What Factors Created The Electoral Crisis?
Nigeria’s political history is replete with narratives of the electoral crisis. Efforts aimed at finding lasting solutions have not proved fruitful. Even as we inch towards another election in 2023, it is to be expected. What we cannot predict now is the magnitude of its occurrence. Its impact on the body politic looms large. Still, a solution to the problem has remained elusive.
The age-long problem is rooted in the flawed foundation of the British colonial government’s contraption under Lord Lugard put together as a nation was not meant to be. Readers should also note that the political woes confronting Nigeria today are a direct consequence of the inability of successive governments at the centre since independence to build enduring political institutions and culture.
Successive military regimes further complicated the situation in their search for political legitimacy since January 1966, ruled by decrees. The result is that their policies nullified all constitutional legacies the British colonial administration bequeathed to the country at independence. In furtherance of their goals, attendant amendments and adjustments by the military juntas went a long way to truncate constitutional processes. Above all, the military jettisoned substantive safeguards to support and sustain viable democratic structures designed to promote political and economic stability.
Effects of Haphazard Adoption of Political Policies and Strategies
Haphazard’s adoption of various political theories and dubiously enunciated transitional programs by different military regimes over time complicated situations. Indeed, the military did a lot to elongate their stay in power. And, in all of the scheming, the military won the support of politicians masquerading as bureaucrats. The intention and purpose of the bureaucrats had always been to benefit from every government in office. In the end, the policies created by the juntas jointly with the bureaucrats suited the purposes of the elite to the detriment of the vast majority of the populace.
The resulting deprivation created a pauperized community easily exploited by the nouveau riche political elite, who use them to serve their whims and caprices to pursue self-serving goals. In times of crisis resulting from elections, these hordes adopt murder, thuggery, kidnapping, abduction and other obnoxious attributes of political jobbery as means of sustenance, especially during civilian dispensations. They aid and abet electoral violence in Nigeria.
Electoral crisis in this context resonates with electoral violence or, put, an aspect of political violence. In a holistic sense, electoral crisis embraces electoral violence and issues arising therefrom in a given polity.
What Is Electoral Crisis?
According to Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Human Rights lawyer, electoral violence is defined as “any spontaneous or organized act by candidates, party supporters, election authorities, voters, or any other actor that occurs during the electoral process, from the date of voter registration to the date of inauguration of a new government, that uses physical harm, intimidation, blackmail, verbal abuse, violent demonstrations, psychological manipulation, or other coercive tactics aimed at exploiting, disrupting, determining, hastening, delaying, reversing, or otherwise influencing an electoral process and its outcome”.
Experts who monitored election-related violence in Nigeria have records indicating that electoral crises span from six to eight months before elections and three months after elected officers have settled down to governance.
What Are The Causes Of Electoral Violence?
Many schools of thought have come up with numerous reasons that have created a spontaneous rise and indeed upsurge of electoral violence in Nigeria. One consensus reached by many is widespread poverty among the populace. Economists view poverty as the result of the socio-economic crisis of underdevelopment.
The average Nigerian is easily bought over with a few naira notes. For a mere pittance, he is prepared to perform odd political jobber tasks to please his political sponsors. They become easy tools for rigging elections. Election rigging, in turn, leads to electoral violence and does not create an atmosphere of free and fair elections. It does not also guarantee orderly conduct during elections. Quite often, when rigging is found to be obvious during elections, aggrieved parties resort to instigating supporters to go on a rampage at the slightest provocation.
Effects of Military on Electoral Process
Unequal distribution of resources is known to create discontent. This situation is prevalent across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Military intervention in politics actually aggravated this phenomenon in the polity. The advent of the military into governance in 1966 overturned existing economic institutions for harnessing economic development tools at the regional level. Setting up a unitary government at the centre thus killed competitiveness in all endeavours between the parts or regions in the country.
Competition among the regions and attendant economic growth created vast employment opportunities in the pre-military era. The wide disparity in wealth distribution we see today has created a large army of deprived citizens without any means of livelihood. By the rule of thumb, the sentiments of deprived people are easily played upon and exploited by the elites who stir them into a violent undertaking to settle scores in times of crisis.
They wilfully do damage of unimaginable proportions to both humans and property at the slightest provocation. Deprivation of citizens has always been highlighted as a serious contributory factor to the electoral crisis in Nigeria.
Intolerance among political leaders accounts for an easy slide into a state of anarchy and attendant electoral violence during civilian dispensations. It also gives vent to politics of bitterness and acrimony. When intolerance is full-blown, recrimination follows and spreads downstream to party followers.
Most Nigerian politicians are known to adopt a do-or-die approach to pursue political goals. They are guided by a philosophy geared towards attaining political desires through violence. Such politicians are never short of pawns to use when there is a need to unleash electoral violence on political opponents. Their records abound and are known to have wrought havoc in all political dispensations throughout the history of civil rule in Nigeria.
When in office, many politicians follow up with a policy of winner-takes-all to enrich themselves from the public coffers with impunity. They adopt intrigues and, if need be, electoral violence to perpetuate their stay in office. For such people, the electoral crisis is a means of sustenance. In the pursuit of their self-interests, they have made the scourge of corruption the bane of Nigerian society.
How To Prevent Electoral Crisis!
One problem with Nigerian politics is that efforts to find lasting solutions to prevent the perennial electoral crisis have proved elusive. The following could be a veritable panacea if adopted.
Government should make political parties play politics according to the rules of the game. Failure to do this would always lead to an open invitation to uncontrollable chaos and anarchy, as was witnessed in the 2011 post-election violence in Kaduna. Once it began, it spread like wildfire.
The inter-communal dimension it assumed rendered the police incapable of managing it. In such situations, people looked to the army for a solution. That was the situation in the old Western Region after the ruling Action Group party rejected the 1965 election results paving the way for military intervention and the coup of January 15, 1966. That changed the course of Nigerian history forever.
Internal democratic structures are required to be in place within political parties to ensure desirable functionality. Besides, strict guidelines should be enforced to constrain parties to refrain from the politics of desperation. Whatever regulations exist on paper should be complied with. There have been incidents of parties’ disregard for the importance of internal democratic structures and processes, resulting in the imposition of candidates on party members.
Youth Empowerment as a Measure to Curtail Electoral Crisis
Pragmatic and proactive measures must be put in place by those in authority to reduce poverty among citizens. Poverty makes people become pawns in the hands of political manipulators, which enables an easy drift and recourse to violence. Therefore the question of youth unemployment needs to be addressed urgently at all levels of government.
Government should caution politicians to refrain from adopting ethnicity and religion as rallying slogans for broadening their political base. Such antics help to polarize the populace through politics of deception and ethnic chauvinism. Quite often, it breeds perennial violence to the detriment of harmonious and peaceful coexistence.
Control of Security Agencies During Elections
During elections, the use of security agencies should be adopted if and only when required and must be seen to reflect neutrality. Security personnel need to be deployed in sufficient numbers to put uprisings under control promptly before they escalate beyond manageable proportions. It is important too that Government should view the choice of the use of police should as most suitable for this purpose. Deploying soldiers sometimes leads to the application of excessive force.
Those suspected of the use of violence and misconduct should be arrested and prosecuted, while those found aiding and abetting electoral violence must be punished appropriately for their roles. Efforts should be made to forestall cases of stolen mandate and abuse of incumbency.
Trained officials should be given a free hand to discharge their duties in all fairness and should not be replaced with the party faithful.
Government and judicial authorities should ensure the prosecution of persons implicated in electoral violence irrespective of their party affiliations. Government should bring the people involved in the ordering and organizing election-related violence to the book. Electoral Crime Commissions should be set up to deal with electoral offences across the country. The culture of impunity is to be allowed no room to flourish in whatever form.