As a direct response to some of the inadequacies of the 2019 elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has decided to embark on a national conversation on the management of the electoral process, starting this month to correct, if not all, but some of the anomalies that characterised the just concluded general election, writes Adedayo Akinwale
The 2019 general election may have come and gone, but the irregularities that characterised the elections have left tongues waggling. Prior to the 2019 elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on many occasions promised Nigerians and the international community an election they would be proud of. The assurance from the electoral umpire left no one in doubt that the country was in for an improvement from the 2015 elections, but the reverse was the case as the whole country was left disappointed after the general election.
It’s also worthy of note that the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act amendment bill, which could have brought some sanity to the electoral process in the country did not help matters. Rather, the President stubbornly ignored the public outcry, frustrated the efforts of the National Assembly and abruptly ended any hope of having transparent, free and fair elections with his refusal to sign the bill into law. His promise to conduct a free and fair election immediately became a mirage as his body language suggested otherwise.
Despite the pressure and the claim by the opposition parties that the president and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had colluded with the electoral umpire, the President stood his ground, and the dream of having the election result transmitted electronically ended within a blink of an eye. This singular act made rigging during the elections very easy.
However, from the uneventful postponement of the elections on the wee hours of February 16, 2019, before it was later held on February 23, to the militarisation of the whole process, the do-or-die attitude portrayed by the political actors, as well as the elevation of vote-buying to the next level, political violence, unleashing of violence on opposition parties and even INEC officials, the takeover of INEC collation centre in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, among others, the electoral body was practically frustrated while Nigerians were left disappointed.
As soon as the elections were concluded, politicians and political parties shifted the battle to the Election Petition Tribunal. As at April 4, 2019, a total of 736 petitions had been filed against the conduct and outcome of the 2019 general election. This was against 611 petitions filed before the tribunal after the 2015 elections.
Considering the above statistics, political analysts, as well as election observers believed that the 2019 election was retrogressive compared to the level the country attained in its electoral process during the 2015 elections. While the INEC may have strived to give the country an election better than 2015 elections, some staff of the commission, including ad-hoc staff, political actors and the security agencies frustrated the effort.
It was against this background, and as a result of its dissatisfaction with the do-or-die attitude of political actors, which was brazenly exhibited during the 2019 general election, the inability to penalise electoral offenders and its lack of control over the secuirty agencies on election day, that INEC has decided to embark on national conversation on the management of electoral process with various stakeholders in the country over the next two months.
Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, at a meeting with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja, stressed the need for a review of all aspects of the processes and procedures for the 2019 general elections in full consultation with stakeholders.
He was of the opinion that this process must be qualitatively different from what was done in the past and benefits from all previous efforts at reform. The commission believed that until the country gets its electoral process on the right, consistent and progressively positive trajectory, the efforts at nation-building and promoting peace and progress would remain epileptic. The commission said while progress had been made since 1999, a lot of work still needs to be done.
To this end, the issues that would be on the front burner, according to the commission, include the number of political parties, mode of registration, internal democracy and accreditation of party agents. The conversation would also cover Logistics’ movement and security of personnel and materials as well as recruitment, training and deployment of election personnel.
The conation will also be structured around ICT related issues ranging from the configuration and deployment of technology; the recruitment, training and deployment of technical support; the issue of security during the election between INEC and the security agencies, the effectiveness and impact of election risk assessment methods, deployment and conduct of security personnel.
Another important aspect of the conversation is the electoral legal framework and the necessity for a comprehensive, dispassionate and early conclusion as well as the passage of any constitutional and electoral act amendments
He said, “Election day processes, including polling unit administration, accreditation of voters, voting procedure and result management, particularly the collation and transmission of results. Above all, we need a conversation around the personal conduct of especially the political actors. The “do-or-die” attitude of some politicians and the inability to penalise electoral offenders incentivises bad behaviour
“Over the next two months, the Commission plans to engage with all stakeholders, beginning with a root and branch review involving our own officials at Local Government and State levels, ranging from Electoral Officers (EOs), Administrative Secretaries (ASs), Heads of Department (HoDs) and representatives of ad hoc officials engaged for elections from Presiding Officers at Polling Unit level to collation and returning officers.
“We shall then follow it up with consultations at the national level with political parties, the security agencies, civil society organisations, the media, development partners, traditional and religious organisations, the national and local peace committees and professional groups accredited to observe elections. Details of the series of activities and timelines will be finalised at this meeting and made public immediately.
“Over the last 40 years, virtually all our elections have been accompanied by the report of one committee or another on electoral reform, among them the Babalakin Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO in 1986), the Uwais report on electoral reform (2008), the Lemu Committee on post-election violence (2011), the Ken Nnamani Committee on constitutional and electoral reform (2017), the various administrative reports by INEC, investigation reports by the security agencies (the Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Army), the independent studies by the National Human Right Commission (2015 and 2017), the judgments of the various election petition tribunals, the reports of domestic and international observers, record of public hearing for the amendment of the electoral legal framework by the National Assembly and even confessional statements by some political actors.
“There is value in revisiting all these reports. The Commission will work with stakeholders in undertaking such a comprehensive review in earnest,” he said.
The Commission therefore hoped that the recommendations from the national conversation would feed into an enduring reform of the country’s electoral process.