Seventeen years of hindsight should offer an empirical basis for greater optimism about the durability and performance of any democracy, but for Nigeria, maybe we are unsure. What can be attributed to the devaluation of democracy in Africa’s most populous nation if not systemic electoral riggings?
Democracy in Nigeria is centred on the elites and does not lose them – so a skirmished explanation for what is constantly reported to be free and fair elections internally would rather be unfair and conservative selections.
In Nigeria, elections have come to stay. The pervasive vote rigging, fraud and intimidations which are perpetrated by and with the connivance of both the national security forces and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have continued to hinder the entrenchment and sustainability of genuine democracy. Election rigging has gradually turned into a norm and has eaten deep into the country’s political system. From the exclusion of valid ballots by counting officials, the addition of ballots marked by persons who are not voting legally, multiple votes and vote by under-aged, falsification of sheets, and even denial of marginalized voters’ right to vote, the oppression of the people’s will by those in power have continued to rebuff the essence of democratization in the country. And this often leads to the primordial accumulation of the commonwealth of the nation by a group of elites.
When we re-adopted democracy in 1999, many had exuded confidence that sustainable development was soon going to hit all sectors of the nation and transform our economy. But seventeen years down the line, the prospect of this unrealized dream seem to be entirely shattered; and that clamour for democracy has remained unjustified. Unfortunately, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s approach towards entrenching democracy in the country proved detrimental. In a bid to satisfy his whims, the former president – writing in the Elements of Democracy – asserted that “Democracy as concerned in the West may not suit our peculiar circumstances and needs. As such our conceptualization of democracy must take due cognizance to our lived realities…” Wasn’t Obasanjo referring to a version of pseudo democracy? Was he implying that the tenets and, indeed, the expectations of democracy are not (and should) not be the same all over the globe? Many researchers are still not sure if the late Umaru Yar’adua honestly emerged winner of the Presidential election in 2007, but the powerful Obasanjo – who was supposedly acting on behalf of the people – ensured that he selected the individual who took over from him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Again, selected — not elected.
The Collins dictionary defines election rigging as the act of dishonestly organizing an election to get a particular result through fraud. The imposition of political candidates – even at the primary elections – is an indication for the neglect of the people’s will. Just recently, a furious Bola Ahmed Tinubu couldn’t keep his cool when Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) emerged winner of the All Progressives Congress, Ondo State gubernatorial primary election. The same way he bemoaned Senate president Bukola Saraki’s emergence. Such persistence and many more contribute to the failure of democracy in Nigeria.
Since elections are fore-planned or rigged and the mandate of the people stolen, it may be difficult for many Nigerians to experience the dividends of democratization. Those who agitated for our democracy were convinced that no society truly desirous of development can ignore democracy. But rigging has gotten its implications in Nigeria and this — in turn — impedes our development as a people. By Emmanuel C. Eke