With less than 500 working days to the 2019 general elections, activities are gathering more momentum at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Thankfully, six new National Commissioners were sworn in last December and there are high hopes that new Resident Electoral Commissioners will soon be appointed for the states. Just last month, the commission’s top officials including the Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, undertook a comprehensive review of the 2012-2016 Strategic Plan over three days in Lagos and there is now a clear path for the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan to emerge.
Part of what was agreed upon at the meeting was that the new Strategic Plan must strengthen the electoral processes and achieve the four cardinal principles of transparency, integrity, credibility and impartiality. At the top of the agenda was how to promptly implement all the pre-election processes, such as getting an updated voters’ register ready for the commencement of the soon-to-be-announced nationwide voters’ registration exercise. New modalities for ensuring that polling booths open in good time with materials, equipment and staff readily available on Election Day were also discussed. So was the enhancement of the process of seamlessly collating, recording, transmitting and declaring election results. There was an understanding that the planning process should be completed by the first quarter of this year.
Last year was especially busy for the Commission with 164 mostly court-ordered elections conducted and with more than 80 percent of them concluded at first ballot. Barely a month into the current year, three other federal constituency elections have also been successfully conducted and concluded in Etsako Central, East and West Federal Constituencies of Edo state, bringing the total number to 167. More Nigerians are now aware that the few elections that could not be concluded were due to violence, largely instigated by some politicians and their supporters. But the Yakubu-led Commission has reiterated its determination to ensure that only the voters, through credible elections, will continue to determine who occupies public office in our country. It cannot be otherwise. Every vote must count, Prof Yakubu has said again and again. It’s undoubtedly a strong message to politicians or their supporters who intend to or are used to subverting due processes and stealing votes at gunpoint.
Both Edo and Ondo states now have their respective governor and governor-elect, thanks to the successful elections conducted on September 26 and November 28 respectively last year. In the case of Edo, those who disagreed with the election results are in court to prove their case, which is absolutely within their right to do. In Ondo’s case, all the losers have conceded defeat congratulated the winner, thereby setting a very good example worthy of emulation.
With some luck, the National Assembly will soon complete the process of amending the relevant sections of the Electoral Act, all intended to strengthen our democracy. There’s hope that definite punishment to be meted out to anyone who flouts any aspect of the law will be included, to enable prompt prosecution of law-breakers and also to serve as a deterrent to potential trouble makers. The death of 943 people that were killed in the aftermath of the 2011 general elections is a sad reminder that our laws need to be strengthened to prevent this kind of carnage.
In terms of technology, the commission is consolidating the successes recorded in the 2015 general elections with the introduction of new innovations. In the Edo and Ondo governorship elections for instance, accreditation and voting processes took place at the same time. This saved time and accelerated the conclusion of the voting process. Of the four known components of the Electronic Voting System, the commission has actualised three – Electronic Voter Register (EVR), Electronic Voter Authentication (EVA) and Electronic Transmission of Results (ETR). The fourth – Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) – cannot be implemented yet due to Section 52(1b) of the Electoral Act 2010, which prohibits the use of electronic voting machine.
While the EVR attains INEC’s mandate of registering eligible voters, the EVA and ETR enable the commission to organize credible elections across the country. Good enough, the optimization processes carried out between 2011 and 2015 resulted in the removal of a whooping 1.5 million records from the voters’ register.
There have been challenges, though. The Smart Card Reader, for instance, is still not performing at maximum levels, but majority of them have done quite well in all the elections conducted so far. Deliberate efforts are now being undertaken to tackle the noticed hitches. Collection of Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) on a national scale will soon commence. But for the attempt by several individuals to collect their PVCs by proxy, which is against the commission’s rules, the previous system would not have been suspended.
Diaspora voting is also on the cards, but legal impediments remain. Legislators have pledged to look into it and the Commission is in full support. On the other hand, discussions are on to enable eligible prisoners cast their votes during elections. The process will be finalized after due consideration to all provisions of the constitution.
However, for the commission to effectively carry out its functions, it needs the support and participation of all Nigerians. In any case, INEC belongs to all citizens. We must be on the lookout at all times for those who take pleasure in dividing rather than uniting us. Nigerians must especially watch out for some commissioned arm-chair critics, who do not understand the rules governing the electoral processes but have, at various times, criticized the Commission over inconclusive elections, as if it is illegal. Curiously, these commissioned “experts” find it convenient to ignore the real causes of inconclusive elections. They were waiting in the wings before the Edo governorship elections, but were thoroughly disappointed when the election turned out very well. Again, last November, the same elements descended on the commission, denouncing it for refusing to postpone the Ondo governorship election.
In fact, two columnists with a national newspaper, either out of sheer mischief or self-induced ignorance, could not understand how the Commission could afford to postpone the Edo governorship election and then “refused” to do the same in Ondo’s case. For that reason, they concluded that the Commission acted out a script to ensure that a particular candidate, their candidate, lost the election.
Oyekanmi is the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman