From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Kaduna based constitutional lawyer and Executive Director, Human Rights Monitor; Mr. Festus Okoye has said that the excesses of security agencies must be curbed by relevant authorities, ahead of 2019. Similarly, he also argued that cross-carpeting politicians should be called to order as Nigeria prepares in earnest for the 2019 polls, cautioning that their activities could render political parties in-cohesive, thereby putting the country’s democracy in danger.
As an election observer, looking at the 2015 general elections, would you say it was a success across the country?
The Nigerian people must critically engage the electoral process and resist the temptation of being carried away by the euphoria of the ‘seeming successes’ recorded during the 2015 general elections. Nigerians must not just idealize the said elections but must agree that we did well in certain areas of the electoral process. We must also agree that we did not do well in certain areas and also failed in other areas. One thing is certain and is now self evident, the Nigerian people are proud of the modest successes recorded during the 2015 elections. Nigerians believe that their doggedness, resilience, courage, preparation, international support and God’s intervention propelled and ensured the success of the election.
However, the Nigerian people know and should be made to know and appreciate the fact that the 2015 elections had serious challenges and limitations. It is our responsibility to understand the challenges, analyze them, learn useful lessons and make projections to the future.
What were some of these challenges?
Good elections require early preparation and planning. This entails that the constitutional and legal framework for the conduct of the elections must be in place at least six months before the elections. The Electoral Management Body waited in vain for the 4th Alteration to the Constitution of the Federal Republic 1999(as amended) and the amendment to the Electoral Act, 2010. Both documents remained inchoate and affected preparations for the 2015 elections. The Nigerian people did not know that President Jonathan signed into law just before the 2015 elections the Electoral Amendment Act, 2015 and kept same in the drawer and only released it to the public after the 2015 elections.
The voters register used in the conduct of the 2015 elections is still opaque and the issue of continuous voter registration is still a mirage. Few months to the 2011 General Elections, INEC conducted registration in all the 119,973 Registration Centres in the Country. The data expected to be collected for each registrant are: Bio-Data, Facial Image, 10 finger prints (Template & Image) and optional fields for those that possess National ID card and telephone numbers. In 2011 the register was subjected to Register Optimization Process 11(AFIS) and it revealed between 0.2percent and 14percent of duplicates in each State totaling 4, 280,979. Thereafter the said register was still subjected to Register Optimization Process 111 which revealed between 0.5percent and 37.3percent of duplicates in each States totaling 11, 437,774. At the end, INEC announced that it had a total of 73, 528, 040 registered voters. When it consolidated the figures, it got a total of 74,638,834 registered voters. After applying and using its Automatic Finger Identification System (AFIS) it got a total of 70,357,855 voters. This indicated a total of 4,280,979 multiple registrations indicating 5.7percent of multiple registrations. Its post Business Rule figure indicated a register containing 58, 920,078 registered voters.
This showed that a total of 11,464,690 alleged registered voters were removed after the application of its Business Rules showing a total of 14. 8percent of multiple registrants removed. INEC also carried out continuous voters registration and at the end, it registered a total of 11, 464,690 voters. After applying its Business Rules a total of 681,484 registrants were removed representing 6.2percent. Out of this number a total of 580,882 representing 5.9percent were removed on grounds of multiple registration. After the Continuous Voters Registration and the application of its Business Rules, a total of 9, 913,398 names remained in the voters register. The consolidated Continuous Voters Registration and the main voters register brought the total number to 68, 833,476.
The production, collection and distribution of the Permanent Voters Cards before the 2015 elections were contentious and chaotic. Other than the issue of insecurity in the North East of Nigeria, the political, ethnic and religious slant given to the issue of distribution and collection of the Permanent Voters Cards led to the postponement of the Presidential, Governorship, National and State Assembly elections earlier scheduled to hold on the 14th and 28th of February 2015. INEC shifted the election to 28th day of March 2015 for the Presidential and National Assembly elections and the 11th day of April 2015 for Governorship and State Assembly elections.
The Independent National Electoral Commission proposed to create 30,000 additional polling units close to the 2015 general elections and poor communication led to the debate relating to its propriety and desirability being hijacked by persons with political interests and given ethnic and religious slant. INEC backed down and in September 2014 suspended its implementation. This created the impression that the Electoral Management Body can be harassed and subdued and its policies and programmes abandoned.
Some of the political parties breached the provisions of section 87(4)(b)(i)and 87(4)©(i) of the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) in holding their party primary elections to nominate their Governorship and National Assembly candidates outside the State capitals and outside the Senatorial Districts and Federal Constituencies. Some of the parties utilized the proviso to section 31 of the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) and submitted the names of persons that did not really participate or win party primary elections as their candidates. Also the training and recruitment of ad-hoc staff for the conduct of the elections faced hitches in some states. Some of the Resident Electoral Commissioners and Electoral Officers allowed persons with vested interests to hijack the process of recruitment and training of ad-hoc staff. The top to bottom introduction of the Smart Card Readers into the electoral process created a lot of anxiety among the political elite. Some of them equated the Card Readers to the use of Electronic Voting Machine and therefore offends the provision of section 52(2) of the Electoral Act.
What would say were the gains of the 2015 elections?
The Nigerian people gave the INEC support on account of the personal integrity of the Chairman and some of the National and Resident Electoral Commissioners. The Electoral Commission took responsibility for its actions and there was improvement in relation to political trust and trust in the electoral management body as an institution. INEC carried out reviews of its processes. This includes the review of the voters register, a new biometric register, restructuring of departments and streamlining schedules and evaluation of field staff; review of manuals and issuance of new guidelines. There was some level of creativity and innovation in its operations. The Commission also developed an Election Project Plan (EPP), Electoral Risk Management (ERM), Business Process Redesign (BPR), Election Operations Support Centre (EOSC) and Voter Education and Publicity Verification.
The Issuance of the Permanent Voters Cards, use of the Smart Card Readers reduced the human element in our electoral process and also to a certain extent minimized the issue of electoral fraud.
The creation of IDP polling units on account of insurgency challenges in the North East of Nigeria allowed persons internally displaced to exercise their democratic franchise. Also, the involvement of Vice Chancellors and University Professors and lecturers as retuning and collation officers added credibility to the electoral process. Most of them performed their functions diligently and to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, their work involved the mathematical entry and calculation of results that they did not participate in generating.
As the country approaches 2019 general elections, what are the lessons to be learnt from the 2015 elections?
The first lesson from the 2015 general election is that a strong and professional electoral management body with a strong leadership is indispensable in ensuring credible elections in Nigeria. The leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission showed leadership, commitment, innovation and creativity in the management of all aspects of the electoral process. The leadership withstood pressure and registered the All Progressives Congress (APC). It withstood pressure and introduced the Smart Card Readers in the Electoral process. It withstood pressure and announced result it believes represents the will of the Nigerian people.
The registration of APC and their ability to take power from the incumbent regime showed clearly that the politics of alliance is incapable of removing an incumbent regime in Nigeria. In other words, multiplicity of political parties and the registration of uncountable number of parties serve the interest of incumbents that want to perpetuate themselves in power. The merger of the legacy parties gave them more spread, political leverage, monetary clout, incumbency and stranglehold on some of the States of the Federation.