Time to Fix the Electoral System

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Mahmood Yakubu
Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

In the aftermath of the fallouts from the 2019 general election, it has become necessary that the nation’s electoral system is fixed once and for all if the country must deepen her democracy, writes Olaseni Durojaiye

There is no gainsaying the fact that the nation’s electoral process is far from being ideal or comparable to what obtains in some countries considered developed. In fact, what obtains in some African countries including Ghana, Senegal and South Africa, where democracy appears to be taking firmer roots are by far better in standard and organisation than what obtains in Nigeria.

In the case of Nigeria, the whole process is fraught with both human and systemic challenges.
From registration of voters to collection of Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) and management of uncollected PVCs, which is an abnormality in itself if the system was right, seamless distribution of electoral materials and voting process as well as votes collation votes. One of the resultant effects of the avalanche of challenges besetting the nation’s electoral process is that the poll results are always a product of electoral malfeasance and thus, the resort to the courts to challenge the outcome of the election.

The last election was no different. Rather, the resolve by the Presidential Candidate of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to challenge the result of the presidential election in court follows the usual pattern.

Given the fallouts from the last general election, it is crystal clear that the nation’s electoral system is not working. Matter-of-factly, the nation’s electoral system is in urgent need of holistic fixing and the time is now. There is no better time to start fixing the system than now and doing so now will afford a few test runs before it is tested in the next general election, four years from now.

President Muhammadu Buhari had declined to accent to the bill when it was passed by the eighth assembly in the run up to the 2019 elections. In a correspondence to the leadership of the assembly, President Buhari had hinged his decline to accent to the amended bill on reasons bordering on legislation and need for further clarity on some sections of the bill as passed by the Senate. It was deliberate, many now reckon with the benefit of hindsight.

“I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general election, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.

“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.
“This leads me to believe that it is in the best interest of the country and our democracy for the National Assembly to specifically state in the Bill that the Electoral Act will come into effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 general election.”

Analysts opine that the first step in that direction remains proper legislation. Indeed, the time to revisit the 2018 amended Electoral Law is now even though the bill will require further tinkering to take care of some of the issues that plagued the last elections including the role of security agencies during election and how they are deployed during future elections.

The presidential decline naturally drew criticisms from the opposition. In his reaction, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike described the refusal as a threat to the country’s existence adding that it would generate political tension in 2019. According to him, the president’s action was to afford the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) the leeway to rig the 2019 elections.
Aside Wike, who could be described as an ardent and virulent critic of the administration, an election observer group, United States-Nigeria Law Group had also criticised the decline and stated that it was a ploy to perpetrate electoral malfeasance during the 2019 elections.

“The National Assembly tried to cure the defects of the Electoral Act that led to controversies during the 2015 elections. After the passage, the President kept on giving countless excuses why he wouldn’t sign the amended Electoral Act. The whole essence of not signing the Electoral Act is to rig the 2019 general election. And in the plot to rig the 2019 elections, Rivers State comes first and Akwa Ibom State is the second on their list,” Wike explained.

No doubt, some of the fallouts from the last elections have further exposed the inadequacies of the 2018 Electoral Bill as amended.

For instance, there was poor deployment to which men of the Nigerian Army during elections are not new and this is mindful of how the soldiers were deployed in the 2014 governorship elections in Osuna and Ekiti States. However, the unfortunate drama that played out in Rivers State during the election presupposes a clearly defined role for the military, particularly men of the Nigerian Army, if they must be involved during elections.

Interestingly, the accusations and counter-accusations between the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian Army regarding the role of the military in Rivers State during the last elections are still to abate. It is against the backdrop that many continue to call for a clearly defined role for the military during elections.

While it is an aberration to involve the soldiers in election duties, expediency has made it inevitable, given the high propensity for violence, in some states and the fact that the Nigerian Police have consistently showed lack of capacity to contain election violence.

In an interview with THISDAY, a Port Harcourt, Rivers State-based public affairs analyst, Ezeh Wordu noted that the police had shown that they are incapable of handling the violence that trails election in Rivers and Bayelsa States. According to him, the pragmatic route to go is to deploy the military, because the police cannot curtail the kind of violence that has become characteristic of elections in Rivers State.

“The kind of violence that trails elections in the Niger Delta, especially in Rivers and Bayelsa States are far beyond what the police can handle. I don’t subscribe to military being deployed for election duties but what we witness in Rivers State during elections from 2015 till date requires that the military is involved, because they are better equipped and trained than the Police. But they must be professional about it.”

Also speaking with THISDAY, a political science teacher at the department of Political science, Lagos State University (LASU), Dr. Kolade Adams, posited that to avert a recurrence of the Rivers State incident, there is need to clearly define what role the military will play during the elections and under whose authority.

“If we must involve the military or any security agency at all, it should be a dedicated team and the team must take directives from the INEC chairman or anyone he delegates the powers to. A situation where a minister or any member of the executive arm could use his office to commandeer the military or police for whatever end during election is an aberration. It robs the election of the toga of free, fair and credible; and confers undue advantages on the incumbent government,” Dr. Adams states.

Other commentators harped on the need to deepen the use of the electronic card reader as it has proven to be another lacuna that unscrupulous politicians exploit to raise votes even as they insisted that the process of voter registration still required some form of fine-tuning to check cases of underage voters, which is very prevalent in the North of the country.

Again, putting in place a legislation that makes the use of the Electronic Card Reader mandatory will solve the problem of multiple voters. This has become necessary considering the allegations that the card readers were deliberately not put to use to allow for multiple voting using uncollected PVCs, which the INEC allegedly made available to parties in the elections.

The failure of embracing the use of the card reader is yet another glaring failing on the part of the current leadership of INEC. It is unfortunate that after it was introduced by INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega over four years ago, the INEC is yet to perfect its usage. It is on such accounts that critics of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu have continued to insist that he has failed the nation and therefore “must go.”

Whatever it is worth, governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Lagos State during the March 17 election, Owolabi Salis, made similar allegations against the APC during a recent media briefing.

Salis alleged had that “There was multiple voting in favour of the APC during the (governorship) election. INEC officials colluded with APC by releasing unclaimed Permanent Voters Card to the APC. The unclaimed PVCs were then shared among their agents and supporters to their agents to vote with on multiple occasions. INEC supported the APC by claiming Card Readers didn’t work in places like Alimosho and other places where rigging and vote-buying were rampant.

There is also the need to further tinker with the voter registration exercise. It is unthinkable how, even after many editorials had been written and several advocacies against underage voters, the absurdity persists still, which is suggestive of official complicity in the process.

In the final analysis, it must be put on record that the ruling APC must, going forward, demonstrate transparent and convincing resolve to partner all stakeholders, including civil society organisations to tinker and fix the nation’s electoral process, if true democratic cultures that produce free, fair and credible elections must take roots in the country as is the case across the globe even in former communist states.

Importantly, President Buhari needs to demonstrate nationalistic leadership and drive the process. This has become more incumbent on him in the aftermath of the damning reports by the United States-Nigeria Law group, which states that many of the shortcomings witnessed during the elections were contrived by the government to gain undue advantages in the election. Anything short of this will be a death knell on his avowed integrity.