Akioyede Afolabi: Bulk of rigging happens at point of result collation

By Leo Sobechi   |   14 May 2017   |   4:17 am  

Voters queue to cast their vote during an election

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Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is the Chairperson of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG). She spoke to LEO SOBECHI on the issues of Nigeria’s flawed electoral process and way out of the quagmire.  

It is not easy to exonerate the military for the malfeasance and violence that define the country’s electoral system. Against that background, when do you think Nigeria would complete its transition to durable democracy? 
Honestly, Nigerians deserve a more durable democracy, but it’s unfortunate that it has taken us this long and I doubt if it would be, for some time to come. The governance culture the military bequeathed to democracy, hugely centralised power to its benefits and so were the proceeds of graft that became the celebrated perks of office.

I admit that we now have more of the citizens who were not part of the military administration in strategic positions, but even the system has been acculturated into the military and dictatorial tradition that you hardly see the difference.  The essence of governance or public office only changed slightly.  Power is still largely centralised and being in public office means people have access to resources they can steal. If this is juxtaposed against the incidences of violence in our elections then it is easy to see why it is so hard to stop. It is a winner-takes-all system and therefore the players will do anything to win an election and that includes employing violent means if necessary. I’m saying this with the background that rarely did we have any elections without violence since independence, while the military was a major factor, the electoral system handed over to us was a major contributory factor.

The manifestation of improper rulership has led us to several agitations, by different groups calling for restructuring, self determination and other forms of break out that can satisfy their yearnings.

The manner of constitutions and electoral laws we have adopted over time also further entrenched an unattractive electoral system on us, ‘the first past the post’ which further deepens the winner takes all syndrome. For a multicultural and diverse set up like Nigeria, we should be thinking along the lines of electoral systems that should be able to engender inclusion such as proportional representation. This should also be designed to respond to our peculiarity.

Do you see electronic voting as the mascot for fidelity and credibility of the electoral process? 
Electronic voting provides a system that could shield our elections from the manipulation of election managers who collude with politicians to rig our elections. Several countries have done electronic voting successfully and it has been established as one of the means of giving credibility to election processes.  For example Brazil e-voting is dated back to the 80s and India, as complicated as the country’s population is, has been using electronic voting since 2002, other African countries have also followed this development, with Namibia, South Africa leading the way amongst others.  It has been established that the bulk of rigging that happens during our elections are at the point of result collation. This is possible because the manipulation of accreditation data is possible, but an electronic system that is holistic and links the different phases of our elections including registration, accreditation and verification on voting day, results collation and transmission would provide the best bet for dealing with rigging. The recent amendments of the Electoral Act by the Senate that includes … the use of electronic voting in all phases of the election is a welcome development and resonates with the TMG’s stand on the use of electronic voting system to deliver credible elections in the country.

The use of the smart card reader in the 2015 general elections despite its challenges was a pointer to the potentials for credible elections by employing technology in our election. A credible electoral process is one that should inspire trust and confidence on the part of the voter that his vote counts at the end of the day.

Electronic voting is quite advantageous; it is secure, convenient, simple, less expensive and reliable. While it also has its disadvantages, it privileges class and so uneducated majority can suffer from technology usage, but major challenge is security of the storage system, so that its not open to hacking and other internet manipulations.

Besides the system, we must take the issue of prosecuting electoral offences seriously. Politicians will always find ways to undermine the system and they are emboldened by the fact that there are no consequences for their actions.

Many commentators think much work by way of enlightenment is still needed to guarantee popular participation in electronic voting in the country, what is your take? 
Building trust and credibility in the electoral process is much more beyond employing the right technology; it is also about the accessibility and understanding of that technology for those who will be interacting with it. The place of enlightenment cannot be over emphasised as it lays the foundation for its acceptance. Recently INEC in a conversation with stakeholders reeled out its plan for deploying technology for 2019 elections and one of the key issues raised in that meeting was the need for the commission to also develop a strategic voter enlightenment plan side by side its technology plans.

Furthermore, it is also important that INEC concludes on this plans as soon as possible, begin to test this technology so it can have ample time to introduce it to citizens before the elections. INEC already has a massive structure that is the base it needs. It needs to complement this with taking relevant learning from the civil society organisations that in spite of limited resources have made impressive efforts at social mobilisation and new consciousness-building.

Where do you think greater culpability for flawed elections lie: security personnel, politicians or INEC? 
Like all great crimes of which stealing peoples’ mandate is one, it often requires a criminal network that takes care of different part of the heist. All the parties mentioned above all play varying roles in flawed elections. Culpability might not entirely be criminally intended such as when INEC officials have to deal with logistics challenges outside their control, failing technologies or when police officers are unable to match the fire power of armed thugs. This goes to show that the electoral system is not immune from the bigger challenges of society, the conduct of elections do not happen in space, it happens in the quagmire that is Nigeria and therefore the problems we face as a result of our underdevelopment would also show when we conduct elections.

The blame cannot be put on the door step of one actor alone, it is a general one and that also includes the people who sit by the side and allow their votes to be stolen. We must canvass for a system that promotes credible elections, that is accountable and fair.

One of the salutary prescriptions by the Justice Mohammed Uwais panel was for the creation of electoral offences tribunal, why do you think the authorities are not so enthusiastic about the punishment of poll offenders? 
The political class is reluctant because they are the main beneficiaries of electoral offences. You will agree with me there are provisions scattered around our electoral laws, so it is not the lack of laws that is the problem, it is the will to enforce the laws that is lacking. The impunity that follow offences and the lack of independent mechanism that can punish and deter electoral offences.

What do you make of many electoral reform panels in Nigeria’s democratic elections? 
It is a function of our approach to governance where there is no continuum; with the return to democracy there have been numerous efforts by successive governments at electoral and broader political reforms. From the Obasanjo’s National Political Reform Conference to the present Ken Nnamani’s constituted committee, all have the mandate of proposing reforms.

But we all know that electoral reforms are a very political adventure that could have far-reaching implication on the electoral fortunes of politicians and therefore the desire to change a system that works for them is at best half-hearted. These adventures are just a way to appease the call of Nigerians for a better political system. However, we must say that we have made some progress towards evolving a better electoral system and some of it can be attributed to the ideas emanating from these initiatives.  Every exercise have brought new initiatives that can advance our electoral systems, like the Uwais report was popular and Nigerians agreed with most of the conclusion, since Uwais there has been more issues and I believe that the Nnamani Committee should be able to fill the gap and advise with more proposal for new laws to address the crisis in our elections. I hope the report will become useful and not just one of the items on the election history shelves in Nigeria.

On the other hand, we also have the legislature who has the constitutional responsibility to undertake amendment of our laws and Nigerians should hold them accountable to this responsibility.

In its years of monitoring elections in Nigeria, what conclusions or recommendations can TMG make for the country’s poll to be at par with global acknowledged standards of credibility? 
The TMG has always canvassed for electoral justice and accountability; we believe that we must build a system that can deliver to its people. Thus we have always called for a democratic electoral process that is accountable to people, that is inclusive and designed to promote public confidence. A strong legal framework that is effective, that can prevent election fraud and strengthen electoral system. We also canvass for more collaboration amongst elections administrators that can improve electoral processes.  We believe that the legal and financial framework should guarantee the independence of election commissions, and election commissioners should be chosen through inclusive and transparent process, we have called for professionalising the election commissions.



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