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THE QUEST FOR CREDIBLE ELECTIONS IN
NIGERIA: A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF THE 2015
Musa Garba Usman
Department of Political Science Bayero University Kano, Nigeria.
The experience of Nigeria with election since independence has been quite challenging. In a democratic
setting, free, fair and credible elections are the only acceptable and appropriate means through which
citizens of a country can choose their representatives; but past elections in Nigeria have been
characterized by massive irregularities, which have suffocated the democratic journey of the country.
This paper evaluates the credibility of elections in Nigeria from the perspective of the elite theory, using
document review. The paper argues that the Nigerian political eliteare responsible for the country’s
failure to conduct free, fair and credible elections; although the 2015 elections were much fairer than the
previous ones because some of the measures taken by the Independent National Electoral Commission
(INEC) had ensured the smooth conduct of the exercise. The paper underscores the fact that the successes
recorded in 2015 elections were the result of new strategies employed by the electoral umpireand the use
of technology (Direct Data Capture Machines and card readers) among others things.Regardless of the
successes recorded by the INEC in giving Nigerians new hope in the process of democratization in the
2015 general elections, a lot needs to be done to strengthen the electoral process in order overcome
future challenges as the political eliteare now devising for new ways to take advantage of the technology
(card reader) used, to squander the prospects of consolidating the successes recorded in the 2015 general
KEYWORDS: Election, Electoral process, Democracy, and Democratization.
Election is the most important pillar of democracy all over the world where a democratic system is in
practice.The success of democracy largelydepends on how a country conducts its elections. Elections,
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when fairly conducted,have the capacity to promote transparency and accountability in governance. This
is because the fear of defeat at polls forces those in power to conduct themselves properly and make
public interest the primary concern in their policies and political decisions. Election is critical to
democratization and democracy, and, as such, its significance cannot be over emphasized, as argued by
Mohammed (2016), who writes:
…election in a representative democracy cannot be overemphasized. And one of the
striking features of sophistication in the practice of democracy is the ability of
democratic institutions to engender free, fair and credible election, in which the
embodiment of rule of law, social justice and accountability is deeply entrenched and
guided by the process and conduct of the election (Mohammed, 2016:1).
Africa in general and Nigeria inparticular has been grappling with the process of entrenching democracy
through well run elections, though serious flaws and irregularities were experienced in the conduct of
elections in Africa, whichin turn hinder the process of democratization, elections have been taking place
in Nigeriasince independence, more precisely 1959, 1964, 1979, 1983 and 1993, all of which have been
associated with lapses except that of 1993, which has been considered fair. The lapses of other elections
are the result of do-or-die politics, lack of confidence in the electoral body and political parties etc.
It is important to note that elections in Nigeria’s history have been plagued with lack of integrity; this
character did not really change even in the fourth republic, andthe 1999, 2003, and 2007 elections also
were far from fair. This has led to a lack confidence in the electoral umpire due to rigging, political
parties’ disregard for the rule of law, internal party politics, hate speech and inciting utterances, partisan
nature of the security agencies etc., all of whichculminated in electoral violence in the country. The 2015
elections also faced a lot of challenges ranging from political tensionssuch as North-South claims to
presidency, to religious factors, campaign violence, etc. At the other end there are security concerns such
as the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and neutrality of the securityagencies which created fear
in Nigerians on whether or not the country will be able conduct peaceful elections.
It is against the backdrop of the occurrences of electoral misconducts/irregularities and their
consequences to democratization process in Nigeria that this paper examines the 2015 general elections in
Nigeria, in order to show the factors that facilitate the credibility or otherwise of the election in the
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country and to explore and analyze the possible steps that could be taken to address the identified lapses
and prevent their re-occurrence in future elections. Herein lies the timeliness of this paper, given the facts
that the next general elections in Nigeria is just around the corner, in 2019.
CONCEPTUAL CLARIFICATION: Election, Democracy and Democratization
In the dominant strand of democracy in the world today elections have remained, in spite of their various
patterns, the principal process for instituting leadership and conferring it political mandate and authority
(Shehu, 2015).Therefore, election is seen as a process of choosing a leader, leaders, parliament,
councilors and other representatives by popular votes. Election provides the electorate with freedom to
choose their leaders and to decide on public policy (Abdulkadir, 2015).
In the same vein, Schlemmer and Hirschfeld (1994) see election as a process rather than event. As a
process, Mohammed (2014) sees election asa competitive way of selecting public office holders who
would control power and become accountable to the society.Ejumudo (2011) defines election as the
technical means of guaranteeing popular participation in governance by citizens who choose their
representative in tandem with the dictates of modern democracies. He adds that election refers to the
competition for votes among contending political parties in democratic societies.
According to Oddih, (2007:152-153), election is the formal process of selecting a person for public office
or accepting or registering a political proposition by voting. who further state that an election is one of the
means by which a society may organize itself and make specified formal decisions, adding that where
voting is free, it acts simultaneously as a system for making certain decisions regarding the power
relations in a society, and as a method for seeking political obedience with minimum of sacrifice of the
individual’s freedom. The essence of a democratic election is freedom of choice.
Jega (2017) argues that election can have positive and negative impact on democratization. This however
depends on whetherelection is conducted with integrity. It is against this background that one can see the
vitality of election with integrity in any society. Therefore, Election allows the electorates to select
competent people who can occupy political offices at local, state and federal government. This is to say
that elections are very critical and fundamental to democratic development of every country.
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Umar (2009) argues that elections are an integral part of democracy and also a means through which the
government derives consent of the governed.In spite of the utility of election to democraticform of
governance, the mere conduct of election does not make a country democratic. Democratic elections
everywhere are expected to meet a certain minimum standard of competitiveness and inclusiveness.
Moreover, unless adequate care is taken and appropriate preparations made “badly conducted elections
can undermine democratization and replace it with the authoritarian rule of the civilian or military
varieties” (Jega, cited in Mohammed, 2016:2).
The conceptof” Democracy” like any other social science concept is very difficult to define.For Bratton
and Van de walle (1997) Democracy is a system of government whose legitimacy derives from the
principles of popular sovereignty. Under democratic rule citizens enjoy equal rights and determine who
governs them. Those who occupy political posts rule with the consent of the people. Thus, democracy is a
system of government through representatives chosen by means of electoral competition at regular
intervals.Governments formed in this manner are generally better than those that are not. Democracy
offers the best prospect for accountable, responsive, peaceful, predictable, good governance (Diamond;
In furtherance of this argument, Joseph Schumpeter (2003) opines that democracy is a system for arriving
at political decisions in which an individual acquires the power to decide by means of a competitive
struggle for the people’s vote. Democracy goes beyond occupation of executive, legislative office at local,
state, and federal levels by section of the political civil class through competitive election but rather the
operation and institutionalization of democratic principles, values, structures and process in the society
which will lead to democratic consolidation in the society.
For Chukwu, (2017), view Democracy is a form of government that allows for the widest participation
and which can only be objectively, meaningfully and practically ensured through electoral process. In
other words, the electoral process is at the heart of democratic system such that without the electoral
process, a system cannot really claim to be democratic.
In another sense, democracy refers to the control of an organization by its members, who take part in
making of decisions. In other words, democracy implies the majority rule and respect for the fundamental
rights of the people. Such,democracy is a form of government as well as a way of life, with a goal, ideal
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and philosophy which guarantees the freedom of the majority and the rights of the minority (Oddih,
Democratization is a concept distinct from democracy, and it connotes the process of bringing about
democracy: through institutionalization of democratic principles and attitudinal change. It is the ways and
means of developing democracy, and entrenching democratic institutions, values and practices over time.
It is also the process by which governance is constitutionally driven and which could lead to democratic
consolidation (Jega; 2007). Shehu (2015) concurs by maintaining that democratization is about the
entrenchment of responsible leadership and good governance in a country.
Democratization is a process of ensuring that democracy is institutionalized and deeply rooted within the
ideals of its basic tenets. It is a process not an event.It is a collective action that is highly influenced by a
collective responsibility not an individual task.It is tortuous because it involves the good, the bad and the
ugly sides of the democratic institutions.It is a scale that measures the success and failures of institutions
and actors in the process, and a period of learning the rope of democracy. The faster the learning ability
becomes the quicker the institutional foundation of democracy is achieved (Mohammed; 2015).However,
despite democratization being a challenging process, it could still promote the democratic development of
developing nations of Africa. Mohammed (2018:1) stresses that democracy and elections are two sides of
the same coin. The former depends on the latter for its sustenance and development. However, the
conduct of periodic elections does not necessarily guarantee the institutionalization of democracy. There
may be elections without democracy, but there can be no democracy without elections.
Therefore, it is important to note that globally election is directly or indirectly linked to the expansion and
development of democracy. In contemporary times election is to democracy what the soul is to the human
body, without it, the body will never be useful: it is under a democratic system of governmentthat citizens
that reach the legal voting age are given the opportunity toselect political office holders, to partake in the
decision making process and to express their feelings on any government policy.
The theoretical perspective adopted to guide this article is the elite approach, the approachwas developed
by Vilfredo Pareto,Gaetano Mosca and others. The approachpoints out that there is always concentration
of political power in the hands of aminority group in the society which performs all political functions,
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monopolizes power and enjoys the advantages that power brings(Anifowose, 2000). Dye and Ziegler
(1996:4) in the same vein posit that:
Society is divided into few who have power and the many that do not. Only a small
number of persons allocate values for society; the masses do not decide public policy.
The few who govern are not typical of the masses that are governed. Elite are drawn
disproportionately from the upper socioeconomic strata of society and the movement
of non-elite to elite positions must be slow and continues to maintain stability and
avoid revolution, only non-elite who accepted the basic elite consensus can be
admitted to governing circles. Finally, public policy does not reflect the demands of
the masses but rather prevailing values of the elite (1996:4).
The political elite in Nigeria consolidate themselves in power by manipulating the electoral process as
portrayed by the elite theorists; election misconducts and irregularities or election without integrity in
Nigeria is as a result of the selfish interests of the political elite who use their positions, government
funds, uneducated youths and security agencies to manipulate elections in order to continue to be in office
and simultaneously control the country’s resources.This led to lack of confidence in the election
management body, resulting in conflict and violence during and after elections, the1993 and 2011
elections in Nigeria are clear examples.
TRENDS OF ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA:
The electoral process in Nigeria can be categorized into two, namely the colonial and post-colonial
electoral processes. The colonial electoral process dates back to 1923 when Nigeria experienced her first
election. The colonial processes (1923 to 1954) where blemished by restrictive electoral laws (restricting
political activities to income qualification) imposed by the colonial masters with the exception of the
1959 general election, which was more welcoming in terms of political participation than the preceding
colonial elections (Auwal, 2017). Just like thecolonial electoral process, thepost-colonial state was also
characterized by all sorts of irregularities. Political and electoral violence deepened, and ethnic politics
got consolidated. Corroborating this, Lawrence (2016:1) points out that Nigeria’s efforts at endurable
democracy have not been successful because of its inability to conduct free, fair and transparent elections
and this resulted in the crises of 1964 and 1979; and this in turn hinders its effective democratic
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development. Subsequent elections of 1983 and 1993 were not free and fair. This showsthe extent of the
Nigeria’s quest for credible elections since independence.
Despite the importance of elections to democracy,Nigeria’s aim at achieving credible elections remains a
mirage. Both the first and the second republics were overthrown by the military after elections were
heavily rigged in 1966, and 1983 respectively. The Third Republic (1993 elections) was stillborn as the
time it was annulled by the military(Ibrahim, 2009).The 1999,2003, 2007 and 2011 elections were not
excluded from electoral fraud, despite efforts made by the electoral body to conduct free and fair
elections. This unfortunate conducts in election particularly by the politicalelites, political parties and
security agencies strangled the process of achieving credible elections in the country.
The experience of Nigeria with democratic politics has shown that all the elements necessary for building
democracy have been violated with impunity.For example, in the 2003 general elections, Nigerian
politicians, most of whom were members of the ruling party, were very comfortably involved in violating
election procedures and processes. The magnitude of the post-election violence was unimaginable (Sule-
…Since when Nigeria started the preparation for federal and state elections in 2003,
we have noticed serious incident of violence, which left scores dead and many others
injured. The scale of the violence and intimidation, much of which went unreported,
called in to question the credibility of these elections. (Human Rights Watch,
In addition, the 2007 election was not any better than the previous one because during the April 14th2007
elections polling stations in many states opened hours late, closed early or failed to open at all. This
represented a fundamental barrier to popular political participation in numerous places and most likely
disenfranchised many prospective voters. Thusthe 2007 elections have been recorded as high in terms of
lack of credibility because the country experienced a lot of irregularities and the misconducts during the
election. The 2007 general elections were generally accepted as poorexercise.It was considered as the
worst election in Nigeria’s history (National Democratic Institute Report, 2007).
The appointment of Attahiru Muhammadu Jega in 2010 as the new INEC chairman,was greeted with
greater expectations by many Nigerians, owing to his track record of non-partisanship and honesty.In the
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2011 elections, the whole world held its breath to see the outcome of the elections and Nigeria spent a lot
of money and time in preparing for the 2011 elections. INEC has done impressively well with
preparations towards ensuring credible elections that are free and fair by employing sophisticated
technology (use of Direct Data Capture Machine and software to detect multiple registration), recruitment
and deployment of NYSC & tertiary institutions students as adhoc staff, extensive stake holder
consultation and much more (Jega, 2015). But the final success lies, to a large extent, with other
stakeholders of election particularly the law enforcement agencies, political parties, the political elite and
youths. However, the cooperation of these stake holders is not what an ordinary Nigerian can rely on
(Alli, 2012). This high level of uncertainties coupled with high expectations on INEC by the citizens is
what undermined the credibility of the 2011 elections. Though, itwill take time for Nigeria to witness a
perfect election, it is not impossible to have free and fair elections in the country.
On April, 14th2011 Nigerians went to the polls to elect their next president. Even when election officials
were at the point of counting the votes cast and the final result about to be announced, violence began
with wide protests by supporters of the main opposition candidate General Muhammadu Buhari, a
northern Muslim from the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), following the re-election of
incumbent, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who came from the Niger Delta in the South, who was the candidate
for the ruling People’s Democratic Party(PDP). The protest degenerated into violent riots or sectarian
killings in the northern states of Kano, Bauchi, Kaduna and Katsina.(Human Right Watch Report, 2011).
One of the set-backs of 2011 elections observed byJiddere and Zainawa (2014) and also supported by
international observers is thelack of constitutional backing for the INEC Chairman and Resident Electoral
commissioners. Their appointments and funding are in the hands of the executive arm of government
controlled by the ruling party, thePeople’s Democratic Party (PDP).Having looked at the trends of
elections in Nigeria from the colonial to thepost-colonial period,that is from 1923 to 2011, the following
forms of electoralfraud were identifiedby Salami,(2012:94-95) as responsible for hindering the country’s
free, fair and credible elections:
Compilation of fictitious names on voters’ registers; Illegal compilation of separate
voters’ lists; Illegal printing of voters’ cards; Illegal possession of ballot boxes; Stuffing
of ballot boxes; Falsification of elections results; Under age voting; Illegal printing of
forms used for collection and declaration of election results; Deliberate refusal to supply
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election materials to certain areas; Announcement of results in places where no elections
were held; Unauthorized announcement of election results; Harassment of candidate,
agents and voters by political opponents; Change of list of electoral officials; Box
snatching and inflations of figures etc.
Electoral fraud and violence have been the major features of Nigeria’s elections, though these problems
do not have a single cause. Modupe (2012) points out that electoral fraud and violence is the result of
many factors ranging from greed, corruption and selfishness to abuse of power by those seeking for
power, those holding power and those who do not want to lose power, the exploitation of the poverty and
ignorance of the very people our political leadership claims to serve, among other things, led to electoral
fraud in the country. Theabove-mentioned problems frustrate the electoral process in the countryand pose
a threat to the survival and stability of democracy in Nigeria. Electoral fraud is the only potent threat to
democratic transition in Nigeria. Rigging is perpetrated by all political parties relative to their strength.
However, it is the party that holds political power that has the privilege to rig elections. Incumbency at
both federal and state levels guarantees access to, and control over, election materials and the electoral
commission, security agencies and limitless federal and state resources (Kyari, 2007:209).
2015 GENERAL ELECTIONS
The success of the 2015 elections lies in the INECs learning experience from the 2011 elections. It
factored the lessons into the conduct of the 2015 general elections. Preparations of the 2015 general
elections began immediately after the 2011 general elections by adequate and timely planning, building
capacity of the workforce and expansion of skills to enable the commission to deliver credible elections
(INEC Report, 2015).The INEC’s chairman, mentioned in an interview that:
With resilience, determination, good planning and the support of key stakeholders, we
had successfully created a new register in just three months before 2011 general
election, a task that many people thought it is impossible (Interview granted in Oxford
to ARI Conversation Series, 2017).
This is what set the pace for the fairelections in the2015 general elections which has been recognized as
the most credible election in the history of the country.Prior to the 2015 General Elections, particularly
after the 2011 elections, political tensions were on the rise in the country,for examplethe tussles between
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North and South on claims to presidency, Muslim-Christian on claims to presidency and violence
between political parties during campaigns. On the other hand, there were security issues with regards
topotential hot spots (Kaduna, Plateau States etc) in the country along with Boko Haram insurgency in the
North East and above all, the issue of neutrality of security agencies. All of these combined to raise the
political temperature of the country which may affected the conductof the 2015 elections. Over the years,
the country has witnessed fraudulent election from 1959 to 2011 (Odeh, 2015). Even the 2011 elections
were perceived by national and international observers as below average standard of democratic elections
in Third World (Odeh, 2015;39).
The 2015 general elections was regardedby manyas a threat to the corporate existenceof the country
because the incumbent president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was determined to run for second term and he
was vehemently supported by South East and South-South part of the country, which are predominantly
Christians,contesting on the plat form ofPDP.While the main opposition party, All Peoples Congress
(APC)which was formed through the alliance of a few political parties (ANPP, CPC, ACN)nominated
General Muhammad Buhari (RTD)as the party’s flag bearer;Buhari was overwhelmingly supported by the
South West and the entire Northern part of the country which was predominantly
Muslim.Thiscumulatively added to the intensity of the tension and rivalry between the contending parties.
The issue of security in the North East was also seen as a threat to the 2015 elections and this loophole led
to an attempt by the PDP administration to postpone elections by claiming that security cannot be
guaranteed across the length and breadth of Nigeria because there was military engagement in the North
East.Regardless of the tribulations faced by the Electoral body, it was able conduct relatively free and fair
elections accepted by majority of the electorates.
The 2015 General Elections is the first time in Nigerian history that an opposition candidate defeated the
incumbent president at the ballot box indicating that attitudes have begun to shift. People are now
increasingly aware of their ability to choose who to vote in and who to vote out. As more and more come
to appreciate this, the mindset of politicians will be forced to shift. In the past, many did not have to
canvass votes with new ideas and policies: they just bought their seat, seeing it as an economic
investment. That is changing. Increasingly, there are some very good, diligent, resilient politicians
speaking out in favor of systematic reform(Jega, 2017a).Despite all the challenges faced by INEC during
the conduct of 2015 general elections, 2015 election is considered the most credible election ever
conducted in the history of Nigeria. The credibility of the election has manifested in minimal electoral
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petitions filed before elections tribunal as shown in the table below and this show a phenomenal break
from the past.
TABLE(1): COMPARISON BETWEEN 2003, 2007, 2011 AND 2015 GENERAL
PETITIONS FILED BEFORE ELECTION TRIBUNAL
Moreover, it is only in the 2015 Presidential Elections that no petition was filed as the two contestants
agreed with the election result.This is also supported in INEC’s Report
The 2015 general elections have raised the bar for the conduct of elections in the
country. It is evident that with careful planning and well-thought-out election process,
and with deployment of appropriate technology, it is possible to remarkably improve
the credibility, transparency, and acceptability of elections in our country. It is
imperative to consolidate the gains achieved so far and deepen the process throughout
the level of elective offices including at the local government level. The use of smart
cards and the companion smart card readers has become the minimum standard for the
conduct of elections by the commission. This must not only be sustained, but
improved upon feature elections (INEC Report, 2015).
The 2015 general elections outcome prove that Democracy has come to stay in Nigeria. Because there is a
growing desire for improvement, in spite of the mindset of politicians in the country, getting elections
right is a good way of deepening democracy in the country, by and this can be achieved strengthening the
rights of the people to be involved in governance and in the selection of those mandated to govern.
Previously, the voting process was so fraudulent that people were losing hope. They were asking, “What
is the point when my vote does not count? (Jega, 2017b), but regardless of this, it has been found out that
a significant number of Nigerians still have the passion to build a functioning and accountable democracy
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through credible elections because 89% of Nigerians are willing to vote (CLEEN Foundation Report,
It is important to note thatin spite of the enthusiasm expressed by Nigerians to vote in 2015 General
Elections, Elections without integritywill createpolitical apathy and lack of confidence on the part of the
electorate. Once the political elites continue to frustrate the electoral process this will ultimately result in
democratic reversal in the country.
In the 2015 elections INEC was able to put an indelible mark in the area of managing elections in
Nigeriaconsidering at the successes recorded by the electoral umpire under the stewardship of its former
chairman Attahiru Muhammad Jega. It is the hope of every Nigerian and the international community that
the successes will be maintained and improved in the 2019 elections. Nigerians will again go back to polls
to elect their next President, States Governors, Senators, Members of the House representatives in
February 2019. Like the 2015 elections, the 2019 has colossal impact on Nigeria’s democratic journey
and the political elite in the country are determined to employ every instrument at their disposal to
obstruct the consolidation of the successes recorded. This can be seen in the way and manner the political
elites in both PDP and APC during Ekiti state bye election engaged in intimidation and vote buying.
Moreover, the national assembly has been jockeying on the approval of elections budget and timetable
which is quite worrying.
In addition, the issue of security is another subject of concern in 2019 as the Nigerian security has not
fully subdued the activities of Boko Haram in the North-East, Fulani herdsmen clashes in the Middle Belt
and cattle rustlers’ crisis/armed bandits in Zamfara state, all of which may affect the outcome of the
elections. Proper security conditions during and after the elections will greatly impact on INECs capacity
to run free, fair and credible elections in 2019.
In spite of these worrying situations most Nigerians still have confidence in INEC that in 2019, the
electoral body will conduct elections with integrity, thereby further consolidating the democratic process
in the country.
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In a nut shell, it is well a known fact that the electoral body(INEC) was able to conduct a free, fair and
credible elections in 2015 as expected by the electorate of the country in respect of the huddles faced by
INEC from the political elites. The electoral body in 2015 was able to minimize all electoral misconduct/
irregularities (electoral fraud) which has been the case in Nigeria’s election history. Though there are
fears among some Nigerians on INECs capability to conduct free, fair and credible elections in 2019, but
there is hope that elections with integrity may likely hold if INEC and all stakeholders are willing
improve more on what had been done in 2015.In order to maintain the successes recorded, the electoral
management body should continue to sustain consultations with all stakeholders with the aim of
achieving peaceful and credible elections in 2019.
In addition, the electoral management body and civil society organizations that will be engaged in the
conduct of the 2019 elections need to improve the process of voter education and political sensitization
especially for the young people as the will greatly influence the success of the elections.
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