As the final declarations of contestants for the February elections emerge, it is becoming extremely clear that both the presidential and many gubernatorial will be closely fought affairs. The emergence of the APC as an amalgam of the major opposition parties means the PDP will not have an easy breeze through. The PDP has shown itself however to be a resilient fighter ready to contest for lost territory and win as we have seen in the Ekiti elections earlier this year.

As political tensions would be pushed to their maximum limits given the emerging contours that the election campaigns would be less issue based and more aligned along the fault lines of religious and regional differences, accepting election results would be a key to future political stability and the consolidation of our democracy.

Democracy is a process leading to a change in political culture in which people accept the verdict of the people whether or not it favours their interests or ambitions. At the formal level, democracy is about the establishment of constitutional rule, the operation of a multi-party political system and the organisation of regular, free and fair elections. It a more profound level however, democracy is about a process leading to a profound socio-political transformation that allows freely elected rulers and the majority of the civil population to impose their supremacy over previously ruling oligarchies of the military or civilian ethno-regional cabals.

Democracy implies the development of a political culture in which a significant membership of society becomes composed of citizens who become the key agents of political rule. The most immediate challenge confronting the process of democratic consolidation is that of ensuring that democratisation is accompanied by the institutionalisation of constitutional rule. Constitutions, it is generally acknowledged, do not in themselves make democracy.

Many African constitutions are excellent documents; they have most of the right provisions about the rule of law, human, civil and political rights, elective institutions, governmental accountability, and separation of powers etc. the problem however is that these provisions are not followed. The political systems are characterised by excessive arbitrariness and abuse of power, the lack of basic freedoms and denial of popular sovereignty.

Accepting outcomes of elections is important because in its essence, an electoral system is an alternative to violence as a means of achieving governance. However, when an electoral process is perceived as unfair, unresponsive or corrupt, its political legitimacy is compromised and stakeholders are motivated to go outside the established norm to achieve their political objectives. Electoral conflict and violence then become tactics in political competition. The caveat therefore is that electoral outcomes are accepted in democracies because they reflect the choices made by citizens, when the do not, the Pandora’s box is opened.

In many African countries such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ethiopia, Togo, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, the Gambia, Cameroon, Liberia, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone, some elections have been so compromised that they have created the basis for major national political crisis. Only Botswana, Mauritius and Senegal have been able to sustain the independence democratic regime that took over power.

The result of these setbacks to the spread of democracy in Africa is that a significant proportion of the African people have not yet had the opportunity to experience democracy. One of the real tests of democracy is the acceptance by those in power that others who criticise them and are indeed trying to take over their exalted positions are legitimate players in the system. This has been a major challenge in most African countries and 2015 will be a real test for Nigeria in this regard.

It was Nigeria’s former President, Olusegun Obasanjo who drew attention in a dramatic way to the democratic blockage by incumbents who do not accept that their opponents have a legitimate right to seek to replace them in office. Obasanjo argued that in most Africa languages, “the word opposition has the same meaning and connotation as the word enemy. Can we possibly conceive of a loyal enemy? Yet, the institutionalisation of opposition was one of the pillars upon which the structures and processes that were bequeathed to us were supposed to rest.” I am not sure of the breadth of Obasanjo’s knowledge of African languages and I am not able to verify his claim on the orthography of African langauges, what I do know however is that many African sitting presidents have indeed seen their opponents as enemies who must not be allowed to accede to power whether or not they receive the votes of the people.

In Nigeria, it was the Babalakin Commission of Inquiry that demonstrated with judicial evidence that during certain elections, the then electoral umpire, the then Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), had falsified the outcomes. The site was the former Ondo state and the occasion was the 1983 gubernatorial election. The Commission proved that the results released had no relationship with votes cast.

The people of Ondo State had known that before the pronouncement of the Commission, they went on the streets rampaging immediately the false results were announced. Yes, it is important that people accept election outcomes but the key issue is that the outcomes announced must reflect the choice made by the majority of the people.

There is hope for this because after severely rigged elections in 2003 and 2007, the 2011 elections were relatively free and fair. Although there were a number of challenges that emerged during the elections, most observers were of the view that the outcome of the presidential election in particular did represent the choice of a majority of citizens. Unfortunately however, the 2011 elections turned out to be one of the bloodiest in the history of Nigerian democracy.

Post election violence has for long marked Nigerian elections mainly because of perceptions of the abuse of incumbency powers for the purpose of preventing a level playing ground for elections and organised electoral fraud. The winner takes all nature of our first past the post (FPTP), electoral system also produces desperation as the losers know that their fate will be political and economic annihilation so no ones wants to accept the possibility of losing. The character of post election arbitration, which is slow, loaded in favour of incumbents and corrupt also increases the level of desperation.

All these factors indicate that the very minimum to guarantee the forthcoming elections do not become our albatross must be to ensure their integrity. One good indication of hope in accepting credible election outcomes was the June 21st 2014 Ekiti gubernatorial election. The incumbent, Kayode Fayemi believed strongly that he had performed creditable and would therefore win. The outcome from the people however was that his opponent, Ayo Foyose of the PDP won had won with 56.34% of the votes cast.

The incumbent Governor Fayemi lost with only 33.41% of the votes. The large number of civil society observers that covered the elections had concordant reports that the elections were generally free and fair and the results accurate. They did raise concerns about the excessive presence of security personnel, which appeared to intimidate voters but the results were not in doubt. The incumbent governor accepted the results and today, Ayo Fayose has been sworn in as Governor. My fervent hope moving forward therefore is that electoral outcomes will reflect the choices made by citizens and when they do, incumbents and indeed all contestants must learn to accept the legitimate voice of the people.

Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, a senior fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, and Chairman of Premium Times editorial board, writes a Monday column from Abuja.