Democracy’s incredible gift is meant to provide an enabling environment for everyone to feel safe. It is supposed to be a tool where leaders are elected credibly. If we allow our process to be ‘uncredible’, we will not enjoy its gift, because, for our democracy to be incredible, our elections must be credible.


Democracy is an incredible gift. It is a political system that requires a popular vote to take place in order to elect the leader of a country and other officials. If practiced properly, this incredible gift can promote change, foster equality, protect people’s interest, amongst so many other benefits for the citizens. It can be incredible. However, if this incredible gift is not utilised in the proper manner, if it is applied with recklessness and a state of impunity, it can instigate corruption, it may involve immoral practices during elections, it might even allow the misuse of public funds, together with so many other disadvantages for a nation. In this instance, it can be ‘uncredible’. The main tenet of this incredible gift is the conduct of credible elections.

Since the historic, peaceful, democratic transition of power to the opposition in 2015, when the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat to General Muhammudu Buhari (rtd.) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), national elections were just recently held in Nigeria. These elections have now become a litmus test on whether we applied a credible process in order to actualise the incredible gift we embraced four years ago. It is an assessment of whether we took two steps forward in 2015 and four steps backward in 2019.

No matter which side of the divide one is on, one must admit that the 2019 elections revealed serious shortcomings in the legal and institutional framework of Nigeria’s electoral system. If we yearn to clean up the electoral process, there’s no time to waste in ensuring that fundamental reforms are made. The country is still suffering from what I call a post-election syndrome, whereby the vociferous jubilations of the victors taunt the losers, as they head to the courts to seek redress.

While the elections may not been seen as a total disaster, many infractions that occurred during the process need to be pointed out, particularly in the gubernatorial elections. In those instances, the elections revealed the weak and partisan structure of the elections commission in charge of the overall management of the electoral process, and gaps in the Electoral Act and Constitution. In the elections, there were high levels of the abuse of human rights, while official impunity characterised the process in many places. Interested parties worked overtime to manipulate the electoral system in order to remain in power.

The desperation exhibited by both the incumbents and the opposition politicians to get the results in their favour by all means, was indeed appalling. Desperate and do-or-die politicians were quick to deploy every trick they had in their kitty to influence electorates, thus disrupting the peaceful conduct of the elections. Armed soldiers were deployed in violation of several subsisting court judgments from prior elections. In many instances, the political class remained resolute in making a mockery of our electoral process. During the exercise, the electoral guidelines were set aside, going by the level of intimidation of electorates. Some local observers, as well as journalists, have gory tales to tell about their experiences during the elections, with the culprits being from both sides of the divide.

Reports have it that the Kano supplementary elections were rather volatile, as politicians unashamedly deployed their thugs to force the electorate to do their bidding, despite the huge presence of security agents. Violence certainly punctuated the voting in several locations. There were clear instances and evidence of thugs and party agents intimidating voters into voting for particular candidates. The reports of several observer group showed a lot of irregularities, including the harassment of voters and INEC officials, and the abuse of the exercise. In the particular instance of Kano, the desperation and power tussle is, most likely, not unconnected to the State’s political value and calculation ahead of the 2023 elections.

The supplementary elections in Sokoto and Plateau States recorded little incidents but were marred by issues of underage voting and voter inducement. While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has continually reiterated that underage voting is illegal, the act still flourishes. Underage voting has been a major issue in Nigeria’s political discourse since the return of democratic government in 1999. This conundrum, which successive governments have not been able to solve, has thwarted the beauty of the incredible gift in the country.

With all these reported infractions in our electoral process, the first step to overhauling the system is self-awareness. We must put aside the self-righteous hyperbole and accept that in Nigeria, we, most likely, no longer enjoy a neutral electoral process in a functioning democracy worth its name.


As mentioned, voter inducement was another major flaw of the 2019 elections. Voters were induced through the engraving of pictures of candidates and political party logos on gift items during elections. And then there was the rampant strategy of covert vote buying. The gubernatorial elections in some states, where vote buying greatly influenced the electoral process, proved that it is a major consideration for victory among politicians.

With all these reported infractions in our electoral process, the first step to overhauling the system is self-awareness. We must put aside the self-righteous hyperbole and accept that in Nigeria, we, most likely, no longer enjoy a neutral electoral process in a functioning democracy worth its name. With the way these past elections were conducted, we must face the actuality that we are slowly sliding back to our old ways, back to becoming one of those struggling developing world states that need to claw its way slowly towards democratic integrity.

Arguably, political parties have shown that they are incapable of providing candidates that are worthy of being elected, that can be elected by people on the basis of their credibility, and that, as political parties, they can not get to power on merit except when they lure and induce people as a way to buy their candidates into power.

All those involved in the electoral process, including the government and state institutions, the executive and legislative branches, and political parties themselves, urgently need to further reach an accord on the nature and gravity of required electoral reforms needed in Nigeria. They should try to determine what should viably be done, given the political environment, and pragmatism of execution.

As a nation looking to advance and strengthen our incredible gift, we may have to seriously consider whether there should be a new type of INEC; possibly one that is entirely technical, or a peripheral mechanism with organic roles and arrangement that would assure political actors.

Aside from these intervening obstacles, the serious lack of trust amid the several actors in the electoral process, such as the civil society, the political parties, the citizens and the electoral commission, must be addressed. All parties have to be ready to put aside bias and partisanship in order to attain the overhaul that may be needed to give INEC the colonic rinse it needs.

It’s really a no brainer; in order to make our elections more credible, the recommendations of the Electoral Reforms Panels headed by Justice Mohammed Uwais (rtd.), Sheik Ahmed Lemu and Dr. Ken Nnamani respectively need to be fully and thoroughly implemented for the country to have flawless elections in future. The Uwais panel was set up by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and came up with a number of recommendations to improve the electoral process. In 2011, the Lemu Panel was set up by President Goodluck Jonathan and it reiterated the recommendations of the Uwais Panel and made further recommendations. In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari set up the Ken Nnamani Panel on electoral reports. That Panel studied the recommendations of the panels that came before it and also reiterated the recommendations and made further recommendations. However all the recommendations have been put aside by all the parties during their time.

Moving forward, it is paramount for us to ensure that future elections are carried out in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner. This would mean implementing an environment of trust, which can be facilitated through the application of some of the measures suggested above.


The 2008 Uwais report recommends establishing commissions to deal with electoral offences, constituency delimitation and political parties registration and regulation. Some of the power vested in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the State Independent Electoral Commissions are to be transferred to the new commissions. It further recommends proportional representation in elections to the federal and state legislatures and to the local government councils. The report also proposes that the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission should be appointed by the judiciary, rather than the president.

There have been and are still many calls by different groups, individuals and association for the adoption of this report. As it stands, INEC has too many tasks at hand, ranging from voters registration, monitoring of political activities to printing of materials and conducting elections. There is a need for the establishment of other commissions to perform the different tasks in such manner that they would ensure effectiveness and efficiency, leaving INEC to function optimally with fewer tasks.

The primary responsibility of this much needed reform lies with the government and the legislature, although the civil society can inform public opinion and guide politicians, who are otherwise too preoccupied with their partisan interests, away from driving the process to a stalemate.

Moving forward, it is paramount for us to ensure that future elections are carried out in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner. This would mean implementing an environment of trust, which can be facilitated through the application of some of the measures suggested above.

The factors that resulted in inconclusive elections such as violence, vote buying, over voting, underage voting, and cancellation have clearly repeated themselves in these past elections. Sadly, the factors became worse due to the desperation of politicians who turned elections into a do or die affair. There is need for a serious national conversation on critical areas of improvement in the conduct of elections in Nigeria. A revisit of the Justice Uwais’ electoral reform report has become quite essential.

Democracy’s incredible gift is meant to provide an enabling environment for everyone to feel safe. It is supposed to be a tool where leaders are elected credibly. If we allow our process to be ‘uncredible’, we will not enjoy its gift, because, for our democracy to be incredible, our elections must be credible.

Hannatu Musawa; @hanneymusawa; www.hanneymusawa.com; www.facebook.com/hannatu.musawa; www.youtube.com/HannatuMusawa