restriction in the exercise of one’s desire, choice and will in an electoral process. This unhinged exercise and participation in electoral process, is the ground for the concept of fairness in election. Like the word free, in an electoral process, fairness in turn implies the state of being free from biases, injustice and maltreatment to persons in the process of exercising their franchise. Thus it concerns both the electorate and the contestant(s) of the electoral positions, and nudges the electoral umpire to same concept of fair-delivery in the processes.
According to the United Nations (March 26, 1994) Inter-Parliamentary Union Council’s Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections free and fair elections must be held at regular intervals on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage. To do this, States should take the necessary policy and institutional steps to ensure the progressive achievement and consolidation of democratic goals, including through the establishment of a neutral, impartial or balanced mechanism for the management of elections. In so doing, they should, among other matters:
Ensure that those responsible for the various aspects of the election are trained and act impartially, and that coherent voting procedures are established and made known to the voting public. Ensure the registration of voters, updating of electoral rolls and balloting procedures, with the assistance of national and international observers as appropriate. Encourage parties, candidates and the media to accept and adopt a Code of Conduct to govern the election campaign and the polling period.
Ensure the integrity of the ballot through appropriate measures to prevent multiple voting or voting by those not entitled thereto. Ensure the integrity of the process for counting votes. It further directs that in order that elections shall be free and fair, States should:
Take the necessary measures to ensure that parties and candidates enjoy reasonable opportunities to present their electoral platform. Take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that the principle of the secret ballot is respected, and that voters are able to cast their ballots freely, without fear or intimidation. Ensure that the ballot is conducted so as to avoid fraud or other illegality, that the security and the integrity of the process is maintained, and that ballot counting is undertaken by trained personnel, subject to monitoring and/or impartial verification.
Take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure the transparency of the entire electoral process including, for example, through the presence of party agents and duly accredited observers. Take the necessary measures to ensure that parties, candidates and supporters enjoy equal security, and that State authorities take the necessary steps to prevent electoral violence.
Ensure that violations of human rights and complaints relating to the electoral process are determined promptly within the timeframe of the electoral process and effectively by an independent and impartial authority, such as an electoral commission or the courts. Free and fair elections allow people living in representative democracy to determine the political makeup and future policy direction of their nation’s government. That is why, the International Human Rights Conventions established a basic consensus on free and fair elections among member states, especially with the Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that elections must be periodic, genuine, organised according to universal suffrage, and by secret ballot.
In this declaration, free and fair or credible election, means that the elections offer equal opportunities for all competing parties and candidates. Such equality requires the ability of political parties and candidates to register for office without unreasonable requirements, balanced access to the media for all candidates, the absence of campaign finance abuse, and an independent electoral process.
It should be noted that the principle of one man, one vote that we see as panacea for the desired democracy, is distinct from the principle of universal suffrage and applies more to political systems with direct representation than the Nigerian political system that is raided by sundry vices, which strive to send it to demarchy (- The selection of political representatives by lot, or any form of government in which the State is governed by randomly selected decision-makers who have been selected by party-caucus-lot and from a broadly inclusive pool of eligible citizens) than democracy. But both principles (universal suffrage and one man one vote) however, mean that no person’s vote can be counted twice.