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Electoral Reform in Nigeria: Challenges and Opportunities

Electoral, reforms, electoral reform, electoral reform in Nigeria

In view of the several ongoing reform proposals being put forward by various national associations and organizations in Nigeria for reforms in the different aspect of the electoral system, the concept of electoral reform in Nigeria then is to be highly esteemed.

Electoral reform is a change in a system composed of people entitled to vote in an election to improve how public desires are expressed in election results. While electoral reform is a major criterion to make politics meaningful and work better, on other occasions it could have a rather painful definition as this is done to bring to a minimum the number of bloodshed resulting from conflicts.

But in spite of this, electoral reform is the underlying factor of Nigeria’s democratic change and a permanent feature of democracy. It is the basis to which we can say there is democracy in Nigeria as part of the basic definition of democracy is the right to change rules.

In electoral reform, we seek a systematic way of improving the electoral system to enhance good governance and politics. To do this, such reforms must include a change in the Voting system, vote counting system, rules about political parties, electoral constituencies and election district borders, voting equipment, safety of voters and election workers, factors which affect the rate of voter participation, system of government, scrutineering, measures against bribes/ coercion and many others.

A good arena to start discussing the notion of electoral reform will be the reform in the voting system.

The voting system contains rules for valid voting and how votes are aggregated to yield a final result. It allows voters to choose between options in an election where candidates are selected for public office. In Nigeria, the method of voting have been the Open Ballot System in which a prospective voter goes through a process of accreditation, receives a ballot paper from the appropriate official and thereafter makes the confidential thumbprint in favour of the political party or candidate of choice. An exception to this was the ‘so called’ modified Open Ballot system which was adopted for the 1993 elections. With this method, voters filed behind the party symbol or photograph of the candidate of choice, then voters were physically counted at the end of polls and results obtained. Although this method was simple and produced what many Nigerians will refer to as the fairest and most peaceful in the country, the election still failed. It suffered the flaw of not providing the voter with the secrecy of ballot a basic internationally acceptable standard for any election.

The reform in the voting system to the electronic voting system (E-Voting System) planned by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2007 elections should have been able to improve the voting system in Nigeria.

This system include the electronic voters registration; a database of eligible voters. And in this kind of voting, the use of some form of direct recording/balloting machines allows for an immediate collation and transmission of election results.

But this electronic voting system which seems so promising could not take effect with the 2007 elections despite the success achieved by the electronic voter’s registration prior to the election.

The House of Assembly at that time with the opinion that Nigeria is a ‘complex society’ made up of many illiterates and a lot of people without the knowledge of Information Technology lack the technical know-how to utilize the E-Voting system for election. Consequently, this reform in the voting system was faced with this major challenge and could not be implemented as planned. But not withstanding, there is an opportunity in this, as it stand the chance of eliminating our usual election fraud.

On the other hand, in as much as there was a hitch free registration to come up with eligible voters for the 2007 election, the circumstance which greatly affected the rate of voter turnout is another addendum to this subject.

It is on the basis that eligible voters should have to travel to the polling centers associated with their registration center to vote. This had a major effect on the rate of voter participation as not everybody could make the sacrifice of traveling just to vote.
An excellent recommendation for a reform with regards to this matter is that eligible voters should be allowed to vote in any of the polling centers at the time of election regardless of where they were registered.

After the outrageous flaw in the 2007 election, the president of Nigeria, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua promised to undertake a major reformation of the electoral process in Nigeria.

President Yar’Adua in keeping with his vision inaugurated a 22-member panel consisting of men and women of integrity to deliberate on Nigeria’s electoral process and bring it to international standard. The panel is to ensure a truly Independent electoral commission imbued with administrative and financial autonomy and a mechanism to reduce post-election tensions.

The president also proposed a new electoral system for the nation. He suggested a concept of Proportional Representation. This proportional representation is defined by world policy.Org as being common in most democracies in which a winner party does not take all the positions in government. This representation assures that political parties or candidates have the percentage of legislative seats that reflect their public support.

Another area of the electoral system to be considered in electoral reform is the electoral constituencies and election district borders. In discussing this, it is important to know that on a general note, a periodic redrawing of electoral constituency borders should be conducted at regular interval even if for no other reason but to eliminate mal-apportionment attributable to population movements.
This must not be done in favour of one party and should seek to take into consideration the administrative and territorial division of the republic.

With this in view, Lagos state for instance, following the course of electoral reform in the country is demanding for a reform in the electoral wards of the state. Lagosians are demanding for more wards and constituencies to be created in the state.

Lagos state is said to be suppressed in terms of constituency distribution and in need of appropriate delineation of constituencies within it’s territory to reflect fairness. It is thought that the review which will lead to an increase in the number of seats in the state house of assembly will then reflect the requirement of the constitution.

A reform on this note then, particularly in the case of Lagos state is desirable as Lagos state in terms of both federal and state constituencies as well as polling units cannot be appropriately placed.

To come up with another interesting point with the general notion of electoral reform is to write about the system of government and it’s reform. Nigeria is currently a federal presidential democratic republic whereby the president is both head of state and head of government and a Multi-party system.

It is with this whim that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) including the umbrella body of Christians with several independent papers have taken the advantage of the reform scene in the country to put forward a proposal for a reform in the system of government. These groups have called for the scrapping of the multi-party structure and it’s replacement with a two-party system. This two-party system was once introduced by the regime of former military president Ibrahim Babangida. The return of the two-party system seems to have a potential solution as this will ensure that future politics in Nigeria will be based on principles and not ethnicity. And it would be such that party membership will be opened to every citizen irrespective of origin, sex, religion or ethnic group.

But societal diversity and the political culture in present day Nigeria may posse a formal objection to this proposed reform.

It is still hopeful that a change of this form will be possible if it is done diplomatically. This is because, other countries have succeeded against these odds and so it is equally obtainable in Nigeria. There were many such reforms (in the system of government) globally. Spain for instance, has made the most remarkable transition so far; from a dictatorship that ended in 1975 to a parliament Monarchy which is now their system of government.

If this politically dangerous transition was brought about without a civil war, then a simple transition from multi-party to two-party system should not result in crisis of any kind.

Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) supported by the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and CAN have called for an Electoral Crimes Commission (ECC) to be organized and structured. This ECC they said should be empowered to receive complaints, investigate them and prosecute offenders. The powers of the ECC according to these groups should also include Monitoring compliance with campaign finance regulations.

The quest for the ECC highlighted by NLC, NBA and civil societies’ memoranda to the electoral reform committee included the timing of elections which they stated should be held six months to the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent.

There is yet another reform movement going on presently. This reform is suggesting that there be a seven year single tenure for presidential seat, six years for governorship and three years for position of local government chairman. This reform proposal was put forward by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the electoral reform committee. Again, this too is being challenged by the usual alibis in Nigeria. Many Nigerians have said that they are not willing to accept this reform that is presently been deliberated upon.

Not withstanding, experts in political sciences say that an extension in tenure, resulting in one leadership for a longer period is a key factor that will enhance a stable economy which in turn is a success rout to a an excellent economy.

It is therefore to the interest of every Nigerian to examine this proposed reform closely haven discovered the opportunity it could possibly bring.

Other sections to be handled during electoral reforms such as safety of citizens, coercion, scrutiny and eligibility to vote are addressed by the United Nations standard.
The United Nations fair election commission usually provides international observers to national elections that are likely to face challenges.

With the kind of gambling involved in politics on various levels in the different facet of the political/electoral system, electoral reform is bound to face challenges. A reform can not easily come by and be accepted when electors feel that any proposed reform is to the advantage of the group that posse the reform.

But even so, there are still a lot of opportunities in electoral reform. It is the significant event that must begin that will lead Nigeria to a better democracy. It is the step to nation building.
Nigeria needs a complete turn around in the form of reforms to bring about effectiveness in the other aspects of government.
Electoral reform is the key to electoral democracy. It represents only one kind of space among many and the opportunities and challenges have much to do with the space it occupies in it’s distinction. And the significance of this distinction is that it captures the fact that developing societies should make collective decisions and organize collective actions.
Published: 2008-07-11
Author: Ema Adama

About the author or the publisher
My name is Ema Adama. I am a young female graduate from the university of jos,Nigeria. I have a bachelor of science degree in Industrial Chemistry. Writting articles that are interesting and informative is my hobby. I have been doing this from my secondary school. I edited my secondary school magazine published in 2001. I have written other brief articles for leasure that are not published yet. And in effect, i will find it rewarding to write for magazines and other publication to earn money.

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