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The conduct of free and fair elections has become the yardstick for measuring the strength and credibility of a country’s democracy. The absence of free and fair elections has become an almost insurmountable obstacle to democratization in most African countries, especially in Nigeria. The history of the conduct of elections in the country is predominated with the prevalence of electoral misconducts and malpractices which has weakened the nerves of democratization and the country’s prospects for consolidation of her democratic institutions. In Nigeria’s fourth republic, the crisis of democratization is anchored upon the challenges of electoral malpractice, just as the conduct of elections in the country since 1999 has been inundated with spiraling malpractices in the electioneering process. This study adopts the descriptive and survey research method to examine the perception of respondents towards election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria in general. Using quantitative approach to analysis, data is drawn from both primary and secondary sources. It found out that unreliability of security agencies during elections, lack of INEC autonomy from political and financial influence during elections, and the culture of electoral impunity are the central forces that enhance election malpractice in Nigeria. It recommended that in order to curb election malpractice in the country, security agencies should be well equipped, oriented and monitored during elections to ensure their compliance with the ethics of their duty of maintaining orderliness, that the electoral management body INEC should be practically granted real financial and bureaucratic autonomy from the government and that the culture of electoral impunity should be addressed through the respective legal apparatus: necessary review of the electoral act and commitment of judiciary and security agencies to arrest and prosecute electoral law offenders.
1.1 Background of the Study
Democracy is the system of government that promotes the participation of the masses in government and the accountability of elected representatives to the electorate. The representatives are public office holders who are voted into office by the people through an electoral process; their principal duty being to promote the interest of the electorate in the government.
Election on the other hand is the life-wire of democracy. It is the fulcrum around which democracy revolves. According to Osumah and Aghemelo (2010),“election is a process through which the people choose their leaders and indicate their policies and program preference and consequently invest a government with authority to rule.”“It is the procedure through which qualified adult voters elect their politically preferred representatives to parliament legislature of a county (or any other public positions) for the purpose of framing and running the government of the country, Ozor (2010).” The trust in this mechanism is that it allows the people to determine who and who should wield political power viz-a-viz their various interest by providing the ballot as an outlet for the expression of voter preference based on their judgement about the integrity of candidates and reliability of candidate’s party manifesto.
In Nigeria’s fourth republic the crisis of democratization has been anchored upon the challenges of election malpractice. Aside from the longer years of colonial domination and post-independence military expedition that ended with the fourth republic, elections in the country has been inundated with spiraling malpractices in the electoral process as confirmed by domestic and external election monitoring bodies during the elections of the fourth republic.
The phenomenon of election malpractice has been a clog in the wheels of democratization in the country even as the country staggers with many other challenges such as corruption, factionalism, insurgency, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and ethno-religious disharmony.
Consequently, this study focused on the challenges of electoral malpractice in the aspiration for democratization in Nigeria. Furthermore, the study critically analyzed the factors that are responsible for election malpractice, and also attempt a look at the way forward for subsequent elections in Nigeria. It is believed that the study will contribute to the ongoing efforts of government to curb electoral malpractice and thus engender stability in the country’s democracy.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
A constant goal in the fourth republic governments of Nigeria beginning from 1999 has been the consolidation of the country’s democracy and democratic institutions in order to improve her socio-economic stature as much as her international image. However, this goal has met a range of nagging obstacles including corruption, factionalism, ethno-religious disharmony, insurgency, poverty and electoral malpractice.
Chief of these obstacles is election malpractice which affects the very roots of democracy – election.
Election malpractice according to Ebrim S. (2014) is a process by which the rules and regulations that govern the conduct of election are manipulated to favour specific interests. There are three types of electoral malpractices, pre-election, election period and post-election period (Birch, 2009; Norris, 2012; Olawole et al., 2013; Ugwuja, 2015). The manipulation of rules, the manipulation of voters and the manipulation of voting. By manipulation of rules, electoral laws are distorted so as to favour one party or contestant in an election. For example, when the rules administering candidacy prevent certain political forces from contesting elections, or when large sectors of the adult population are excluded from voting. The manipulation of voters is either to distort voters’ preferences or to sway preference expression. The first one involves illicit forms of campaign tactics that are deceptive and that violate campaign finance laws or severe bias in media coverage of the election. The second form consist of alteration of how preferences are expressed at the polling station, through vote buying or intimidation in the aim of increasing the vote of a specific political force. Voting manipulation consist of electoral maladministration, such as ballot-box stuffing, misreporting, under-provision of voting facilities in opposition strong-holds, lack of transparency in the organization of the election, bias in the way electoral disputes are adjudicated in the courts, and so on (Birch, 2009).
In the fourth republic of Nigeria, electoral malpractice stems from a host of social factors inherent in the political system. Scholars have attributed this problem of election credibility in Nigeria to the weak institutionalization of the agencies of electoral administration, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the political parties and security agencies in the country arguing that elections can only engender the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria if the electoral processes are reformed in ways that fundamentally address the autonomy and capability of INEC to discharge its responsibilities effectively (Obi, 2008) and the security agencies high degree of neutrality, alertness, and commitment to maintaining law and order in the electoral process (Adigbuo, 2008; Omotola, 2010; Idowu, 2010). The role of security agencies during elections can be called to question as these are often utilized and at other instances sidelined by hired thugs in the effort to intimidate voters through violence and outright force. Also, the Election Management Body- Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), suffers a comparative lack of autonomy during electioneering process as this gives outlet for manipulation by strong political forces.The culture of electoral impunity where electoral laws offenders are dealt with leniently, (if at all) also links to the rampancy of election malpractice in Nigeria’s fourth republic.
In response to this, this study aims at investigating how these factors contribute to the disease of electoral malpractice in Nigeria’s fourth republic as it affects the country’s democracy, with special attention given to the 2015 general elections in Akwa Ibom State. Furthermore, it suggests the way out of the menace of election malpractice as a means of stabilizing the democracy in Nigeria.
1.3 Research Questions
1. Did unreliability of security agencies during election contribute to election malpractice during the 2015 general elections in Nigeria?
2. Did lack of INEC autonomy contribute to election malpractice during the 2015 general elections in Nigeria?
3. Did the culture of electoral impunity contribute to election malpractice during the 2015 general elections in Nigeria?
4. How can election malpractice be minimized in future elections in order to stabilize democracy in Nigeria?
1.4 Objectives of the Study
1. To ascertain whether unreliability of security agencies during election contributed to election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Nigeria.
2. To examine whether the lack of INEC autonomy contributed to election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Nigeria.
3. To determine the extent to which culture of electoral impunity contributed to election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Nigeria.
4. To render viable suggestions on how to how to minimize election malpractice in future elections so as to stabilize democracy in Nigeria.
1.5 Statement of Hypotheses
H0 Unreliability of security agencies during election did not tend to promote election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Akwa Ibom State.
H1 Unreliability of security agencies during election tended to promote election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Akwa Ibom State.
H0 Lack of INEC autonomy did not tend to promote election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Akwa Ibom State.
H2 Lack of INEC autonomy tended to promote election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Akwa Ibom State.
H0 The culture of electoral impunity did not tend to promote election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Akwa Ibom State.
H3 The culture of electoral impunity tended to promote election malpractice in 2015 general elections in Akwa Ibom State.
1.6 Significance of the Study
This research is significant in such a way that it examines the phenomenon of election malpractice and how it threatens the efforts at democratization in Nigeria’s fourth republic. It also x-rays the fundamental factors associated with election malpractice ad ultimately recommends ways for obviating them. It will serve as an eye opener to researchers, government officials and general readers who truly intend to understand the impediment to democratic consolidation in Nigeria. Again, it will serve to sensitize the public and create awareness as to the destructive potentials of election malpractice towards the aspiration for democratization in Nigeria.
1.7 Scope of the Study
Theoretical scope: The theoretical scope of this research borders around the concept and theory of democracy and the conduct of elections.
Spatial scope: The spatial scope of this study is the country Nigeria, historically encompassing the political administrative epoch from 1999 up till date - the fourth republic. Accordingly, understudied elections conducted within the period are the 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015 elections.
1.8 Limitation of the Study
Financial limitation: The research was limited by lean financial resources which affected the quantity of affordable data.
Time limitation: The researcher carried out the research along with other academic engagements which chopped part of the time that otherwise would have been invested in the research.
1.9 Conceptual Clarifications
Democracy: Democracy as used in this research refers to the theory and practice in which the supreme power of government stems from the collective will of the majority of the populace which is expressed through periodic elections. According to Abraham Lincoln, democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Democratization: Democratization refers to political change moving in democratic direction. It can be conceptualized categorically as the process in which formerly authoritarian regimes crumble and give way to transitional election to be held periodically, to the last phase, where democratic practices are expected to become firmly established and accepted by most relevant actors.
Election: Election is a democratic mechanism which embodies the process through which electorates vote candidates of their choice into public offices. The voted candidates are called representatives and they advocate the political cum socio-economic interests of their voters in the government of the State.
Election Malpractice: Election malpractice refers to all illegitimate acts carried out before, during and after elections in order to influence the outcomes of an election to the advantage of a particular political party and to the detriment of the other(s). Such illegitimate acts include rigging, thuggery, violence, intimidation, fraud, bribery, vote buying, misrepresentation and all sort of illegal manipulations hinged on altering the otherwise anticipated outcome of an election.
Nigeria: Nigeria is an African country located in Western part of the continent. It has the highest human population in the continent made up of may ethno-religious and cultural groups, predominantly the Hausa/Fulani who occupy the north, the Yoruba in the west, and the Igbos in the eastern part of the country. Both Islam and Christianity are practiced by northern and southern populations respectively. Analytically, Nigeria is a sovereign state with major historical roots in colonialism. Her supposed democracy is still infant considering the short period of independent rule from 1960, as well as 15 years’ interval of military rule after which democracy returned to practice in the fourth republic beginning 1999.
Fourth republic: Fourth republic of Nigeria refers to the political period between 1999 till date.
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