Going by the timeline of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), campaigns for presidential and National Assembly elections should commence this month, including those for state houses of Assembly.
Since the commencement of the Fourth Republic, the nation has been experiencing various challenges in building virile institutions, fighting sectarian crises and corruption in a bid to ensure that good governance is enshrined. Our electoral system too has not been spared the series of upheavals troubling us as a nation.
No doubt, the functions of INEC are contained under Section 15, Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Section 2 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). These laws, among other, empower the commission to organise elections into elective public offices while that of conducting local government area chairmanship elections, which were hitherto vested in states’ Independent Electoral Commission, is hopefully being transferred to INEC. Preparatory to 2015, INEC has, among others, deployed advanced software identification system (ASIS); produced permanent voters cards (PVCs) complete with biometrics, which are readable electronically; commenced continuous voter registration (CVR); updated the electoral register and set up an Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), to address security concerns.
Despite these laudable efforts, many Nigerians, and international observers are already expressing worries over a number of issues that should be sorted out if we are to truly have free, fair and credible elections. Not a few believe that there’s a relative improvement in our electoral process in terms of computerisation, coding of ballot papers, ballot boxes and polling units. For instance, the distribution of permanent voter cards, as part of efforts towards having comprehensive and up-to-date voter register, got public criticism as the exercise recorded several irregularities. With a biometric system in place, it is expected that the system should be cleaned of fraudulent registration. Also, the PVCs are yet to be synchronised with the national identity card, to enable eligible voters participate in elections with minimal paper work. Again, INEC still has to contend with the problem of voter apathy as this may frustrate genuine efforts to ensure hitch-free elections.
Another factor is the inability to put in place, electronic voting. This will not only make many Nigerians in Diaspora to participate, it would eliminate all shortcomings associated with manual conduct of elections. At the moment, only citizens residing in country can vote at any election, whereas in other countries, their citizens are able to discharge their civic duties due to the opportunity offered by the technology of e-voting. INEC will still need to contend with is the registration and deregistration of political parties. Many political parties seem not sure of their fate. This should be sorted out before the next elections. The insecurity pervading the North-East is another grey area that should be addressed. Despite the ongoing terrorist acts by the Boko Haram, INEC has assured that it would conduct elections in the area, affected by the insurgency.
More worrisome also is the deployment of security personnel and hardware to elections. The INEC boss, Professor Attahiru Jega, had backed a proposed amendment that would confer the exclusive power to assign security men during elections by limiting the role of the military at such exercises. This has sparked protests from the opposition party and those, who believe that it could serve as an avenue to perpetrate crime. This feature of military rule is an aberration and should not have a place in any modern day governance. Electoral offenders are still not being punished because of the absence of special electoral offence tribunals constituted for that purpose. INEC should ensure that violators of the electoral law are made to promptly face the full wrath of the law.
As the people eagerly look forward to the future, the wishes of voters should be accurately reflected, a salient consideration that has been in short supply since the 1963 elections in the annals of the nation. Voters should ask aspirants cogent questions that require convincing answers on matters that border on their living. These should cover the pervading insecurity, unemployment, corruption, decadent power, education, health services and infrastructural deficit. We should seriously be concerned on how informed the electorate is about issues of franchise and choice in terms of the level of their confidence in the existing structure.
Certainly, no government can provide purposeful leadership without having well planned, articulated and sustainable programmes. The aspirants should thoroughly be made to scrutinise intending public office holders and be able to freely determine whether they are fit to be entrusted with their mandate.
*this was published in the Daily Times dated Tuesday, December 23, 2014