Electoral bodies across the world have the responsibility of conducting elections to enable citizens’ exercise their franchise to elect their leaders. In Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a electoral body assumed different names before arriving at what we call independent. The addition of ”independent” is to reflect the power given to this body as a commission that has a level of power and authority including an initiative to carry out its duties without undue interference.
Unuarguably, the 2019 elections will be an important step for the country’s democracy. If successful, the elections would consolidate democratic gains achieved in the last two decades since the transition from military to civilian democratic rule. The 2019 general election is also expected to be closely competed among the major political parties in the country. For now, no fewer than 91 political parties have been registered to participate in the forthcoming 2019 general elections, as the INEC recently approved the registration of 23 new political parties. With this status, the parties are expected to participate fully in the 2019 electioneering process.
Numerous positive developments have occurred since the 2015 elections that enhance today’s electoral environment in Nigeria. Some of these developments were noted by relevant stakeholders. INEC has improved the voting process, notably through the introduction of continuous voter registration, adoption of simultaneous accreditation and voting, improvements to the secrecy of the ballot, and advancement of the smart card reader technology. Young people are also more motivated to actively participate in politics and hold their representatives accountable through initiatives particularly with the Not-Too-Young-To-Run campaign. Nigerians are also deeply committed to democracy.
There has been notable efforts to stem corruption in the electoral system caused by the inadequacies in the enabling legislation: one of such is the Independent National Electoral Commission (Establishment) Act 2004. It might also be the absence of the will power to implement the safeguards for independence and good polls as provided and stipulated in the Act. The prevailing attitude of indifference by Nigerians as if they are resigned to the impossibility of achieving the desired objective must be discouraged. Nigerians must begin to see themselves as the beginning of the change –an ‘it begins with me’ attitude.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, two global election watchdogs the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) lamented the delay in finalizing the legal framework for the 2019 elections and noted that INEC should take concrete measures to combat vote buying through voter education campaigns, enforcement of laws against voter inducement, and nationwide ban on cellphones in the voting cubicle. Although, this was in a way curbed in Osun state gubernatorial elections as some party agents were caught with cash, the commission should enhance as much as possible the physical space for voting to facilitate the processing of voters on Election Day and prioritize training for polling officials on configuring polling units to enhance ballot secrecy while maintaining a transparent voting process.
As a matter of urgency, INEC should decentralize the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) collection process from the local government level to the ward and community levels and intensify voter sensitisation to increase PVC collection rates and implement the people with disability (PWD) framework, including operationalizing the Braille Ballot Guide and Form EC30PWD nationwide for election day, conducting voter education to increase the participation of PWDs in the voting process, and improving accessibility of polling units. This paper calls for urgent need for the nation’s electoral body to undertake measures to increase understanding of the vote collation process and ensure access of observers and party agents to collation centers. Publish polling unit-level registration and results data on INEC’s website in a machine-readable format and release specimen ballots well in advance of Election Day so that civil society and other electoral stakeholders can conduct sufficient voter education to orient voters.
Similarly, the federal government needs to provide sufficient and timely funds so that INEC and other electoral bodies can fulfill their responsibilities as prescribed by law even though INEC leadership has affirmed that it will be prepared for elections if the full budget is released when the National Assembly returns to session. Several electoral stakeholders in Nigeria underscored the need for timely logistical and operational preparations and also ensure the timely passage of the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010.
We are fully aware that election cannot be rigged without the ignoble roles of security agencies in the conduct of election. This fact was buttressed when the nation’s national security adviser, Mohammed Mungono recently, reminded security agencies on the need to be professional and their expected neutrality in the forthcoming general election. Sadly electoral observers were denied access to polling centres during the recent Osun rerun election. We are of the view that security services must maintain the highest level of professionalism and impartiality in facilitating the electoral process, refrain from actions that could be seen as motivated by partisan interests, enable accredited observers and journalists to perform their work, and protect the right of citizens to exercise their votes freely.
We have also gone past the stage where massive bloodletting precedes election in Nigeria, what we see now is vote buying, hence there is need for INEC to enforce laws against election malfeasance (including vote buying) and ensure equal and robust application through such measures as the establishment of the Electoral Offenses Commission and Tribunal. More so, there is need to respect and uphold press freedom and freedom of information laws in letter and in spirit as a critical stakeholder in nation building.
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