Man as a political animal has always wanted to maintain his place distinct from brute animals. This man has realized through different methods and systems he has employed in his political advancement. The word politics etymologically is from two Greek words; polis and techne, which mean city and skill or art, respectively. Thus, politics literally means the art of governing a city. "Politics then involves the art of organizing men in a society to live and interact with each other to the full realization of their social nature."[1] Politics therefore deals with the state and its citizenry, whereby the citizens freely entrust to an individual the responsibility of organizing them.

In a democratic society, electoral process is the means through which this objective is achieved. This is because in a democratic system of government, it is the citizens that choose their leaders, and disenfranchising the citizens this right often leads to political instability. Looking at the political situation in Nigeria that has progress from one republic to another, one cannot but ask, why is the Nigeria polity instability? It is against this backdrop that this work aims at looking at the Nigeria electoral system as the bane of its political instability.


Meaning of Democracy

The word democracy is from two Greek words demons and kratein. Demons refer to "the people", "the masses" while Kratein means "to rule" respectively. Demokratia therefore means "rule by the people". According to A. S. Hornby, "democracy is a government in which all adult citizens share through their elected representatives."[2]

Meaning of Electoral System

Electoral system is a scheme of ideas or principles by which election is organized at which somebody is chosen by vote for something, especially a public office.[3] The Nigerian Electoral system according to Okop Umonbong, "is the single member constituency type with competitive multiparty and the first past the post winner system."[4] The method of voting used up till 2003 general election was the Open Ballot System (OSBS). But since 2007 it changed to electronic voting.


No one can ignore the uncertainty and the volatility that are characteristic of today's African political settings. The Nigerian experience is no exception of this instability. When instability is qualified by the adjective political, a whole configuration of ideas comes to play. This is partly because; the idea of politics refers to the manner in which a country is governed. According to C S Nwodo, "politics has to do with the manner of ruling a people and directing the lives of the citizens of a country, of arriving at decisions concerning public affairs or matters of public interest, of making fundamental choices and decisions that affect the lives of the citizens."[5] Political instability would then mean a bad government, because the welfare of the citizens that suppose to be its primary objective is not guaranteed.

Hornby's definition of democracy already mentioned, underscores the basic element of the discourse. It throws light about the significance of election and the fundamental right of every adult in a given society. The central idea linking democracy and electoral system is "the good life for the citizens, which could only be lived by active participation in the life of the city-state."[6] When this fundamental right of participating in the city-state is denied him, the result could spell anarchy for the polity.

It has already been pointed out that in a democratic government all adult citizens participate in politics through their elective representative. This underlines the fact that, the stability of any government depends largely on its electoral system. In other words, electoral system is the basis for social development. Reversely, inapt electoral system no doubt will definitely lead to anarchy. It is in this light that electoral system in Nigeria may be considered as the bane of political instability in the country. A survey of the different elections so far conducted in Nigeria lends credence to this assertion.

Electoral process in Nigeria at a glance

Electoral process in Nigeria can be traced to the pre-independent period when the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) was established to conduct the 12 December 1959 general elections into local councils, regional and federal legislatures. The election was supervised by Mr R. E. Wraith. ECN was later replaced by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) with Mr Eyo Esua as its chairman. The Esua led electoral body conducted the first post-independent general elections. The 1964 election in the Western region was controversial and led to violence which claimed prominent lives. It is believed in the annals of Nigeria history that the upheavals and social unrest that characterized the elections of 1964 and 1965 contributed majorly to Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu-led revolution in which the Sarduana of Sokoto, Ahmedu Bello, the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa and others were killed. This political instability eventually led to military overthrow of the civil regime and subsequent civil war.

After 13years in government, the military lifted the ban on political activities on 21 September 1978 prior to the establishment of Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) headed by Chief Michael Ani. FEDECO, conducted the 1979 and 1983 general elections amidst controversies that later entered into our electoral lexicon as ÔÇśtwo third majority.'[7] The electoral decree that ushered in the second republic had clearly stated that a candidate must obtain one quarter of votes cast in at least two third of all the states of the federation before he could be declared a winner. The non interpretation of this decree, affected the popularity of the electoral umpire before Nigerians and thereby making it possible for the military to make a come-back.

Four years after the Military usurped power, Gen. Ibrahim Babagida, who in a coup d'etat in 1985 had overthrown the government of Gen. Muhammad Buhari, appointed Prof. Eme Awa in 1987 to head the newly created National Electoral Commission (NEC) to conduct new elections. He only conducted the 1987 Local Government election after which he resigned his appointment. Prof. Humphrey Nwosu was appointed in 1989 to succeed him. Prof. Nwosu conducted the 1993 general elections, believed by many as the fairest and freest election in the history of Nigeria.[8] Unfortunately, the June 1993 presidential election was annulled by Babangida and the country was thrown into monumental chaos. However, by 27th August, 1993 an Interim National Government headed by Ernest Shonekan was put in place. Subsequently, Gen. Sani Abacha, in November of the same year sacked the Interim government, banned all political parties and declared political activities illegal.this brought an end to political experiment of the third republic.

Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar who took over after the death of Abacha continued with the transmission process, which Abacha started with the appointment of Chief Summer Dagogo-Jack. Gen. Abubakar set up a new electoral body ÔÇô the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and appointed Justice Ephraim Akpata as the headman. This commission organized elections that ushered in the fourth republic.

With the death of Akpakata in January 2000, Dr Abel Guobadia, was appointed by the Olusegun Obasanjo government to complete Akpata's tenure. He conducted the 2003 general election that facilitated Obasanjo's second tenure in office. The election was adjudged to be one of the worst in the country's election history.

Prof Maurice Iwu was in 2005 appointed to take over the INEC after the retirement of Dr Guobadia. Iwu conducted the 2007 general elections in which the late president Umaru Yar'Adua, emerged as presidential. "Iwu is seen as the most controversial chairman of the electoral body."[9] Since 2007 the judiciary have had to decide the many electoral litigations arising from that general election. Some legislators in both the National and State Assembly have had their elections upturned. Prof. Iwu is reputed to have broken records for electoral fraud and manipulation.


The general elections from 1963 till date have variously ruptured the political normalcy in the nation. While 1963 was largely marred by electoral malpractices, violence and eventual military coup, the 1983 elections were no less different. The 1993 presidential elections were officially declared inconclusive and created the enabling environment for another military coup. The 2003 general elections were preceded by the registration of some bogus 30 political parties. That made a joke of the entire process. That is now surpassed with the registration of 64 political parties as the country heads to the April 2011 polls. The electronic voting system introduced in 2007 did not checkmate allegations of massive rigging. With what went on in January 2011 as voters' registration exercise, one would as well conclude that 2011 elections may not be better than the previous one. It is a vicious circle that must be broken with people's power as it is done in some countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya to name but a few.

[1] Matthew Nwoko, Basic World Political Theories, (Ibadan: Claverianum Press, 1988), 2.

[2] Hornby A S, as quoted by Okafor F U, "Law, democracy, and Public Affairs: The Nigerian case" in philosophy and public Affairs, ed by Obi Oguejiofor, ( Enugu: Delta Pub, 1998), 75.

[3] Microsoft Encarta Dictionary DVD.

[4] Okop Umonbong, "The Voting System in Nigeria" A Paper presented at the AEA Seminar, held at Blackpool, England, 11th Febuary, 2006.

[5] Nwodo C.S, "Political Stability and Social Well-being in Aristotle's Political philosophy: Its relevance to the Nigeria Situation" in Africa philosophy and public Affairs, ed by Obi Oguejiofor, ( Enugu: Delta Pub, 1998), 59.

[6] Urger R Law in Modern Society (New York: Free Press, 1977), 143.

[7] Nigeria Electoral Process in Perspective. Assessed on 22 Feb, 2011.

[8] AbdulMutallib abubakar, "Nigeria's election Chiefs so far" Daily Trust Wednesday, June 9, 2010, pg. 6.

[9] James Ameh, "Chronicle of Chairmen of Federal Electoral Commission" from Assessed on 24, Feb, 2011.


Join the conversation through disqus comments or via our forum. Click on any of the tabs below to select your desired option. Please engage decently.

  • Disqus Comments
  • Facebook
  • Forum Discussion

Please register before you can make new comment