Continuity and Change: Nigeria's Electoral Democracy Since 1999

Year : 2016

This book examines the significance of the 2015 elections in consolidating Nigeria’s democracy. It is situated within the historical context of the difficulty at routinizing democracy since the attainment of nationhood in 1960 and the return to civil rule in May 1999, in particular. However, the book goes beyond a narrative of the elections as an event or a series of events that occurred during the conduct of the 2015 elections. Rather, it attempts to offer a holistic analysis of Nigeria’s electoral process in terms of how the unfolding dynamics of limited changes in the constitutional, institutional, attitudinal and the behavioural frameworks that underpin electoral competition in Nigeria played out in the elections. Therefore, the book attempts to examine the conduct and outcome of the 2015 elections against the background of the pattern of electoralism that had been established since the return to democracy in 1999. But more importantly, the book seeks to draw attention to the dialectics of continuity and change that have been thrown up by the elections and how the lessons learned can be used to build a more enduring democratic system, not only for elections whose outcomes are widely acceptable, but also a democracy that is truly accountable to the Nigerian people in terms of service delivery and addressing the challenges of poverty and social exclusion.


Keywords: Nigeria, elections, politics, voter behaviour, reform, democracy

Subject Area: Elections and Electoral Democracy

The chapter provides a general introduction and the immediate context that defines the relevance of the book as well as a panoramic view of the entire book. The chapter situates the book within the context of the series of flawed elections in Nigeria since her return to civil rule in 1999 and the trajectory of momentum for electoral reform especially in the aftermath of the 2007 election which contributed to improvement in the 2011 elections. The chapter also underscored the apprehension that greeted preparations for the 2015 election, especially the threats of elite fragmentation which re-opened the north/south dichotomy in the countdown to the election. This, reinforced by the disruptive impact of Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east of the country and the memory of the 2011 post-election violence made the peaceful outcome of the 2015 election including alternation of power at the national level a turning point towards the consolidation of electoral democracy in Nigeria.

The chapter brings into clear relief the underlying theoretical and structural factors that frame nuances and complexity of politics and electoral democracy in Nigeria beyond simplistic analysis which reduces Nigerian politics to communal feud between Christian south and Muslim north. Among others, the chapter discusses salient theoretical issues and under currents of Nigerian politics such as the interpenetration of class, ethnicity and religion; the secularity of the Nigerian state; the politics of federalism and the management of ethno-religious divisions; secularity of the state; and socio-economic inequality including its occurrence along ethno-religious lines. These issues permeate the party system, define elite behaviour in the context of struggle for power and shape voter behaviour as defining elements of electoral democracy in Nigeria. The chapter therefore provides the overarching issues and context which frame the elements of continuity and change in Nigeria’s electoral democracy.

The chapter explores the issues that define the basic elements of continuity and change that constitutes the underlying theme of this book. On the one hand, the chapter shows that institutional weaknesses including the weakness of the party system, adversarial politics and politics of brinkmanship among the leading elite contenders and excessive appeals to ethnic and religious sentiments in the countdown to the 2015 as well as the continued marginalisation of women represent basic continuities in Nigerian politics beginning from the first Republic. On the other hand, the chapter highlights developments and initiatives that mark a break with the past and contributed to improved electoral outcome in the 2015 election. These include, for example, the positive impact of electoral reform and the commitment of the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission to improve electoral governance through internal reform measures such as administrative re-organisation of the Commission, improved stakeholders’ engagement, introduction of technological innovation including a biometric voter register and the Smart Card Readers. The chapter also draws attention to a remarkably improved election environment, the emergence of a strong opposition and a more engaged international community and Nigeria’s development partners which contributed to the outcome of the 2015 election described in the book.

This chapter examines the rise and fall of the PDP from its formation in 1998 through its sixteen years of firm grip of power at the national level and in most of the thirty-six states of the federation. It discusses some theoretical perspectives on party systems and a dominant party, showing how the dominance of PDP was fostered by the ability of the party to build a fairly truly multi-ethnic coalition across the county, the influence of retired military officers as a strong power bloc in Nigerian politics post-1999; the ineffectiveness of election administration, abuse of power of incumbency, poor state of the economy, and inherent contradictions associated with opposition parties. The chapter discusses the crisis of internal democracy which ultimately led to the implosion of the party, including the inability of the leadership of the party to handle the implementation of its zoning policy.

The chapter analyses trends in voting behaviour in Nigerian elections from 1999 to 2015. Such an analysis is particularly useful in determining the legitimacy and inclusiveness of the electoral process. After an engagement with the literature on salient issues in voting behaviour, including the nexus between voter behaviour and democratic development, the chapter analyses trends in voter behaviour and identified the factors that shape voters’ behaviour in Nigerian elections. The chapter submits that in the absence of parties that are ideologically rooted, reliance on electioneering campaigns that are not issue-driven, and the low level of class consciousness, Nigerian voters have been influenced more by appeals to ethno-religious and regional identities, the common strategy of vote buying or party identification framed by the prevailing system of patronage politics.

This chapter examines trends in Nigerian electoral outcomes since the return to civil rule in 1999. It highlights the limitations in interpreting election results since 1999 as a measure of ‘choice’ and ‘voice’ in Nigeria’s emergent democratic culture precisely because of incumbency factors at all levels. The power of incumbency is manifested in the ability of sitting presidents and governors to determine election outcome, again, made possible by the institutional weaknesses of political parties and the helplessness of citizens. The chapter further draws attention to the paradigm change represented by the 2011 general elections in this regard, which marked a departure from the 2007 elections, by restoring a measure of public confidence in the electoral process.

The chapter provides an audit of Nigeria’s electoral democracy in terms of democratic accountability beyond elections as a formal, procedural process. It opens with a clarification of the notions and nuances around democratic governance and political accountability, showing the relationship between them. It also offers a brief historical account about the state of political accountability in Nigeria before 1999 and then between 1999 and 2014 under four analytical themes. These are electoral and legal accountability; socio-economic development, economic well-being and financial accountability; national security issues; and citizen’s participation and political accountability. Overall, the chapter demonstrates the deficit of Nigeria’s electoral democracy in terms of political accountability. Despite increased space for civic groups to engage the democratic process in diverse ways, the level of accountability of the state to citizens in the dimensions of responsiveness and answer-ability has been abysmally low. The problem is not unconnected with weak electoral governance, the disempowering neo-liberal economic policies pursued by the government since 1999, the high levels of corruption and impunity, mounting insecurity challenges and declining level of civic participation.

The chapter interrogates the electoral reform process since 1999. It highlights the significance of electoral reform and discusses the various reform measures between 1999 and 2015 and assesses the impact of electoral reforms on the electoral processes in Nigeria particularly the 2015 general elections. Specifically, the chapter identifies three broad strands of electoral reform, namely reforms of the constitutional and legal frameworks of elections, the role of the Justice Muhammed Uwais’ Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) and internal reforms and innovations within INEC itself. These interventions positively impacted Nigerian elections in many ways. Among others, the reforms boosted the administrative and financial autonomy and capacity of INEC, eroded longstanding negative perceptions about INEC, and engendered broader international support for the electoral process.

The chapter reflects on party politics as played out in the 2015 elections. It discusses the national and regional significance of the elections and underscores a number of themes in the nature of politics that gave rise to the observable outcomes. It also identifies and explains seven salient factors that shaped the political processes and outcomes. These include opposition merger, nature of party primaries and candidate selection, electioneering campaigns, active citizenship, pre-election tensions and the setting up of the National Peace Committee (NPC), opposition victory and alternation of power and finally, post-election peace and stability. Sustaining the atmosphere of peace and stability remains a fundamental challenge that all democratic players, locally and internationally, must be willing to promote.

This chapter provides an in-depth examinations of salient issues underlying the 2015 presidential election, namely party primaries and candidate selection, electioneering campaigns, election administration and election integrity, voting patterns and election results, as well as post-election reactions. In explaining each of these issues, the chapter reflects on important ethno-regional and religious forces as intervening variables in the voting pattern. It also underscores the key factors in the improved administration and integrity of the election, and accounts for the success and failure of the winning and losing candidates/parties. Despite its imperfections, the 2015 presidential election appears better effectively administered, resulting in deeper democratic qualities of competition, participation and legitimacy. One of the most important highlights of the chapter is the victory of the opposition APC and the alternation of power that occurred for the first time in Nigeria’s post-independence electoral history.

The chapter examines the dynamics of the National Assembly elections conducted on the same day as the presidential election. The analysis is situated within the context of the significance of the election as dictated by the changing party configurations in the National Assembly occasioned by the emergence of the APC and the defection of legislators from the ruling PDP. While the elections did not differ remarkably from the others, it resulted in the creation of a majority for the new ruling APC in the two chambers of the National Assembly. Issues such as party primaries and candidate selection, election integrity, election results and new composition of the NASS along party, gender and leadership lines were given consideration, with strong comparative ferment with previous elections under the Fourth Republic. This enables us to tease out important elements of continuity and change in the National Assembly elections.

The chapter discusses the governorship election, underscoring the significant difference between it and the presidential election conducted a week earlier in terms of the level of violence and the perception of being fair, free and credible. This is important because the election offered INEC the opportunity to remedy the lapses noted in the presidential election. The chapter analysed central themes in the administration of the election, examined the form and character of party primaries, candidate selection and electioneering campaigns; the administration and integrity of the election, a critical interpretation of the election results as well as the attendant reconfiguration of power among political parties. The chapter reveals that the administration of the 2015 gubernatorial elections constituted a critical step forward compared to the previous ones since 1999. Yet there were some negative tendencies such as violence, technological hitches and a few other forms of irregularities.

This concluding chapter offers a broad insight into the future of electoral democracy in Nigeria, drawing from the lessons of the 2015 elections. Apart from recapping the main arguments of the various chapters of the book, the chapter also teases out the key broad themes of continuity and change in the 2015 Nigerian general elections. It also highlights important lessons learnt from the 2015 elections. While the 2015 elections show considerable improvement in many respects, the highpoint of which was the alternation of power, there were reasons to believe that the road to electoral integrity in Nigeria remains rough and long. Other substantive issues explored in the chapter which relates to the limits of liberal democracy in driving governance and development agenda include questions about the adequacy or otherwise of the liberal democratic agenda which appears to foster political environment conducive to market reforms rather than the core issues of governance, popular empowerment and securing livelihood for majority of the people. Addressing these and related challenges require deepening electoral reform, building democratic institutions and moving from procedural to substantive democracy.

  • Ladi Hamalai

  • Samuel Egwu

  • J. Shola Omotola