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Issues In 2019 Elections And Future Exercises In Nigeria

By Enideneze Etete
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The 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections have come and gone, amidst mixed feelings surrounding credibility of the outcome. Nigerians and foreigners have expressed their positions for and against the candidates and parties declared as winners.

This scenario is largely due to some alleged flaws. They include planning and logistic problems; pro-government roles of federal security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); thuggery; arson; insecurity; militarization, intimidation of voters and violation of human rights; commercialization of votes and outright rigging and lots more.

Aside the above blights in the just concluded elections, there are other issues that bedeviled the electoral process, as observed by this writer who monitored the elections in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, and on the mass media.

Such issues to which this article attempts to sketchily address, could be highlighted to include pre-election processes for example, delineation of constituencies, wards and voting units/personalization of same; technology aided exercise; number of political parties; election campaigns and voter education and presiding over elections. The essence of trying to tackle these issues through this write-up is to try to contribute ideas that could help improve future elections in Nigeria.

Let us start with our electoral law which has some hiccoughs, that have led to many grey matters that need to be amended or needed to be taken care of by the

the amended version of the Electoral Bill of 2018, that was passed into law by the Bukola Sariki-Led Eighth National Assembly shortly before the 2019 elections, but was not accented to by President Mohammadu Buhari, for reasons best known to him.

One worrisome issue is that of the partial technology-aided voting in which Card Reader electronic device introduced by the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led INEC in the era of Goodluck Jonathan as President has paradoxically become a tool for empowering voters, while also aiding rigging.

As the events played out in the February 23, 2019 elections, the Card Readers were effective in some units and zones but ineffective in some other places. There were also reports of electronic manipulation of the Card Readers, deliberate non-use, poor signals arising from bad network, weak battery; confusion as to whether manual accreditation should replace use of the device were it is ineffective and inability or slowness of some electoral ad hoc staff in operating the simple machine.

The Card Reader pattern is also said to be inhibited by absence of specific and clear legal provisions to be so applied in elections, or be easily used for evidence in electoral tribunals and other courts.

However, the amended version of the Electoral Act 2015 impliedly provides in Section 52 that INEC has powers to determine procedures for election hence its decision to use Card Reader appears valid even without express provisions in that regard. But judgements by the Supreme Court in governorship election cases in 2015, declared the use of Card Readers as illegal, since the extant Electoral Act 2015 has no clear provision on its use instead that it stipulates manual accreditation of voters.

More so full technology-aided electoral process to the extent of accrediting voters; voting electronically and transmitting results in same manner is also yet to be legislated and fully applied in the electoral system.

Despite the legal lacunars INEC used Card Readers for accreditation of voters in the 2019 elections, still relying on the provision in Section 52 of the Electoral Act 2015 that it could determine procedures. With that proviso, INEC came up with a rule that voters not electronically accredited cannot vote. Yet, those not electronically accredited were reported to have voted in some places.

The Commission rejected pleas by concerned Nigerians to electronically transmit results from polling units to central collation centre. The rejection may have stemmed from President Muhammed Buhari’s rejection of the Amendment Bill of the Electoral Act 2018 which out to have guided conduct of the 2019 elections, and would have made it freer and fairer. Instead, it was perceived by the ruling APC that the electronic transmission of results and other provisions were to oust it from power.

Full Legal Backing for Automation
Really, the use of Card Reader, automated voting and electronic transmission need to be fully and clearly stated in our country’s Electoral Act to give full legal backing in subsequent elections so as to make voters choice count more than before. Reasons: a clear legislation on that could check mass illegal thump printing of ballot papers and falsification of election results.

To make electronic-aided system more effective in the future, all electronic gadgets for elections should be produced, supplied and configured or re-configured by neutral contractors, and under oath, not by cronies of any politician or persons in power, as was alleged in the case of the just ended elections. This too will help to check malpractices.

Having experimented electronic accreditation in two elections concurrently, 2023 elections should be fully automated or digitized to the extent that voting will be done electronically. In that light mobile telephone handsets, even ATMs along with the BVN, registered telephone numbers, National Identity Card Numbers could be securely used to cast votes. Already, mobile phones are used to conduct opinion polls as well vote for contestants in entertainment shows. So, one of or all the above methods could be used for voting in our general elections as well.

Another way is to produce or procure special mini handheld electronic device like a mobile phone, to cast votes from any location and digitally wire all votes and scores to a central computerized server/website that simultaneously and in real time, instantly show results online and on televisions and radio broadcast for all to see transparently, as in automatic electronic football score boards. Such special voting device could be made to accept voice, eye or finger print biometry to ease voting even for illiterates. This approach could also be further authenticated by BVN and National Identity Numbers.

Creation of More Election Units
The February elections also brought to the fore the largeness of geographical territories for implementing electoral policies and programmes. Campaign experiences and election exercises have proved that, new senatorial districts, federal and state constituencies, wards and polling units need to be created to ease election administration and enfranchise more upcoming adult voters.

This suggestion is even more valid, considering that communities and cities are growing in size and population daily. Thus, a new population census and new electoral legislation are equally important to create new senatorial districts, constituencies, wards and units to improve future conduct of elections in Nigeria.

Three other recurrent disturbing phenomena in Nigeria’s electoral system are appointment of electoral commission chairman and members; voter education and enlightenment as well as the number of political parties that should be registered to operate. The recent elections reaffirmed that these are still low points in these areas of the electoral system, and need to be addressed for simple and better elections in future.

Reduce Number of Parties
The pack of 91 political parties legally registered, out of which 73 contested the just concluded 2019 elections are too many, even for an INEC staff or a political scientist to name offhand, let alone asking student or a voter to do so. The names and symbols have become so confusing and uninteresting that even a literate voter gets confused by them. For the illiterate and aged voters, the situation made some of them to thump print for one party’s name and symbol that they are used to, even when they do not properly know the manifesto and personality of the party and the candidate. They are also the ones easily directed or paid to make a choice they would not have made at the polls.

Therefore, a new electoral law should be enacted to reduce the number of political parties to two, three or four and with provision for independent candidature to force parties and politicians to be loyal to their party and ideologies; promote internal democracy and competition among them. Pictures of candidates, branded with their party name and symbols should be included in ballot papers because often times, voters want to vote persons not party. Reduction of number of parties could also curb reckless defections under flimsy and selfish reasons.

Or, the new law could be made to allow many parties, but condition them to win a certain number of seats at local government councils to qualify for participation in state elections, then, get a certain number of seats at the state legislature to qualify for participation in national elections, so as to prune down number of parties and reduce the number of and size of ballot papers from almanac size to something appealing and convenient to use.

Intensify Voter Education/Campaigns
Prompt, regular and effective voter education and election campaign are very necessary for successful conduct of elections. But these aspects have continued to be treated with levity or rushed over unprofessionally by electoral bodies, parties and candidates and even voluntary organizations. These also played out in the last elections. Hence certain class of voters were not properly or promptly enlightened about parties’ and candidates’ ideologies/manifestoes; names and symbols of parties/candidates as well as voting patterns, for instance how to fold the ballot, which finger to actually use in thump printing, where voter list is pasted for observation and which ballot is for which box and which box is for which election. Illiterates and the aged, and to an extent even elites were confused in these regards.

The INEC, political parties and candidates also did not have enough time and adequate resources to implement campaigns, especially to the grassroots, just from November 18, 2018 to 24 hours to deadline first scheduled election in February 16, 2019, later February 23. Even when campaigns are done, they are in most cases not planned strategically with the aid of strategic communication and political experts, to present unique selling points of manifestoes and candidates to the electorate.

Also more of hate talks and personality attacks dominate speeches at rallies and in the media. The electorates often had no good opportunity of posing questions, but were instead merely entertained by the campaign events and handouts the forms of papers and edibles.

To improve voter education and political campaigns, good duration should be allowed by law; consistent voter education programmes and establishment of special voter education and political communication institutes, election/party/candidate management professional programmes of study in conventional tertiary schools; early preparations for elections on the part of INEC as well as routine collaboration with voluntary bodies, could enhance voter education and effective administration of future elections in Nigeria.

Enhance Independence of INEC
Apart from the aforesaid factors, especially education and enlightenment, independence of the electoral body is the hallmark of effective election administration. Thus the way the chairman and members are appointed into the electoral commission, how they are fired and funded could determine how independent the body would be in conducting free and fare elections.

The last elections seem to again put paid to fears that an electoral body appointed by a ruling party and approved by the Senate, fired by the ruling party and funded by the government headed by it, could be compromised to do the bidden of that party. Therefore, the pattern for appointing the electoral commission ought to be revisited. Some people often suggest that they should as well be elected. If that is okay, then, such election could be done by delegates or by an electoral college with the electors drawn on an agreed formula and reflecting all parts of the country.

A consolidated fund, backed by law could also be set up for electoral commission’s activities, to avoid bottlenecks that usually arise from power play among executive and the legislature, vis-à-vis, the commission in terms of trying to influence the body or merely showing power for recognition.

Another worrisome aspect of election administration in Nigeria as replayed in the last elections is the integrity of ad hoc staff, especially vice chancellors of universities, most of whom as past events have shown, did not pass the integrity test or are not brave enough to resist being influenced to rig elections. In this regard, as one discussant on a Nigerian private national television programme suggested, judges, should be used to serve as state returning officers.

This practice, the discussant said exists in Egypt. However judges without good record of integrity should not be used, if not that such an open duty could put a judge in the spotlight, hence any of them could be honest in such job. But then there is fear of exposing judges to attack, giving the risky nature of their profession.

Alternative clergy that have integrity could also be made state returning officers, given that some of them could take advantage to show case their integrity by being upright in such a national call to duty. My opinions though. You could marshal out yours too.

Depersonalise Polling
Also important for free and fair elections in Nigeria is the need to phase out voting in private residents, if a full electronic voting system that will not need to restrict the exercise to physical location might not be immediately achieved in 2023 elections. If physical and manual aspects will go hand in hand, then, polling units should be in public venues. The last elections reechoed domination of politicians and influential residents who claimed they own wards, ward headquarters and polling units. Of course, they may have arranged such units to their compounds in the past when new wards were created and voter registration was done manually.

Those self-acclaimed owners of units in their compounds, pride themselves as having delivered votes in those wards/units to their favoured candidates/parties, hook or crook. Or that they have succeeded in frustrating the chances of an unfavoured candidate/party. The mass media equally follow to hype such claims in their reportage/analysis of elections. These were largely noticed in the last elections.

To address these problems, full electronic voting system as earlier opined is the best solution as the polling unit for real voting would be for in online, not in physical location, while some other electioneering activities might still be done in physical spaces. Other remedies, if the electoral system is not to be fully automated are removal of polling units to public places so that nobody would claim them and intimidate voters, agents and ad electoral officers.

The media too should not glorify those who claim to have delivered or frustrated candidates/parties in elections. Beyond this aspect, the media should step up watchdog, critical and analytical journalism; educate the citizens as well as promote development journalism to better the electoral and governance systems in Nigeria.

Special Trial Bodies/Penalties
Post-election issues are often let to lie low. Consequently the same criminal acts are repeated in subsequent elections, to plaque the process and progress of the country. Most of the offences and offenders in previous elections where either not apprehended nor prosecuted, yet people have been maimed or killed and property lost or destroyed. The pre-election, during election and aftermath of the 2019 elections on Saturday, February 23, 2019 as observations show leave much to be desired in some places in terms of election-based criminality.

The scenario thus calls for the once-advocated special election offences disciplinary commission and tribunal to try suspected violators of election laws and rules; banning of victims from contesting elections, or voting in subsequent elections for a specified period; sack from employment position if a government worker; paying back of benefits of election position fraudulently won; life imprisonment for certain grade of offenses; reduction of remuneration to political officeholders; formation of unity government in which the runner up will serve as vice president, deputy governor or vice chairman as the case may be to reduce friction among contenders/parties and finally allowing election petitioners to take case to the ECOWAS Court as a final arbiter in election matters at presidential and governorship levels so as to frustrate incumbents from influencing judgments at home courts.

Credible Election/Good Governance
The key to good governance and development is free fair and credible elections in which voters are allowed to enthrone competent and upright candidates and political parties to lead them. Therefore, all the impediments to effective electoral system and workable democracy in Nigeria should be addressed to smoothing the processes in subsequent election.