The role credible election plays in ensuring stability and development in any given society can never be over emphasized. Good governance to a huge extent is determined by how credible an electoral process is carried out.
Election ensures periodic change in governance which allows the people to elect competent representatives into political offices. This periodic change allows for new ideas, innovations and fundamental contributions to democratic governance.
Democracy in Nigeria is evolving same as the electoral system. The electoral system has achieved great strides in recent elections but there are issues of electoral malpractices such as insecurity, rigging, violence, corruption, vote-buying.
In the fourth republic, Nigeria had five successive general elections which are 1993, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. These elections experienced high rate of violence that ruined the election; making the election unacceptable. Some of the reasons why the election was ruined was as a result of ethnic and religious divisions, structural shortcomings, social and economic imbalances, corruption and weak state limit, unemployment, absence of internal democracy in political parties and inadequate voters education. It has become really difficult to have a free and fair election.
For an election to be free entails that all citizens of voting age are entitled to vote and have the right to vote and be voted for and must be free and given the privacy to vote who is capable of being a good leader and is competent enough to hold a political office.
A fair election means that all voters have equal right and have equal opportunity to register and vote. All votes are counted and the election result reflects the votes.
Major problems of Nigerian elections.
Since 1959, rumours of manipulations and malpractices have been around Nigerian elections since the beginning of democracy in Nigeria. The most common problem that takes place before, during and after elections are:
ü Printing of illegal voter’s cards.
ü Use of illegal ballot boxes.
ü Putting of fake ballot paper votes in ballot boxes.
ü Manipulations with registration of voters.
ü Buying of voters and their votes.
ü Falsification of results.
I have carefully outlined the prominent problem and practices experienced over time in Nigerian elections, they include:
· Bribery and Corruption
This has eaten deep into the electoral system as voters no longer care about who is elected to represent them in political offices due to economic situation. People die of starvation and hunger in many communities which have been the main reason why voters sell their votes and conscience to get money to feed themselves and their families. Electoral candidates consider the economic situation as an opportunity to boost their votes by giving food, money etcetera to citizens experiencing hardship in exchange for their votes.
· Political Hoodlums
Youths are used by politicians as political thugs. As a result of unemployment; youths struggle to earn a living through any means possible. Today, politicians use youths to carry out their nefarious activities like political rallies, assassinations, disruption of election activities, stealing of ballot boxes from polling units. These thugs make polling units insecure for voters, making them scared to come out and participate in the election process. However, appeals have been sent out to the youths to stay away from such dubious acts and help to make sure that the election is free and fair.
This has to do with the use of force or intimidating voters. Politicians engage in the use of thugs to oppress their opposition into voting for them. There by preventing voters to vote for whom they truly want to represent them at the federal, state or local level.
Electoral candidates, electoral bodies and officials have made rigging a norm in the electoral system. Rigging has gone beyond inflating the actual vote total. It has taken a new dimension into thumbing printing on ballot papers prior to the Election Day, using of security personnel to rig election and intimidate opposition as in the case of Ekiti State Governorship election held on July 14, 2018 and the senatorial election of Senator Adeleke.
Irrespective of the problems that the Nigerian electoral system has experienced; there are solutions to making the election in Nigeria free and fair they include:
· Corruption and Violence free
Elections should be free from corruption, violence and intimidation for an election to be credible. Political candidates should desist from the use of thugs to disrupt election process, selling of votes should be prohibited and offenders (sellers and buyers of votes) should be fined.
· Secret Ballot
A secret ballot system should be adopted in other to allow voters have the privacy needed to choose their representative without external coercion. It helps to make sure that the vote of individuals is known only to the voter to prevent countering ill feelings from an opposition.
· Election conducted by an independent body
Election conducted by INEC should be free from bribery. The officials should be properly paid with necessary allowances as to prevent them from accepting bribe when offered. If the officials are well trained and properly paid to perform their duties well; when faced with a bribe situation they will know how to tackle the situation professionally. Offenders who accept bribe should be dealt with to prevent more occurrences in future elections.
Election should be free from partial treatments such as Nepotism, tribalism, favouritism. Administrators, officials and political candidates should be treated equally to prevent any form of partial treatment.
All elections conducted should be accounted for, must be neutral, accurate and efficient. Candidate, voters and electoral body should enable to make the election free and fair.
· Transparency and Accuracy
An election should be transparent for it to be tagged a credible or free and fair. When an election is transparent it can be easily be observed and inspected by observers, voters, and political parties. Any form of electoral malpractice will be easily spotted. Votes will be accurate and result will reflect the original votes.
With the emergence of free and fair election, advancement will be made in democracy, political liberty will be encouraged and peace will be promoted. There will be an increase in political stability which will lead to good governance and prosperity.