The Electoral Act proclamation affirms that a free, fair and credible election is one in which the people have the opportunity to participate. There should be freedom to run for office, to speak out in support of a candidate and vote for one’s choice without fear or favour. However, the question is: can this be guaranteed in a society where there is a high level of election manipulation? Daleen S. Shamaki writes.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives citizens the ample opportunity of taking part in the administration of the country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. According to the constitution, the will of the people shall be the foundation of the authority of government and it shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage where know qualified citizen will be disqualified for no just course. It shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedure adopted
Free and fair elections are cornerstone of all forms of democracy. Elections are practical means whereby citizens can participate and hold the political parties, candidates and the incumbent governments accountable for their promises and performance in any democratic setting.
However in Nigeria, free, fair and peaceful elections are far from the norms. This is because Nigerians fail to realize that they enjoy certain rights on electoral process by abusing their rights as good citizens.
The significance of elections lie in the fact that the legitimacy of governments and the extent of the support they enjoy affect the development of the people.
The most popular form of civil rule is democracy, which a former president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, defined as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Democracy is a liberal political system based on freedom to exercise rights in a society. Its main vehicle cannot legitimately be used to impose tyranny or foment violence. If this is tolerated for long, elections won’t be signs of democracy, but rather a façade to mask authoritarian political structures.
There are many models of democracy in the world today but the main essence of it runs through all the variants and the people, especially the political adult group, known as the electorate, who exercise their right to vote and are free to contest any available political offices.
As a way out, scholars have said it’s pertinent to start promoting citizenship education in relation to democracy and credible elections. This implies training, dissemination of information, practices and activities that aim at equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding, and moulding their attitudes and behaviour so as to empower them to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities in the society, and also to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life, with a view to protecting democracy and the rule of law.
They also opined that education for democratic citizenship should focus mainly on democratic rights and active participation in relation to the civic, political, social, economic, legal and cultural sphere of society.
Interestingly, they stressed that due to disregard for citizenship education, for democracy and credible elections in Nigeria, most citizens do not know their rights, leading to several abuses of such by politicians in the society.
However, the General Secretary of the Alliance for Credible Elections, a non-partisan pressure group, said his organization is ready to embark on a nationwide voter education exercise ahead of Nigeria’s 2015 general election.
Ezeazu said some Nigerians have expressed concerns over the coming general election and need for the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize a credible vote sensitization.
By most accounts, citizen education is about enabling people to make their own decisions by not allowing politicians to persuade them with empty words just to win their votes, because election is anchored as a fundamental aspect of democratic rule and part of the essential framework for developing democratic peaceful society.
They regretted that the Nigeria citizenry have not been adequately educated to know their rights as voters, thereby resulting to the perpetual baptism of electoral problems that has been witnessed in the country.
Nonetheless, it is not out of place to note that one of the main reasons why our electoral education systems have been fraught with problems is due to moral ineptitude of our political class. It is on this basis that (god-fatherism) exist and thrive in our political parties, including educational sector.
To this end, credible elections have been an elusive desire and need of Nigerians for several reasons; (essencism) can adequately cater for this need as it will make all Nigerians value the sanctity of human life, make honesty a national character and wage an inner and moral war against corruption and election rigging in Nigeria.
By and large, with increased education of citizens on the their rights in the electoral process, will reduce, if not eradicate the desire to win elections at whatever cost, for material gains, it will make it possible for the physical and spiritual aspects of man to be wholly captured and analyzed by Nigerians.
However, a cursory look at the Nigerian terrain reveals the presence of issues bordering on lack of national development and security that constitute sufficient threats to the conduct of credible, free and fair elections.
The collapse of the Second Republic was attributed to, among other factors, the lack of credibility of the 1983 general elections. Similarly, what would have passed for Nigeria’s Third Republic was truncated due to the incredible manner in which the 1993 elections were conducted. In both instances, the price Nigeria paid was the entire democracy project.
Studies show that when elections lack credibility, people lack confidence in their leaders and the nation suffers because those elected do not seem to be accountable to the people. In a situation like this, little time is devoted to the overall developmental plan of the country and much time is spent challenging the credibility of the government.
An essential feature of election in a democratic system is that it should be credible, free and fair. Students of history and political organisms have identified four conditions of a free and fair election, which included independent judiciary to interpret electoral laws, a honest competent and non-partisan administration to manage elections, a system of political parties that is well organised in their policies and traditions and presentation of credible candidates before the electorate.
Furthermore, pundits averred that for a credible election to be achieved in Nigeria, certain solutions must be proffered. Voters’ register should be thoroughly vetted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and cross-vetted by parties and observing bodies. Also, bribery and corruption should be discouraged, ballot papers should be adequate, there should be tight security at the polling booths, adequate electoral officials should be trained, transportation of ballot papers and officials should be facilitated and multiple voting should be discouraged.
By and large, as the 2015 general elections approach, all hands must be on deck to fight the menace of election rigging, malpractice and violence.
Daleen S. Shamaki, is a Student of Mass Communication Department, University of Maiduguri.