Sustaining the gains of 2015 elections -By Festus Okoye

Filed under: Political Issues |

election

 

The Nigerian people must critically engage the electoral process and resist the temptation of being carried away by the euphoria of the “seeming successes” recorded during the 2015 general elections. While it is good to be happy that we got to the “mountain top” we must not just idealize the 2015 elections but engage in robust review of the successes, challenges and failures of the process.

Sustaining the gains of the 2015 elections presupposes a realization that we made progress and recorded gains during the 2015 elections. Yes, we made modest gains and introduced new issues and innovations in our electoral process. It is on record that the Independent National Electoral Commission carried out reviews of its processes.

This includes the review of the voters register, a new biometric register, introduction of Smart Card Readers in the electoral process, restructuring of its departments and streamlining schedules and evaluation of field staff; review of manuals and issuance of new guidelines.

There was some level of creativity and innovation in its operations. The Commission developed an Election Project Plan (EPP), Electoral Risk Management (ERM), Business Process Redesign (BPR), Election Operations Support Centre (EOSC) and Voter Education and Publicity Verification. INEC was open to the Nigerian people and engaged most of the critical stakeholders in terms of its preparations for the election.

The Commission publicly and openly acknowledged its weaknesses and limitation and was ready to make amends. The time is therefore ripe to advance our electoral process to meet and or conform to regional and international standards. Elections are a normal democratic and civic responsibility that should not lead to unnecessary anxiety, loss of lives and destruction of properties.

It is important to advance our electoral process to a level where international observers will be invited to showcase sessions of new ideas, new innovations and the voting power of the Nigerian people. It is important to advance our electoral process to a level where Political Parties and contestants will concede defeat and congratulate the winners on the basis of projections and exit polls.

While acknowledging the successes of the elections we must acknowledge the possibility of reversal and regression. We must rekindle the confidence of the Nigerian people by not lowering the bar of public expectation but go further to introduce new issues and new innovations in the electoral process.

The immediate and most urgent task is for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to exercise the powers vested in him by virtue of section 154 and Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended) and appoint a substantive Chairman and National Electoral Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission.

As at today, there is no substantive Chairman for the Commission and there are eleven vacancies out of the 12 National Electoral Commissioners envisaged by the Constitution. Furthermore, the policy making capacities and capabilities of the Commission are completely impaired as section 159 of the Constitution requires one third of the membership to form a quorum.

The President should also appoint the full complement of Resident Electoral Commissioner given the fact that only 17 out of the 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners provided for in the Constitution are still in service. The legal department and public affairs department of the Commission must be proactive in communicating policies and programmes to the Nigerian people and banish the ghost of assumptions. Before new innovations and policies are rolled out, such must be explained to the people. As Nigeria moves towards the 2019 elections, the time to carry out continuous voter’s registration and further clean up of the existing register is now.

We must not wait till the last minute before doing what can be done with little or no political distraction. We have a unique opportunity to calibrate a register that is marginally credible. Massive voter education is also required for the purposes of getting all eligible registrants acquainted with the process and procedure of continuous voters’ registration as provided in section 9 and 10 of the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended).

Registration of all eligible voters using the 774 Local Government offices of the Commission is now an urgent imperative. The Independent National Electoral Commission should involve the critical stakeholders in the electoral process and agree on the modalities and desirability of creating additional polling units in the country.

These polling units should be created immediately after the Kogi and Bayelsa Governorship elections. Sections 72, 73, 74, 75, 112-115 of the Constitution require periodic review of Senatorial Districts, Federal Constituencies and State Constituencies. The size of Senatorial Districts, Federal and State Constituencies in most States of the Federation is no longer realistic.

Population movements, ethnic and religious conflicts, insurgencies, urbanization and other forms of conflicts and challenges have altered the size of Senatorial Districts and constituencies. The involvement of Vice Chancellors and University Professors and lecturers as Retuning and Collation Officers added credibility to the electoral process.

Their involvement was meant to be a stop gap measure. We must resist the temptation of making it a permanent feature of our electoral process. This is because sooner or later, the electoral fraudsters will find a way of undermining them. In the meantime, those that are chosen must be properly trained.

Elections are complex and the fact that you are a Professor does not mean that you must understand its dynamics and nuances. The Independent National Electoral Commission must develop very clear policy on the recruitment of ad-hoc staff. Nigeria already has a poll of well trained electoral personnel that can be called upon to assist in the conduct of elections.

However, the recruitment of ad-hoc staff by Electoral Officers and Resident Electoral Commissioners appears opaque and suspect. The data of potential ad-hoc staff must be compiled on time and subjected to rigorous test. Some of the Political Parties have a poll of their own ad-hoc staff that they inject into the electoral process. We must refine the Smart Card Readers and properly train the operators.

The high number of incident forms used during the Presidential/National Assembly Elections and the Governorship and State Assembly Elections shows that more work needs to be done in relation to the Permanent Voters Cards and the Smart Card Readers.

It is important to align the Smart Card Readers to the use of Voting Machines in our elections and to do so we must delete section 52(2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which prohibits the use of the Electronic Voting Machines in our elections and also amend section 69 of the Act to accommodate the legal use of Smart Card Readers.

“There can only be increased efforts to use technology in the future. However, technology must not be allowed to drive the process. It must always be controlled, and must be made to serve the electoral process. We cannot afford a situation where the electoral process is held hostage to election technology”.

Nigeria must take a second look at the report of the Electoral Reform Committee and implement some of its recommendations. W need a Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission, an Electoral Offences Commission and a Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court will be vested with jurisdiction to the exclusion of other courts to handle pre and post election matters as well as issues bothering on electoral offences. The National Assembly should alter the Constitution and abolish the post of Resident Electoral Commissioners as provided in part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution. What we need at the States are full time Electoral Managers with fixed tenure. Presently, Resident Electoral Commissioners are within and at the same time outside the suzerainty of National Electoral Commissioners.

The way they are appointed is the same way National Electoral Commissioners are appointed and they are removed the same way. In cases of discipline, they can only be moved from one state to the other as their removal is at the discretion of the President and the National Assembly.

Civil society groups and organizations must continue to partner the Independent National Electoral Commission in delivering credible elections. They must continue to engage the constitutional and legal process. They must continue to train party agents, election security personnel and assist in explaining issues to the Nigerian people, through voter and civic education.

The statements, reports and recommendations of domestic and international election observers should be collated and analyzed and critical recommendations implemented. Leadership and innovation are critical ingredients required for the sustenance and growth of the electoral process.

The Chairman and National Electoral Commissioners must provide leadership to the Commission.

This must entail taking care of staff welfare and properly motivating them. They must continuously and continually assure and reassure the Nigerian people of their commitment to free, fair and credible elections. They must be in a position to take risks and unpopular decisions that may ultimately benefit the Nigerian people and the electoral process. They must partner and form linkages.

 

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