Election maladies and panacea
Nigeria has experienced series of elections in her democratic experiment. And since the return to democratic rule in 1999, conduct of elections has come under serious scrutiny and hash criticism. In all the elections conducted by INEC, the 2007 exercise conducted under Prof. Morris Iwu as INEC Chairman was adjudged to be the most fraudulent in Nigeria’s history. This position was corroborated by the presumed winner of that Presidential election; late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who criticized the election that brought him to power as terribly flawed and consequently, setup the Justice Mohammed Uwais electoral reform committee which made far reaching recommendations; but sadly, President Umaru YarAdua did not remain alive to implement the report after succumbing to a protracted illness.
However, sequel to the assumption of President Goodluck Jonathan to Power as successor to late President YarAdua in 2010, the appointment of Prof Morris Iwu was prematurely terminated and replaced by a man believed to be of trusted integrity and unquestionable moral character, the former ASUU President Prof. Attahiru Jega as the new INEC Chairman.
On assumption of office, Prof Jega was confronted with his first litmus test of conducting the 2011 elections which produced Goodluck Jonathan as President. But the outcome of that election which engendered post election violence and culminated in wanton destruction of lives and property clearly depicted another cycle of flawed electoral process which raised question on the ability of Prof Jega led INEC to conduct credible election.
Be that as it may, in the words of Ola Rotimi in his book “the gods are not to blame” he said “when a child slips and falls, the child rises and continue walking; but when a man slips and falls, he looks back at the cause before walking again”. So, as the dust from aftermath of 2011 polls began to simmer, 2015 offered the second chance for Prof. Jega to write his name in the sand of history as the INEC Chairman to have conducted the most credible and acceptable elections in Nigeria.
Having in mind the determination to leave an indelible legacy, Prof Jega looked the way of technology and introduced the use of smart permanent voters card(PVC) alongside a Smart Card Reader(SCR) machine into the electoral process. These innovations by INEC under Prof Jega produced most adjudged free, fair and credible election in the history of Nigeria in 2015 which for the first time, main opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari (APC) defeated the incumbent President; Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) in convincing and acceptable fashion that the loser put a phone call through to congratulate the winner.
Despite the milestone achieved by INEC under Prof. Jega in the 2015 polls, the technology innovation introduced is not immune from inherent software flaws such as the widely reported failure of the Smart Reader machine to authenticate voters fingerprints that in turn necessitated Manual Accreditation of voters which created loophole for manipulation of the electoral process by INEC adhoc staff, quid pro quo, financial gratification from politicians to tilt result in favour of their respective political parties.
Following the exit of Prof. Jega with the loudest ovation after expiration of his tenure, it was expected that the incoming INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu would improve on the successes of his predecessor by addressing the associated flaws in the Smart Card Reader with view of ensuring a flawless electoral process but unfortunately, the Smard Card Reader problem became more pronounced in the in the 2019 elections even though INEC claimed to have upgrade the SCR device software.
Although the 2019 polls recorded improvement such as simultaneous accreditation and voting, INEC encountered plethora of challenges which included poor logistics arrangement, setting INEC offices ablaze and destruction of SCR machines, obeying eleventh hour Court Orders, having 73 Presidential candidates on the Ballot which made the electoral process so cumbersome for voting and collation of results, violence and hijack of electoral process by political thugs etc.
Even with the aforementioned setbacks, the Presidential election which produced incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari (APC) winner; defeating his closest rival; Atiku Abubkar(PDP) was adjudged by both local and international observers to be largely peaceful credible and a reflection of wishes of Nigerians. But the gubernatorial elections witnessed more violence and consequently recorded highest number of rerun elections in Nigeria and despite the turbulent election field, the main opposition party (PDP) won four(4) states(Adamawa, Bauchi, Imo, Oyo) from the ruling party(APC) and in two(2) of the States, the PDP candidates defeated incumbent APC governors seeking reelection while the APC managed to wrestle just two(2) States(Gombe & Kwara) from the hold of PDP. On the whole, the PDP had better outing in the gubernatorial election.
Examining the myriad of challenges that confronted INEC in the conduct of 2019 general elections, Nigerians are of the consensus view that a holistic and comprehensive electoral reform is urgently needed and particularly the use of technology in the collation of election of results in order to mitigate the negative trend of using political thugs to attack collation officers at the collation centers with the sole aim of destroying collated election results sheet and creating chaos as witnessed in the gubernatorial election. Therefore, the following recommendations should be looked at and possibly incorporated into the much anticipated comprehensive electoral reform.
A party primary is the beginning of electoral process and it is fundamental for democracy to thrive. The conduct such exercise should be done not later than 180 days to election and a uniform mode of primary (direct, indirect or consensus) be adopted at all levels (Presidential, Gubernatorial or Legislative). Also, INEC should be empowered not only to monitor and supervise but to also cancel and order for a repeat conduct in circumstances where such primary violates extant provisions of party guidelines.
No court order should halt the conduct of party primary. The court should be restrained to only adjudicate on matters arising from the result of such primary and all cases should be concluded in court 60 days to elections in order to allow smooth electoral process.
INEC should make the candidate replacement window only for case of death or withdrawal of candidate. In any of the circumstances, the runner up in the primary should automatically become candidate of the party. This provision is to stop the abuse of replacement opportunity by political party in replacing genuine winner of primary by person who never participate in the primary and thereby leading to long process of litigation. In the same vein, since principle of joint ticket does not apply in legislative election, therefore, when a candidate dies after winning election, the runner-up in the primary should be the automatic replacement for the deceased. The conduct of bye-election should be abolished in order to allow political party enjoy 4 years uninterrupted mandate just as in the case of Presidential and Governorship position.
The recruitment process of ad-hoc staff should be properly done strictly through online portal to ensure transparency and payment well structured to avoid complaint or protest and holding INEC to ransom as witnessed in the 2019 elections.
The use of the military and other security agencies would continue to be relevant in order to stem the tide of politicians’ use of thugs to cause violence and foisting inconclusive election. However, these security agents need more training on “Election duty” in order to be professional in the discharge of duty during elections.
In line with Executive Order 3, INEC should consider printing both sensitive and non-sensitive electoral material in the country and particularly with the Nigerian Security and minting Company in order to build confidence in the electoral system.
Setting up of Election Offences Tribunal alongside the Election Petition Tribunal to deal with various cases of electoral offences and the law should prescribe a minimum of 5 years imprisonment without option of fine to serve as deterrent.
The electoral law should mandate INEC to conduct elections not later than 180 days before inauguration of new government. This is to allow for conclusion of all post election matters in court before swearing in of new government and eliminate distraction.
The need for election results to be known within 24-48 hrs is very important. To this end, INEC should consider downward review of number of Voters per Polling Unit not exceeding 300. Also, the Smart Card Reader machine should be robustly enhanced such that manual accreditation of voters is eliminated and results from polling units securely transmitted electronically to Servers where results are collated and winner declared. To achieve this, INEC should engage global reputable company with capacity to deliver like Microsoft to build an endurable infrastructure to support hitch free elections.
INEC should exercise its power in the constitution to deregister any political party that fails to win at least a State Assembly seat and at same time set stringent condition for fresh political party seeking registration to be on the ballot to start from contesting in State Assembly; election since Local Government elections in Nigeria is not uniform. Where That political party wins at least a seat in the State Assembly election, it can progress to House of Rep, Senate, Governorship and Presidential in that ascending order.
And on a concluding note, the National Assembly should as a matter of urgency kick start the process of examining the Justice Uwais and Ken Nnamani electoral reform committee reports alongside input from other Nigerians; with the ultimate goal of enacting an electoral Act that would be comprehensive to address all the concern of Nigerians on the conduct of elections so that faith in the electoral system can be deepened.
Mundir, MCPN Researcher and former Lecturer wrote from Naibawa Qrts Kano State