Sam Amadi, Senior Lecturer, Baze University

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Subjects of Interest

  • Commercial Policy
  • Economic Governance
  • Electric Power
  • Law & Economy
  • Public Sector Reform

Why electoral reform matters 05 Aug 2021

A few weeks ago, the Nigerian federal legislature voted to amend Nigeria’s electoral rules. The vote ended in a stalemate of a sort. Whilst the Senate voted against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) originating electronic transmission of election results, the House of Representatives voted for it. The vote masked complex political considerations that give a better picture of the crisis of legitimacy and democratization in Nigeria.

The vote came after a long advocacy by electoral reform and integrity groups across the country. Nigerian elections have been grossly flawed and contentious. They are routinely rigged, mostly by the ruling party but often by any person who has the resources to bribe electoral officers and judicial personnel or buy off voters. The height of the lack of credibility of the votes in Nigeria may be the increasing judicialization of election, hallmarked by a recent Supreme Court ‘vote’ that gave a governorship seat to a candidate who came fourth on the ballot. In the 2019 presidential election, the PDP blamed its loss to the refusal of the INEC to avail its lawyers access to the digital server that would show the correct vote count.

Since then, one of the major concerns of electoral reformers in Nigeria has been to ensure credible and realtime transmission of election results. Both the independent electoral management body and civil society leaders agree that the elementary remedy for incredible electoral results is electronic transmission of results. After a rigorous public hearing, the joint committee of both houses recommended electronic transmission. But the leadership of the federal legislature will have none of that. First, it refused to table the report for voting. When after relentless naming and shaming it agreed to schedule a vote on the report, the news leaked that the recommendation on electronic transmission of results had been altered. At the delayed vote, all APC senators voted to kill the recommendation. The ruling party does not want electronic transmission of election results, keeping to the legacy of incumbents wanting flawed elections.

But this is not just a matter of legislative inconsideration and partisanship. This is about the future of Nigeria. This is about national security and whether we can rein in the gale of insurrections haunting Nigeria. In his book, ‘Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Hard Places’, Paul Collier, argues that when electoral process is corrupted, the electoral system becomes inaccessible to decent politicians. The result is increased criminalization of the electoral system. This is where Nigeria is at the moment.

In Nigerian elections are almost criminal enterprises. In 2019, a senatorial candidate wrote the results with a gun pointed at the Returning Officer. INEC questioned the results. But the electoral rules do not allow it to overturn fraudulent results. That Senator is seated, making the rules that make it easier for him to commit such crime again. Any amount and all kinds of money are used to win elections in Nigeria. There is no audit of electoral expenses and there is no prosecution for electoral offences as the attorneys general who have primary responsibility to do so are partisans and often accessories of the crime.

Nigerian elections are heavily monetized that everyone expects the candidate with the bigger purse to win. This is not about high campaign finance. This is about openly trading votes in village squares and hotel lobbies. The ubiquitous anti-corruption czar, the EFCC, never ventures to arrest those openly buying and selling votes. In February 2019, two bullion vans carrying money made their way to the home of the leader of the ruling APC on the eve of a presidential election, in spite of restriction of movement. The leader rebuffed outrage, saying he has right to carry money anytime. Months later, anti-corruption activists petitioned the EFCC. EFFC’s head summarily dismissed the petition and vowed not to take any action.    

Scholars are increasingly skeptical about the ability of elections to deliver good governance or development. But, because the right of the people to choose their leaders is a moral right, elections still matter. More so, as Adam Przeworski argues, elections matters because they are effective conflict avoidance and conflict resolution mechanism. As long as elections are competitive, there is some hope that the people can also solve their problems through peaceful pursuit of constitutional rule. When it is unreasonable to trust that the governing elite can be dislodged through elections, because elections are corrupt, criminal and predictable, the aggrieved resorts to non-constitutional means of redress.

The reasoning will be, “if we cannot get them out through elections; we extricate ourselves through violence.” This is the danger that Nigerian leaders court as they make electoral reform difficult.

Dr. Sam Amadi, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, is the Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts.