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The Nigerian electoral process and the imperatives of reform (v)

Again, the burden of proof in election dispute should shift from the complainants to the accused. The accused in election matters should be made to…

Again, the burden of proof in election dispute should shift from the complainants to the accused. The accused in election matters should be made to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that he/she did not commit the alleged electoral offence.

Cultivating a secure and peaceful environment before and on Election Day is   a critical issue for reform that cannot be ignored. The law enforcement agencies normally come to mind as far as general maintenance of law and order is concerned. Precisely, the police are expected to ensure security during voters’ registration, party congresses and conventions, political campaigns/meetings and rallies, voting and post-election events such as election tribunals and crises that may be fallout of elections. These are roles that traditionally belong to the police, but popular vigilance is inevitable for these functions to be carried out. The reason is that on many occasions, the police tend to have either connived at or helplessly watched the rigging of votes, electoral violence and intimidation especially when the ruling party perpetrates them.

To improve the role of police in security during elections, civic vigilance is necessary. In the event that the police engage in compromising roles, people around should alert the media who investigates any such story and disseminates it; and it could be tendered at election tribunals if relevant as evidence. Police authorities would be expected to punish their personnel involved in such acts.

On the part of presiding officers, the importance of their roles has made it needful that their commitment to the principle of impartiality must be a point of interest. Although career civil servants are normally required for this position, instances abound where they have turned partisan in support of one party or the other. To be sure, this may abuse the delicate security responsibility which the operative Electoral Act places on them. Consequently, electoral reforms may wish to consider the direct participation of staff of the election management body in the capacity of presiding officers or in lieu of this, take proactive steps in educating presiding officers on their roles especially the security implications of partisanship.

To mitigate violence in elections, there is need for adequate security planning between the election management body (INEC), police and other security agencies involved in the elections. Civil society organizations and the National Orientation Agency should embark on early civic education while political parties should educate their supporters on proper conducts all through the electioneering period.

In concluding note, the culture of election should be understood as an aspect of democracy. Election is more than a hollow ritual that takes place every four years. It is not just about choice of who becomes a president, governor, council chairman, etc, it is also about expressing choices of who leads neighbourhood associations, school boards, village councils and so on. It includes referenda on fuel price increases, creation of new local government areas, relocation of a market and policy issues generally. By making elections part of these levels of our existence, it becomes like the market in liberal societies: pervasive and thorough going. It is the lifeblood of democracy and a far cry from the notion of being a quadrennial event in Nigeria for filling high political offices through simulation and slides and direct captures.

Electoral fraud is the single most potent threat to democracy in Nigeria. When there is massive electoral fraud as evidenced in Nigeria, so many things result from it. A rigged election ensures that the choices of citizens are invariably annulled and the government that emerges cannot represent, protect, and serve the yearnings and aspirations of the people since it lacks legitimacy. The overall effect of this can lead to apathy, leadership crisis, political violence, assassination galore, poor political culture, instability, etc all of which are true of the Nigerian situation. All of these create a discouraging environment for politico-economic growth and development. Hence, it becomes imperative that the country’s electoral process and system should be reformed in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.

However, the challenge of electoral reform would not demand much outside what is already in the books; rather, the historic challenge of our time is the political will to implement good laws.