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Voter registration and 2019 elections experience

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s recent declaration with excitement that it has received 42,211 online applications nationwide within the 24 hours of the resumption of its Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), naturally jogged my memory of a reported comment credited to President Muhammadu Buhari, a few days after 2019 general election.  

Mr. President had in Abuja while declaring open the 25th Nigeria Economic Summit (NES) with the theme: ‘’Nigeria 2050: Shifting Gears’’ stated that the peaceful conduct of the 2019 general elections was clear proof that Nigeria’s democracy was maturing.

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But John Campbell, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria had criticized the presidential election as “far from an example for those African countries consolidating their democracies or emerging from quasi-authoritarian regimes to emulate’’. This was followed by observation of the American Government expressing disappointment by the low voter turnout as well as credible reports of voter intimidation, vote-buying, and interference by security forces, and violence in some locations.

As if that was not enough, the European Union Observation lamented the killing of almost 35 people on the election day as well as the late arrival of election materials at the polling units.

The implication of these findings is that the electoral process in Nigeria including that of 2019 is rendered vulnerable to abuse, through massive rigging and other forms of electoral malpractices by political parties- especially by those in power as they seek to manipulate the system to serve their partisan interest.

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An electoral exercise where over 35 citizens lost their lives cannot be described as peaceful or growing. And recording an increase in the number of aggrieved candidates, and supporters, who took their concerns and grievances to the courts, as opposed to the streets, or having an increase in the number of registered voters should not be the Key Performance Indicator (KPI), to decide whether the nations’ democracy is growing or not. Rather, democracy should underwrite social justice and social mobility. Unfortunately, this has not been the case here in Nigeria since May 1999.

How elected officials treat their people after elections is the major indicator of a growing democracy. The world qualifies election as credible only when it is organized in an atmosphere of peace, devoid of rancour and acrimony. The outcome of such an election must be acceptable to a majority of the electorate and it must be acceptable within the international community. If elections are to be free and fair, laws designed in that regard must not just exist; they must be operational and be enforced. And the power of freedom of choice conferred on the electorates must be absolute and not questionable.

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Thus, while Nigerians should participate in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), the nation must find ways of keeping faith with the four basic conditions necessary for holding free and fair elections: an honest, competent and non-partisan body to administer the election; the knowledge and willingness of the political community to accept basic rules and regulations governing the contest; a developed system of political parties and teams of candidates presented to the electorates as alternative choices. And an independent judiciary to interpret electoral laws and settle election disputes.

Utomi is the programme coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.

He could be reached via;jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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