Nigeria’s Bottom Heavy Electoral System: To Shift, Postpone Or Adjust?
NIGERIA is back to it again. Tension, apprehension and suspension pervade the land.
Though we are yet to witness a similar situation quoted by late Chinua Achebe when the falcon cannot hear the falconer, the fear that mere anarchy could be loosed on the land, hangs ominously in the air. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that should dispel the ominous load by giving Nigeria a credible and rancor-free election is dancing ‘kokoma’. Though the issue of Continuous Voter Registration, (CVR) seemed to be the major pain in the neck of INEC, the distribution of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) is proving to be the commission’s pelvic injury.
In the midst of the challenges of further forward movement, social medics have suggested a shift of the February 14, 2015 take-off date for the general election.
As concerns for the effect of such a possible shift on the constitutional stipulation that the election must hold 60 days before the expiry of the present term mounts, the state of the national security roils further anxieties. The paroxysm in the land is beyond imagination. Nobody anticipated the level of unease in the country. Visitors to the nation wonder if it is all about an election.
But truth be told, the 2015 election is more than just an election. It represents the real transition from the rigging-riddled quasi-democracy of yester-years to the real democracy of free choice Nigerians have always yearned for. But there are many adversaries. The adversaries include the risks of going to administer the pre-election processes of PVC distribution in the troubled North East, suspicions of partiality by the INEC, the scant budget and complaints of lopsided distribution of the PVCs, which have been made the sine qua non for voting among other such confrontations about systems and strategies.
Amid all these concerns for safety and constitutional conformity, there is the other worry that a similar shift in April 2, 2011 led to the dissembling of the people’s will to make a bold statement through their votes. Yet there is the critical need to have the election reflect the will of the masses. Would the failure to adjust the election timetable not provide ready alibi for INEC to do a shoddy job? And assuming the slight adjustment is made, how far would the various contending issues, especially regarding PVC distribution be efficiently addressed? There is a precedent and the saying that what is worth doing is worth doing well should apply
But the onus lies on INEC to make the request or raise its complaints. INEC needs to use the available grace period to demonstrate its impartiality and ability to give Nigerians the worth for the investment of goodwill and understanding after the trials in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states. There are other charges against INEC that a shift or slight postponement could help the commission to confront. Apart from displaying the samples of the ballot papers and demonstration of the working of the card readers, INEC should convince Nigerians that they can rise to the occasion, especially in the light of accusations of regional bias and cloning of PVCs.
A Non-Governmental Organization, the International Society for Civil Liberties (Intersociety) says that causes of election violence are usually traced to electoral commissions. In a statement signed by the Board chairman, Barrister Emeka Umeagbalasi, Intersociety, took INEC up on the issue of distribution of PVCs to be used during the election. “INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega pointed out that as at January 7, 2015, INEC had received a total of 54, 341, 610 PVCs (permanent voters cards) from its suppliers out of which, 38, 774, 391 have been distributed to registered voters across the country till date leaving 30, 059, 085 registered voters disenfranchised. That is to say 14,491,866 unproduced PVCs and 15,567, 219 PVCs remain undistributed till date.”
Chronicling INEC’s less than perfect distribution of the PVCs, Intersociety added that on January 13, 2015, the Commission made another public statement stressing that a total of 68, 833, 476 registered voters, (RVs) have been penciled down to vote in the February elections in the country. The group declared that INEC outlined that it arrived at the figure after subjecting the National Register of Voters to automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) for the purpose of eliminating multiple/double registrants leading to elimination of over four million double registrants, which brought the figure down to 68, 833, 476. Intersociety regretted that the claims of INEC are yet to be independently verified.
The worrisome aspect of the whole scenario less than two weeks to the election, according to Intersociety is that over 35 million registered voters stand the risk of being disenfranchised by INEC. “The total number of disenfranchised registered voters across the country comes to 30, 059, 085; out of which those who may not have been captured in the PVCs production and delivery would be 14, 491, 866, the rights group noted. Also, the group disclosed that those captured in the PVCs, but have not received the card till date runs into 15, 567, 219. The statement added: “Other five million eligible registrants were also not captured during various continuous registration exercises across the country particularly in the Southeast and the Southwest geopolitical zones. This brings the total number of disenfranchised adult voters in the country to over 35 million. There are over five million Igbo residents in the North, who are registered voters. Many of them fled the area abandoning their PVCs following Boko Haram and Islamist Fulani insurgencies. Others are leaving the area in droves, fearing insecurity and other unsafe conditions during the polls. These registered voters automatically stand disenfranchised.”
The rights group regretted that Prof. Jega had to blame registered voters for not coming out en masse to collect their PVCs, while at the same time absolving his Commission of any blame associated with the poor distribution and collection. But as various organisations and voters wonder what magic wand INEC applied to distribute high percentage of PVCs in Northwest and the troubled Northeast, the question begging for answers is why the desperation to get the IDPs from northeast to vote at all costs could not be matched with similar gusto to access millions of registered voters in the South? It is becoming obvious that the 2015 is heading towards a dangerous precipice. It would take INEC’s contrition to let Nigerians know whether rushing to keep the February election timeline sacrosanct could guarantee a credible election or provide room for the much-anticipated conflagration and confrontation over the election.
There are fears that the suggestion for extension is to ensure that nobody bears the blame for any untoward outcome from the election, except INEC. Could it be that the proponents of interim government have better grasp of what is about to play out in February? Only Prof. Jega could tell!