Sustaining gains of 2015 general elections: Perspective of Nigerian Bar Association Election Working Group
Continued from last week
Gender Participation, Under-Aged, Elderly and Persons Living With Disability
In some states, special treatment was given to persons living with disabilities (PWD) while in others they were not. The INEC officials did not seem to be aware of any special arrangements made for them except to help the blind to vote. There were no ramps in public building used for elections neither were the ballot boxes put on the ground or very low platform to accommodate PWDs with crutches etc. As for the elderly, provisions were generally made for them as INEC officials allowed their relations to assist them at the polling stations for accreditation or voting. Our Team also observed the presence of under-aged people loitering around the polling units.
Security personnel were deployed to the various polling units in good time. The Security personnel used during the elections consisted of personnel from the different security agencies in the country. Prior to the election, INEC held several meetings with political parties and other stakeholders to ensure that everyone adhered to the electoral guidelines and regulations to ensure a hitch free election devoid of violence and other electoral malpractices. Security was very commendable. In some of the polling units, our team of observers recorded a minimum of five security agents comprising the police and civil defense, in each polling unit. The security personnel’s conducted themselves in a civil, unobtrusive and orderly manner. There were also military patrols and checkpoints. However, incidents of violence were reported in parts of Rivers, Enugu, Ekiti, Gombe and Yobe States.
THE GAINS OF THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTIONS
Nigerians have been congratulated by the International Community for the largely peaceful elections particularly the former President Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for his statesmanship in accepting defeat. This is an unprecedented event in the history of Nigeria as no incumbent president has ever lost an election or accepted defeat at the hands of his opponent. The 2015 elections also saw the introduction of the card readers and the use of the permanent voters card for the elections. The use of PVCs and Card Readers for the 2015 elections generated controversies among Nigerians. INEC must however be commended for a largely successful outing during the general elections despite the glitches with the card readers and the logistics arrangement.
Permanent Voters Card and Electronic Card Readers
Elections are a vital part of the history of any democratic nation and the 2015 general elections in Nigeria like every other election will hold a unique part in the country’s electoral history. This is as a result of the introduction of the card readers in the voting process. This was the first election in the country’s history where technology was deployed. Following the 2011 general elections, the INEC had informed Nigerians that it would begin work on achieving the target of electronic voting in the country at the next general elections and this resulted in the decision to deploy the card readers in the 2015 general elections. The INEC card readers were designed to read information contained in the embedded chip on the INEC issued PVC in order to verify the authenticity of the PVC and also verify the voter by matching the biometrics obtained from the voter at the polling unit with the ones stored on the PVC. The ability of the card reader to perform the above described functions and keep tally of the total numbers of accredited voters at the polling units and forwarding same to a central database makes the card reader a welcome development at this point in time in the nation’s electoral history.
There were mixed reactions on the introduction and performance of the Card Readers. At a point when the rate of collection of the cards was low it was suggested in some quarters that INEC should revert to the use of the TVCs. At a point even the constitutionality of the use of PVCs was questioned. During the elections, the Card Readers performed well in some places but in a majority of the country the Card Readers had various glitches and failed to perform particularly during the Presidential and National Assembly Elections. The problems included flat batteries, wrong date program, biometric failure and inability of EOs to properly operate the Card Readers. INEC officials were quite responsive to complaints when contacted and were able to rectify some of the problems.
The gains expected from the introduction of technology into the voting process of the country are numerous. Elections in Nigeria are usually fraught with allegations of irregularities during and after the elections from losing parties with the resultant violence and the rigorous tribunal cases that follow as a result of resolving electoral conflicts. The card reader will help to eliminate this as they are designed to prevent unqualified persons who might have stolen the PVC’s of others or those who cloned cards from voting and also keeps a tally of successful voters who were qualified to vote at each particular voting point secure in the agency’s database. These records will then be made available and will be regarded as viable and tenable evidence in court1. The use of technology via the use of the card readers in the electoral process is expected to speed up the country’s march towards having a wholly electronic electoral process. Nigerians should begin to look closer at electronic voting.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Nigeria is a nation that is famous for taking one step forward and then two or more steps backwards. Whenever one step is taken in the right direction, several other steps would be taken in the wrong one. This is probably one of the major reasons why we have failed to make a lasting and permanent progress in a lot of things. The 2015 general elections have been lauded as credible however, in reality, they were marred by irregularities but these irregularities fell short of subverting the will of the people. It is important to note that the role of credible elections in a democracy cannot be overemphasized. If we are to keep improving and edging closer to electoral perfection, we must build on the successes of the 2015 elections. Professor Attahiru Jega during his 5 year tenure instituted a set of reforms and innovations which his successor in office should sustain. He has laid a solid foundation for others to build on. The introduction of the card readers and the sanitization of the voters register, accreditation and voting processes have helped in making the whole electoral system credible. We cannot at this stage afford to lose the momentum. Before the next general elections in 2019 staggered governorship elections will be conducted in Kogi, Bayelsa, Ondo, Edo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun States. It is the conduct of elections in these seven states that will determine our optimism or pessimism on the 2019 General Elections2. The Federal Government, INEC and all stakeholders must ensure that these successes of the 2015 elections are sustained. The more credible elections we have, the better for the system. To ensure this, the following recommendations have been made
Electoral Reforms: The need for electioral reform in the country to allow for electronic voting has become absolutely necessary against the backdrop of election rigging, widespread rejection of declared results, as well as loss of lives and property. More importantly, our electoral laws appear to be ill-equipped to adequately address these concerns. We need to put in place a democratic process that maintains accurate list of citizens who are eligible to vote and encourages every eligible voter to participate effectively in the process. There is a need to improve the voting system and enhance ballot security. Most importantly, the political class must have respect for the rule of law while we must, as people reject the pervasive culture of corruption in our body polity and be prepared to hold our elected officers accountable for their actions.
De-registration of Political Parties: While winning elections is not the only function of political parties across the world, in Nigeria it seems to be the determining factor not only for recognition but for meaningful existence. With the general lack of ideological basis in the Nigerian Political Party System, only winning elections can be used to determine the strength of the political parties. Available results of the 2015 elections as released by INEC suggests that only 8 parties managed to win at least one seat and they are; All Progressives’ Congress (APC), Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), Accord Party (AP), Peoples’ Democratic Movement (PDM), Peoples’ Progressive Alliance (PPA) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). While two-party system may limit the options of Nigerians, 8 parties are more than enough, we do not need 30 or 40 parties3.
Election Tribunals Must Ensure Justice: The outcome of many of the elections across the country would surely be contested in courts. Media reports suggests that no less than 100 genuine and serious cases ranging from governorship, senatorial, house of representatives and state house of assembly elections would be filed in courts nationwide. Elections are not perfect, that is why the tribunals are there with duty is to ensure speedy justice as justice delayed is justice denied. Before the elections, alarms of foul play were raised in different quarters and during the elections, many candidates complained of rigging, violence, manipulation and oppression. It is therefore the duty of the election tribunals to rescue the people from being governed through illegal mandates. The tribunals also must not entertain frivolous cases or applications and those who bring such should also be punished for wasting tax payers money. The success of the tribunals would determine the future level of confidence people will repose in the electoral process. If the tribunals do not prove to be a solution, people will resort to winning elections at all cost to avoid going to courts or resort to jungle justice.
Prosecution of Electoral Offenders; Electoral offenders are never seen to be punished in Nigeria; even when the court gives judgment in a case, it only awards victory to the petitioner or orders for a re-run, it never punishes anyone. This has led to impunity in our electoral system as people rig without fear of the consequences. Perpetrators of electoral crimes in the 2015 elections must not be allowed to get away with it. The NBA has at different times and fora offered its assistance to INEC on this matter. If electoral offenders are prosecuted it will act as a deterrent to others.
Better Independence of INEC; In the build-up to the 2015 elections, the independence of the electoral body was threatened. The law mandates INEC to fully take charge of election issues and the law must be respected and unless in emergency and unavoidable cases, no one should directly or indirectly dictate to INEC what it should do or not. Adequate legislation must be put in place to ensure complete independence of INEC and ensure that such independence is protected.
There is also the need for all stakeholders to push for further reforms that will see to the greater independence of the electoral body in terms of its finances and control over security agencies during elections. The role of these agencies in the conduct of elections cannot be over-emphasized, the reforms should be structured in such a way that the electoral umpire would have greater control over their deployment and operations during elections so as to reduce their alleged usage by unscrupulous politicians to engage in electoral malfeasance, voter intimidation and other illegal electoral-related activities.
Quicker Provision of Funds While the past administration of Goodluck Jonathan should be commended for the provision of funds for the activities of the electoral body, it should be noted that a quicker provision of voted funds should be made to the electoral body. It saves time and triggers-off a more efficient organizational drive towards excellence. The National Assembly and the Executive arm of government have germane roles to play here.