the role of the academia and civil society in ensuring free and fair elections in nigeria

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the role of the academia and civil society in ensuring free and fair elections in nigeria


Political scientists have focused on civil society and factors which impede its development in the context of democratization. Civil society is a matter of concern for political scientists because in the developed world, civil society is not only a major social and political force but it also acts as a check on the state and its institutions. To this extent, political scientists are writing on its effectiveness in Africa (Zuern, 2000; Gyimah-Boadi, 2004; Bujra and Buthelezi, 2005). Civil society in Africa is largely dependent on the state, and in turn occupies a weak position in relation to the state. In the light of the weakness of institutions in Africa especially parliament, civil society has the potential and remains the only agent (apart from the media), to act as a counter force to the state. However, the challenges it (civil society) faces make it difficult for it to play this crucial role. What are these challenges? We shall address this question in due course.
* Political Science Department, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti **Department of Political Science, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti

With the global acceptance of democracy and with most countries in Africa having shifted towards democracy and accepting it as the best form of government, the question that nags perceptive observer, especially political scientists, now is if democracy in Africa is consolidating following two decades of democratization. Scholars are asking how civil society, the state and the military facilitate or thwart the consolidation of democracy in Africa (Solomon and Liebenberg, 2000). In a liberal democracy, elections are not only the basis of a democracy but they are also part of the major acceptable ways the governed communicate with those who govern. They offer the electorate the opportunity to indirectly participate in decision making by choosing their representatives thus making them accountable. Moreover, elections in a democracy confer power, authority and legitimacy on a government. In this way, they are the gateway to resources. Larry Diamond (2004:17) posits that systems are often classified as democratic in a narrow electoral sense on the basis of how they appear, rather than how they really operate: According to him “One of the most common mistakes in classifying political systems is to score country as “democratic” because it has at least somewhat competitive, multiparty elections. Unless these elections are truly free and fair, they do not produce a democracy. A number of regimes in the world today- such as Nigeria, Tanzania, Russia and Ukraine – are at least ambiguous in this regard, and by a demanding standard, fail the test”. It has been argued that holding regular, free and fair elections is the hallmark of building a democratic society. This is because the election process determines who should stay in office, who should be thrown out of office and who should replace those thrown out (Harrop and Miller, 1987). This process is not only a necessary means to a greater end/good of ensuring that a given population owns its destiny, but is also an end in itself as a fundamental human right. This means therefore that it is important to understand how and why a particular population is likely vote in an election especially for those aspiring to lead. One challenge for Nigeria’s democracy is how to ensure transparency in the electoral process. The electoral system of a country is the critical institution which shapes and influences the rules of political competition for state power because it determines what parties look like, who is represented in the legislature, how accountable these representatives are to the electorate and above all who governs. It is good to know that the way an electoral system operation
determines the degree of public confidence and support for the democratic system itself. An electoral system regulates elections and other related activities. This paper seeks to examine the roles of the civil society in electioneering particularly in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. It should be noted that the academia is indisputably a part of the civil society.
Conceptualizing Civil Society
The concept of civil society is now accepted in modern political science as an intermediary between the private sector and the state. Thus, civil society is distinguished from the state and economic society, which includes profit-making enterprises. Nor is it the same as family-life society. Civil society, as Larry Diamond (1995:9) defines it, is:
the realm of organized social life that is voluntary, self-generating, self-supporting, autonomous from the state, and bound by the legal order or set of shared rules… it involves citizens acting collectively in a public sphere to express their interests, passions and ideas, exchange ideas, exchange information, achieve mutual goals, make demands on the state, and hold state officials accountable. It is an intermediary entity, standing between the private sphere and the state

Civil society involves voluntary associations and participation of individuals acting in their capacity under the framework of private contractual relationships. These include NGOs, trade unions, advocacy groups, market associations, human rights groups, religious associations, farmers’ cooperative and movements and women thrift societies (JDPC, 2005:16). Civil society can also be defined as what is not part of the state, it is a vast ensemble of constantly changing groups and individuals whose only common ground is their being outside the state and who have acquired some consciousness of their being outside the state. While the civil society attempts to resist the encroachment of the state on what is private, its various organizations also seek to influence the state in the exercise of public policy and the allocation of valued resources. With this in mind, civil society may encompass a wide range of organizations concerned with public matters. They include civic, issue-oriented, religious, and educational interest groups and associations. Some are known as nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs; some are informal and loosely structured. This is further explained by Carothers (2000:19-20):
Properly understood, civil society is a broader concept, encompassing all the organizations and associations that exist outside of the state (including political parties) and the market. It includes the gamut of organizations that political scientists traditionally label interest groups—not just advocacy NGOs but also labor unions, professional associations (such as those of doctors and lawyers), chambers of commerce, ethnic associations, and others. It also incorporates the many other associations that exist for purposes other than advancing specific social or political agendas, such as religious organizations, student groups, cultural organizations (from choral societies to bird-watching clubs), sports clubs, and informal community groups.
Civil society is defined here as a sphere of social interaction between the household and the state which is manifest in norms of community cooperation, structures of voluntary association, and networks of public communication. One must acknowledge that civil society — like the state and political society — is a theoretical concept rather than an empirical one. It is a synthetic conceptual construct that is “not necessarily embodied in a single, identifiable structure” (Bayart, 1986, 112). To make it serviceable for purposes of development assistance, we must identify the observable parts of the composite concept. Drawing on the definition presented above, we distinguish the institutions of civil society as: (1) The norms of civic community. The most important values for the construction of civil society are trust, reciprocity, tolerance, and inclusion. Trust is a prerequisite for individuals to associate voluntarily; reciprocity is a resource for reducing the transaction costs of collective action; political tolerance enables the emergence of diverse and plural forms of association. These values are promoted by citizens who actively seek to participate in public affairs. The presence of civic norms can be measured by sample surveys and public opinion polls and observed in voting, “joining,” and varieties of collective behavior. These norms of civic community are taught not only in the family but also by civic organizations such as schools, churches, and community groups. (2) The structures of associational life. In order for civic life to become institutionalized, it must be expressed in organizational form. The most common organizational structure in civil society is the voluntary association, a grouping of citizens who come together by reason of identity or interest to pursue a common objective. There are various types of voluntary associations ranging from the localized, informal, and apolitical on the one hand to national, legally-registered, policy
advocacy organizations on the other. While policy advocacy groups may have the largest and most direct impact on national political life, they do not exhaust the relevant organizations in civil society (Blair, 1993b). Whether or not they are explicitly oriented to civic or political functions, all types of voluntary association help to populate and pluralize civil society. (3) The networks of public communication. In order to be politically active, citizens require means to communicate with one another and to debate the type of government they desire for themselves. Civic discourse can take place in various fora, the most important of which are the public communications media, both print and electronic, State or private monopolies Within the context of this paper therefore, civil society would include: trade unions; professional associations, students’ unions, artisans and other special interest associations; the media, and various types of Non-Governmental Organisations such as community associations, religious and advocacy groups.
Election has an intrinsic value for democracy. It affords the translation of many fictions of democracy into reality. Democracy is nominally defined as a system in which sovereignty resides in the citizens. In modern large-scale and complex societies, democratic governance demands that people elect their representatives into the government, especially the legislative and executive organs. Therefore, election is not a sufficient condition for democracy, it is a necessary process. As a result of this, a system of government cannot be regarded as democratic if it does not result from choices of parties, politicians and policies made by citizens through free and fair electoral rules, processes and administration (Alemika, 2006: 138). Elections make a fundamental contribution to democratic governance. Because direct democracy—a form of government in which political decisions are made directly by the entire body of qualified citizens—is impractical in most modern societies, democratic government must be conducted through representatives. Elections enable voters to select leaders and to hold them accountable for their performance in office. Accountability can be undermined when elected leaders do not care whether they are re-elected or when, for historical or other reasons, one party or coalition is so dominant that there is effectively no choice for voters among alternative.


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