Nigerian Elections: A History and a Loss of Memory

Nigerian elections

When in December 2011, yours sincerely had an opportunity of a lifetime to visit Israeli museum built in memory of the victims of the holocaust in Europe during the Second World War, our tour guide said the place was built to remember the victims and to ensure it does not happen again. It therefore presupposes a national commitment to memory and good historical habits.

For most Nigerians, the outcome of 2019 elections as a whole gives so much concern that they have chosen to remain quiet for some time. These classes of silent-keepers have rather tried to remain meditative, and introspect on the affairs of our nation-state, Nigeria. This writer is one of such people. Despite the level of involvement or attachment to the electoral process and the deep concern for the survival of our country and the well-being of its people, one did the best to be objective in relations to the campaigns, the political parties and the 2019 election.

This analysis is a product of a deep review of the history of Nigeria’s elections and their implications over the years. This should help us revive our culture of remembrance which is naturally poor among us as a nation and a people.

In 1959, the election that ushered in political independence was conducted and superintended by the British colonial government. It produced the political leaders of Nigeria at independence from mainly the National Council for Nigerian and Cameroons (NCNC), Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and Action Group (AG). There was seeming arrangements that portrayed power sharing and no political party looked too irrelevant in the political process. The NPC and NCNC formed an alliance to produce a federal government in which Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC became Governor-General and later President while NPC produced the Prime Minister in the person of Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Belewa. The AG constituted an official opposition. Despite the usual challenges of a new nation, the joy of independence triumphed over the rough interplay of the centrifugal and centripetal forces of that era.

Nigeria, in the real and practical sense commenced its electoral journey in 1964; having achieved the status of a republic in 1963 with the elections supervised by the mostly Northern Peoples Congress’ controlled Federal government. The political alliances formed by the two opposing political forces of that First Republic produced Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) and United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA) before the elections. The outcomes of the elections nationwide were considered massively rigged in favour of the NPC and their allies; especially in the western region. It was very glaring the signs of electoral confusion were imminent and visible. Election meant to take place on the 30th of December 1964 did not take place until 18th March 1965 in some constituencies in Eastern Region, Lagos, and Mid-Western Region due to a boycott in December. This was the early sign that Nigeria would have it tough with elections in its political journey to nationhood.

The election was marred by violence and manipulations. The ensuing crises led to series of riots in the Western region and created a situation that came to be known as Wild-Wild West. A state of emergency was declared in the West, Chief Awolowo and his associates were accused of phantom coup plotting, tried and sentenced to prison. Nigeria was not the same again.

The scenario of the period and political atmosphere created then provided an alibi for the misguided military officers who planned and executed the first military coup on January 1966, and its counter-coup of July 1966.  To put it simply, blood flowed and stained the nationhood of Nigeria. The innocence of the Nigerian people was violated and many prominent and innocent citizens were murdered in cold-blood. Wanton pattern of killings and annihilations of political figures had been inaugurated; Nigeria became a theatre of blood and of senseless massacre of human lives till a full blown war took place in the seven-year old nation between 1966 and 1970.

I am sincerely of the view that all the sad developments and occurrences of the period that culminated to the Nigerian civil war were the consequences of the rigging and violence of the 1964 elections. These sad political situations justified military rule for thirteen years – 1966-1979.

The Federal Military government under Olusegun Obasanjo organised the 1979 election to return Nigeria to civil rule within the political framework of five political parties. National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), Great Nigeria Peoples’ Party (GNPP) and the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). The outcome of this election did not generate crises or destructive forces beyond the argument and litigations in court about 2/3 of 19 States as in the case of whether NPN had won the election according to the Nigeria’s Constitution and Electoral Act or a bye –election between the NPN and UPN. The NPN could not in the end form a government but had to go into coalition with the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). 0014713381

From the way that government was constituted on the basis of coalition of two political parties, the rainbow nature of the National Assembly of 1979 to 1983 and college of governors of the 19 states of Nigeria then one could observe the wisdom in power sharing instead of a ‘‘winner takes all!’’ brand of politicking. The five political parties won elections in their strongholds but there were neither an exclusively northern parties nor southern parties.

When the President Shehu Shagari led NPN‘s federal government superintended over the elections of 1983, it was glaring in its outcome that the seed of destruction was again sowed by the NPN’s plan and intention to win everywhere and for strong political office holders to “deliver their states” whatever that means in classical political terms, beyond the warped reasoning of the average Nigerian politician, who behaves like the proverbial sheep, who pollutes its own body imagining it was cheating its owner.

The second tenure of President Shehu Shagari lasted only three months and ended in a military coup, because of the 1983 rigged elections. Nigerians welcomed a Head of State called Major-General Muhammadu Buhari and his men. The military again due to faulty elections of 1983 and associated fallouts rationalised their return to politics. The military junta took turns to rape Nigeria and run an unrealistic transition plan particularly the Ibrahim Babangida administration, whose transition plans created the two political parties called Nigerian Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The conscription of Nigerians into these two parties by military fiat led to the elections of June 12 1993, which Chief MKO Abiola won but which was annulled. The annulment of June 12 elections by Ibrahim Babangida constitutes a violation of the sanctity of the ballot box and the will of the Nigerian people. This violation triggered crises and political upheavals that impacted so negatively on Nigeria that no one can in his or her true  sense state that Nigeria has overcome the June 12 arrogant mistake till  date. Thousands of lives were lost because of poor management of elections. It augured well for no one. Just like General Gown said the Nigerian civil war had neither victor nor vanquished.

With the annulment of June 12, Nigeria and Nigerians continued to suffer brutalisation in the hands of the military until 1999 when civil rule returned on May 29th1999 led by a retired military man and former Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo. The elections of 1999 saw three political parties winning elections at the state and national levels, with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) producing the President of Nigeria; so arranged to assuage the ill-feelings generated by June 12 annulment and crises.

In 2003, the PDP federal government was to supervise one of the worst elections in the history of Nigeria in a bid to “win everywhere”. That election was massively rigged by the PDP and tended to destroy the growth and emergence of opposition parties in Nigeria’s democracy. The champions of that era however never enjoyed the four year controversial mandate as it was a period of free for all fight in the presidency. Nigeria was the loser!

2007 elections were also massively rigged as it was dubbed “do or die” by President Olusegun Obasanjo. In a hasty bid to checkmate then Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s quest to succeed his principal, President Obasanjo in 2007, the PDP and Obasanjo foisted Governor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on the country as President. The election was so badly and violently rigged under the chairmanship of Professor Maurice Iwu’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), that the European Election Observer Mission in Nigeria reported that “Nigerian leaders had deceived their people”. This drew the anger of Obasanjo’s government which asked the foreign election observers to leave Nigeria.

The rate of election petitions and litigations that followed the 2007 elections was of monumental proportion among the three major political parties and their candidates then, both at the national and state level elections – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), and Action Congress (AC) with Umaru Musa-Yar’Adua, General Muhammadu Buhari and then Vice President Atiku Abubakar respectively.

President Umaru Musa-Yar’Adua in his inauguration speech, acknowledged the fraudulent nature of the election that brought him to office to the admiration of the whole world and his countrymen. He went on to set up a high-powered Electoral Reforms Committee which was chaired by Justice Mohammed Uwais. The Committee made far-reaching submissions in their report which was applauded by the nation, but which late President Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan implemented in a half-measured and perfunctory manner leaving Nigeria’s electoral process still in limbo of malpractices, rigging, ballot snatching, violence, fraud and evil manipulations which still haunt us till date.

Neither President Yar’Adua nor the Nigerian people enjoyed this mandate that was fraudulently given as the President was in and out of hospital in and out of the country till he left this world leaving behind controversies and unnecessary crises that almost brought the nation to a halt.

Since independence, the outcomes of fraudulent elections have always threatened national peace and security; continually questioning the existence of Nigeria and bringing its economy to its knees; creating an ugly image of Nigeria as a nation that takes one step forward, while taking several steps backwards in its march to nationhood and economic development.

The 2011 and 2015 elections under the supervision of Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC and under the superintending influence of President Goodluck Jonathan saw to the decrease in tensions in our body polity as it relates to elections and its associated crises in Nigeria. The litigations also reduced and opposition politics improved in Nigeria, strengthening our democracy.  The only ugly side of this electoral period was General Muhammadu Buhari’s aspirations and utterances. He had registered a political party called Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which statements and body language during campaigns in the northern part of Nigeria triggered electoral violence, when he lost in 2011 to President Jonathan. Several people, among who were Nigerian youths on national service lost their lives in the northern part of the country, while working as ad-hoc staff of electoral INEC.

In 2015, Goodluck Jonathan lost to General Muhammadu Buhari who had become a candidate of a new alliance called the All Progressives Congress (APC). Jonathan congratulated Buhari even before the results were fully announced. Neither Jonathan nor the PDP went to court to challenge the outcome of the elections and these had a trickle-down effect on other candidates. President Buhari’s electoral history has been a chequered one that if subjected to forensic examination may turn out to be one that has claimed many innocent lives, due to the violence, it has generated.

So, with General Muhammadu Buhari’s victory Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief. Now that someone whose supporters are fanatical, a champion of anti-corruption and good governance and credible and transparent elections, Nigerians looked forward to a peaceful country that will be characterised by successful fight against corruption, good and transparent governance, and most importantly credible elections. These were the reason, why Nigerians celebrated the victory of President Buhari and his inauguration as Nigeria’s leader.

However, four years after, most Nigerians’ expectations and the promises of government have been met in half measures. The last straw in the network of failures is the inability of the Nigerian people to witness a free and fair election in the February and March 2019 elections which claimed several lives, several unfinished and rigged elections as if we have returned to the sad years of 2003 and 2007 “do or die” era.

We thank God for the peaceful way those who feel aggrieved at the elections results have gone to the Election Petitions Tribunals. At the last official count, 736 election petition cases have been filed in courts. A situation that make Professor Maurice Iwu and Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari two sides of one coin. These four men have one thing in common – supervisors of the worst elections in Nigeria’s history.

Renowned historian Professor J.F. Ade-Ajayi sees history as the ability to think in sequence and to see things in time perspectives. He encourages the human race to develop and practice historical habits; because history is a rear-guide mirror. It enables you watch your back so that you can chart the future. Nigeria’s electoral history is a study in controversies, violence, deaths, national crises, civil wars, riots and national destructions. A good application of historical knowledge will enable us avoid these disasters in future.

The thesis of this piece is that no massively-rigged election like the 2019 advanced the cause of national progress and development in the past. I am afraid, if the judiciary does not rise to the occasion and right some of the major wrongs glaringly done against the Nigerian state and her people at the 2019 elections most people may be forced to resign or advised to change school, from Nigeria’s college of democracy. It will not be good for us as a people. I am just thinking aloud!

Jim-Nwoko, a political science scholar, wrote from the Catholic University of Nigeria Abuja and can be reached via

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