Recently, Nigerians received cheery news from the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, when he assured that the 2023 general elections will see a drastic reduction in electoral violence after the passage of the amended version of the Electoral Act in June this year by the National Assembly. He spoke to journalists after delivering a lecture at the National Defence College Course 29 Programme in Abuja.

Lawan disclosed that the Electoral Act under amendment by the Ninth National Assembly will provide for an Electoral Offences Commission, charged particularly with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders. He added that the piece of legislation, when passed and signed into law, would, among other things, empower the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to conduct transparent elections in Nigeria.

It is a fact that elections are key pillars of democracy and have become the commonly accepted means of legitimizing government. It is generally believed that once elections are flawed, it is an invitation to violence which may snowball into political instability in any state or the nation at large.

Since the return to democracy in 1999, attempts have not been made by politicians to deepen and strengthen democracy. Instead, Nigeria has only added to its history of fraudulent and violent elections. The 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections that brought Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, late Umaru Yar’ Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari to power recorded widespread violence and fraud.

For example, the US-based Jimmy Carter Centre for Democracy which monitored the 1999 election as an international observer concluded its report on the outcome of the presidential election like the others before it: “It is not possible for us to make an accurate judgment about the outcome of the presidential election.”

Reports by other local and international observers on the country’s elections since then have not been positive in any way. In fact, they described the 2007 general elections as the worst in Nigeria’s history ranking among the worst conducted anywhere in the world. Specifically, the US-based National Democratic Institute, NDI stated in its post-election statement that the electoral process “failed the Nigerian people”.

Similarly, the Human Rights Watch, HRW, which monitored the election in its report said Nigeria’s failed April 2007 polls cast a harsh and very public light on patterns of violence, corruption and outright criminality that have come to characterize Nigeria’s political system—and on the extent to which officials and institutions at all levels of the government accept, encourage and participate in those abuses.

In its interim statement after the 2019 general elections, the Commonwealth Group stated: “Election-related violence and loss of lives, which occurred in a number of places, is deeply troubling. Nigeria can do better. Violence has no place in a modern democracy.” The group’s chairperson and former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, noted that several reports of violence were received by the group. “Those responsible should be held accountable. We encourage all political parties to honour their commitments in the National Peace Accord and reject violence,” she stated.

The Group called on political parties to reject violence, while also commending the people of Nigeria for their commitment to democracy, including positive steps taken for women and youth participation in politics. It particularly welcomed the signing of the National Peace Accord, and noted that while the campaign environment was tense and divisive, overall, “fundamental freedoms of association, expression, assembly and movement were generally respected”.

It is against these backdrops that the Senate President commended the National Assembly for “continuously working on the Electoral Act to provide for a better electoral environment in Nigeria.”

 

“All the improvement we have added was as a result of legislation passed by the National Assembly, and of course, supported by the Executive.

 

“This is going to be a continuous effort because electoral violence is largely a product of either genuine or misinformation of iniquity or some kind of conspiracy against certain persons during elections.

 

“But I also believe – and that is the position of the National Assembly generally – that we should have the Electoral Offences Commission so that people who are involved in electoral violence will be prosecuted.

 

“I believe that it will go a long way in reducing and minimizing all these tendencies of people taking the laws into their hands.

 

“But in addition, we are currently working on the Electoral Act, we want to amend it and we intend to achieve the amendment before June or thereabout.

 

“Our intention in the National Assembly with this is to further sanitize the electoral environment, and empower the election management body – INEC – to conduct seamless, transparent and very open sort of election where a winner is very happy that he is a winner and a loser will be glad that he lost in a very fair contest.

 

“So, we are working on this and we hope that the 2023 general elections will see less of electoral violence because the law itself would have been further improved,” Lawan stressed.

The place of free, fair and credible election in the sustenance of democracy most importantly in a democratic society cannot be overemphasized. This is because it not only offers a government a unique opportunity for legitimacy but also serves as a transitory process in stable democracies. This is why electoral scholars like Adigun Agbaje and Shola Omotola, often argued that the significance of fair and fair elections as a critical element of democracy cannot be overstated.

Besides, in a liberal democracy, the electoral process always gives room for the formation of groups popularly called political parties which are expected to possess some basic characteristics like political ideology, sincere political manifestoes, party discipline, and strong internal democracy among others.

One basic fact remains that violence in elections has always been a major threat to the sustenance or stability of a democracy. New democracies in Africa, especially since the 1990s which was termed as the third wave of democracy has been confronted with a series of electoral violence that has resulted in the killing/death and displacement of many innocent lives.

Political analysts believe that votes must be free and fair in order to express the will of the electorate. However, the result seems to be the main priority of political parties and politicians in many countries, including Nigeria, where the INEC is the body vested with the powers to conduct elections.

There is no argument in the fact that electoral violence has serious consequences for democracy, respect for human rights and good governance. It affects the entire credibility of the democratic system, human security and the basic safety of lives and properties. It also erodes the credibility of the rule of law and impacts negatively on democratic activities.

Electoral violence is also responsible for the massive disruption of socio-economic activities across the country. Most victims of electoral violence lose their businesses to looting and their homes are often destroyed and many sink into poverty.

However, one of the best solutions to political violence is for the authorities to ensure that every vote counts. Once the politicians and the electorate are satisfied that their vote counts and is the only means of getting to power, they will not resort to self-help and political violence will disappear. They should desist from inducing the electorate with money and anyone who engages thugs and hoodlums to win elections should be arrested and prosecuted.

There is an urgent need to check the menace of political thuggery in Nigeria in order to have a sustainable democracy that would indeed be a government of the people, for the people and by the people.

For the nation to be able to achieve this and strengthen democratic institutions and deepen democracy, politicians, their supporters and the electorate alike should shun all forms of electoral and political violence.

QUOTE:

“Our intention in the National Assembly with this is to further sanitize the electoral environment, and empower the election management body – INEC – to conduct seamless, transparent and very open sort of election where a winner is very happy that he is a winner and a loser will be glad that he lost in a very fair contest.


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