The successful 2015 presidential elections in Nigeria provide important lessons for how to conduct free, fair, credible and peaceful elections throughout Africa.
By Phillip Nyasha Fungurai
Elections are a sturdy determinant of democracy and nation building. In Africa, elections are weighed with regards to the question of quality, quantity and meaning, and according to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. An evaluation of the 2015 Nigerian election requires an examination of electoral behaviour and governance, cognisant of their centrality and strategic importance to the Nigerian renaissance. Democratic elections are the sole means of mass political participation by a citizenry, if conducted in a free, credible, peaceful and fair manner.
The 2015 Nigerian elections were the fifth since the ending of military rule in 1999. The major contenders in the presidential poll were the People’s Democratic Party, represented by Goodluck Jonathan, and the All Progressive Congress represented by Muhammad Buhari. The election was originally scheduled for February 14th 2015, but was postponed to March 28th to ensure a more tenable and congenial atmosphere. This was due to poor distribution of permanent voter cards and the dire need to curb Boko Haram threats in north eastern Nigeria. Hence the postponement was a mere attempt by the Independent Electoral Commission to promote free and fair election, as well as full participation. Only 45.1 million of the 68.8 million registered voters had received the permanent voters’ card; a meagre 34%. However other political contenders perceived it as a deliberate politically-induced act in favour of the People’s Democratic Party, rather than democracy and national security. Despite these claims and malfunctioning biometric card readers, the election resonated well with the tenets of democratic elections. Furthermore, the postponement was legitimate since the Nigerian constitution postulates that, “the election date is to be no later than 30 days before the expiration of the previous office holder’s term of office”. This implies that the election could have been legally held any date before 28th April.
Since 1999, the People’s Democratic Party has dominated elections in Nigeria. It was thus a huge to surprise when – as per the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance – Goodluck Jonathan peacefully conceded defeat and even congratulated his counterpart Muhammad Buhari. Goodluck Jonathan went a step further and urged his supporters to accept the electoral outcome. This made fruitful strides towards the triumph of democracy in the 2015 Nigerian presidential poll; a stride all African countries should draw lessons from. Muhammad Buhari amassed 15,424,921 votes against 12,853,162 votes for Goodluck Jonathan.
Unlike the 2011 elections in Nigeria – which witnessed the death of hundreds of people in politically-motivated violence – the 2015 poll was relatively peaceful. In the lens of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, the election was “peaceful and orderly”. Similarly, the African Union’s Electoral Observer Mission (EOM), commented that, “the election was done in a peaceful atmosphere and met the continental and regional principles of democratic elections”. This further dovetailed well with ECOWAS’ Electoral Observer Mission evaluation of the election as meeting the criteria of being free and transparent, despite pockets of incidents and logistical challenges. On the basis of the synonymous evaluations of the accredited observers, it makes intuitive and plausible sense to deduce that the Nigerian presidential poll was democratic. In light of Africa’s history and legacy of monarchical tendencies, fraudulent elections, coupled with leaders’ reluctance to concede defeat, the 2015 Nigerian election can be perceived as a gold mine of lessons on good electoral governance. With 36 states in Nigeria plagued with social instability, corruption, and terrorist insurgencies, one would have thought Nigeria was ripe for violent conflict: yet democracy triumphed.
Democracy and transparency at large were facilitated by statistical technology and the neutrality of the Independent Electoral Commission, coupled with a selfless Goodluck Jonathan and a patriotic citizenry. After his defeat, Goodluck Jonathan said, “Nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian, the unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else”, (Nossiter, 2015). This bears concrete testimony to the success of good electoral governance and democracy in a continent plagued with monarchical tendencies.
Lessons for Africa
There is strong need for electoral houses in Africa to usher into their programming the concept of good electoral governance. Transparent bodies would ensure the non-partisan conduct of elections, the existence of voter’s rolls subject to regular audits, fair civic voter education and accreditation of electoral observers based on the principle of objectivity rather than subjectivity. This can make fruitful strides towards improving the credibility of elections in African countries.
It is also important for bodies like the African Union, SADC and ECOWAS to put in place structures that monitor strict adherence to regional protocols on democratic elections. Most often than not, states marginalise guidelines on democratic elections and regional bodies do nothing in response. When a state conducts elections divorced from the tenets of democratic elections, regional bodies and the international system should refuse to recognise the winner as legitimate. This will compel states to hold democratic elections, particularly in reducing election rigging andthe partiality of electoral commissions. African nations, electoral bodies, leaders and long-serving presidents can thus draw worthwhile lessons from Nigeria which are of strategic importance to Africa’s rise to good electoral governance.
Phillip Nyasha Fungurai is a passionate young researcher who holds a Bsc Honours Degree in Peace and Governance. He is co founder and President of the Movement for Youth in Peace and Conflict transformation (Mypct) a youth association registered with the Zimbabwe Youth Council. He is also a Peace and Governance, Human rights and Democracy patron and specialist who works in cohorts with civil society organizations, think tanks and research institutes in Zimbabwe.