Background of the Study

Universally, election is regarded as the heart of representative democracy. A credible election not only confers legitimacy on political leadership, it is also crucial to the sustenance of democratic order. Election provides citizens with the freedom to choose their rulers and to decide on public policy. Under any democratic system, citizens who are legally qualified to exercise franchise are provided with opportunity to choose political alternatives and to make decisions that express their preferences. In a multi-party dispensation, this choice is made out of the several parties and candidates competing in the electoral market. In all democracies, election performs several functions: it is an instrument through which the voting public compels accountability from elected officials; it facilitates political recruitment; it enables citizens to make enlightened choices; and it confers moral authority on political leaders. Within the context of the last function, election is viewed as a “legitimizing institution, functioning to give elected leaders the wherewithal to govern.” (Schlozman and Verba, 1987:3) Diamond et al (1989: xxi) describe democracy as a governance model that meets three basic conditions: competition among individuals and political groups (political parties); inclusive system of leadership recruitment; and existence of a regime of civil-political rights. These conditions underscore the importance of election both as a regime legitimizer and as a guarantor of citizen participation in public governance. Election represents the lifeblood of modern democracy and the frequency, fairness and openness of such election are crucial to the political stability of the polity. The extent to which election advances democratic order depends in large part on the existing electoral system, its nature and its acceptance by the stakeholders in the electoral process. Electoral system refers to a “complex of rules and regulations that govern the selection of officeholders” (Nnoli, 2003:230) in a democratic context. The choice of a particular electoral system does not only have a profound effect on the political life of a country, it also distributes costs and benefits to political actors i.e. political parties and candidates. Designing a credible and inclusive electoral regime is a necessary enterprise in all democracies whether transitional or consolidated. While for the former, the challenge is to design an electoral regime that suits their social and historical conditions, for the latter, it is to re-craft their electoral systems to respond to new political realities and challenges. The existence of a viable electoral system is crucial to the survival of any democracy. This is even more so in a country like Nigeria where access to the state and its resource allocating powers is viewed as the means of guaranteeing one‟s economic security. Consolidating Nigerian democracy through the conduct of credible elections has remained an albatross. The history of Nigeria‟s democratic experiments demonstrates that elections and electoral politics have generated so much animosity which has, in some cases, threatened the corporate existence of the country (such as happened after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election) and in other cases instigated military incursion in to political governance, most notably in 1966 and 1983. At the heart of electoral crisis in Nigeria is the lack of credibility for the official results of elections leading to the rejection of such results by a sizeable portion of the Nigerian voting public. Since the 1964 general election, the first to be conducted by the postcolonial Nigerian government, elections in Nigeria have consistently been characterized by the contestation of results and organized violence. While there is a plethora of factors that account for electoral crisis in Nigeria, the institutional factor (designing a credible electoral system) appears to be the most salient. In addition, the process of implementing such an efficient electoral regime is challenged by sociological variables such as the pluralist character of the Nigerian nation, underdeveloped political culture and irrational elite behavior. This paper investigates the crisis of electoral competition in Nigeria. It particularly focuses on the electoral reform initiative of the incumbent civilian regime in Nigeria. In doing so, the paper examines the history of electoral contest in Nigeria with a view not only to unveiling how the country got to its present electoral circumstances but also interrogating the reform efforts of the short-lived Yar‟adua presidency. It identifies some salient issues for reforms even as it attempts to bring to the fore certain obstacles that may challenge the reform efforts.


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Updated: 24th July 2017 — 1:11 pm