J2S: Democracy and My Lack of Confidence in it in a Developing World (Episode 10)
The 2023 election results from the elections held in Nigeria on the 25th of February 2023 prove all my assertions about the failure of democracy in Nigeria right. Growing up we learned about democracy in primary and secondary school in a glorifying manner. Democracy was viewed as the best form of governing a people. We understood it to be a system of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Little did we know how immensely ironic that definition was in reality.
My Early Views on Democracy
During my time in primary school, Nigeria was still governed under the military regime of General Sani Abacha. I remember in those days, how hated he was, and how much hatred everyone had for the military government. It was so deep to the point that on the day that the president died in 1998, there was a celebration on the streets. The suya sellers near my house even gave me two free sticks of suya in celebration of the death of the president. At that moment, I was convinced that Abacha was an evil man and that military rule was the worst thing ever.
Then came 1999 and the switch back to a democratic government. Apart from one of my earliest memories of politics and election in Nigeria, Abiola’s campaign in 1993, the run-up to the February 27th elections in 1999 sticks with me. The former military ruler General Olusegun Obasanjo won the presidential nomination of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and was the favorite to win the poll. His nearest rival, the former civilian vice-president, Alex Ekwueme, won only 20 percent of the vote, while Obasanjo won 60 percent of the votes in that primary election. There was excitement in the air albeit the fact that coming from an Igbo family, Obasanjo, a Yoruba man had defeated an Igbo man in Ekwueme.
The Youths Are Far From Being Blind
By the time I was done with the University and had started to shape my own narrative of the subject of democracy, after learning more about other systems of government, my opinion changed. I had begun to lose my regard for a failing system after witnessing years of its bastardization. Was it really a government of the people, by the people, and for the people? That hasn’t seemed to be the case after 24 years. It has been a government of greedy corrupt politicians, by greedy corrupt politicians, for greedy corrupt politicians. And during this period, nothing has plagued us more through democracy than election rigging and a largely illiterate electorate.
Origins of Election Rigging
Election rigging is the practice of manipulating the voting process to obtain a desired outcome, dating back to ancient times. The concept of democracy dates back to ancient Greece, where citizens gathered in the agora to discuss and vote on important issues. However, election rigging was present, such as “ostracism” where citizens could vote to banish a public figure for 10 years. This was often influenced by powerful individuals who manipulated the vote to eliminate their political rivals.
With the development of technology in the 20th century, election fraud took on a new shape. Electronic voting machines were used for the first time in the US Presidential Election of 2000, and widespread allegations of fraud and irregularities were made. The election’s controversy brought attention to the flaws in electronic voting systems and prompted more scrutiny and calls for reform.
The History of Election Rigging in NIgeria
Election rigging has been a persistent problem in Nigeria since independence, with allegations of electoral fraud, voter intimidation, and violence. The 1964 general elections in Nigeria saw widespread violence and allegations of vote rigging between the ruling Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the opposition UPGA. The NPC was declared the winner, but the opposition claimed the elections had been rigged in favor of the ruling party.
The 1983 general elections in Nigeria were contested between the ruling National Party of Nigeria and the opposition Unity Party of Nigeria, with the NPN accused of using violence, ballot box stuffing, and other forms of electoral malpractice. The UPN rejected the results, leading to violence in several parts of the country.
The 1993 presidential elections in Nigeria were widely considered to be free and fair, but the military government annulled the results, leading to widespread protests and violence. Abiola was eventually arrested and jailed, and it was not until 1999 that Nigeria returned to democratic rule.
The 2007 presidential elections in Nigeria were widely seen as flawed and rigged in favor of the ruling PDP, leading to violence, ballot box snatching, and voter intimidation. The opposition ANPP rejected the results, leading to court cases and protests.
Election rigging allegations resurfaced in the general elections of 2019. The All Progressives Congress (APC), which is in power, is accused of rigging the elections by the opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), using violence, intimidation, and ballot box snatching. Despite the allegations, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) proclaimed the APC the election’s victor.
The Illiteracy of the Electorate
To maintain their hold on power, the ruling class in democratic countries like Nigeria ensures that the larger population of the citizenry is either uneducated or poorly educated. This gives them the power to be in control of the state for long periods of time. The weaponization of poverty can also be seen as one of the tactics deployed by the ruling class to hold onto power. For instance, in Nigeria, a country where about 133 million people are multidimensionally poor, vote buying becomes the tool for power retention.
An educated electorate is key to a successful democratic system. However, when countries adopt systems of government that aren’t peculiar to the state of the nation, then the people will be taken advantage of as seen in our Nigerian state.
The so-called father of democracy, Socrates, believed that an educated electorate was essential for the success of democracy. He argued that voters should be knowledgeable about the issues and candidates they were voting for and that they should be willing to engage in critical thinking and analysis. This school of thought was flawed during the 2023 elections in Nigeria, where a section of the electorate out of sentiment voted for the Labour Party without care or knowledge of who they voted for due to their support for the party’s presidential candidate.
Socrates believed that democracy was not just about voting, but about active citizenship and open debate. He also believed that the ability to think critically was essential for democracy to function properly. However, Socrates’ theories about an informed electorate have caused problems in contemporary democracies, particularly when it comes to election rigging. Politicians have attempted to rig elections in numerous nations by intimidating or misleading voters.
Strategies That Bring Tears
For instance, some politicians have tried to rig elections by preventing members of certain groups, like minorities or the less educated, from voting. They might accomplish this by passing laws requiring voter identification, closing polling places in particular places, or disseminating false information about voting practices. Others manipulate elections by spreading false or misleading information, using social media to spread fake news, and using their financial resources to control the media landscape and messaging.
These strategies run counter to Socrates’ ideal of an informed electorate. By preventing citizens from making decisions based on the best information available, they undercut the democratic process. Instead, they enable politicians to influence the outcome of elections by limiting access to information and the participation of particular groups.
The values that Socrates championed—critical thinking, open dialogue, and active citizenship—need to be promoted to address these issues. This entails supporting educational programs that give people the abilities and information necessary to make wise decisions, as well as programs that encourage access to reliable and unbiased information.
2023 Elections: Back to reality
In the just concluded elections in Nigeria, which are still being collated as of the writing of this article, there’s a plethora of evidence that indicates democracy isn’t working in Nigeria. Nigeria is playing a failed performance on a world stage, proving Socrates right and those who sentenced him to death for his views on democracy wrong.
As the young voters of Nigeria and those who travel far and wide to participate in the election continue to lose faith in the process, the ruling class continues to act with utter impunity and disregard for the people. Where next after these elections, some might ask. The fact remains, democracy is a failure in Nigeria, and a lot of work needs to be done before it should be reconsidered as the preferred system of government for a state like ours.
Going Forward After the 2023 Elections’ Saga
There is a cry going out for reformation, this is far from over. Sacrifices were made in blood, time, and money for the 2023 elections in Nigeria. There has to be a way forward. If we give up hope all is lost. There has to be a way out. We are undergoing labor pains at the moment, we have to bear this child. Which way Nigeria?
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