Nigerians went to the polls on Saturday, February 23, 2014 to elect a new President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives respectively. In essence, the elections were to constitute the executive and legislative arms of government at the federal level. The elections, however, were held after an earlier postponement, by one week, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, mainly because of logistic challenges.
The expectation after the one-week postponement was elections that would be better than the 2015 experience, where all the anticipated loopholes would have been plugged. INEC had assured Nigerians that the sensitive and non-sensitive materials had been fully distributed and both INEC staff and ad hoc staff were ready to conduct the elections timeously and in observance of best practices. The Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, had reassured Nigerians that all plans and contingencies had been put in place and all Nigerians were to go about the exercise of their civic duties without fear of molestation. And those who travelled the week earlier but came back disappointed were prevailed upon to go back and vote.
The key feature emanating from the polls was that the turnout was massive as Nigerians trooped in their numbers, determined to exercise their franchise. In many instances, Nigerians waited patiently in the sun to cast their votes and many further waited to hear the announcement of the results at their polling units. There were still reports of late arrival of materials and electoral officials to conduct the elections, insufficient quantity of election materials and card readers that malfunctioned. Further reports were of waves of violence including ballot box snatching and burning, intimidation of voters by thugs and armed men and other voter suppression tactics. Vote-buying and the manifest influence of money were also noticeable at the polls.
Before the elections, President Muhammadu Buhari, in an apparent moment of rage, asked the security agencies to “deal ruthlessly” with anyone snatching ballot boxes. This directive was condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians who insisted that the electoral law simply demands arresting a suspected felon and bringing them to trial. The surprising thing was that in some parts of Lagos State, on Election Day, the police watched as ballot boxes were snatched, with no attempts made to stop the felons or to arrest them. It was not until after the videos had gone viral that the police authorities decided to take action to redeem their image. In Rivers State, some Nigerians lost their lives in circumstances that are not totally clear. And a minister was reported with the aid of military personnel to have held an INEC official hostage until she wrote a fabricated presidential result for him.
In many instances, the late arrival of materials could not be justified and it seemed a pattern that needs further probe emerged. Did polling start later in some geopolitical zones than others? What could have been the reason for this lateness not just in some isolated polling units but across states and zones? Did anyone abdicate their duty? If the answer is in the affirmative, is there a penalty for such misconduct?
Nigeria must position herself to learn from mistakes and misdeeds. Otherwise, documentation and history would be of no use and need not be studied. Since 1999, this is Nigeria’s 20 years of elections, over six election cycles and we cannot keep pretending that our democracy is nascent as an excuse for our shortcomings. A child born 20 years ago is already a voter and biologically, will be able to reproduce, either as a man or a woman. We are either ready for democracy or stop the pretence that we run a democracy. Those who violate the law must be brought to justice, otherwise, impunity will continue to reign writ large.
We advocate an empirical approach that requires a post-mortem and an audit after the polling exercise and this should be done weeks after the polls have ended. The exercise would raise a plethora of questions. This will include; what went well and in which areas or departments did the elections go as scheduled or the results even surpassed expectations? What were the critical factors and resources that led to the success? Alternatively, where failure or retrogression was recorded, we may still ask: what actually went wrong? Any dereliction of duty? Or, did planning and execution not anticipate the challenges? Did INEC and other stakeholders do enough scenario planning and simulation? Are there laws and policies that stultified progress and therefore need to be amended? We are bound to raise a number of questions that would need to be answered if we are to make progress. The audit must be an honest one and involve all stakeholders from INEC the regulator, the legislature, key officials in the executive, political parties, civil society organisations, security agencies, etc.
More questions will be raised and answered in the process of the audit. Must we continue to gather at a place and close down the country’s bureaucracy, economy and social activities for one day in the guise of elections? Must we spend billions of naira printing permanent voter cards every four years and spend a fortune in the continuous voter registration? Can we disrupt the economy of elections and the valueless food chain it has created? Would the heavens fall if we ask all Nigerians to get a national identity card and use the same for voting and other national needs where identification is needed? Why should we deprive other Nigerians in the Diaspora of their voting rights? Should participation in election debates not become compulsory for anyone seeking to occupy a position of public trust to be validated by election? Can we not take benefit of technological advances in our elections and stop the primitive approach to elections?
The exercise will lead to a change of laws, policies, regulations and practices. It must be done early enough, within the first six months of concluding the 2019 elections. The bills and draft policies will be generated and sent to the National Assembly and executive on time so that the reforms will be done within one year of the conclusion of the 2019 elections. The idea is to strike when the iron is hot and ensure that debates about electoral law amendment do not stretch until the elections are by the corner.
In the final analysis, electoral reforms that reduce the premium on power for the sake of power should guide our future electioneering. We need reforms to get the best to govern us. The current approach can only throw up our fourth and fifth eleven. And we cannot grow the economy and develop with our fourth eleven when other nations are competing with their first 11.