A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF ELECTION LAWS IN NIGERIA
The electoral process is a total process that includes registration of voters, identifying the political parties to be voted for, voting, counting of votes, and declaration of election results. This process is the foundation of civil societies. A strong civil society is vital and needed to serve as the bedrock of a stable democracy. It represents the reservoir of resources — political, economic, cultural, and moral — to complement and, when necessary, to check the power of the state. A dynamic and diverse civil society directly stimulates social and political participation, increasing the involvement and commitment of citizens and promoting an appreciation of the obligations, as well as the rights, of citizenship. By providing many potential avenues for political, economic and social expression, a society with a rich associational life gives people a stronger stake in the social order. This in turn, creates a climate within which mutual respect, tolerance, negotiation, and compromise actually make sense, and flourish. Nigeria claims to be democratic and seeks to prove that under the banner of representation and multi-party political systems. Elections are used as a means by which representatives and policies are decided. The choice between political parties or individual candidates is made through elections. It should be noted that the public function implies elections. This electoral process is the peaceful transfer of power and legitimate exercise of authority. It demands active, broadbased citizen participation. It is the election that actually determines who shall wield power for a number of years as specified by the constitution. An electoral system may be defined as a process in which the mode of coming to power or the change of government is decided in a particular country at a given time.This paper is going to examine the development of several election laws that has been developed and the progression of the laws .
Elections have become the most acceptable process of changing leadership in any given political system in the present day. The Black’s law dictionary defines election as the process of selecting a person to occupy a position or office, usually a public office. Another definition is the one which defines election as the act of selecting someone or something; the exercise of deliberate choice. Election is the cornerstone of democracy and it is essentially a contest for the votes of adult members of the society by aspirants to political office. It is worthy of note however that the concept of elections is quite recent in the history
of man as it can be traced to the emergence of democratic government. Professor W. Phillips in his book, power and choice; an introduction to political science said:
‘In the long swing of the history , elections with broad mass participation are rather new. Such elections originated with democratic government, which means that they came along at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. Today, elections are widespread around the world, even though a number of world’s states are not democracies’.
From the foregoing , it is clear that elections and democracy are intertwined ,it is therefore appropriate to touch on democracy which can be defined as a form of representative government based on the consent of the people. Jimmy carter, former president of United States said Democracy is like the experience of life itself-always changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more valuable for being tested.
The principal medium for translating the people’s consent into government authority is the holding of free and fair elections. However, history has shown that it is usually difficult to hold free and fair elections, even the united states, which is the model for other democracies was faulted in the year 2000, when the elections that led to the victory of president bush was alleged to be marred by irregularities in the state of Florida. In Nwachukwu vs. Eneogwe;it was held that :
Once an election is found, substantially, not to be free and electorate, either by violence or intimidation, has not been allowed freely to cast their votes, the election where such has occurred, ought to, and must be nullified and a fresh one conducted.
Nigeria has had its fair share of electoral disputes, the presidential and governorship elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007 were reported to be marred by irregularities in vote tabulation and reporting of results by both foreign and local observers.
Electoral law is that branch of law that seeks to regulate the electoral system which ranges from voters’ registration, political parties registration to collation of results. According to Wikipedia, electoral law is a branch of constitutional law which regulates the electoral process.
In this study, the focus will be on Nigeria’s electoral law which has grown a lot from its pre independence period. Nigeria is on the eve of another election which if successful will mark its third uninterrupted transition of power since the last military intervention in 1999.
Premised on this, the importance of electoral law in Nigeria cannot be over emphasised. The Nigerian electoral law can be traced back to 1922, with the introduction of the ‘elective principle’ by the then governor-general , Sir Hugh Clifford who in the constitution of 1922 which was named after him made provisions for the election of four representatives to represent the Lagos and Calabar region, however, only male adults were allowed to vote. This ‘elective principle’ is very crucial in the discussion of Nigerian electoral law because it gave room for the formation of political parties which although not like the contemporary political parties, served its purpose back then.6 The 1946 constitution by Sir Arthur Richard did not alter the ‘elective principle’ of 1922, this position changed in 1951 when Sir Macpherson became the governor-general, there were more electoral seats and the people were better represented in the colonial government. The Nigerian electoral law and system has since evolved as both legal and institutional framework are put in place to regulate the system and targeted towards ensuring free and fair elections.
1.1.0:BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Nigeria’s electoral development is closely tied to its political experience. Pre-colonial and colonial era did not offer any notable contribution in this regard. Nigeria is a nation of more than 300 ethnic groups and each had a distinct system of operation before the arrival of the British colonial masters through which security and welfare of tribesmen were organized. It was clearly different from the colonial package of political governance of the southern and northern protectorates which were amalgamated in 1914 to become what stands today as Nigeria.
Upon the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates in 1914, Lord Lugard became the first governor-general of Nigeria. The white colonial masters were in charge of all the arms of government but from 1922 when Sir Hugh Clifford became the governorgeneral, an elective principle was introduced whereby four out of forty-six member legislative council made up of twenty-seven unofficial and nineteen official members, this was significant because it was the first of its kind. The elective principle expanded and developed all through the pre-independence times with the various constitutional provisions that came after the Richard’s Constitution .
After independence, Nigeria’s electoral system became more expansive and sophisticated. Various institutions were established to guide and regulate the electioneering process, alongside these institutions, various laws were being promulgated to oversee the electoral process.
With a population of over 120million and many expatriate communities across the globe, the largest economy in west Africa, and great political importance in the region ,the African continent , and the global stage, events which affect the future and stability of Nigeria affects the entire world .Nigeria being a democratic state especially since recent times, has to have elections from time to time so as to decide who rules the affairs of the nation and who represents the various ethnics in decision making from the local to the national level. The success of the election to the outlined posts is important not just to the citizens but also to the world in general.
Nigeria faces a major challenge when it comes to holding of elections that are free and fair. The most free and fair and peacefully conducted elections were those in 1959, 1979, and 1993 and the most chaotic, violent and disputed were those in 1964 and 1983. It is also noteworthy that Nigeria has had its fair share of political instability as a result of military intervention at different times in her political history at different times since her independence in 1960.the 2007 election was not without its shortcomings too, in fact, premised on the outcome of the 2007 elections and the reactions of the candidates and citizens which sprung the agitation for a change in the electoral law, the late president Umaru Yar’adua set up an electoral reform committee. However, this is not the first time of such committee or panel at different points in the Nigerian electoral history, various committees have been formed to revise the regulating the electoral system.
From the days of the Clifford’s constitution’s elective principle to the present day, legal and institutional framework has been put in place to regulate the electoral process. Such institutions established include NEC ,FEDECO and now we have INEC. The constitution also provides for election tribunals that hear cases bordering on electoral disputes. On this groundwork, one can say the Nigerian electoral system and electoral law has come a long way notwithstanding the shortcomings.
1.2.0:OBJECTIVES OF THIS STUDY
The broad objective of this study is to appreciate Nigeria’s political dynamism in relation to her electoral development with special focus on the challenges of the electoral system and different provisions made so as to solve existing problems and forestall future ones, the lapses of such provisions made and suggestions on what can be done to rectify such lapses.
1.3.0:FOCUS OF THE STUDY
In order to meet the broad objectives of this study , I will focus on the following specific objectives:
· To critically study the historical background of elections in Nigeria with a view to understanding and appreciating the legal and constitutional framework put in place to regulate the electoral process from past times to the present times.
· Highlight the challenges facing the electoral system and the laws and suggest ways to which the electoral laws and system can be more reliable than what we have today.
1.4.0:SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This study covers from the colonial period from post colonial period i.e. 1922 to the present day. The post colonial period is very important in this study because 1922 marked the beginning of electoral process with the introduction of elective principle by Sir Hugh Clifford. The study will also cover the various electoral process ranging from voter’s registration to party systems, this will be done with the view of making the research a diligent one. The study will also talk about electoral disputes making use of important cases which serve as major authorities in the present day electoral law.
The system of method followed in this study is the use of secondary data such as resource materials from the internet, textbooks, law journals, newspapers and law reports .
This sub-chapter reviews the books consulted in the course of this study. One of such books consulted in the course of this study is ‘Electoral Law and Practice in Nigeria’ by Aderemi Olatubora. The author discourses electoral law in Nigeria in the light of past and present electoral statutes. The first chapter of the book introduces the legal and institutional framework for elections. It considers the function of state independent Electoral Commissions, the limits of the powers of INEC to make bye-laws or Subsidiary Legislations.
The chapter also deals with important pre election matters and several other issues on which may turn the much desired victory of a party to an election matter.
Chapter three of the book deals comprehensively with the statutory and constitutional grounds of election through the cases. Here, the learned author has been able to demonstrate clearly that, except the complaint in an election petition is based on any of or a combination of the statutory grounds of non qualification of a successful candidate, invalidity of election as a result of corrupt practices or non compliance with provision of the electoral act, unlawful exclusion of the petitioner from election and the constitutional ground that the successful candidate has not been duly elected, such a complaint will not qualify as an election petition properly so called.
Another book consulted in the course of this study is Laws governing elections and election petitions by Nwakanma SAN, co authored with Ngozi Elehi, this book touches on several election issues and the progression of Nigerian Election Law.
Chapter eleven is devoted to the necessity of requesting for further and better particulars by a party to an election petition where the pleading of the opposing party is vague and general in nature. The author, through the cases , demonstrates that failure to give further and better particulars, when required and ordered , could deprive the party so required to furnish such better and further particulars the opportunity to lead evidence in proof of such averments that are general in nature with the drastic consequences that where the substance of the petition is hinged on the impeached averments, the entire petition may be declared incompetent. This position is amply demonstrated by the case of PRP v INEC referred to.
In chapter twelve, the learned author highlights the procedural necessity of consolidation of election petitions brought by different persons and or entities against the same election return. With high degree of clarity of thought and through the cases, he gives some practical instances when the need for consolidation may arise and concludes this chapter with some notes on the procedure for the withdrawal of election petition. While the latter chapter focuses on the parties in election petition,who can be a petitioner, who should be a respondent, consequences of non-joinder of necessary parties and such other topics relating with the way election petition proceeding is conducted in relation to the parties involved.
On the whole the authors of this book through up to date information assiduously assembled presents a reliable literature on electoral law. They examine the qualifications for positions in Nigeria , the intricacies of conduct of elections and electoral offences in such depths that makes the understanding of electoral law in Nigeria easy.
A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF ELECTION LAWS IN NIGERIA