Nigeria has experienced severe electoral flaws in recent elections, and this represents why poor electoral processes are one of the biggest threats to any democratic nation. Electoral irregularities represent a primary form of democratic backsliding, so the errors in Nigeria’s election represents a serious threat to democracy. Without evaluating examples of this, like Nigeria’s recent election, we risk not being able to notice and stop democratic backsliding from occurring in the future. Nigeria’s presidential election voting occurred on February 6th, 2023. There were many attempts to prevent people from voting such as closing election stations and purposely making the election process agonizingly slow so that some people had to wait “12 to 15 hours to vote” (Green et al.). There was also extremely low turnout in the voting process due to violence and attempts by the government to prevent Nigerians from participating in the elections.
This violence was not just restricted to voters either. There were “at least 18 assassination attempts on candidates and party leaders” in these last elections (Green et al.). In many cases of democratic backsliding, the electoral process acts as the bellwether to see how dangerous the backsliding is becoming. In Pauline Lutzenkirchen’s article “Unprecedented Democratic Backsliding in Hungary: Is it Too Late to Turn Around”, she makes the claim that the polls represent the “bitter reality” of a country and expose whether or not that country has corruption or democratic backsliding. Lutzenkirchen points out that elections are a democratic nations way of providing “accountability for politicians”. If a country does not have free and fair elections, then politicians remain unaccountable and it becomes dangerous territory where a possible demagogue may arrive and take power.
Some people may argue that keeping track of dangerous leaders is the most important aspect of preventing democratic backsliding, but free and fair elections is more important. With free elections a dangerous demagogue can never gain power because tools they utilize like violence, fear, and preventing people from going to the polls are not effective. Also, electoral problems are one of the very first signs of any type of democratic process or weakening of democratic traditions. If people know how to recognize these signs and call out the electoral issues, then they will be much more likely to prevent democratic backsliding or a dangerous demagogue from coming to power. Nigeria is a good example of this premise in action because it has some of the most apparent electoral flaws in existence today. The fact that electoral candidates have had many assassination attempts that have both failed and succeeded, shows that over time the slow weakening of the electoral process can turn into a complete breakdown. One could also argue that some electoral faults such as extensive waiting times, like I mentioned occurred in the election in Nigeria, are not that big of a deal. These small problems eventually lead to bigger problems, however, such as a distrust of the democratic system and the ability for more electoral flaws to occur. If Nigerians had been able to recognize these small problems in their electoral process, then maybe they could have protested or appealed to the international community for help. If this had happened then maybe the electoral process would not have degraded to the point where Nigeria is a barely functioning democracy with serious flaws.
One could also argue that this type of electoral breakdown could not occur in a western country with a significant democratic tradition. In “How Democracies Die”, the American South is used as a prime example of utilizing electoral flaws (90). The American South employed many ways to lower minority voting such as violence, disruptions to polling stations, and encouragement of low turnout. These ways are eerily similar to the methods used in Nigeria. These originally small methods of subverting the free electoral process such as literacy tests to vote, eventually led to major problems such as lynchings and outright violence used against African Americans to prevent them from voting. This eventually progressed to more dangerous forms of democratic backsliding like populist leaders like Huey Long gaining power in the South. This also created a one party rule in the South since African Americans could not vote and white voters voted overwhelmingly Democratic (Levitsky and Ziblatt, 89).
Nigeria is a wonderful example of why free and fair elections are important and why electoral flaws are the most important things to look for in order to prevent democratic backsliding. The flaws that occurred in Nigeria’s last election are extremely important because they are common in many situations of electoral fraud, and because they can occur in any country and lead to massive erosion in democratic principles. These instances of democratic backsliding and erosion have been found all throughout history from the present situation in Nigeria to the American South of the 1800s and 1900s. Situations like this one should be evaluated and recognizable to the average person in order to prevent things like this from happening in the future.
Green, Mark, et al. “Nigeria’s Flawed Election Risks a Democratic Backslide.” Foreign Policy, 14 Mar. 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/03/14/nigeria-election-tunubu-democracy-irregularities-violence-inec/
Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. Viking, an Imprint of Penguin Books, 2018.
Lutzenkirchen, Pauline. “Our Work.” Democratic Erosion, 25 Nov. 2022, www.democratic-erosion.com/2022/11/25/unprecedented-democratic-backsliding-in-hungary-is-it-too-late-to-turn-around/