THE Independent National Electoral Commission struck a chord with Nigerians when it declared recently that it had developed the capacity to henceforth deliver free, fair, and credible elections. Its chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, citing the Electoral Act 2022 and the adoption of technology tools, said that irregularities that had for long diminished the integrity of the country’s electoral system are now history. Disillusioned by decades of electoral malfeasance, Nigerians should hold him to his promise.
Confident in the efficacy of the law and INEC’s upgraded IT arsenal, Yakubu was upbeat, declaring, “There is no way anybody can vote two times in this country again.” According to him, the Permanent Voter Card, with its embedded chip, and the voting authentication machine, provide impregnable technology that would checkmate prospective cheats.
Regular, free, and fair elections are the pillars of a functioning democracy. A United States State Department advocacy paper emphasises this as the “foundation of every democracy ensuring that government authority (truly) derives from the will of the people.” Among the 10 essentials of free elections it proffers, USAID lists credible electoral administration, impartial electoral frameworks, and effective oversight of the electoral processes. These have been largely absent in Nigeria and its elections have often serially failed to meet the credibility test, marred by manipulations, violence, and brazen rigging.
The country’s riotous elections have disenfranchised many, discouraged many credible citizens, created voter apathy, and stifled democracy’s ultimate goals of participation, inclusion, and legitimacy. Voter turnout is “a key indicator of the vitality of a democracy and a measure of the citizens’ trust in their political institutions,” asserts the Sahel and West Africa Club’s West Africa Brief. But Nigeria recorded the lowest voter turnout (in 2019) at 34.8 per cent in elections held in the sub-region in the period 2014 to 2019. For democracy to thrive and drive sustainable development, the country’s elections must be cleaned up.
Incrementally, INEC has been striving towards this objective through legislative amendments, regulations, and technology despite hurdles strewn along its path by successive governments and the increasingly unscrupulous political class. The Electoral Act 2022 and INEC’s increasing reliance on IT could however be game changers. Recent off-season governorship elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states have seen marked improvements on past polling. The familiar “inconclusive election,” violence and rancorous reactions typical of previous exercises reduced. Public confidence has risen perceptibly, though cautiously.
Transparency and integrity were helped by the deployment of the novel Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, INEC Results Viewing portal, and electronic transmission of results, among others. These are significant innovations facilitated by the new law. INEC is confident that voting by ineligible individuals or by proxy is now impossible because BVAS authenticates fingerprints and facial (recognition) features.
Electronic transmission has also potentially rendered ballot snatching, ballot box-stuffing and the multiple thumbprinting irrelevant to voting outcomes. Hitherto, these were the stock triggers of electoral violence, killings and rigging by thugs hired by politicians. To seal the process, the IREV portal allows citizens to view results in real time. This also eliminates the incidence of results being changed between polling stations and collation centres.
All stakeholders should resolve to ensure the success of the reforms. Thankfully, the issue of funding of INEC appears to have been resolved. The commission should be sufficiently resourced for the daunting logistical tasks ahead.
INEC should improve its organisational and logistical capacity and effectively deploy its human and material resources. Training and retraining of its personnel in every aspect of election management, including ethical practice are crucial. It must identify and flush out corrupt personnel and ensure that insiders shun financial inducement, and safeguard the integrity of the entire electoral process.
Continued enhancement of, and effective deployment of technology are critical. Kenya’s recent elections demonstrated the immense value of advanced purpose-built technological systems. They guarantee transparency and enhance the integrity of the process, leaving little room for claims, counter-claims, and crises. Kenya’s Supreme Court had no difficulty dismissing a petition against the presidential election there. Hopefully, INEC has assured Nigerians that it has top-notch technology superior to what was deployed in the East African country. The commission should ensure that its personnel acquire the essential skills and master the technology. It should invest heavily in IT security to forestall sabotage, hacking and disruptive cyberattacks.
Timely deployment of personnel and election materials to polling units on Election Day is also paramount to ensure simultaneous commencement of voting across the entire country. Its reliance on transport unions for the transportation of personnel and voting materials entails extensive coordination and close monitoring. Some union branches and members notoriously owe allegiance to political factions and act as their thugs, enforcers, ballot box snatchers and ‘hitmen’. INEC should undertake due diligence and avoid doing business with compromised actors.
Security agencies, especially the police, should be more effective, impartial, and proactive to prevent electoral malpractices and violence, and in promptly arresting and prosecuting offenders. They should efficiently protect INEC personnel and ad hoc staff. Many have been harmed in the past, some killed, and others kidnapped. This becomes more compelling with the current siege of insecurity where terrorists, bandits, killer herdsmen, kidnappers, sea pirates, and fiendish killers hiding under a separatist agitation, are operating across the country.
Nigeria’s politicians need to behave responsibly. Desperate, and ruthless, some have turned elections into warfare and traumatised the citizenry. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should muster the strong political will and provide the required leadership by authorising the security agencies to secure elections and impartially visit the full weight of the law and the state on politicians and their agents criminally perverting the electoral process. In 2011, Philippines police arrested and prosecuted a former president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for electoral offences, demonstrating that no one is above the law. Nigeria should no longer spare high-profile electoral offenders.
To leave a lasting legacy, Yakubu and INEC must deliver on their promise to ensure free, fair, and credible elections.