HOLDING ALL ELECTIONS IN ONE DAY

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It has become necessary for INEC and other stakeholders to give it serious attention

Shortly after the 2011 general election, the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Attahiru Jega came up with the idea of holding all elections in the country on the same day. In proposing the single-day elections, Jega noted that the existing arrangement of staggered elections was fraught with drawbacks just as it was wasteful in terms of energy, time and money. However, having added a caveat that the single-day elections he was proposing at the time would not take off with the 2015 elections, Jega made his submission a mere academic exercise. We believe it is time Nigerians started looking at the idea.

Against the background that under the prevailing electoral system it could sometimes take between three and four weeks to conduct the various elections (Presidential, National Assembly, Governorship and State Houses of Assembly) during which all economic and sometimes even academic activities are usually grounded throughout the country, we consider Jega’s idea a worthwhile proposition. We believe that it is something his successor, Professor Mahmood Yakubu should be looking at, especially at a period like this when the country is looking for cost-cutting measures to survive the dwindling revenues from oil sales.

Perhaps the single major complaint against holding all elections in one day is that the ballot paper could be too bulky in the case of Nigeria where there are many political parties taking part in any elections. The argument goes that the illiterate electorate in the rural areas might get confused to the point that they would render their ballot papers invalid. Or that some may vote against their choices if given four different ballot papers at the same time. While there may be merit in this argument, we do not believe it is sufficient enough reason not to try what has been perfected even in smaller West African countries where elections are usually held in one day with many parties competing.

There are also those who argue that since INEC still has difficulties in holding crisis-free elections under the existing staggered formula, there is no assurance that the electoral body would get it right if all elections are held in one day. That may be a legitimate concern. But in lending support to the single-day voting, we have weighed all the negatives that the extant staggered elections present against what the nation stands to gain from the proposed one.

First and foremost, the current system is not cost effective as the nation is almost always shut down for several days whenever elections are held with all the attendant economic implications. There is also the issue of voter-fatigue as the turnout of electorate often declines after the first major poll. Furthermore, and perhaps more fundamental, is the notorious fact that once the presidential or governorship elections are held first and results declared, subsequent elections tend to reflect the so-called bandwagon effect. We therefore endorse single day voting because, as has been evident in countries where it is practiced, it would take care of the waste and allegations of manipulation usually associated with staggered polls.

The main concern here is whether INEC will really get its act together to ensure that all logistics problems such as the late arrival of ballot papers and voting materials to polling centres as currently experienced will be eliminated prior to the introduction of single-day voting. But that does not obviate the fact that it is an idea worth trying. We therefore call on INEC, the National Assembly and other critical stakeholders to give serious consideration to the idea of single-day elections, especially as we move towards 2019.