The Prof. Attahiru Jega-led Independent National Electoral Commission conducted the 2011 general elections to world acclaim. By and large, the process leading up to and conduct of the election led to generous favourable reviews in local and foreign media and to a large extent, improving Nigeria’s democratic credentials within the comity of nations. But the journey to the acclaimed achievement of the electoral management body was not smooth.
The commission had to battle initial public scepticism which almost led to apathy as a result of the unfortunate national embarrassment caused by the botched April 2 National Assembly elections. This was because of the failure of contractors to deliver election materials on schedule. INEC to a large extent won over most Nigerians and members of the international community with its handling of the crisis.
Beginning with the voter registration where over 73 million Nigerians were registered to vote, the commission substantially reduced the cynicism which trailed earlier exercises. To further lend credence to the success of the entire exercise, the avalanche of litigations which characterised the outcome of the 2003 and 2007 general elections reduced considerably this time around. In what perhaps appeared to be a final endorsement of the credibility of Nigeria’s 2011 elections, Jega was picked to lead a team of monitors from the Economic Community of West African States to the Liberian elections.
In Nigeria, there is another opportunity for Jega and his team to prove to Nigerians that the April 2011 feat was not a hoax after all. Citizens of six states of the federation beginning with Kogi on December 3, 2011, will go to the polls to elect governors to pilot the affairs of their states for the next four years. In line with judicial pronouncements which “extended” the tenures of governors of the six affected states, INEC had, pursuant to provisions of Section 178(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Section 30(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), announced dates of elections that are to take place in the six states.
The states are Kogi, December 3, 2011; Adamawa, January 14, 2012; Bayelsa, February 11, 2012; Sokoto, March 10, 2012; Cross River, April 14, 2012; and Edo, July 14, 2012. The commission is expected to begin cleaning up the voter register in the affected states for obvious reasons.
The most obvious being the fact that since the last voter registration in February 2011, many Nigerians have attained the 18 years mark and therefore are now eligible to vote. There is also the thorny issue of those who either could not find their names on the register, others whose names, age, sex and other details were either erroneously entered or left out completely.
Public confidence in the credibility of the electoral process in developing countries such as Nigeria often begins with the voter registration. The sheer number of people who turned out to be captured but were left out during the last voter registration has put the commission in the spotlight.
Given that the continuous voter registration is an ongoing exercise, eligible voters, party officials and other stakeholders expect that the display of the register and whatever adjustments required to be done should be done in time for the elections. There is also the challenge of logistics and uniformity of the voting procedure.
Logistics presented a huge challenge to electoral officers during the April polls as voting materials did not reach some polling units on schedule while in other areas, electoral officers and polling clerks were left to their own devices after the close of polls. There were confirmed reports of corps members being left with no option but to accept a ride from public-spirited individuals and in some cases, interested political party agents to carry election materials to and from polling centres.
In other cases, polling officials appear to be at a loss as to whether or not to stick to the rules which compel them to ensure that only individuals whose names, pictures and other bio-metrically-captured data were allowed to vote. It was equally a challenge for some electoral officers to abide by the rule of allowing only those who were on the queue and were duly counted as at the time allowed for doing so, to vote.
Discretionary powers were reportedly employed and used at will. Then, there was the issue of collation. The mode of transporting materials to collation centres as well as the subsequent collation of results was another major challenge. There were claims that not all party agents were allowed into collation centres in some states thus causing credibility problems in a small number of places. Above all, concerns over the security of lives and property of persons directly involved in managing the process is bound to increase pressure on staff and ad-hoc staff of the commission.
Perhaps, a sad reminder of the number of election-related violence which led to some fatalities and arrests before, during and immediately after the 2011 elections would suffice at this point. Official statistics released by the office of the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Hafiz Ringim, revealed that a total of 5,356 persons were arrested for electoral offences in the course of the elections. He explained that out of this number, 2,341 were arrested for various election-related offences while 3,015 were arrested for involvement in the post-election violence. Offences for which individuals were arrested included thuggery; violation of restriction of movement on election days; bearing arms and criminal charms at polling centres; snatching and destruction of ballot boxes; unlawful possession of voters’ cards, inciting violence and murder.
Much as INEC cannot be held accountable for these offences, the Electoral Act 2010 (As amended) as well as the Constitution empowers officers of the commission to ensure the arrest of any person or group of persons who violate electoral laws.
The understanding developed between INEC and the various security agencies needs to be improved upon to ensure a better outing this time around. There is also the problem of mutual suspicion between members of the Political Advisory Council made up of chairmen of political parties and representatives of the commission. Most of the issues revolve around a breach in communication between some parties leaders and the leadership of the commission as to what role each was required to play especially with regard to the funding of public enlightenment campaigns.
There is the need for whatever differences involved to be quickly resolved to ensure a smooth conduct of the polls. One of the things INEC may not have total control over is the conduct and utterances of major actors in the electoral process, especially contestants in the elections. Unguarded utterances by the political class have always prepared grounds for election violence. Some politicians have been alleged to fund armed groups with which they intimidate opponents and electoral officials alike.
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, has said INEC is relying on the support of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security. According to him, the ICCES has been fashioned into a standing committee which was given a mandate to draw up specific plans for each of the states in which elections are scheduled to hold. He also expressed confidence that the staggered nature of the elections would be an added advantage because there will be more men and material ready to be deployed.
He said, “If you contextualise that elections will be holding in isolated states at least one at a time; against the backdrop of the way we had it in April, you will see that the committee is in a much better position to provide election security because what we had in April was commendable.
“I am not talking of post-election violence. I am talking of election-day security, which is better than what we have ever had before in this country. And now the plans are being drawn up specifically for each of these states where elections will hold and you can be sure that the committee will be able to put in place the required operational plan to handle that.”
He reiterated that the ICCES, which had been constituted at the federal, state and local government levels, was making the needed adjustments to address specific security challenges as they are likely to occur in each of the affected states.
So far, INEC has made public its level of preparedness to face the challenge of conducting a better election than it did in April 2011. It has had many retreats, training and re-training for its members of staff at all levels since April. It still enjoys public support and confidence to a large extent. It remains to be seen whether it can put its money where its mouth is.