Like most African states, Nigeria was an artificial creation of colonialism. A series of military coups, attempted coups and failed effort to establish democracy have marked Nigeria’s political history. Following her independence in 1960, the issue of democracy has become one of the most challenging objectives to attain. Election is an integral part of the democratic process. Moreover, just like most aspects of Nigeria’s democracy, the electioneering process are still being blurred by specs of debris from several years of colonial rule in addition to the military influence and a dose of an aggressive political elite unwilling to relinquish her hold to what has become a lucrative business for most. As a result, the restoration of democratic rule in 1999 was received by the citizens with the hope that it will emancipate and enhance citizens’ participation in the political process and government accountability. Much of these aspirations hinged on the credibility of the electoral process.
Indeed, in Nigeria, every political transition programme appears to have ushered its own election management body. For instance, the Electoral Commission of the Federation (ECF) was created to conduct the 1964 federal elections and 1965 regional elections; the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) conducted the transitional elections in 1979 and the controversial 1983 elections that ended in a return to military rule. Also, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) that managed the three-year transition programme and ended with the annulled 1993 elections; while the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) that was established by General Sani Abacha to manage his transition programme, which was aborted after his death in 1998; and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Overall, Nigeria has had five Electoral management bodies (EMB). INEC, which is the focus of this case study, is the longest-serving and the most durable EMB in Nigerian history.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is established by section 153(f) of the 1999 constitution as amended and saddled with the responsibility of organizing general elections into the offices of the President, National Assembly, Governors and State Houses of Assembly. Its mission is to serve as an independent and effective EMB committed to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections for sustainable democracy in Nigeria. Its vision is to be one of the best Election Management Bodies (EMB) in the world that meets the aspirations of the Nigerian people. The constitution broadly defines the scope of the commission’s powers and responsibilities, and provides for its independence and funding. The body was created to conduct elections, register political parties, train and recruit ad hoc staffs, monitor the operation of the political parties including their finances, regulate poll conducts, voter and civic education; it is expected that each function will be carried out independently and free from external influence.
As noted earlier, election is the heartbeat of any democratic setting. Chiroro (2005) noted that election is the basis of democratic order. Free, fair and transparent election is one of the most ubiquitous of contemporary political institutions and voting is the single act of political participation undertaken by a majority of adults in the world today (Rose & Mossawin, 1974). For an election to be free fair and acceptable, there is need for an unbiased umpire. Hence Joseph Stanley posits “those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything.”
Ihekoromadu, Okonkwo and Okorie (2019) stated that INEC conducted the elections that ushered in the 4th Republic in 1999 under the supervision of the military in a bid to hand over power to civilians. Since then it organized elections in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2019 as well as supplementary elections in different states and constituencies. The 2003 general elections which was the first civilian-to-civilian transition since 1999 were condemned by local and international observers. The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) for instance held that presidential and gubernatorial elections in some states fell short of international and regional standards and did not in the main reflect the voting pattern of the Nigerian people (TMG, 2003). Similarly the 2019 elections was characterized by confusion over the allegations of rigging to favor the ruling party, application of double standards, inflation of figures, challenges with the abuse of card readers as well as uncertainty concerning electoral laws. This was in addition to the postponement of election on the eve of the election. Also, governorship elections for Kano, Benue, Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi, Plateau states were canceled and declared inconclusive.
According to the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG, 2003), election management bodies in Nigeria have often contributed to electoral problems in since the return to civil rule. These elections have characterized by lack of clearly designated compartment for thumb-printing, inadequate logistics and transport arrangements, mix-up and loss of result sheets, unscrupulous officials, vote buying, under-age voting, absent of voters’ register, falsification of results and similar challenges. These developments seem to weaken trust in the electoral process resulting in electoral violence, electoral litigation, mass protests and lack of confidence in the electoral process. For instance, during the 2003 general elections, INEC was accused of not making adequate arrangements for the transportation of sensitive election materials to the polling stations and collation centers. Result sheets disappeared and re-appeared in different forms at collation centers whilst corrupt party agents simply sold unused ballot paper to the highest bidder. Following the reversal of the process for the order of the elections by INEC, voters deserted the state House of Assembly elections. Thus no voting took place in these elections, although winners emerged from the process.
The 2007 elections fell short of national, regional and international standards for democratic elections. They were marred by very poor organization, lack of essential transparency, widespread procedural irregularities and substantial evidence of fraud. The flaws that characterized the conduct of the 2007 elections severely denied the integrity of elections in Nigeria and triggered demands for freer and fairer and more transparent elections and perhaps resulted in part to the adoption of the internet election in 2011 which could also be seen as a reflection of the global trend towards internet campaign and electioneering. In the 2011 general elections, INEC recruited about 360,000 poll officials and 20,000 university staff including Vice-chancellors as collation and returning officers (Jega, 2013:5).
Managing these ad-hoc staff constituted a huge challenge to the INEC as some of them may be card carrying members of the competing political parties and may unduly influence the election outcomes in favors of the political parties they are affiliated to. Also it had also be associated with and characterized by malpractices of various kinds: rigging, ballot box snatching at gun points, violence and acrimony, thuggery, boycotts, threats and criminal manipulations of voter’s list, brazen falsification of election results and the use of security agencies against political opponents and intimidation of voters (Oni, Chigozie and Agbude, 2013). It is however important to note that 2011 was a first time digital media was used as a political platform in the electioneering process and campaign in the country. It signaled a paradigm shift in the history of Nigeria political and electoral history (Macnnaram, 2008).
The 2015 election marked the introduction of the smart card reader (SCR) and the permanent voters card (PVC). The card reader was introduced to curb the excess eminent in elections. Its basic function is to verify the authenticity of the PVC (Engineering Network Team, 2015). The 2015 and 2016 elections were characterized with insecurities, violence, thuggery, kidnapping, snatching of ballot boxes were experienced especially in states like Awka Ibom, Rivers, Imo and Abia, the inability of the commission to finalize the review of the electoral constituencies and creation of new polling units.
Others were: difficulties in the production of the permanent voter cards (PVC), delay in the finalization of the guidelines for the elections which particularly affected the production of training manuals and lingering challenges of maximizing the impact of voter education. Outgoing governors of these states were bent on handing over to their preferred candidates. However, this violence and brigandage lead to the declaration of inconclusive elections of certain states which pushes the country towards political instability. It is important to note that research has proven that declaring an election inconclusive kills the voter’s confidence and heightens the political tension and anxiety in affected states. In 2018 gubernatorial, legislative and local government elections, particularly in Kano state, pictures circulated by social media showed apparently underage persons casting votes. As a result, many respondents and Nigerians have questioned the integrity of the INEC voter registry, which serves as the official roll for the elections.
Between 2016 and 2019, INEC conducted gubernatorial elections in Anambra, Edo, Kogi Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states as well as bye-election in some senatorial and federal constituencies in line with Court rulings. In addition, the electoral body also conducted general elections to elect the president, federal legislatures and governors and state legislatures. The results of were received with mixed feelings. For instance, the conduct of the Anambra gubernatorial election was applauded while controversies trailed the exercise in Osun state. More so, the logistic challenges and debates over the electoral law, use of card readers and the postponement of elections as well as delays in announcing results.
Edet (2015) observed that elections conducted by INEC since 1999 have always been flawed by INEC’s poor organization, accountability and transparency. Similarly, most citizens have lost confidence in its capacity to conduct free and fair elections (Polgreen, 2007). For instance, between 1999 and 2019, almost all elections conducted by INEC have been characterized by various problems including rigging, snatching of ballot boxes, underage voting, card readers controversy and so many more which results in questionable outcomes.
However, the 2019 elections on a positive note was an election in which citizens were determined and mobilized to exercise their votes including excluded groups such as women, persons with disabilities (PWDs), young people, etc. This positive excitement was however truncated by the unexpected postponement of elections from the initial dates set. In spite of the postponement and assurances by INEC on its readiness, major shortcomings still undermined the conduct of the elections. There were significant delays to the start of voting due to challenges in deploying electoral staff and materials, and many cases where materials supplied to polling units were incomplete, and perceived in some quarters as deliberate acts of vote suppression.
More so, the election day was characterized by localized incidents of voter intimidation, ballot box snatching and destruction, and general voter apathy as the national voter turnout rate dipped from 43.7% in 2015 to just 35.6 %.3. Though not directly a responsibility of INEC, the inability of INEC to speak out in real time about these challenges and indiscriminate cancellation of election returns without clear explanation called into question INEC’s good faith.
The high level of political instability in the country since independence in 1960 can be credited to electoral management bodies of which INEC is the longest serving EMB in Nigeria history. Its lack of financial, institutional and administrative independence, evidenced by its funding and composition by the presidency, as well as its lack of professional staff and security of tenure for its officials also contributes to its incompetency (Moveh, 2015). The over-centralization of power in INEC responsibility also calls for serious concern. INEC lacks the necessary competence and skilled staff to administer elections in all the states of the federation including Presidential and National Assembly elections.
David et al (2014), Ajayi (2012) have all raised qualms as to the true independent of INEC to conduct credible and transparent elections. The monopoly of an incumbent President in appointing electoral officials has raised doubts as to the impartiality of INEC to conduct free and fair elections. Indeed, the problems associated with elections have direct impact on the performance of democratic institutions (Wapmuk, 2016:99). The Nigerian Government acknowledges that, Controversies over highly rigged elections have been the forerunner to political violence and instability in Nigeria (FGN, 2014b:39).
The major issue is just corruption,money embezzled to different countries,why won't there be political instability,too many malfunctioning of the political system..some people seems to have forgotten the law is far ahead of them but because of the instability in our nation some political men and women are free to twist the shape of things the way they like,inec is not able to conduct free and fair election because of lack of electronics gadgets.well I fear if corruption is not handle properly . political instability will still continue in our darling nation