INEC and challenges of 2015 elections
By Chinwe Ogbuka
SINCE the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the timetable for the 2015 and those of governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, the readiness or otherwise of the Commission to conduct the 2015 general elections has come into public discourse. It is against this background that the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega has been invited by certain organisations/groups (among them the media), which see the election as a determinant to the existence of the entity called Nigeria, to speak on what INEC is doing towards 2015 elections.
Prof. Jega explained these in detail, part of which was on the innovation the Commission has put in place to ensure it has a credible voter register, which is very critical in having credible elections, Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) and other measures to secure the electoral materials and other fundamental changes aimed at reforming the electoral process.
In a lecture, 'Building Credible Electoral Process for Democratic Sustainability' the chairman explained that the immediate objective of his team on assumption of office in 2010 was to restore credibility to electoral process based on the fact that quality of Nigeria's elections was progressively declining, adding that 'Our goal for 2015 is not just to make the elections much better than 2011, but also in compliance with global best standards.'
Some of the electoral reform measures introduced by the Commission prior to 2011 general elections, which brought about the improvement in the election include but not limited to production of a new Biometric Register of voters, introduction of a re-modified open ballot system, improved security features on sensitive electoral materials such as serial numbering and colour- coding of ballot papers, result sheets as well as security coding of ballot boxes, enhanced voter education and citizens engagement, more transparent procedures on Election Day, including pasting of results at polling units and collation centre, and creation of the Inter-Agencies Consultative Committee on Election Security to ensure coordinated engagement of all security agencies during election periods.
Prof. Jega enumerated some of its plans and programme of activities to achieve its goal. These include among others a strategic Plan (2012-2016), which is a detailed Election Project Plan (EPP)- the implementation of which will ensure seamless execution of specific tasks leading to the 2015 elections, comprehensive re-organisation and restructuring of the Commission, consolidation and de-duplication of the biometric register of voters has been completed, the register has tremendous integrity and compares favourably with the best register of voters on the African continent, continuous voter registration to be carried out nationwide to get all eligible voters on electronic register before 2015 elections and the Commission will not use Addendum register for elections again, issuance of chip-based permanent voters cards, which will be swiped with card readers in the 2015 elections to ensure 100 percent verification and authentication of voters, a communication policy/strategy designed to improve both internal and external communication by the Commission, and an electoral risk management tool will be deployed ahead of the 2015 elections to enable the Commission gather information about risk factors associated with elections.
However, INEC alone cannot bring about free, fair and peaceful election without the support of all other stakeholders. There are challenges ahead of the 2015 elections, which the chairman never pretended about as he spoke at the forum. The challenges, though not insurmountable are security, funding, attitude of the political class described as key challenge confronting the electoral system, which is of great concern to the Commission. This is so because even if the management of elections meets the highest standards, as far as the contestants do not play by the rules, there is definitely going to be problems.
Other residual challenges that can affect the general elections are pending amendment to the Constitution and the Electoral Act, Review of Electoral Constituencies and polling units and prosecution of Election offenders. Jega emphasized that it was not a task for INEC alone all stakeholders have important roles to play. The Commission is factoring the lessons it learnt in previous elections into preparations for 2015. Some of those lessons according to the chairman are that good elections require adequate and timely planning, that good elections are about effective partnerships and cooperation with relevant agencies, that good elections are about openness, that is to be open to new ideas that support creativity and be open to stakeholders, and that getting our elections right is work in progress, hence the Commission commenced preparations for 2015 general elections immediately after the 2011 elections.
Judging by the measures the Commission is putting in place and the zeal with which the Commission is preparing for the 2015 general elections; and if other stakeholders especially the political class and the electorate play their parts, 2015 will no doubt see Nigeria take her place in the global order of nations where electoral democracy has come of age.
• Ogbuka is chief information officer, INEC Headquarters.