The election in Nigeria since the country returned to civil rule in 1999 has fallen short of international standards owing to various ills that have characterized the various polls, which range from ballot box snatching/stuffing, violence, vote-buying, intimidation, and harassment of the electorate and electoral officials during elections.
Though, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in the recent past have made several efforts to improve on the electoral process, starting from the conduct of the 2015 general elections with the introduction of the Smart Card Reader, SCR, to authenticate the eligibility of voters, although not without some glitches, as in some cases, the SCRs did not function in some polling units during elections.
Based on the introduction of the SCR, in the 2015 general election, Nigerians and indeed the international community commended the electoral umpire for the conduct of the process, as it was seen as an improvement over past elections conducted in the country.
Although, the same could not be said of the 2019 general elections, as both domestic and international observers stated that the process fell short of what was expected.
However, the success and otherwise of the conduct of any election does not lie squarely with the Election Management Body alone, as other stakeholders, major political parties, and security agents have greater roles to play to ensure the credibility of elections in the country. This is because INEC does not snatch ballot boxes, buy votes, harass or intimidate voters and election officials.
Recent elections conducted in the country under the leadership of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, have attested to the fact that elections can be credible if all the stakeholders show commitment. The conduct of the Nasarawa Federal Constituency bye-election, Edo and Ondo governorship elections have attested to this.
This is why INEC Chairman-designate, Prof. Yakubu called for the speedy passage of the Electoral Act amendment bill, when he appeared before the Senate Committee on INEC for screening, upon his re-nomination by President Muhammad Buhari, for a second and final term in office.
He appealed to the National Assembly to expeditiously pass the Electoral Act Amendment Bill before the end of the first quarter of 2021, as it was critical for the success of the 2023 general elections and ultimately the nation’s electoral system. He said that if confirmed, INEC under his watch would consolidate more on ensuring further transparency in the conduct of future elections in the country.
“It is more of what we have done in the past because my belief is that we didn’t have to continue to experiment constantly. So we have to consolidate, democracy operates in the open.
“We have to continue to be open and be transparent in the way we continue to manage public trust.
“I hope in the next few years, we will consolidate to such an extent that Nigerians will be confident that their votes will count and only their votes will determine who eventually wins an election. This is my hope and commitment,” he said.
In addition to the call for speedy passage of the Electoral Act amendment bill, INEC has also promised that it would continue to deepen the deployment of technology in subsequent elections. And that, as the register of voters now is biometric and the uploading of results is now done on-line to a dedicated portal. The Commission posited that it will continue to explore other ways by which the electoral process can benefit from the deployment of technology.
However, INEC has stated its position towards ensuring the credibility of the electoral process and the conduct of elections in Nigeria, but the questions that beg for urgent answers here are that; are the political parties ready to toe the line of INEC at ensuring the credibility of polls? Are the security agents, despite the quarterly Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, ICCESS, and their various pledges of commitment which in most cases does not show fruition, ready to equally toe the line of INEC?
In the same vein, are the electorates sensitized enough and equally ready to shun vote-selling regardless of the poverty in the land and ensure that their votes count?
One of the reasons attributed by Prof. Yakubu to the high level of voter apart in Nigeria was a poor performance and failed promises by some politicians to their electorate after winning elections.
Are the politicians willing to see elective and appointive positions as a call to service to humanity and not for self-aggrandizement, as political positions are mostly seen in the Nigerian political space as an avenue to get-rich-quick at the expense of the commonwealth and at the peril of the poor masses?
Furthermore, politicians during elections don’t campaign on issues that affect the masses and how they intend to ameliorate the issues that affect the masses, rather, they engaged in personality attack and sponsoring of thugs to cause mayhem before, during, and after elections, which all boils down to the credibility of the electoral process.
The November 16th governorship election in Kogi state in 2019 will never be forgotten soon by many, especially the families of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Woman leader that was killed in her home. She was not just killed but locked inside her house and the house set ablaze.
This amongst others, is some horrific things done by some politicians in their quests for power, some according to reports, even mobilize thugs and armed them to cause mayhem and after the elections these thugs go haywire, thereby causing security challenges to the states and the country in general. The kidnappings, killings, banditry, and the general criminality in the land have all allegedly been attributed to the machination of politicians in their self-centeredness and greed for power.
In addition to the doings of the politicians, are the security agencies and their personnel ready to uphold their constitutional duty by protecting the lives and properties of the citizens, rather than dance to the whims and caprices of few infinitesimal and selfish politicians?
During elections, some security personnel has shown that they are partners in crime with some politicians and their thugs, as they failed to apprehend these thugs that cause crisis during elections, and in some cases where the arrest was made, nobody hears the outcome of such arrests and some of these known thugs are still been seen roaming the streets shoulder-high.
For election to be free, fair, and credible in Nigeria, so that it can reflect the will of the people in choosing their leaders, rather than the imposition and manipulation, goes beyond the rhetoric of the passage of the Electoral Act amendment bill, as all the stakeholders have greater roles to play in achieving the goal of deepening the country’s democracy.
It is high time politicians and Nigerians in general learned lessons from other countries within and outside the African continent. If smaller countries with little resources and a smaller population can get it right, even in the country’s backyard here, then, the elites and the political class should see politicking as a tool for fostering development and not as means for looting and self-enrichment at the expense of the poor masses.
I hope in the next few years, we will consolidate to such an extent that Nigerians will be confident that their votes will count and only their votes will determine who eventually wins an election.