Despite global advances in the acceptance and demand for democratic governance, genuine democracy faces many challenges particularly in this part of the globe. The third ‘wave of democratization’ which swept around the world in the last 30 years has not lived up to expectations, and in many countries, democracy is given lip service only, in the form of political pluralism and the holding of regular elections – important elements of democracy, but not sufficient for the realization of genuine democracy. Genuine democracy must be based on the broad acceptance of the principles of constitutionalism, rule of law and good governance.
Elections, which represent a modern and universally accepted process through which individuals are openly and methodically chosen to represent a body or community in a larger entity or government, is one of the cardinal features of democracy. Indeed, if the elementary definition of democracy is accepted as government of the people, by the people and for the people, then elections would appear to be the only mechanism by which a democratic government can be realized and entrenched particularly in the modern era.
This is owing to the fact that of the two forms of democracy (i.e., direct and representative democracy) it is only through the electoral process that the latter can be practiced, since the former is no longer feasible in any modern society. It can therefore be asserted that without elections, democracy cannot be practiced or institutionalized. It is because of the importance of elections in the democratic process that any problem associated with the electoral process has direct impact on the democratic institutions. One therefore cannot talk of democracy without discussing the electoral process.
Despite the centrality of elections to democracy, the process is often abused by politicians and stakeholders who desire power. Such abuses are noticed in the subversion of the laws governing the process. The abuse of the electoral process comes with a lot of consequences for the political system ranging from the subversion of the peoples’ will to civil unrest and many more. It is in recognition of this that several standards and measures have been put in place across the world to ensure that the sanctity of the ballot is maintained and protected.
Equally, various states have also devised means to checkmate electoral crimes and related offences that undermine the ballot. Nigeria is not an exception as various punishments are spelt out in the 2006 Electoral Act for various electoral crimes.
This notwithstanding, the non-implementation and enforcement of these measures in Nigeria has led to the wanton abuse and desecration of the sanctity of the ballot. This has in turn threatened the continued survival of democracy in the country as well as the continued survival of the Nigerian state. As a result therefore, Nigerians have called for a genuine reformation of the electoral process to ensure that those who commit electoral crimes are brought to book to act as a deterrent to would-be electoral criminals. This is in realization of the fact that periodic free and fair elections are central to democratic consolidation in Nigeria as in other parts of the world. Electoral laws provide the legal basis for the conduct of such elections, and the reform of these laws is a part and parcel of the efforts geared towards consolidating the country’s fledgling and fumbling democracy.