Echoes of 2015 elections and challenges of Special Voting

Zakari

Amina Bala Zakari

That a large percentage of members of the security forces and other services like journalists, polls officials and monitors who are actively engaged on the field during elections could not exercise their voting rights is a fact that is known in the process of election conduct in Nigeria.

What is yet to be known, and which is believed to be on the drawing board of the country’s election managers, are plans to redress the situation so that those who are being disenfranchised because of the exigencies of duties would have opportunities to vote.

It has been revealed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that despite the fact that they played major roles during the conduct of the polls, over two million Nigerians on special duties, especially policemen and soldiers, were prevented from voting during the 2015 general elections.

This came to the fore in Abuja last week when 19 participants of the National Security Training Seminar organized by the Defence Intelligence College, an institution of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) paid a courtesy call on the Acting Chairman of INEC, Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari.

The visit to the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja, The Guardian learnt, was therefore to offer the course participants, deep insight into the working mechanisms of INEC and its impact on national security generally.

The visit also provided an opportunity for Zakari to make clarification while fielding questions on sundry issues raised by the participants, and gave insight into how the electoral umpire collaborated with the security agencies to facilitate the success of the elections.

She however lamented that the security agencies were among the two million Nigerians who were inadvertently disenfranchised because of the exigencies of work in the field during the 2015 elections.

According to her, “On Election Days we noticed that about two million votes went down because they cannot vote. These include the military, the police including INEC staff, the Youth Corps members especially the exuberant students that have just turned 18 and so many of those uniformed men that were in the field.

We incrementally calculated about two million votes, which went down because they cannot vote. “But older democracies have come around that problem, by having in their laws what is called Special Voting.

This special voting takes place two weeks or a week before an election. And sometimes you post in your votes to your polling unit. Sometimes it is conducted and you have to go back to your polling unit to vote and then you are free on Election Day. “For the Nigerian situation I don’t know if we are ready for that, but once we get the law INEC will implement it.

But in implementing it we have to take cognisance of our cultural and traditional attitudes in elections. Unless we get over that we may not be able to actually actualize that.

On Election Days we noticed that about two million votes went down because they cannot vote. These include the military, the police including INEC staff, the Youth Corps members especially the exuberant students that have just turned 18 and so many of those uniformed men that were in the field. We incrementally calculated about two million votes, which went down because they cannot vote. But older democracies have come around that problem, by having in their laws what is called Special Voting. This special voting takes place two weeks or a week before an election. And sometimes you post in your votes to your polling unit. Sometimes it is conducted and you have to go back to your polling unit to vote and then you are free on Election Day’’.

If we are able to contain those attitudes we should be able to push for that. “Because a lot of us will want to vote but we can’t vote, the law does not allow it. And even if it allows it, there are many other problems associated with it.

But it shouldn’t be a problem for INEC. If there is a law we should be able to fashion something. At least we were able to fashion in three months the IDP voting and we did it successfully in Borno and Adamawa.”

Throwing more light as she also briefed the participants on how the electoral umpire managed security during the last general elections, the INEC boss attributed the success recorded in the exercise to the cooperation of all security agencies in the country.

In achieving the feat, specifically she said the electoral body had set up the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) which comprises all security agencies, Police, paramilitary and all uniform agencies.

She said the birth of ICCES came after a seminar the commission conducted under the Electoral Institute on how to manage election security. “Prior to the setting up of ICCES we realized that the security agencies that were assisting INEC were doing so in a disjointed fashion, with each agency having its own plan, and at the end of the day the security aspect of the election was not well managed.

This was why we came up with the idea of a consolidated committee at the INEC headquarters, states as well as at the local government levels, with membership drawn from all the military services and paramilitary organisations and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).”

The Commission said it employed the services of members of the Immigration and Customs Services as part of the officials for elections. However, for the 2015 elections all uniformed personnel aligned themselves with the security agencies to provide back up where the Police could not provide enough personnel at the polling units because it was difficult for the police to provide the number of personnel required. “In the area of logistics we had to have policemen to escort and transport our materials located in all our various stores both at the national and local government offices.

So, the reliance on security was very high for the conduct of the last elections. And we are happy with the cooperation that we got during the elections. “We made use of the uniformed organisations, especially the Navy and the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in terms of logistics and the prompt distribution of materials as and when due. “This was critical to the release of early results from inside the coastal areas.

So, we can say that the collaboration with the security agencies has been the highpoint of the 2015 election, because without their collaboration we would not have been able to achieve the feat we were able to achieve.”

Fielding questions, Zakari explained that INEC was aware of the clamor for Diaspora voting but it requires intervention by the National Assembly through legal review and reforms. “We know that Nigerians are clamoring for that.

Once the National Assembly does the needful the electoral management body will begin to implement the law. But in implementing the law we have to be careful because even the older democracies are just beginning to introduce Diaspora voting. Some are restrictive and not open to everybody in the Diaspora. “You know the peculiarity of the Nigerian system.

In the area of logistics we had to have policemen to escort and transport our materials located in all our various stores both at the national and local government offices. So, the reliance on security was very high for the conduct of the last elections. And we are happy with the cooperation that we got during the elections. We made use of the uniformed organisations, especially the Navy and the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in terms of logistics and the prompt distribution of materials as and when due. This was critical to the release of early results from inside the coastal areas. So, we can say that the collaboration with the security agencies has been the highpoint of the 2015 election, because without their collaboration we would not have been able to achieve the feat we were able to achieve.”

Everything boils down to the law. In the INEC, we only operate what is in the constitution and the Electoral Act. We cannot operate anything outside that.

The law prescribes that you must vote in a polling unit you are registered. If you want to change your polling unit, you have to apply to the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for a transfer.”

The acting Chairman however said it was not all rosy during the elections. She reeled out some of the challenges, which conspired against the commission to include lack of internal democracy in the political parties, inability of the commission to control campaign expenditures by political parties, as they deployed large sums of money in the electoral process.

She however said the Commission has begun training of its men on how to track these campaign finances. Other challenges she said included the issue of election violence, issue of application of modern technology in election and inadequacies of Voter Education and Public enlightenment.

Earlier, the Coordinator and Principal Instructor, Air Commodore Peter Uzodinma Eke accompanied by five staff of the Collage, said the course participants were at INEC to articulate and analyse some of these issues with a view to providing the much needed communiqué for the appropriate superior authority.

Nigeria is currently facing some daunting internal security challenges as exemplified in the activities of the Boko Haram sects and other security vices.

The outcome of the challenges arising from these activities has posed serious concern for Nigeria and the larger world. Hence nations are seeking for different ways to address the issues, most of which are negatively hinging on the nation’s political, human and economic resources to mention a few.”

He said the DIA through the collage is partnering with the Gallery International Management Institute for capacity building on national security seminar as part of contribution to finding solutions to these challenges.

Eke said the objective of the course simply is to expand the participants’ understanding of the current security issues in relation to national security problems as well as to increase the participant’s capacity for innovative planning and implementation also in achieving national security imperatives.



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