Since regaining its democracy in 1999, Nigeria has suffered a history of voter fraud and violence in each of its presidential elections. Improving the safety and legitimacy of Nigeria’s elections can go a long way in improving the nation’s democracy as a whole. Undemocratic precedent was set in 1999, as widespread rigging and violence marred the 1999 and 2003 Nigerian presidential elections. Again, evidence of vote rigging and fraud was discovered in the 2007 election. In 2011, post-election violence killed over 800 Nigerians. Further evidence of this trend continued this year as violence, fraud and inaccuracies, again, plagued the Nigerian presidential election.
More than 260 Nigerians were killed in wake of Nigeria’s latest presidential election. The presidential election took place February 23rd, 2019; however, it was delayed a week from its initial date of February 16th due to logistical problems with the transportation of electoral material. The election ended victoriously for incumbent president, Mahammadu Buhari. After election results came in, Buhari’s main competitor, Atiku Abubakar, claimed fraud in the election and rejected the results. These claims led to more violence from supporters from multiple political parties.
It is not likely that there was an accurate count in the 2019 election for several reasons. Postponing the election hours before it was scheduled prevented many people from voting. Many took work off and/ or traveled far to exercise their democratic right on the initial election day, but were met with news of a postponed election only five hours before polling was scheduled to begin. Many of these people could not afford to take work off again a week later. More blatant issues with the results include armed gangs that prevented people from voting, as well as destroying polling stations completely. And although there was reportedly less ballot stuffing in the back rooms by local politicians than usual, there were still allegations of ballot stuffing.
Along with the pre and post-election violence and fraud, Nigeria also continues to have a problem with getting a reliable vote count due to the difficult accessibility of voter identification cards. A voter identification card is required for anyone to vote in Nigeria. The process to get these cards can be extremely exhausting and inefficient. For example, Mary Yusufu (a mother of seven) explained that she had to stand in a line six times to receive a voter card. There are also reports that some people have accumulated multiple voter cards to be able to vote more than once. Some citizens have struggled to get a single voter identification card, while others have accumulated multiple, thus, enabling them to vote multiple times.
With all of these issues, the exact vote count is definitely disputable, however, Abubakar’s claim that fraud and violence changed the result of the election is likely false. Buhari won by a large margin, gaining about four million more votes than Abubakar. The grievances above also have not been proven to be tied to President Buhari, and even if they could be, they would not be enough to have changed the outcome of the election. The fact that the election has been accepted as legitimate does not excuse the violence, fraud, and inaccuracies that occurred in it.
Despite the ongoing issues with Nigeria’s electoral process, there is reason to believe that Nigeria’s democracy is trending in the right direction. Nigeria is in its longest (ever) period of civilian rule since gaining independence in 1960. Nigerians can continue to strengthen their democracy if President Buhari, the electoral commission, and the general Nigerian population will work towards eliminating their trend of electoral violence, fraud and inaccuracies.