Retrospecting Nigeria’s electoral system ahead of 2023

By James Shim

Nigeria’s democracy is growing in age and participation. The current democratic experience is about two decades. An age many would say it is still young.

And as every normal system, it is faced with challenges, particularly in its electoral system. For example, the country’s electioneering process is always replete with high level of bloodletting and destruction of properties.

The only election in the history of democratic practice in Nigeria so far adjudged by both the international and local observers to be truly free and fair was that of 1993, under the administration of President Ibrahim Babangida. That electoral process was tagged Option A4.

OptionA4 was one of the approaches arrived at, in the conduct of party primaries for 1993 Presidential election. It was a multilevel strategy for the emergence of party flag bearers, in which aspirants from a party test their popularity from the ward level, before proceeding to compete with other ward winners at the local government level, while winners at this level compete at state level, till the process reached the federal level. The Modified Open Ballot System was used for the voting.

This Option A4 concept was one of the eight options presented by the National Electoral Commission to the Federal Government of Nigeria presumably that it will produce a President that will reflect the wishes of the people.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) that produced the novel Electoral system which was soon perhaps to be adjudged the best in the country’s democratic process was headed by Professor Humphrey Nwosu.

Nwosu was born on 2 October 1941, and became a Professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He served in the cabinet of Samson Omeruah, the then Governor of the old Anambra State, where he helped traditional rulers to hold staff of office and receive salaries, and settle intra and inter community land disputes. He also served as Chairman of a Federal Technical Committee on the application of Civil Service Reforms in the local government service. He was appointed NEC Chairman in 1989 after his predecessor (and former mentor), Eme Awa resigned due to a disagreement with the then President Ibrahim Babangida.

It was Option A-4 because every presidential aspirant irrespective of political party affiliation was subjected to popularity and acceptability test from the ward, local government, state, and national levels. At all levels, the system provided an easy elimination which was transparent and blameless. This was not about who was from where but who was with the people and how far he had touched their lives. It was the opportunity that produced Alh Moshood Abiola who eventually became the winner of the June12, 1993 annulled election.

President Muhammadu Buhari in his first tenure as a democratic leader conferred on the late Abiola the status of a president elect with all the paraphernalia of the office.

In a way, it will suffice to say truth can be hidden but never buried. That is to say Nigerians really exercised their franchise in 1993, they expressed their interests and desires freely and Moshood Abiola was democratically elected as President but the issues could not allow him to be sworn into office and the evil killed him. Long after, the hidden treasure emerged, truth came out and Abiola ‘s name is synonymous with democracy in Nigeria.

That is however by the way. The point here at is imagining why Nigerians keep talking about electoral reforms, with their rhetoric of creating a better society without any mention of a system that has been tested and proven to be effective, transparent, free and fair. Why, as the saying goes “why risk the long journey to Sokoto when the whole lot of all you need are in ‘shokoto’ that you have on your body. If the Nigerian policy makers are sincere about how to make the country and democratic system work, why feign the simple test result of 1993 electoral process. Why do we have to keep embarking on unrealistic, very expensive systems that will never produce the result of near truth from the masses as Nwosu did.

One thing is certain, change is necessary and permanent. But desirable change is always slow, gradual and adjustable. Many think all that Nigeria needs now is to get back to the Option A-4 Electoral process, improve on it by localizing it and making sure that all tiers of government elect leaders with the leadership elimination procedure. By so doing power will rest with the people and they will determine who gets it any time.

A system becomes near perfect when it is practiced over and over with corrections where necessary but not the “kick and go approach” that has become the feature of Nigerian governments. More so, now that we jettisoned the most popular Option A-4 only to continue to fail, it would be wiser to revisit the system that produced undisputed result. Somehow such an exercise will set a model that others will copy.


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