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Elections: Lessons Nigeria Must Learn From Smaller Countries

Nigeria continues its cycle of election misadventures even as smaller countries get their act together and put the Giant of Africa to shame.

Even though the 2019 general election has come and gone, the injuries inflicted on many by the elections may take a long time to heal. In the build-up to the elections, comments by some political actors, especially leaders of the major parties, left no one in doubt that the elections would be garnished with crisis. The magnitude of the crises, with the accompanying consequences on human and material resources, was, perhaps, not envisaged. Not only did Nigeria lose millions of naira spent on logistics, wages and electoral materials destroyed in many states, the country also witnessed bloodshed, as a good number of citizens lost their lives before, during and after the ballot. 

According to unofficial reports, at least 20people died during the elections across the country. 

In Rivers State, for instance, about sevenpersons reportedly lost their lives. While Bayelsa, Yobe, Ebonyi, Kogi andDelta states allegedly lost two persons each, Oyo, Zamfara, and Lagos stateslost one person each.

Adjudged by some analysts as worse than the 2015elections, the 2019 exercise was marred by violence, rigging, disruption ofcollation and voter apathy in many states, resulting in either suspension orcancellation of elections in such places. Even before the elections, someoffices of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had been setablaze by suspected political thugs to make it difficult for elections to holdin such places. And in places where INEC offices were not torched, the samesuspected political thugs made it a point of duty to cause chaos at differentpolling units just to ensure that elections were disrupted. 

During the February 23 presidential polls inRivers State, elections were suspended in Abonnema, Akuku-Toru Local GovernmentArea, as well as Okrika and Bonny, following large-scale election-relatedviolence. In the March 9 governorship polls, elections in 23 polling units werecancelled in Abi LGA of Cross River State, in addition to some other units inother parts of the state on account of violence, which was mostly caused byballot snatching and molestation of voters. In fact, Simon Odey, the collationofficer for Abi LGA, reportedly said that 16,170 registered voters could notvote as a result of ballot box snatching and other violent activities in theaffected polling units. Cases of ballot snatching, sometimes alleged to havebeen aided by uniformed men, including the police and army, characterised theelections. And some of those killed in the mayhem met their death while tryingto resist the perpetrators.

In many ways, the elections of 2019 were a hugesetback for Nigeria, which is reputed to be the largest economy in Africa.Despite its esteemed position in the continent, the country has consistentlyfailed to get it right on electoral matters, whereas smaller countries inAfrica conduct cleaner polls.

On October 25, 2018, Ethiopia held apresidential election that produced Sahle-Work Zewde as president. Though thecountry runs a parliamentary system, the election of the diplomat as the firstfemale president of Ethiopia was without rancor. A few days after the Nigerianpresidential election, Senegal went to the polls to elect its president. At theend of the exercise, Macky Sall, the incumbent, was re-elected for anotherterm. Though there was a report of clashes between rival supporters of thepresident and Issa Sall, another contestant, a few days to the election,reportedly resulting in the death of two persons, the election was adjudgedfair and credible. 

Elena Valenciano, head of the European Unionelection observer group, described the election as “calm andtransparent.” Such a verdict on the Senegalese election probably informedthe decision of four other contestants in the ballot not to go to court eventhough they rejected the result.

As reports have it, the stability of Senegal’spolity is responsible for the country’s economic growth. Though, a modestcountry in West Africa by size, Senegal, said to have escaped terrorist attacksthat have been rampant in Mali, its neighbour, is increasingly being regardedas a model of stability in Africa.

In 2018, Liberia held its third successivepost-war presidential election. Unlike the Nigerian scenario, the election,which saw the emergence of George Weah, former Liberian striker and FIFA WorldFootballer of the Year, as the winner, was not bloody as witnessed during theNigerian elections and the outcome of the exercise was acceptable tocontestants, citizens and observers. 

If smaller countries in Africa can conductcredible elections acceptable to the international community, many havewondered why free and fair elections remain an uphill task in Nigeria. Contraryto the situation in Senegal where those who lost in the election have resolvednot to toe the legal path, Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of thePeoples Democratic Party, PDP, has challenged the re-election of MuhammaduBuhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, as the president. Declaringthat as a Nigerian, he was ashamed of the way the elections were rigged, themajor opposition candidate predicated his decision on the plethora of reportedcases of violence, election malpractices, harassment of party members anddisenfranchisement of voters in places said to be PDP strongholds.

Some have argued that Nigeria’s large size isone major problem in conducting credible elections as the electoral commissionfinds it difficult to cover the logistics aspect of its mandate. But those whocriticise such arguments insist that population has nothing to do withconducting credible elections. In fact, Michael Ogbe, a political analyst,cited India, which he said is the largest democracy in the world. While theNigerian population hovers around 200 million, the Asian sub-continent is saidto have about 800 million registered voters, who would be voting in thecountry’s upcoming elections. India is about four times the size of Nigeria andit is expected that the elections would be credible, going by the country’spast elections.

Eminent Nigerians have said the way out of thislogjam is the amended Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly in therun-up to the elections. Veteran Journalist, Ray Ekpu, in a recentcontribution, said President Buhari had a lot to do in this regard. Ekpu said:“Now that Buhari has been declared the winner by INEC, maybe he would like totry to be a statesman from now onwards. If he wants to establish a legacy thatwill enable history to remember him kindly, he has to reform the electoralsystem. 

“He refused to sign the revised version of theElectoral Act that provided for electronic collation of results. Now that hehas no election to be afraid of, he should be ready to do a drastic review ofnot only the Electoral Act but also the Constitution.”

For Patrick Ogbodo, an Ebonyi State-based legalpractitioner, the trouble with Nigeria is corruption. “Nigeria is oneplace where campaigns are devoid of tangible policies. Not just that they don’thave clear agenda to present to the electorate, Nigerian politicians indirectlymake it clear that they are contesting for electoral offices to make money andnot to serve. They only tell you to vote for them for continuity and not forany special programme they want to execute. Even when they promiseanything during campaigns, it is only for them to deny it afterwards to avoidbeing held responsible for anything,” Ogbodo said.

Wilfred Isiguzo, a civil servant, shares thesame view. He blamed the violence witnessed during the last elections onpoliticians’ unbridled lust for money. “Those who have real money inNigeria today are politicians. All you need to do is find your way to politicaloffice and millions of naira drop into your pocket every month. This is whythey will go to any length to secure political offices. They are not seekingoffice because they want to serve. No, they only want to secure it so as tohave access to the nation’s treasury,” Isiguzo stated.

No doubt, the Nigerian situation is a sharpcontrast to what obtains in other climes. In Senegal for instance, PresidentSall reportedly anchored his second term campaigns on building an emergingSenegal through infrastructural development to promote economic growth. Infact, even his critics say he is obsessed with infrastructure development butdoes not show such energy in job creation. 

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