Time to Reform The Electoral System

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The excesses of the present system will be best countered with electronic voting

If there is anything to take away from recent elections in Nigeria, it is that the electoral system is long overdue for fundamental reforms. And to the extent that every election is a process, the role of critical agencies like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Directorate of State Services (DSS), the police and the army would have to be seriously reviewed. Otherwise, we will be unwittingly putting at risk not only our democracy but also the peace and stability of our country.

The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has already threatened not to participate in future elections if the electoral act is not amended to institute electronic voting. At a recent meeting between its National Working Committee (NWC) members and the visiting team from the INEC Election Party Monitoring Department, the PDP National Chairman, Mr Uche Secondus asked the electoral umpire to clarify whether Nigeria is still practising presidential democracy or a compromised variant that allows the military and the security agencies to manipulate results.

What transpired, particularly during the recent Kogi State gubernatorial election, highlights this serious danger to our democracy. In a video that went viral before the exercise and still making the rounds, female supporters of Governor Yahaya Bello were threatening his opponents with gunshots. We are not aware that any of them has been invited for questioning, especially when more than a dozen people actually died during the election. A prominent woman leader in the camp of the opposition was burnt alive in her residence a day after the results were announced.

While electoral violence and all manner of intimidation should have no place in a civilised society, it should worry the authorities that we are increasingly being marked down as a country where anything goes, where obstacles are deliberately placed on perceived opponents, and where politicians engage in reckless, unlawful, improper and questionable activities without consequences. These desperate moves put the democratic experiment and our country at great risks and should be checkmated before we are tripped over by the inordinate ambition of a few.

It is noteworthy that elections in Nigerian have always been marred by fraud. But President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 whose overarching objective was to reduce human interference in the electoral process and minimise malpractices remains a major setback. For instance, some of the amendments mandate the immediate transmission of voting results from polling units to collation centres while giving INEC powers to utilise full biometric accreditation of voters with smart card readers and/or other technological devices, as the commission may deem fit.

Ballot stuffing, manipulation of manually written results, snatching of ballot boxes and compromise of election officials to falsify results have become more the norm than the exception. And with that, the electoral system has unwittingly transferred the onus of determining outcomes to the judiciary rather than the voters. Just recently, a former INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega said: “A situational and contextual analysis of the electoral process in Nigeria reveals an incredible level of electoral malpractices and thus acute deficiency in electoral integrity, which are no doubt among the major sources/causes of political instability, weakness and inadequacy of the governance process that have eroded legitimacy of elected government in the country”.

From the 2015 election, it was clear that the more automated the electoral process, the more credible the outcomes. But in the 2019 general election, INEC had to fall back on the easily manipulated manual accreditation of voters which many desperate politicians took advantage of. In advocating the use of e-voting, we are not oblivious to some possible problems it could encounter. The unreliable public power supply is one major hindrance aside the fact of illiteracy. Yet all things considered, we believe the time has come for the country to join the rest of the world in adopting what will help ensure that when Nigerians go to the polls on election days, their votes will be counted. And that those votes will count!

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From the 2015 election, it was clear that the more automated the electoral process, the more credible the outcomes