STRENGTHENING NIGERIA’S ELECTION UMPIRE FOR CREDIBLE POLLS

Vincent Oliji

The success of election in any democratic process depends largely on the credibility of the electoral umpire and its capacity to perform its role of delivering free, fair and credible election. An election that would not only be transparent but seen to be so by the majority of both the country’s citizens and the international community.

In Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC is the organ saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections in accordance with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act.

In carrying out its tasks, the electoral body is expected to continue to engage in the review of its processes, reorganize and restructure its activities and programmes. This is to enable it take stock of its activities with a view to identifying the areas it has done well or where it has failed and to consolidate on its strength as well as seek ways to overcome identified challenges in order to deliver on its mandate.

It is in view of this that the Chairman of the electoral umpire, Professor Mahmood Yakubu is strategizing ahead of 2019 general elections in Nigeria to come up with practical solutions on how to strengthen the electoral process that will be based on the principles of fairness, transparency, credibility and impartiality.

INEC is embarking on Continuous Voter Registration exercise to enable Nigerians who turned 18 years and above since the last registration to participate in the elections and for registered voters who were not able to collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) during the 2015 general election to collect them.

In a move to demonstrate its readiness for the general election, the electoral commission has released the election time table. The is the first time in the history of Nigeria that election time table was released two years ahead of the election year.

Although INEC has made tremendous progress in getting itself ready for the 2019 general elections, a lot still needs to be done to be adequately prepared for the polls. The Mahmood led agency undoubtedly has a litany of hurdles it must scale if it must conduct credible elections in 2019 devoid of the irregularities, malpractices and violence that characterized past elections in the country.

It is on record, that thousands of Nigerian were disenfranchised during the 2015 general election as many could not collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). According to the INEC, these PVCs already printed by it are still lying uncollected by the registrants in the commission’s offices across the country.

Electoral malpractice has taken a new dimension in Nigeria. Instances abound where politicians have on several occasions sparked-off trouble using tugs to disrupt voting in areas where they foresaw that they could lose elections, a development which had led to the cancellation of the elections by INEC.

Security agencies and INEC officials have been accused of conniving with politicians to rig elections after collecting gratification from the politicians, while some highly placed government officials buy their way through by using their offices to intimidate INEC officials to write election results in favour of their candidates.

The delay in the passage of the Electoral Reform Act by the National Assembly to address some inadequacies of INEC is another challenge, while insecurity in some parts of the country where thousands of the electorate have been displaced from their voting constituencies, making it difficult for the commission to create voting points at the displaced areas.

The delimitation of constituencies has also become problematic as Nigeria’s population grows steadily and people mature to voting age. Also, the distribution of election materials to volatile parts of the country and areas with difficult terrain constitute a hindrance to the electoral body’s ability to deliver on its mandate.

The introduction of technological innovations into the country’s electoral process is commendable because it provides a faster and more effective way to register and identify a genuine voter as well as assist in setting up voting protocol and ensure transparency in the electoral process to guarantee voter confidence in the election outcomes. Care must however be taken to ensure that the hiccups experienced with the of biometric voting system do not happen with the solar-powered electronic machine or any other voting technology used in future elections.

The equipment to be used for the 2019 general election should be adequately test- run to ascertain their suitability, credibility and dependability for the assignment at hand. This can be done by training and retraining electoral officers as well as putting the equipment to use during gubernatorial elections coming up in no too distant future in Osun, Ekiti and Anambra States.

Laudable as INEC’s strategic action plan may be, it would need to intensify its commitment to providing electoral operating systems and infrastructure that would smoothen the conduct of election and support successful delivery of free, fair and credible elections as well as improve voter education, training and research.

Nigeria’s legislative arm, the National Assembly should review and amend the country’s electoral reform Act to help reduce frivolous litigations and distractions that emanate from the outcome of elections, a situation which is not healthy for the development of democracy.

There should be a law limiting the amount of funds a candidate is entitled to spend during an election. This will serve as a control measure on candidate and the amount of money they can deploy during elections.

President Muhammadu Buhari who has the exclusive right to appoint Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) for INEC in the states should, as a matter of urgency appoint RECs in the 33 states of the federation currently without Commissioners, as they are a critical part of the Strategic Plan of Action.

Political parties, civil society groups, security agencies, the mass media and other stakeholders should engage with INEC to ensure that every gap is bridged before the 2019 general election.