Democratic rule is the form of government that is globally accepted and practiced. It is seen as a form of government that has been most fashionable particularly because it allows for popular participation and agreed to be the most essential tool of development. From available records, Nigeria, after three failed attempts, got it right in 1999 in its efforts to entrench democracy. The uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria, following disruptions after the 1960-1966 and the 1979- 1983 democratic spells, as well as the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections widely believed to have been won by the late Chief MKO Abiola, has somewhat the recognition of the country as a growing democracy in Africa. From all indications, Nigeria is now in the vanguard of the campaign for electoral reforms to entrench democracy and sustainable development in Africa. Elections in Africa have always been a worrisome process, with palpable fears regarding the procedures and outcome. Such fears notwithstanding, democracy is recognised as the best form of government that facilitates allround development. With the launch of the current democratic process, which began in 1999 when Nigeria’s last military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, handed over power to the newly elected president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the true process of correcting perceptible lapses in the Nigerian democracy earnestly began.
The culture of “do-or-die1‘ politics, “godfatherism” and using monetary inducements to garner political goodwill, which has been the idiosyncratic trait of Nigerian politics and electioneering, is now discouraged by concerned stakeholders who are campaigning for electoral reforms to correct observable lapses in the political system. The stakeholders’ worries are quite apt because in Nigeria and Africa, as a whole, there have been reported cases of vote rigging, opponents’ assassination, handpicked candidates and lack of internal democracy within political parties as well as thuggery and violence. Apart from these factors, there is a dearth of public confidence in the ability of electoral bodies to conduct and supervise elections in most African countries.
Therefore, for democracy to be entrenched and deeply rooted in Africa; there is a compelling need to initiate electoral reforms to correct perceptible flaws in the political and electoral systems of the countries.
In Nigeria, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua once emphasised that some perennial problems had plagued Nigeria’s electoral process, admitting that the 2007 general elections, which produced his administration, was fraught with some anomalies.
On May 29, 2007, during his inaugural speech, Yar’Adua pledged to initiate some electoral reforms so as to put in place a credible and lasting democratic process. True to his word, Yar’Adua, on August 28, 2007, inaugurated the Electoral Reform Panel, which was chaired by a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammadu Lawai Uwais (GCON). However, the 2011 presidential election, which was won by the incumbent President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was also reportedly marred by some irregularities. Even though the 2015 presidential election, which was won by President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was adjudged as a very credible election; observers, nonetheless, insisted that a lot still has to be done to have reliable, hitch-free elections in the country.
The Uwais committee, which got inputs from experts from countries like Botswana, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’ I voire, France, Ghana, India, Lesotho, Mexico, Niger Republic and South Africa, submitted its report to President Yar’Adua in December 2008. In the report,the committee said that it examined the strengths and weaknesses of Nigeria’s electoral processes, in line with the electoral best practices in other countries which shared similar experiences with Nigeria. It underscored the need to promote greater inclusiveness, rwhile reducing pre-election and postelection crises. The committee also recommended changes in existing electoral procedures, review of electoral functions or even creation of new bodies where such changes required new legislation or amendment of extant laws. The committee drafted a Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act, 2006 and a Bill for an Act to Establish the Electoral Offences Commission so as to facilitate the proposed electoral reforms and speed up their implementation process. The report of the Uwais committee has been the focus of national discourse on Nigeria’s electoral reforms. It recommended the introduction of independent candidates and the prosecution of electoral fraudsters after elections.
It also recommended the unbundling of the Independent (INEC), with some of its roles transferred to some proposed agencies – the Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission; the Electoral Offences Commission and the Constituency Delimitation Commission. It also suggested that the Board of the election management body should be appointed by the Council of State, based on the recommendations of the National Judicial Council and subject to the confirmation of the Senate.
With fraudulent electoral matters left unchecked, observers moan that this could lead to voter apathy as well as post-election violence and conflicts which could threaten the nation’s democracy. All the same, the quest for electoral reforms and stable democracy in Nigeria and Africa is not a new campaign. Prior to Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the Electoral Law of 1958 tried to promote credible elections, while the founding fathers of Nigeria then agitated for a stable democratic system that would facilitate the nation’s development via constant reforms and reviews. There have been deliberate attempts to correct some of the flaws and weaknesses of the electoral process. Besides, there have been justifiable arguments that the 1966 and 1983 military coup d’etats in the country had been the consequence of disputed electoral processes. The military, on two different occasions, organised elections that led to the emergence of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as presidents of Nigeria in 1983 and 1999 respectively. Political commentators have insisted that electoral reforms of credible elections to include respect for the rights of the citizens, the rights for minorities and the culture of tolerance between party leaders and party supporters. They maintained that the approach would facilitate efforts to curb agitations and electoral violence.
A case in point was the peace pact, which was signed in the build-up to the 2015 General Elections by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and the APC presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, and brokered by the Presidential Peace Committee, headed by former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar. That particular move went a long way to promote post-election peace and consequently, other African countries have adopted a similar approach. With the benefit of hindsight, Nigeria probably took the initiative in order to guard against the recurrence of the crises that occurred before and after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was generally regarded as that point in time, Nigeria became a pariah nation, as sanctions were imposed on the country, including its suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations.