IMPROVEMENTS IN THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM IN NIGERIA SINCE INDEPENDENCE
By Vin Oliji
In any democratic nation across the World, electoral bodies play major roles in deepening and strengthening democratic processes. The electoral system varies from one country to another depending on the type of democracy the country is practicing.
Since Independence in 1960, Nigeria has had both the Parliamentary type of Government and Presidential system. In all this, elections were and are still being organised by a body usually set up by the Government to superintend over the electoral system.
The history of electoral bodies in Nigeria dates back to when the Electoral Commission of Nigeria ECN was established to conduct the 1959 independence elections. The Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) established in 1960 after independence conducted the post independence federal and regional elections of 1964 and 1965.
In 1978, the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo established the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO. It was FEDECO that organised and conducted the 1979 and 1983 general elections before the military coup of December 31, 1983.
In 1987, General Ibrahim B. Babangida established the National Electoral commission of Nigeria NEC with the mandate of overseeing the transition programme that was to restore democratic rule. However, the process was scuttled after the elections were conducted into the Federal Parliament, Gubernatorial and the Presidential elections that was later annulled in 1993 leading to the dissolution of the electoral umpire once again.
After NEC was dissolved and replaced with the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECON in December 1995 by General Sani Abacha the then head of State. NECON conducted the 1996 local governments and National Assembly elections that never saw the light of the day as a result of the sudden death of General Sani Abacha in 1998.
The transitional administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar after the death of General Abacha, a new electoral body the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, was established to replaced NECON.
INEC was charged with responsibilities of organising and ensuring effective elections that would be adjudged to be free, fair and credible as the name implies. It was also conceived to be independent from government interference.
The Commission has carried out the responsibilities of registering political parties, registration of voters and periodic revision of voters’ register, political education, screening and clearance of candidates and to conduct elections amongst others functions.
At present, INEC is undergoing many reforms geared towards enhancing the democratic processes. The electoral body is also introducing innovations in intra-party activities and the conduct of primaries to elect flag bearers.
The reforms introduced since 2011 made the use of electronic smart card readable machine, permanent voters’ card, simultaneous accreditation and voting system, and stakeholders’ involvement before and after the conduct of every election and off season elections. These strategies are aimed at improving the conduct of elections in the country.
When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed Leadership in 2015, he promised reforms in the country’s electoral system leading to the appointment of Professor Mahmood Yakubu who brought a lot of changes that have made the electoral body in Nigeria becoming more acceptable to politicians and the electorates alike thereby earning it international recognition and acceptability.
To further improve the electoral system, INEC introduced the use of Z-pad for the Bio-modal voter accreditation and for finger print authentication in the future elections that would eliminate the possibility of voting using identity theft. This initiative with increased polling units to decongest over populated polling centers will greatly reduce voter apathy, reduce electoral malpractices and improve credibility of the election process in Nigeria.
The electoral body is also working to curb incidents of ballot box snatching by agents of unscrupulous politicians during elections. This is even as the electoral umpire is putting mechanisms in place to stop rigging of ballots, which is becoming a universal phenomenon in the conduct of elections in many countries of the world.
Nigeria which is seen as a model in the conduct of elections by many African democracies, should continue to invest in innovations and sustained the gains made so far in order to continue to lead other African Countries in reforming their electoral system and making elections credible and acceptable to all.