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Reforming the electoral process, a desideratum

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Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, speaks during the announcement of the postponement of the 2019 presidential election at the electoral body headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. Kola Sulaimon / AFP

If there is an object lesson from the conduct of the last general elections ripples of which still resonate across the land, it is that the nation’s electoral laws need to be revised, amended and revitalised with a view to strengthening the norms and practice of democracy in the land.

From the point of voter registration, defining party membership and the rules of engagement among politicians, through the act of voting, transmission of results and final proclamation of winners, it is imperative for us to take a second look at extant electoral laws.

It is instructive that INEC and other stakeholders like the National Assembly were conscious of these shortcomings and proposed a new electoral law, the 2018 Electoral Laws Reform Bill.

The President in his wisdom refused to append his signature to the Bill and thus effectively killed the reforms. The National Assembly could not muster enough voting strength to override the president’s veto. That has been the bane of the current elections.

Sadly, INEC performance in the 2019 elections fell below expectations of citizens and stakeholders including foreign observers who were on the ground and wrote damning reports about the elections.

The groundswell of opinion is that we regressed from the level of relative transparency, which the nation experienced in the 2015 elections. The savagery and open partisanship of some men of the Nigeria Army in Rivers State is a case in point.

Indeed the inherent weaknesses of our state institutions – the judiciary, the DSS, the Police, INEC – stared us in the face in the days before, during and after the elections.

Why is the electoral process still bedevilled by fraudulent practices by politicians and state officials, official intimidation, blatant corruption and physical violence? Is there something in the psyche or DNA of the typical Nigerian politician that makes desperation a constant decimal in the political equation?

Why are ‘gentlemen’ and decent people still wary of electioneering in Nigeria? Is there a fundamental reason that precludes us from deploying now-available digital facilities and expertise to result collation and data processing? Why should men of the armed forces be deployed to polling centres as if we were at war? Was INEC able to convince the citizens that it was fair, competent and above board in the last elections? These and more or are troubling questions that we must ponder on.

In the prelude to the elections, politicians were frivolously and selfishly defecting from one party to another. They behaved like scavengers, which eat off the flesh of their prey, and moved on to other shenanigans. Tragically, the political parties could not and still cannot discipline their members.

The expression ‘party discipline’ appears alien to the mind-set of the Nigerian politician. The two main parties were used as special-purpose vehicles twisted and manipulated to serve their inordinate ambitions.

Principles or commitment to ideological persuasions, if they existed, were thrown overboard in a most shameless manner. Doubtless, we can assert that the main problem of Nigerian politics is the politician himself.

Specifically, the electoral umpire should not go to bed after concluding the 2019 elections. They must start preparing for 2023.

The rules, which govern change of political parties (defection), ought to be more stringent and enforced and so the Electoral Reform Bill should be started early enough before the fever of the next general elections seizes the political class. It was good that the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmud Yakubu noted the urgency of the Bill the other day while presenting certificates to the National Assembly members-elect.

Besides, the introduction of the card reader into the voting process was an attempt to reduce fraud in the system. But in some states of the federation the card readers were curiously ignored. Some INEC officials allegedly colluded with some unscrupulous politicians to render this innovation ineffective.

Going forward, INEC should be able to perfect this system and reduce the level of rigging. We do not need a prescient being to tell us that the state elections of March 16 and 23 strangely witnessed voter apathy. Either voters lost faith in the process or they were too scared to participate in local elections.

A cursory look at the number of registered voters and those who actually voted is highly indicative of this disconnect. The much-vaunted people power in a democracy was inexorably assaulted and thwarted by the political class and their thugs.

More important, the technological developments of the 21st century at our disposal should be deployed at this time to delivering credible elections.

The travesty of inconclusive elections, which truly is not totally alien to elections has been taken to new heights.

The perception is that the state apparatus is used to favour some politicians while the process remains suspended. The results of some of these acts of affront are being and soon to be tested in the law courts.

Nobody has been charged and prosecuted for vote selling or buying even though it is common knowledge that the two main parties were as guilty as Cain of the biblical notoriety.

Meanwhile, the political parties should be reorganised along lines of principles and programmes. In the 2019 elections, there were some 90 odd political parties on the ballot. The First and Second Republics produced parties that were inherently peculiar in their avowed goals.

The Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Action Group (AG), National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), Nigeria’s Peoples’ Congress (NPC), Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) created unique identities for themselves.

For example, politicians who identified with NEPU would never cross to any of the parties that were considered ‘anti-people’ in their policies and manifestoes. Neither the PDP nor APC can be said to have unique features. They are truly birds of a feather sworn to capturing power just for the sake of it. This is a national malaise.

On the whole, the electoral laws are due for reforms. The process should start once the current exercise is concluded. The political class needs to drive the process.

Civil liberties organisations and election monitoring groups should mount the pressure on the government to do the needful. The politicians need to reform themselves too.

The electoral umpire, INEC should be ahead of the country in reform implementation. The president should ensure that as he enters the last four years of his administration one of the legacies he can bequeath the nation is a credible electoral system.

All stakeholders should go to the drawing board and ensure that the shenanigans of 2019 are not repeated in 2023.

The law courts and tribunals should rise to the archetypal portrait of the judiciary to correct the illegalities in the system. That is the only way Nigeria’s brand equity can be positive in his new world that perception rules.


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