The Principles And Challenges Of Free, Fair And Regular Elections Under A Democracy

By Ikenga Chronicles July 5, 2018

–Paschal Nwosu Esq

The expansive gulf of conflicting opinions on the nature of democracies and the electoral processes has led many to conclude erroneously, that dictatorships and corrupt regimes can confer legitimacy on themselves through the conduct of elections, without, it, being free, fair and without, the consent of the governed.

Indeed, the magnanimity of the expansive horizon entitles anyone to a point of view, no matter where he stands on this issue. In my view, nonetheless, the consent of the governed is essential and pivotal to the citizen’s right to choose their leadership or change it under a free, fair and regular elections.

Indeed, elections are essential ingredients to facilitate the citizen’s responsibility, and right to influence the political direction and policies of government under a democracy, without which, he endures intimidations, violence, and dehumanization under a tyranny. One of the essential elements of the electoral process is therefore, the right to vote which entails voter’s registrations. It was essentially, this right that drove the civil rights movements in 1964, in the United States to action, leading to the registration of blacks to vote, in contradistinction to the Ukrainian electoral farce of 2014, which was marred by severe electoral fraud and rigging which triggered a civil war of sort. The Ukrainian model confirms that dictatorships and corrupt countries cannot appropriately conduct elections because of the absence of the rule of law, due process, transparency, accountability, multi party system and the consent of the governed, amongst other ingredients of the electoral process, in the backdrop of individual and group freedom which are inalienable..

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Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether corrupt countries, like Nigeria can remain honest to the strictures of accountability and transparency that are vital ingredients of the electoral process! This ability to conduct free and fair elections which are acceptable to all the parties is vital for sustainable democracy, which has never happened in Nigeria where electoral frauds and crimes are rampant and symptomatic of organic decay. Post elections victories often result in mayhem, ethnic animosities, pogroms and orchestrated violence led by the opposition.
Often times, election results are predetermined and marred by ballot stuffing, rigging, violence, arson, kidnappings, disappearances of ballot boxes, bribery and collusion of electoral officers to undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

A major reason for this, is the fact that Nigeria has never had [not in name] in practice, a truly, independent electoral commission to conduct elections impartially.

In recent time, Jega’s calculus, in the creation of additional polling units for the 2015 elections is meant to tilt electoral victory in favor of a religious/ tribal group and particularly, the North, and such a man or the institution he heads cannot conduct a free and fair election in the first place.

This is a man who postulates the fractured logic that, the North east, at war, under the occupation of Boko Haram terrorists, would likely have stable, exponential growth and requiring more creation of polling units over the south east inspite of the proactive destructions, growing numbers of internally displaced persons, many of whom left in motorized convoys to the southeast; and the ongoing, genocides going in the largely deserted terrain.

The south east whose population of about 3 million fled from the war zone and are not accounted or provided additional units based on the drift to its terrain and displacement of its people from the north east, are gravely marginalized and positioned to be irrelevant in the upcoming 2015 elections which can be anything under Jega but free and fair.

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More so, it is the leadership of the state or its constituent elements that determine the conduct and population of the officers to conduct the elections; and the results of such elections are often far from being free, as the officers do the bidding of their masters and rig out the opposition as a matter of courtesy. Nonetheless, Jega, empowered by the ACF may be far from having the intent of conducting a free and fair election or rigging the elections in favour of his Boss. He is more of an agent provocateur, and a seemly dark sinister cloud in the horizon, depending on your point of view.

However, we must appreciate, that the electoral process itself, is based on the principles of representation, which can either be, by proportionality or based on plurality. In a system, based on the parliamentary model, proportionate seats are allocated according to the percentage of votes which determines the control of the executive branch. However in the presidential system which embodies the plurality system, this is not the case. There are separate elections for the legislature and the executives with its various checks and balances. Whatever, the model adopted, the objective of the electoral process remains, the conduct of free and fair elections with regularity, in accordance with the rule of law in an atmosphere of freedom, only possible in a democracy.

Which leads us to the question: What does it really mean to have free, fair and regular elections? We have scratched in part the nature of elections but there are essential ingredients of free and fair elections that require further appreciation.

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Article 21 of the universal declaration of human rights is helpful in this regard: For there to be free and fair elections in a democracy, it must be periodic, genuine, organized according to universal suffrage, and by secret ballot. This requires some explanations.

A periodic election:

Is one, which is scheduled and known to the electorates and guaranteeing the electorates the opportunity to elect and or change their leadership. Thus a local government election is periodic as a gubernatorial election to the office of the governor which takes place after every four years. The electorates should be on notice to prepare for the periodic elections and knows in advance, the period of their occurrences.

Election must be genuine:

This means that a free and fair election must offer equal opportunities for all competing parties and candidates, the opportunity to register and compete for office, without unreasonable requirements, grant equal access to the media, for all the candidates, in the absence of campaign finance abuse, under an independent electoral process.
Universal suffrage:

This means that the absence of burdensome impediments for registering and voting other than those of age and residency requirements. This entails maximum and unhindered participation in the electoral process under which one vote, cannot, be counted twice. In some countries, voting in elections is a legal obligation. It is not so in Nigeria, where inspite of restrictions on movements, there is no sufficient confidence in the system to motivate voters, in the backdrop of the pervasive voters convictions that the outcomes of elections are predetermined by the independent electoral body. There is no legal responsibility to vote, by voters and in such circumstances where voters turn out are less than 50% of the registered voters, can it be said that such elections are true and fair? I think not. For an election to be competent, viable, acceptable and agreeable to the parties and conform to international standards, it must be above average in turn outs and impressive.

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A secret ballot:

A secret Ballot means, no one but the voter knows how he voted. If how, a voter voted is observable, it violates the integrity of the electoral process which can result in intimidations and reprisals. One of the elements of a secret ballot system is that all the parties agree to the outcome of the electoral processes so as to sustain the integrity of the electoral process and democracy as evidenced in the U.S 2000 elections. In Nigeria, how a voter votes is strictly observable which is out of sync with international traditions and strictures of electoral processes. It is often a requirement that voters are ordered to line up before the candidate or party of their choice, and how they voted, strictly monitored in other to determine the outcome and prevent rigging. This methodology exposes the voter to intimidations and reprisals, especially, in our monetized electoral processes. It is not systemic of a free and fair elections to make how a voter, voted, observable.

Abuse of the Electoral processes.

Inspite of the fact that we all agree that free and fair elections are the sine qua non of democracy, which is impossible under dictatorships and corrupt nations which have flawed electoral processes; that are neither independent or adequately organized in the backdrop of perceived manipulations and distortions of the electoral processes; we are still confronted by the vexed question of, What can be done to ensure the independence of the electoral process because of the inherent abuses?

The conduct of free and fair elections is the object of electoral process, but, seemly, it appears rather, that, the subjugation of the opposition and the ascendancy of representations without the consent of the governed has become its avowed goal in Nigeria. I concur with this reasoning, as the antecedents of our electoral fiasco, in particular, the annulled June 12 elections have shown remarkably, that the outcome, was contrary to predetermined outcome. MKO Abiola won. I recall the shock of the old man under whom I served as the public relations officer for the Riverine communities, in rivers state, under his campaign organisation and was the first to challenge the annulment with Barr Kemasuode wodu, as first plaintiff, who is now the legal adviser, Government house, Yenegoa, in a court of law as reported by the Guardian and other national newspapers. The action went to trial and was quashed by the bottleneck of locus standi by the then chief Judge of the state.

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What MKO got for his electoral victory was imprisonment and death far from, the comfort of Aso rock; even his perplexity by the events of the annulment, was clearly evident as I struggled, later in Lagos, to ensure visiting rights, through the commissioner of police, as required, for one of his wives, from Delta state whilst he was in custody.

MKO Abiola’s case confirms to me, that the outcome of elections in Nigeria are predetermined and only a very few can truly succeed against the electoral mafia, its predeterminism and democratic aberrations
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One way, however, to ensure a free and fair election is to establish spending limits and campaign funding to ensure that the process is freed from abuses and undue influences. In any event, where the electoral process does not set a limit for campaign funding or spending limitations, the electorates are unduly undermined. The Nigerian politicalscape is one of money politics and setting campaign funds limits is more like asking the cat and mouse to be good friends, and more, appropriately, like putting something on nothing. It will fall to the ground.
The poverty mentality of the Nigerian, expects, his palm, to be greased for the exercise of his civic responsibility. This puts him in no position to complain when the wrong persons are elected and or the elected, becomes fraudulent and writ large.

This is a system that allows, politicians, to present Rice, salt, and textile products to voters in community without any arrests being made for such affront on civilized conduct and democracy.

Secondly, gerrymandering, a form of abuse of the electoral process, in which legislative tinkering, facilitates the alteration of electoral districts which in turn, facilitates the reelection of a legislator or candidate which amounts to an abuse. This is not very common in Nigeria, though.

Finally, the electoral process can be abused by outright manipulations or electoral frauds. Thus independent electoral processes must prevent this and the elimination of such abuses. Cases of such abuses in Nigeria are recurring decimal and symptomatic of the odouriferous miasma which has desystemised and atrophied our vision and growth, in our experimental democracy and simulacrum of electoral processes.

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In Nigeria, the electoral process is jaundiced and chaotic, for, a country, that cannot count itself and has not grown sufficiently confident to produce ballot papers within its own territory and where, the electoral officers collude with the fraudulent politicians to undermine the process of elections of a candidate in favour of the government of the day or the highest bidder.

What is clear however from all these explanations is that Nigeria cannot hold free and fair elections because of corruption and the absence of the institutional framework to facilitate the conduct of such elections, that are free fair and regular. Right from the start, inspite of all that may be said, the voters registers are blotted with fictitious names and ghost voters who have no history of civil and fiscal responsibilities. The objective of the electoral process is not to promote good governance and national interests but tribal aggrandizement and ethnicity based on suspicious census figures and structural imbalances tilted in favour of the institutional rigger. In many states, elections to local government offices are neither periodic nor regular. Underage voting and lack of attention to the requirements of residence have made it possible for those who have not fulfilled the requirements of residence to win elections.

It is true, that many local government chairmen do not fulfill the requirements of residence. As we converse, there are politicians who are contesting the forthcoming local government elections in Imo state, resident in Lagos, and other state capitals but not in their counties, who have not fulfilled the requirements of residence to be qualified to contest. The state independent electoral commission has not made any pronouncements on this issue, or investigations, but hopes to conduct free and fair elections in local government Areas!

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Elections are not just about vote counting. There are underlying principles for the electoral processes. Only, fit and proper persons are allowed to hold public offices, in accordance with, the electoral Act and the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.

Further critique of Nigerian electoral processes and democracy:

Nigeria is a democracy of sort in my view, or perhaps, its aberration, because of varied reasons; we cannot really conclude that Nigeria is a real democracy because seemly, the process of elections is warped and not directed at making positive changes but to enforce ethnic, group agenda and concessions.

The electoral process in Nigeria has become a means to institutionalize tyranny, religious and political marginalization of ethnic and political minorities and stealing. The Nigerian democratic experience has shown that rather than appeal on the common interests involving the economy and development in a state, county or the federation, the electoral process has only ensured the ascendancy of the criminal elite to deplete and plunder the common purse.

Democracy and the electoral process has never produced the desired results of leadership values, transparency and accountability in leadership, rather, it has promoted in the Nigerian context, mediocre leadership, corruption and large governments in which real growth has faded to the background. Democracy has facilitated, a new form of political gangsterism, in which some individuals organize theirselves into a political group or party with only the intention to corner, the county, state or federal allocations and resources and share same amongst theirselves with no real benefit to society.

More so, it is a glaring fact that whereas, democracy is based on numbers, the Nigerian experience, has shown that the census figures in which we rely to compute electoral polling units and by extension, the emergence of winners is fictitious and unreliable. Over half a century, Nigeria has lacked the political will to count itself accurately. In just about sixty years of its post independence existence, the Nigerian population has quadrupled fraudulently, inspite of averages of low life expectancy, famines, wars, natural disasters, epidemics and high child mortality rates in the north with a population density that does not correspond marginally with its expected, school enrolments, fiscal responsibilities, and provision of housing.

Thus, our experiments, in democracy, and the electoral process, remains pathetically delusional and odouriferous without reliable censuses to advance the electoral indices of proportionality or plurality. It is like having baptism without water and which, sadly fails to meet our expectations and the concretization of our legitimate aspirations of common salvation.

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In conclusion, our electoral processes remains flawed and endangered and our ability to conduct free and fair elections, inconsiderably, inadequate and challenged. What we have in Nigeria today is a simulacrum of phoney, democracy and electoral processes. More so, because of the absence of an independent commission to conduct elections, that are viable and acceptable in the backdrop of the need for a sustainable democracy, the courts are crowded with timed election petitions, some of which are decided by the higher courts, when the winner, has almost, completed his first tenure, and seeking reelection!

The independent national electoral commission is neither independent nor a commission with a vision. A country that does not trust itself to print its ballot papers and produce its electoral materials’ in its territory has no business with democracy.

Further, the myth that we need professors to conduct free and fair elections must be laid to rest. We don’t need the professors, Nwosu or Jega to conduct these elections under varied options, calculus, and matrix, to seemly, extend a legitimacy of knowledgeability, patently, lacking in the electoral processes, itself. These professors who have produced a generation of unemployable graduates have sufficiently earned their marks as failures and need not hoodwink us further in our democratic experiments. It is astounding that the costs of conducting periodic elections are so astronomical and bombastic; and quite enough, to facilitate, sufficient housing and infrastructural solutions ailing the country; only to populate, the polity with a bourgeoisie, and kulaks minority, with insatiable appetite for wrongful appropriations of the common purse.

Elections, in Nigeria are not, free, fair, or regular and have never resolved the leadership crisis faced by the country by, the indices, of quality, character and fitness of those who superintend the conduct of our affairs for any given period, with limited exceptions.

What Nigeria needs now are electoral reforms to ensure accountable leadership through the ballot box not tilted in favour of any region, tribe or religion by pronounced structural imbalances. In this regard, I repeat, my earlier suggestions, in a written memo, for the establishment of the electoral crimes tribunal to sanction electoral fraud. One of the suggestions, I like to make further now, is that there should be ethnic representations in all states and county per population counts in all legislative houses in Nigeria. This would ensure that all ethnic group with large migrant populations who pay their taxes and are domiciled in any part of the country are represented in the legislature of that state and not merely counted as figures.

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Thus the Igbo in Lagos who inspite of the fact that they are the majority in Lagos state are excluded from all ethnic representation in the state house of assembly and the executive, would have a reason to smile.
More so, the Igbo in Kano who have helped to develop the great state, would have some representations for their millions of numbers who pay their taxes to the government and have no representation whatsoever; In like manner, the Yoruba in Plateau state are sufficient in numbers to require representations in the legislative houses and the executive branches proportionate to its population.

Indeed, Nigeria cannot be truly a democratic state, if a section of its people are taxed but excluded from political representations in any section of the country inspite of their numbers. Thus for there to be a free and fair elections, there has to be appropriate representations for the component units that make up the Nation state wherever, they may reside. Thus, the next census in Nigeria must have ethnic content to determine, the migration patterns and ethnic localizations in the country to facilitate, better representations in all legislative houses and executive branches of government.

And why not?

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