By Tonnie Iredia
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would shortly undertake a review of election activities and actors in the recently conducted general elections in the country.
The review which must necessarily include issues in the institutional environment, should begin with party primaries that usually serve as the foundation of the complications in Nigerian elections.
An obvious observation would be how the performance of political parties questioned the desirability of the eulogised Electoral Act 2022 which supposedly governed the contest.
Although the Act specifically mandated INEC to monitor every primary election, the political parties succeeded in making the commission to disown its branch offices which assumed they were following the spirit of the law.
So, was the Act generally followed and was INEC able to play the role assigned to her in the elections?
The reality was that the political parties subverted the law by returning the nation to the past where party caucuses temperamentally determined the winner of a primary election irrespective of the scores.
Surprisingly, they also made the judiciary to agree that party primaries being an internal party matter should be determined by the political parties. In other words, what mattered was whatever the political parties wanted.
By rendering that part of the Act on monitoring redundant, room was given for the political parties to approve as flagbearers, persons who were not originally aspirants in the primaries.
INEC may have to wait for the completion of election petitions to put together all aspects of the law that have been overruled before knowing what is really expected of her in future elections.
Before the 2023 general elections, many officials were surreptitiously brought into INEC.
This happened because politicians in both the executive and law-making branches of government truly believed in election rigging.
To prove this point, opposition parties that normally led the struggle against partisan persons getting into the commission often reversed their orientation by bringing into INEC the same type of unacceptable persons as soon as they won elections and formed government.
The 2023 elections were thus destined to be rigged considering the determination of the ruling party to pollute the commission with their members who came in with the open-secret agenda of keeping their ruling party in government.
In truth however, an election management body which is the referee of the game of election is ordinarily expected to be impartial and completely non-partisan.
In societies, that are truly democratic, it is probably unnecessary to formally document the neutrality of electoral officials; instead, their impartiality was often taken for granted.
As a matter of fact, any person elected and sworn into office to run a government ought not to ever imagine the possibility of including in an election commission, members of his/her victorious political party.
In Nigeria, it is not only the constitution that formalizes the independence and impartiality of INEC, other laws, regulations and guidelines also do.
Yet, civil society groups and opposition politicians have had to agitate with little or no success to stop the ruling party from planting some of its members into INEC for the purpose of thwarting the latter’s neutrality.
In 2023, how comfortable were those in the top hierarchy of the commission holding meetings with such tainted officials in which electoral strategies were shared?
One mistake the Nigerian people have always made is the infantile belief that our politicians would soon mature and discard their political orientation of winning elections at all cost.
In other countries, politicians learnt to do that over the years. But can such happen in a country such as ours whose democracy is forever described as nascent?
This explains why INEC could not stop many malpractices such as stunted children voters in Kano as well as Obiaruku in Delta state and other locations during our last elections.
What works elsewhere is not our fancy; hence we prefer to canvass for votes at rented noisy rallies instead of media/town hall debates where the ‘how’ in election promises can be interrogated.
Consequently, most of those who reportedly won elections were those who shunned political debates thereby ensuring that they are never held accountable for any promises.
There is much to be said about BVAS – the Nigerian voter’s symbol of hope.
It is a wonderful device which when allowed to function gives an accurate voting figure. In our last election, the failure to use BVAS as advertised, created loopholes for rigging.
Whereas it was reported that the system had glitches, one school of thought validated what happened with a new argument that INEC had powers to determine what technology to use.
Can the power to choose a particular technological device be extended to include the power to change the chosen and publicized technology in the middle of the process without making the change public before effecting it?
The immediate implication of this definition of INEC’s power was that it made our governors realize that BVAS can be tampered with; and as such, they turned INEC into a spectator while converting the governorship and state houses of assembly elections into local government elections where the ruling party usually swept the polls.
After several years of elections whose process always ended same way, it is time to do something different.
First, let us stop the unnecessary restriction to movement on voting day and allow those who cannot vote to go about other lawful duties as is done in other climes.
There is no need to restrict movement of innocent citizens when thugs move freely to disrupt elections in many places unhindered while the announcement of thousands of security agencies mandated to take the battle to election criminals remains a melodious chorus.
It also appears needless for critics to continuously call for election offences commission when virtually all election offenders are usually rescued by those who sent them. Even within INEC itself, insider abuses are humungous.
In October 2022, the commission announced the discovery of 23 of its officials who made as many as 40 attempts to register one fake voter.
How the case was handled thereafter did not get known by the public.
Nigeria is a peculiar political environment where no strategy works in the conduct of elections.
For instance, INEC did not fail far more than our respected National Peace Committee. In fairness, the committee members were no doubt well-intentioned but they were rather naïve to have believed that politicians would keep to the accords they signed.
The exceedingly lucrative nature of politics in Nigeria makes the process a do or die assignment empowering our politicians to foist murderous thugs on people few minutes after assuring the nation that their ambition was not worth the death of any citizen.
On whether those to sign the peace accords should include the leadership of INEC, security and the judiciary which also have many riggers, it is obvious that several signatories notwithstanding, peace cannot be guaranteed in the absence of justice.
It is virtually impossible to expect any Nigeria politician to accept to be out-rigged in the name of peace.
Obviously, those who are counting supposed improvements in the 2023 general elections are living in self-denial. If we cannot conduct free and fair elections, let us at least reduce the cost.
The epileptic use of BVAS suggests that we could have gotten same results without spending billions of dollars on the device.
We could also have reduced expenses on allowances as well as the numerical strength of ad hoc staff – a good example being the appointment of matured highly educated University Vice Chancellors to serve as returning officers.
First, what is required of them is just to read results as presented – a job schedule that can be better handled by newscasters. Second, not all highly placed academics can resist bribes to alter election results.
Third, if the INEC chairman can serve as returning officer at federal level and be able to declare someone elected as president, why can’t a Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) do same in a state for the positions of governor and federal legislators while an Electoral Officer (EO) declares elected state legislators? Surely, elections are too all-consuming in Nigeria.