POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AND DEMOCRATIC CONSOLIDATION IN 2015 ELECTION
- Background to the Study
Throughout the World today, political systems are undergoing qualitative transformation from authoritarian to participatory regimes. This worldwide trend, otherwise known as democratization (Elekwa, 2008:iv) has made the issue of election a critical political imperative. Election as a democratic practice refers to the system whereby the citizenry (organized as electorate) consciously choose people into civic roles through a competitive selection process (Raymond, 2000:164). International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences vol.5 defines election “as a procedure of aggregating preferences of a particular kind”. The two features of this definition are procedure and preferences. By procedure, the concept is used to describe a special way of doing something while preference connotes choice between alternatives. Election can also be described as a procedure that allows members of an organization, community or a nation to choose representatives who will hold positions of authority within it. According to Givinn and Norton, (1992) election is the formal process of selecting a person for public office or accepting or registering a political proposition by voting. They state further 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 a minimum of sacrifice of the individual‟s freedom. The essence of a democratic election is a freedom of choice. During elections, the electorate is given the opportunity to choose between alternative programmes of contestants. Elections also promote public accountability. The threat of defeat at the polls exerts pressure on those in power to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and take account of popular interests and demands when they make their decisions. There is no one accepted procedure of election. In ancient Greece, various types of procedures were used. These include voting by show of hands, written votes and ballots. In the old Roman Republic, elections of principal officers were by a plurality of tribes. In the medieval church, the election of superiors was by a small electorate consisting of those next in rank. However, with the emergence of liberal democracy in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Western Europe, the concept of election took new meaning anchored on the principles of consent franchise and representation. In effect, election not only serves to provide the voter opportunity to exercise his choices or preferences on political leadership but also provides the basis on which elected political leaders assume legitimacy of their positions (Elekwa, 2008:6). The place and vitality of election in democracy cannot be over-emphasized. In this regard therefore: Elections have the potential to confer legitimacy, moderate dissent, engender compliance and heighten citizen efficacy. Elections are especially crucial for eliciting consent from those citizens who would prefer alternative rules and policies within the political process (Elekwa, 2008:7). Ideally, election is a means of determining the will of the people regarding their choice of political leaders and regime types. In essence, both the process and the outcome of the election should reflect the consent and aspirations of the people as organized electorate (Olu, 2003:18). This implies that apart from being a routine periodic democratic exercise, election must be competitive, transparent, free and fair as well as credible in order to live up to its democratic essence and merit. In Nigeria, the issue of election has been a problematic endeavor over the years. Ironically, election in Nigeria has been bereft of democratic ideals, much as it has been characterized by untoward circumstances. According to Ibeanu, (2007:3); The Electoral process as currently constituted in Nigeria is psychologically alienating for the vast majority of the people who are largely outsiders and are only periodically inserted in the process when they cast votes. At the same time this alienation is underscored by the fact that even when these vote casters have completed the ritual of voting, the outcome bears little semblance to what they chose in their ballots. Besides, there have been problems of electoral violence and fraud, bulk of which may arise from the excesses of the politicians in their desperate bid to consolidate, capture or control state power. In the face of this therefore, electoral experiences in Nigeria so far have left much to be considered.
- Statement of the Research Problem
The centrality of competitive, credible, free, fair and acceptable elections in democracy cannot be over-emphasized. However contrary has been the experience in Nigeria as over the years elections were characterized by high incidence of electoral malaise manifesting in the prevalence of electoral rigging, fraud, violence, and other forms of electoral malpractices and irregularities which tend to erode established electoral standards and pose challenge to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in the country. It is against this background that this study examines the challenges of conducting free and fair elections in Nigeria. The study will investigate the challenges encountered during conduct of elections which do not augur well to democratic governance in the country. As election is considered to be a critical element of modern representative government which is closely linked to growth and development of democratic political order and as the most singular indicator of democracy. Elections also offer the electorate the freedom of choice, power to hold elected leaders accountable and to provide protection against perpetuation of arbitrary rule.
1.3 Research Questions
In effect therefore, the study will seek to provide answers to the following fundamental questions:
1.What is the nature and character of Nigeria‟s electoral politics?
- How do the politicians pose challenges to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria?
3.What are the implications of these challenges for democratic consolidation in Nigeria?
4.What is the way forward as regards mitigation of electoral malaise in Nigeria?
5.How can identified challenges be addressed?
1.4 Objectives of the Study
This study aimed at achieving the following grand objectives:
1.To examine the nature and character of Nigeria‟s electoral politics.
2.To establish a relationship between politicians and challenges of conducting free and fair elections in Nigeria.
3.To examine the role politicians played in the 2015 electoral processes and outcomes in Nigeria.
4.To establish the impact of these challenges on democratic consolidation in Nigeria.
5.To recommend ways of addressing identified challenges.
1.5 Significance for the Study
Nigeria‟s experience with elections over the years has thrown up a number of issues pertaining to the processes, conduct and outcome of election. So far, enough scholarly works have not been done to address these issues. Given the increasing relevance and topicality of election in Nigeria‟s current democratic dispensation, more researches such as this are certainly needed to examine challenges of conducting free and fair elections in Nigeria. In fact, the flawed general elections of 2015 have threatened the fragile democraticexperiment in Nigeria due to irregularities associated with the elections. Here lies the rationale for this study. It is also expected that the salient issues raised and addressed in the course of this study will help to provoke further studies and academic discourse on relevant aspects of the subject matter towards cumulative advancement of knowledge.
1.6 Scope and Limitation
This study addresses its subject matter within the confines of Nigeria‟s democratic dispensation with particular reference to the 2015 General Elections. Within this context and timeframe, the study focuses on the impact and implications of political office holders as it relates to the question of free and fair elections in Nigeria. The need to concentrate on 2015 General Elections alone is as a result of the concern to investigate a clearly delineated political situation which has a contemporary relevance. It is pertinent to discuss some of the limitations of this study. One of the limitations of this study is the issue of accessibility. Some of the personalities selected to be interviewed proved difficult to get and elicit their views on the research. Secondly, it is that of paucity of financial resources which affect the journeys slated by the researcher in order to generate data and also conduct the field work. Lastly, is associated with the field work. The researcher administered questionnaires on the broad spectrum of Nigerians. And the retrieval of these questionnaires constituted a problem towards the completion of the research given the attitude of most Nigerians to research enterprise.
1.7 Working Definition of Concepts
Below are definitions of concepts in the context used in this work.
Challenges – means difficulties associated with conduct of acceptable, free, fair and credible democratic elections. These difficulties include issues like malpractices and irregularities, logistics, security, neutrality and independence of the electoral body, violence, inducement of voters etc (Musa, 2009:11). In a nutshell, challenges in the context of this work refer to the difficulties associated with free expression of will of people during elections. The relationship between politicians in Nigeria and challenges of conducting free, fair and credible elections is that the politicians who are minority, powerful, influential, well respected and who control a lot of resources tend to influence elections in their favour which tend to erode established electoral standards and therefore defy the prospects of free, fair and credible elections in the country.
General Elections – means nation-wide elections to choose leaders and representatives at national and state levels. Such elections include Presidential Elections, National Assembly Elections, Gubernatorial Elections as well as State House of Assemblies Elections (INEC, 2007:37).
Geo-political Zone – means political divisions of Nigeria into zones to ensure relatively fair or equitable distribution of important national political offices and positions among various parts of the country. The geo-political zones in Nigeria are: Southwest Geo-political zone, Northwest Geo-political zone, South-south Geopolitical zone, North-central Geo-political zone, South-east Geo-political zone and North-east Geo-political zone (Electoral Reform Network 2005:5-6).