Electoral malpractices are irresponsible acts performed by the electoral body, political parties, candidates or the electorate which are capable of influencing the smooth conduct of elections in a country.
Election is for democracy what food is to the body. As the main ingredient of democracy, election nourishes and sustains it, but for this to happen, the election must be sincerely organized. The people should have the opportunity to vote for candidates of their choice and their opinions, as expressed through their votes, should decide who rules them. This does not happen most of the time. People involved try to manipulate elections in order to win.
Conducting free and fair elections in Nigeria has been a very big problem since the country became independent. The 1964 federal elections and 1965 western region elections were marred by widespread electoral malpractices. The violence and riots that followed gave the western region the name ‘wild wild west’. These electoral problems and violence were some of the remote causes of the civil war in Nigeria from 1966-1970. Nigeria almost broke up as a country over the crisis that arose from the annulled election of MKO Abiola in 1993. These electoral malpractices come in different forms. Below are some of them.
Forms of Electoral Malpractice
Electoral malpractices manifest in different forms. Some of them are listed and explained below:
1) Fake ballot papers and manipulation of votes: During elections, some politicians who are desperate to win print fake ballot papers which they give to their party members or people who have sympathy for them to drop into the ballot boxes. Their aim is to increase the number of votes they will get so as to win.
2) Falsification of Figures and Results: Falsification of figures and results are usually effected by the returning officer and his deputy, since they receive and collate results sent from the polling stations. They may be bribed by the politicians to inflate the actual figures. For instance, instead of 200 votes, the returning officer can add extra zero making it 2000 (two thousand). This is bad and does not make the election fair and should not be done by any returning officer.
3) Artificial Scarcity of Electoral Materials: This is an election rigging tactic that could be used by the electoral commission especially in areas where the rival or opposing candidate is very strong. In some polling stations, the electoral body may deliberately provide insufficient ballot papers, boxes, ballot forms and ink to make it difficult for everyone in that area to vote. This will definitely affect voting. This is equally wrong for true democracy to thrive in society.
4) Under-age Voting: It has been observed that some of the voters who turn out for voting are clearly not up to the age of voting. In Nigeria, the acceptable age for voting is eighteen years and above, but during elections some politicians who are evil minded hire students in the secondary school to vote for them even when they are below eighteen years. This is against the electoral rules and must be condemned.
5) Thuggery and Intimidation of Political Opponents: Some bad politicians use thugs to scare away voters and their political opponents, especially in areas where their political opponents are very popular. Some voters may not vote out of fear.
6) Financial Inducement and Other Corrupt Practices: In Nigeria, there is still widespread poverty and because of this, people are easily bought over with money and food items like rice, salt and vegetable oil. Voting is your civic duty. It is wrong to sell your vote and anyone who is demanding money in order to cast his vote during election is not a good citizen of his country.
7) Fake Manifestoes: Manifestoes are planned programme of actions and promises of political parties and their candidates who are contesting elections. In trying to win more votes than their opponents in elections, some political parties and their candidates have made promises that they cannot keep. For instance, some have promised free education at all levels of education and have failed to keep to it while others have promised to turn Nigeria into Japan of West Africa. These are false promises and should be discouraged.
8) Mix up in voters’ registers: This is another rigging tactic that could be used by the electoral commission to frustrate political opponents. In some constituencies, the voters’ register is muddled up and very confusing to voters. Register meant for particular wards or constituencies are taken to different areas, thus making voters who have turned up to vote to become frustrated.
9) Partisanship of the Electoral Body: An electoral body should be a neutral, impartial and transparent umpire in elections. But in the past elections in Nigeria, some bad eggs among the officers of the various electoral bodies were involved in active rigging of elections in favour of the party in power. An old adage says ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune.’ This is unfortunate and the INEC should fish out these bad eggs and flush them out as to save their good name.
Causes of Electoral Malpractices
Electoral malpractices are caused by a number of factors. Some of them are common African problems while others can be linked to the things that happen locally in Nigeria. Some of them are explained below:
1) Unwillingness of African Leaders to Hand over Power: African leaders cling to power at all cost and by all means. Many of them aspire to be life presidents. As a result of this, they change the constitution to allow them more years in office. They falsify figures during election and kill any opponent that tries to stop them from achieving their ambition. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has changed their constitution and manipulated the electoral process so many times in order to remain in power even though he is an old man and has ruled his country for so many years (over 20 years).
2) Professional Sponsors or Financiers of Election (Godfathers): These are some rich men in the country who sponsor candidates wishing to contest elections with a promise or signed undertaken to pay back when the person wins election and assumes office or duty. If the person fails to pay back, the godfather will make it impossible for him to remain in office.
The best example is Chief Adedibu of Oyo State who almost created the impression that he was above the law. He openly said he would make the state house of assembly to impeach the Governor because he refused to pay him. We can also recall that Anambra state became ungovernable during the time of Mbadinuju and Dr. Chris Ngige because of the activities of these godfathers.
These godfathers can go to any extent to rig election in order to be in control of power so that they can recover their money.
3) Corruption: Corruption kills the dreams and aspirations of honest people. It is now destroying our electoral process and we appear to be helpless. During the time of elections, some officials of the electoral commission can be bribed and somebody who should lose election is declared the winner. This makes people to feel that their votes no longer count and lose interest in voting during elections.
4) Value System: Values are ideas or beliefs held by a people about what is good and desirable in society. When people abandon what is good and begin to admire what is bad, we say they have poor value system. Poor value system can be a cause of electoral malpractice. When people have no regard for honesty, integrity and hard work, they have a big problem.
5) Poverty: Poverty makes people to be very easily influenced with money. Some members of the staff of the electoral commission are poorly paid; so they see the period of election as a period to make quick money from politicians.
Poverty forces people to sell their vote which is the only weapon they have to vote out a bad government. Sometimes, a political party shares something as small as bags of salts and people troop to the polling stations to vote for them or to be enlisted as political thugs. This is very wrong and must be condemned.
6) Political System: The political system in most countries is such that people contest election so that they can be given opportunity to serve their people, but in Nigeria some people are in politics to enrich themselves. They do almost anything no matter how unlawful to rig and win election, because it is too financially rewarding. Those who are genuinely interested in serving the people would not even be given the opportunity. There must be a change in the right direction in our political system. We are hopeful that the re-branding campaign will bring in much desired changes in Nigeria.
7) Lack of Independence of Electoral Commission: The chairman of the electoral commission is always appointed by government. Therefore, the executive influences the decisions of the commission. The job of the chairman is not advertised and given to the best qualified person; instead, the executive gives the job to their own person who they can control. It is only natural that the chairman will work to satisfy the person that gave him the job even if it means rigging elections to ridiculous and hurting extent.
8) Lack of Civic Education: It has been observed that during elections in Nigeria, there is always widespread lack of awareness among voters on how to vote, – thumb-print or even identify the parties and the candidates of their choice. This can cause malpractices, such that voters may start asking for help at the polling station. There is urgent need for introduction of civic education in our educational system and this must be implemented by all those concerned.
Consequences of Electoral Malpractices
Electoral malpractices are always followed by terrible things happening in the country. At the end, the electorate, the country and even democracy itself suffer greatly. These are some consequences of electoral malpractices:
1) Wrong people in power: The first and the most obvious consequence of electoral malpractices is that the wrong people come into power. People who should not win any election, people without good conduct and even those with questionable character are sworn in to take charge of the affairs of government.
2) Political violence: Electoral malpractice may lead to political violence. This may come in form of riots, demonstrations and even killing of political opponents. People must react when their mandate is stolen and this can lead to a total breakdown of law and order. There are many cases where the people declared winner by the electoral commission are not able to celebrate their so called victory for fear of attack on them by the electorate.
3) Loss of Confidence and Trust: Electoral malpractices may lead to loss of the confidence and trust people have in government and democracy. The government that came to power by fraud will become very unpopular and people will be looking for what to do to frustrate such government out of power.
4) Destruction of Political Participation: It may destroy political participation as those who were robbed of their victory and the voters will now feel that there is no need to contest or vote since their votes do not count. The electoral malpractices of 2003 general election led to a general loss of interest in 2007. On the day of the election, people were seen playing football, tennis or just keeping themselves busy with other things. This situation is referred to as ‘political apathy’ and should not be allowed to exist in a democratic country.
5) Military Intervention: Electoral malpractices may lead to military intervention in politics. It is not the duty of the military to rule, but when there is trouble and there is evidence that the politicians cannot cope and the country becomes ungovernable, soldiers always seize power to correct things. In the western region election in 1965, there was so much crisis and electoral violence which eventually led to the military takeover of power in 1966.
Solutions to Electoral Malpractices
Whatever that is worth doing is worth doing well. Effort should be made by everyone to work out our democracy so that we will continually reap its dividends and make it to be envied by other countries.
Below are some solutions to problems of electoral malpractices.
1) Civic Education: The electoral commission should make urgent efforts to educate the public on the voting procedure and dangers of electoral malpractices. It is not enough to use the mass media. Grass roots or local bodies like Market Women’s Association, community based organizations like town unions, churches and mosques should be used to reach and educate our people who are not yet enlightened. Support should also be given to the efforts of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to provide civic education to the citizens. Schools that have not implemented the teaching of civic education in their schools should start immediately.
2) Independence of the Electoral Commission: The commission should be independent to prevent the executive organ from influencing it. The post of the Chief electoral officer (INEC chairman) should be advertised and application of men with good moral standing should be considered. The executive should not impose someone on the commission.
In fact, the executive arm of government of any country should not be involved in election matters and should hand over the supervision of the electoral body to the judicial arm that is free from politics. As long as the president of any given country appoints the chairman of the electoral commission, the issue of election fraud in the country would continue.
3) Serious Punishment for Election Riggers: There should be new electoral law reforms which must spell out stringent punishment for offenders. From the 2007 elections so far, not less than eight governorship elections have been nullified across the country. Most of these nullifications and cancellations were as a result of rigging and other forms of malpractices. Despite these glaring cases of fraud, no one has been punished.
Just nullifying elections and not bringing the perpetrators of electoral evil to face justice is not enough. They should be tried in the law court and sent to prison or made to pay heavy fine or both to discourage people from rigging elections in future. If this is done, it will go to a large extent in wiping out electoral malpractices in Nigeria.
4) Establishment of a Constitutional Court: We say that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man; therefore, a constitutional court should be established to handle all cases of election malpractices as against the present practice of election tribunal. The court should also interpret the constitution as it affects election and spell out punishment for offenders.
5) ‘Godfatherism’ Should be Banned or Outlawed: The use of sponsors or godfathers or moneybags in elections should be made illegal. These godfathers demand so much from people they sponsored that it has led to so many ugly stories being told in some states.
6) Use of Open-Secret Ballot System: The use of the modified open secret-ballot system in its true form is the solution to election rigging. The process should involve accreditation of voters in the respective polling stations for a period of three hours starting from 8:00am or 9:00am. The accredited voters should gather after the accreditation period and file up in a single line to vote. The voters should be counted to ensure that the number of voters that came out to vote does not exceed the number of accredited voters. If this method is followed strictly, it will make our elections free and fair.
7) Keeping Good Register of Voters: The voters’ register should contain the names of only genuine voters in the respective polling units. It must contain sufficient information about the voters. The thumb print impression as well as the photograph of the voters should be done with the use of the national identity card as it will take care of multiple and underage voting.