Election is an act of choosing or selecting candidates who will represent the people of a country in the parliament and in other positions in government. Through election the popular will of the electorate is expressed and realized. In modern democratic system, election is one of the principles of choosing a leaders.
Schumpetor (1998) sees election as the process of choosing qualified candidates into an existing vacant political post following due democratic process. It is important to note that elections can also be held in non government bodies like club, community based organization, women groups, national and international association for the sole purpose of choosing leaders of such organizations.
Functions of Election
- It enables voters to select their leaders of their choice and hold them accountable for their performance in office.
- It helps to facilitate social and political integration.
- Voting gives people an opportunity to have their say and through expressing partisanship to satisfy their need to feel a sense of belonging.
- It serves as a means of recruiting and appointing political leaders or office holders.
- It serves as a means of effecting or ensuring smooth change of government.
- It ensures acceptance of political leaders by the people.
- It help to ensure stability of government.
- It allow full participation of the citizens, especially the electorate in the government of their country.
- It make a government popular and democratic responsible.
- It serve as a means of ensuring that political sovereignty is vested in the people in a democracy.
- Through election the ultimate will of the electorate is achieved.
The factors that facilitate free and fair election in any given democratic state.
- Unbiased division of constituencies,
- Adequate arrangement for registration of voters and review of voters register.
- Qualification for elections must be on adult suffrage.
- Candidates must not suffer any intimidation or harassment during elections.
- Voters must be allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice. Party system must be such that voters must have alternatives choice of candidates.
- Secret voting must be encouraged.
- Electoral officials must be qualified men and women of unquestionable character.
- The provision of electoral materials should not be used against opposition.
- Elections result must be seen to represent the actual vote cast.
- The election tribunals must be made up of justices with credibility and disputes over election results must be determined within three to six months after the election before a candidate is sworn in as duly elected person.
- For free and fair election to exist, the country must be divided equally into electoral constituencies.
- There should be no gerrymandering to favour one political party against the other or to favour one political group against each other.
- The constituencies must be based on equal population or equal units.
- The division of constituencies must not be used against opposition, or community that does not support the party in power.
- The electoral body must make adequate arrangement for the registration of voters and the review of voters register.
- Those qualified must be allowed to register and to vote and be voted for. The situation where under aged citizens are registered and allowed to vote should be discouraged.
- The electoral body must also discourage the use of money to influence people vote for a candidate at elections.
- The voters must be protected during elections.
- They must be allowed to freely vote for candidates of their choice or to have choice of an alternatives candidate.
- Election materials must be evenly distributed and the handling of election materials must not be used against opposition.
- Secret ballot must be encouraged to protect the independence of choice. No voter should be allowed to vote more than once in an election.
- Anybody who is below the age of 18 should not be allowed to vote. Politicians should be discouraged from registering under aged children to vote.
- Voters should be allowed to choose the party and candidate of their choice.
- Electoral officers must be people who cannot be easily influenced by money, financial, or political gain.
- The counting of votes must be done in the presence of all interested parties. The result must not be altered to favour one group.
IS ELECTIONS FREE AND FAIR IN NIGERIA?
The conduct of a free and fair election in Nigeria has always been an issue. Most elections in Nigeria are marred with rigging, gerrymandering falsification of election results, use of armed men to rig elections, intimidation and harassment of electorates and candidates for election etc.
The use of law enforcement agents to rig elections has also been reported. Most elections in Nigeria witness bloodshed, clashes among youth wings, arson, kidnaps, acid bath, ritual murder etc. At the higher level, there are manipulations in the conduct of primary elections and party registrations, manipulations in the appointment of electoral commissioner and electoral officials, huddling of registration materials and voter’s cards, delay in arrival of election materials and electoral officials.
However, all this does not give room for free and fair election. Recently, the electoral law is a matter of concern because it is used to manipulate and consolidate the position of the rigger in the election. The election tribunals hears their cases after the winner has been sworn in, this makes it difficult for the petitioner not to have any chance of fair play.
ELECTION TRIBUNAL IN NIGERIA
Election tribunal are set up by the federal government in the case of federal and states elections. The state government sets up election tribunal for the state local government elections. The judiciary is responsible for the setting up of the electoral tribunals, whether it is in the state or federal electoral matters. Some justices of the court of Appeal are appointed to form the election tribunals in the case of the election into the presidency.
Other staffs of the court of Appeal are appointed to work with them as clerks. Judges of the high court are appointed into the election tribunals to hear the matters relating to election into federal constituencies and governorship; and election into House of Assemblies of the state. Each election tribunals is headed by a chairman. The state judiciary appoints judges into the election tribunals of the state.
The local government elections are verified by the tribunals whenever a petition against the conducts of the elections is received. The duties of the tribunals include verifying whether an election is conducted in accordance to electoral rules, whether the person elected is the person who has the majority of votes in an election and whether he was a member of secret cult etc or not qualified in age or certificate to contest.
The ruling of the tribunal is subject to appeal. However, the only recourse to an aggrieved party in an election is to challenge the person who won in a court or tribunal. A person who lost in an election files in a petition within the stipulated number of days and serves the respondent personally or though alternative mean of service as ordered by the tribunal. The respondent replies the petition of the petitioner within the required day and all other processes through his lawyer.
Note that a person who has no genuine grievances should not file a petition, but accept his defeat in good faith. After a petition and replies to the petition have been exchanged, a date is selected for the argument of the parties through their counsels. After the argument and address to the court or adoption of written address, a date is selected for judgement. The judgement or ruling of the tribunals could be appealed against by the aggrieved party, but where not appealed against, the parties must obey the judgement.
The final judgment of the court or tribunal in electoral matters is obeyed by parties. The election tribunals must be made up of justices with credibility. Dispute over election results or declaration of candidates or any matter relating to election must be determined within three to six months after elections. The disputes must be determined before anybody is sworn in as an elected candidate.
Free and fair elections demands that both foreign and local observers should be allowed to monitor the elections in all sections of the country and make suggestions. Those who looted Nigeria treasury with their position in government either as military officers or civilians should not be allowed access to power. Those who fall within this group should be barred from politics and should not be given appointment position in government. Only credible candidates should be given appointment position or allowed in politics.