Bowsan: INEC should deal with demons that rob its processes of credibility
Sa’adatu Bowsan, governance and election specialist with years of interfacing with INEC and other stakeholders on election matters shared with The Guardian her experiences in the on-going Continuous Voter Registration (CRV).
There seem to be upsurge in number of persons eager to participate in the CVR. To what do you attribute this increase?
I think the upsurge can be attributed to the current discontent with political leadership and dissatisfaction with governance. This has raised a consciousness for citizens to participate in governance especially as regards those who represent them. All of a sudden, there is a realization for people to speak up on governance issues. Nigerians have an experience of victory in 2015 and therefore feel the need to resort to the only power they have to make their aspirations come true or actualize their dreams.
Also, we cannot ignore the already heated polity along religious/tribal lines. For instance, there are many questions being asked on the account of the herdsmen killings especially in the middle belt region, which has caused a lot of discontent among many Nigerians. This may have also triggered new patterns in voter behaviour hence the recent upsurge in voters turning out at CVR centres.
The emergence of new political parties might have also necessitated the need for these parties to register both new members into their parties as well as fresh registrants in the electoral process. Given the rise of crises across the country, there has been increase in IDPs all over the country. In a place like the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where there has been a lot of influx of IDPs, this might be the reason for the long queues at CVR centres as many voters seek transfers of voting locations and replacement of missing Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs).
Whichever way, you would want to look at it; this is a welcome development as it directly impacts on participatory democracy and to an extent helps to achieve a balance between principles of representative and participatory democracy.
There are complaints in several places, even in Abuja of inadequate INEC staff to meet up with this upsurge. What are your own observations as election monitors?
Currently as a citizen observer and given my experience within the electoral advocacy space, there is serious need for INEC to step up measures to adequately address logistics gap. However, the problem of election management logistics is becoming an anthem! The basic problem is that INEC is overburdened with a lot of responsibilities that tend to discount on its core mandate of election management. Currently, INEC is responsible for conducting constituency delimitation, registration and regulation of political parties and the prosecution of electoral offenders.
The two-stepped process of voter registration, insofar as registrants are concerned entails eligible voters presenting themselves to registration centres across the country during the CVR. During the 2014 CVR, INEC opted to use 20,000 registration centres as opposed to the 119,973 Polling Units, used for the fresh voter registration exercise in 2011. This had implications in terms of cost. Some of these costs include cost of continuous training of ad hoc staff, procurement of new direct data capture machines and sundry deployment logistics. Whilst there is need to underscore the implications for INEC in terms of cost – financial and human resources, it is important to focus on what is considered as priority – whether it is the supposed high financial cost of conducting a robust voter registration that engenders popular participation or reduced cost of logistics that most likely would lead to voters’ disenfranchisement with all of its implications for our democracy.
There is also great need to bridge the gap between registration and issuance of the PVC. What currently obtains is that an eligible voter would register himself as a voter but would not be issued PVC on the spot rather voters are given a Temporary Voter Card (TVC) as the printing and issuance of the PVCs are centralized in Abuja, the FCT. Subsequently, the registrant would come back to collect his/her PVC after a certain period of time. This has made the process cumbersome.
Another lesson to learn in this current process is for INEC to pay more attention to civic education, particularly as regard the on-going CVR. INEC has a mandate to provide civic and voter education on all aspects of the electoral process in order to ensure inclusive and effective participation of citizens. In the 2014 CVR, INEC came up with plans in its Business Area that highlighted three different stages covering the pre-CVR, CVR and post-CVR. Currently, there is lack of voter education and early sensitization on the CVR process. To this effect, the CVR exercise is characterized by factors such as dearth of basic understanding and sensitization on timelines for duration of the exercise, collection of PVCs and how the CVR process is being conducted especially in rural areas. INEC can adopt a robust voter sensitization to eliminate rumours and all kinds of fake news surrounding the process.
What would you suggest INEC should do to ensure that all intending voters are registered?
As a process, voter registration is not wholly technical but has administrative, operational and political implications. More so, it is a process that falls within a continuum of an electoral cycle and therefore should not be linked only to the conduct of polls but situated within a gamut of ‘activities, processes and relevant institutions involved in the electoral process. Yet, voter registration represents one of the most costly, time-consuming, complex yet critical aspects of the electoral process. It often accounts for a considerable portion of the budget, staff time and resources of an election management authority. If conducted well, voter registration confers legitimacy on the process. The entire electoral process may be perceived as illegitimate should the registration system be flawed.
In order to ensure a successful voter registration exercise, INEC would do well to generate, attract and retain public confidence in the process. INEC should be ready to exorcise the demons of unnecessary burden of logistics that are always made to become the lot of willing registrants. Still talking about demons, INEC needs to assure Nigerians that reports of multiple registration, privatized registration centres, community assisted registration process and under-age voters are myth and not real. This can only be achieved by an all stakeholders audit or clean-up of the voters roll.
INEC intends to make this registration continuous until the 2019 elections (except for the 5-days period for clean-up at the end of every quarter), however, there is a need for INEC to increase tremendously the number of registration centres across the country. Currently, the centres have been increased from the LGAs to wards, and further decentralized to create additional centres but it is still inadequate. INEC must also improve upon its communication of modalities for conducting registration exercise to Nigerians. Voter registration enlightenment- in terms of sensitizing the public on each strand of the registration process. For instance, the rotational system of moving registration centres across wards (to provide equitable distribution of centres) in some states should be consistently communicated to citizens in a timely manner.
The foregoing recommendations are based on lessons-learnt from various experiences in the previous electoral process, therefore, it is crucial to examine how useful the challenges highlighted before in the conduct of voter registration for the 2015 electoral process were circumvented as INEC adopted the new voter registration system for the 2015 elections. Therefore, the commission must also build on lessons learnt from the previous CVR and recent state elections conducted in order to not neglect the human element in the decision and choice over protecting the integrity and credibility of our electoral process.
There are social media pictures of under-age voters flaunting their voter cards and nobody is saying or doing anything to check this anomaly. Do you think INEC knows the implication of this on the credibility of the next election or they are just playing the Ostrich?
The introduction of a new biometric voter registration system in 2011 marked a pronounced improvement of the register over previous exercises conducted in 1999, 2003, and 2007. There is no doubt that a sound voter registration system is crucial for a successful election. For a country to hold democratic elections, some form of voter identification is needed whether the register for identifying voters is based on a civil registry as in the case of Rwanda or independently generated through a voter registration process as the case in Nigeria. I am sure that INEC knows the importance and implication of having or not having a credible register, we cannot forget too early, where we are coming from and the sacrifice and effort that have been put in place to arrive at the current register in our electoral process. INEC must continue to learn from experiences and mistakes.
Under-age and multiple registration could be traced to the challenges encountered in previous exercises and the commission tried in dealing with past incidences through running the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) that detected and eliminated multiple registrations that guaranteed the accuracy of the registration figures. That notwithstanding, each experience comes with its challenges and the major concern here is the ‘underage’. So it is of utmost importance for INEC to ensure that it double checks registration of minors so as to protect the integrity, accuracy and security of the voter register. INEC should also investigate such allegations as well as come up with punitive measures for those found culpable.
In Nigeria, when we look at the adoption of the innovative anti-rigging devices, the biometric PVCs and Smart Card Readers (SCRs) by INEC during the 2015 electoral process, it was as a result of INEC’s quest to continuously enhance the integrity of the voter register and electoral process in general. Going forward, INEC must constantly deploy lessons from its engagement with stakeholders and the process itself in order to foster robust voter registration as well as popular participation in polling.
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