By Nofisat Marindoti
Elections in Nigeria has surprisingly taken a new turn over the years. Going by history, election in the recent Nigeria had always been a rowdy, highly manipulated one.
Apart from the 1993 Presidential Election which has been internationally adjudged as the most free and fairest election; subsequent elections in the country have been critically assessed and sometimes not anything to write about them.
The 1993 election was the first since the 1983 military coup that toppled the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the result was a victory for Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party, who defeated Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention.
However, the elections were later annulled by the then military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, leading to a crisis that ended with Sani Abacha, also military general to assumed the power as the Head of State.
In the wake of return to civilian rule in 1999, the people’s agitation at that was for a change from military rule to civilian rule. Considering the circumstance at which the winner of 1993 presidential election died and subsequent demise of the Sani Abacha, Yoruba nation was on the frontburner as possible consideration for the presidential seat.
General Olusegun Obasanjo who happened to be in the prison at the time he was chosen as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party while Alliance for Democracy settled for Chief Olu Falae another Yoruba man.
Though Chief Olu Falae whose party lost the election to the candidate of Peoples’ Democratic Party, claimed that there the elections were flawed with lot of manipulations from the electoral umpire to favour the eventual winner of the election.
The situation was however, not different in 2003 as President Muhammadu Buhari contested with the incumbent Olusegun Obasanjo and the latter emerged the winner of the election. But not without litigations alleging rigging and manipulation by the incumbent government.
Observers from the European Union described the 2007 elections, which brought Umaru Yar’Adua, a Muslim from northern Nigeria, to power, as among the worst they had witnessed anywhere in the world. Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 300 people were killed in violence linked to the 2007 elections.
Another election that leaves a clear picture in one’s mind is the 2011 presidential election when many lives were lost and properties destroyed.
“The April elections were heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria’s history but they also were among the bloodiest,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.”
Deadly election-related and communal violence in northern Nigeria following the April 2011 presidential voting left more than 800 people dead. The victims were killed in three days of rioting in 12 northern states.
The violence began with widespread protests by supporters of the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim from the Congress for Progressive Change, following the re-election of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the Niger Delta in the south, who was the candidate for the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
The protests degenerated into violent riots or sectarian killings in the northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara. Relief officials estimated that more than 65,000 people have been displaced.
Human Rights Watch estimated that in northern Kaduna State, at least 180 people and possibly more, were killed in the cities of Kaduna and Zaria and their surrounding suburbs. According to media reports and journalists interviewed by Human Rights Watch, dozens of people were also killed during riots in the other northern states.
The elections conducted in 1999, 2003 and especially 2007 were characterized by widespread malpractices such as violence, corruption and falsification of results. After the 2007 election, there was widespread disenchantment with the electoral process.
The elections held in 2003 and 2007 were preceded by widespread intra-party and inter-party violence that continued on the polling days. In a report released in 2004, the Human Rights Watch observed that:
“Both Nigeria’s federal and state elections in 2003 and local government elections 2004 were marred by serious incidents of violence, which left scores dead and many others injured … In April and May 2003, at least one hundred people were killed and many more injured.
“Majority of serious abuses were perpetrated by members or supporters of the ruling party, the people’s Democratic Party (PDP). In a number of locations, elections simply did not take place as groups of armed thugs linked to political parties and candidates intimidated and threatened voters in order to falsify results … One year later, local government elections took place across Nigeria on March 27, 2004. These elections too were characterized by serious violence and intimidation, as well as widespread fraud and rigging. There were reports of dozens of people killed before, during and after the local government elections.”
However, in recent times, there is the rising hope for free, fair and transparent elections in Nigeria with the resounding success in the last few elections starting from the 2015 presidential election when the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari won the race over former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The State of Osun Governorship election in 2014 that produced the incumbent Ogbeni Rauf Argebesola and that of the recent Anambra state guber election are shining examples too.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had declared the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, and incumbent Governor, Willie Obiano, as the winner of the November 18, 2017 governorship election in Anambra state.
The success of Anambra election which is the most recently conducted election in the country has shown that the Nigerian electoral system is actually getting better.
It is a reassurance that Nigeria might still have the kind of 1993 election when all Nigerians shared the spirit of brotherhood, know what they wanted and come out en mass, peacefully, to vote for what they wanted.
In the final analysis, the possibility of transiting from the third world to the first where sanctity of fairest election is predicated on the resolve of the country’s political leadership to galvanize the people so that they can buy into the rescue programme devised by their leaders. The disconnect between the leaders and the rest of the population would need to be corrected before the prospects for socio-economic and political transformation can become so much enhanced.
Nigeria is, undoubtedly, poised for great electoral accomplishments in the years ahead, given its incredible endowments in both human and material resources. However, it needs be emphasized that greatness is not to be conjured into existence but a product of painstaking and dogged pursuit of well-thought out electioneering process.