Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Preparing for 2015

INEC has a huge responsibility in ensuring continuous democracy in Nigeria primarily via the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. It is expected that current INEC Chairman, Professor Attaihiru Jega will still be in office to conduct the 2015 polls.  The 2011 elections were greeted with widespread adulation from both local and international stakeholders. For the 2015 polls to be an improvement on 2011, INEC must make certain improvements so as to neutralize its failings in the last general elections.  This section takes a look at some suggested actions that the electoral body should take for improved future exercises. 

Improvement of logistics. 

Almost every election that INEC has organised since the 2011 general elections have had logistics challenges. This has occurred even in standalone governorship elections. INEC must find a way around this hurdle and use all resources available at its disposal to ensure that electoral materials reach polling units on time and that accreditation and voting commence at the prescribed times.

Minimisation of Night Collation. 

One of the major challenges repeatedly faced in elections since 2011 is collation of results at night. Because accreditation is done in the morning (8am to 12pm) and voting in the afternoon (12.30pm to 4pm), collation at the ward, LGA and state level can only be done at night to time constraints. This raises several problems foremost amongst which is the fact that the process is not likely to be observed by independent observer groups and even a majority of party agents. In areas prone to violence it is completely unadvisable to attempt to observe collation at night. A number of CSOs, political parties and observer groups have alerted INEC about this and the Commission should endeavour to reduce the night collation. INEC must be commended on its overnight, live broadcast of LGA results at the state capital during gubernatorial elections. If accreditation and voting can be done simultaneously, then voting can end by 1pm at the most. Polling Unit, Ward and LGA collation could be completed before nightfall thus ensuring that a significant part of the collation process can be observed. Since the state/national collation is aired on national television with observer groups being allowed into the collation centres, then the whole collation process could technically be under the watchful eyes of observers. This would drastically improve the transparency of the exercise and INEC should seriously consider concluding voting earlier. 

Remove restriction on the location of voting.  

Based on INEC regulations, voters can only vote in polling units where they registered. This has resulted in a significant number of voters being disenfranchised since many people register in locations different from where they live. In addition, the restriction on movement on election day does not also permit voters to go to the PU where they registered, if it is not close to their house. Something must be done urgently about this as it is the primary cause of low voter turnout in the country. It also gives room for rigging because it is easy to manipulate ballot papers if only 20% of the voters turn up. The excess papers can be bought and thumb printed giving rise to false results. 

Monitoring of campaign financing. 

This has been an issue that INEC has had tremendous difficulty addressing. It is not possible to say an election is fair if parties are able to raise money from any source without being checked and properly audited. This already creates a disadvantage and corruption in the public system will only ensure that some parties are funded inappropriately. INEC may consider working with an external consultant/organisation in addressing this issue. 

Equitable media access for political parties. 

In most elections held since 2011, there has been unfair balance in media access for political parties. Usually, the state run media houses devote all or a great majority of their airtime to the ruling party in their state. The Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) have warned media houses consistently about this, but in practical terms this continues unabated. INEC must collaborate with the broadcasting regulator to ensure that in 2015, this is minimised as much as possible. Media is the main channel for driving a campaign and once the political parties do not have the same opportunities (parties have been known to be rejected even though they are willing to pay a premium) to air their jingles and adverts, then the playing field is not level and the election cannot be fair irrespective of how well the election day activities are conducted.

Inclusion of demographic information. 

The ballot papers only have provision for the parties, which are fielding candidates for any particular election. What this means is that it is impossible to gauge the number of women, youth etc. who vote in elections. The availability of demographic information is very advantageous as it helps both INEC and political parties identify voting trends across the nation thus enabling better planning in the future. It also helps to reduce the impact of rigging. Election results in a PU, ward, LGA, state or even the nation cannot be valid if the number of votes cast is more than the number of accredited voters. This has helped place a check on rigging. If the number of males and females are also known, it will place an extra burden on riggers since they will have to make sure that the total number of votes cast by females is not more than the total number of females accredited or even registered. The same follows for male voters. Due to the high illiteracy rate in Nigeria, it may be difficult for demographic information to be printed on the ballot papers in order for voters to fill them out. As a result, INEC should come up with a creative way of obtaining this information whilst taking into consideration the literacy level of the electorate.

Ubiquitous availability of election results. 

INEC should provide a link on its website that enables the general public, political parties, researchers and CSOs to be able to access authentic election results. This information is highly useful and required for planning by political parties and research projects executed by CSOs and independent observer groups. In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) INEC should not hesitate in making this information publicly available. The result in a PU by PU or LGA by LGA format are the most useful. INEC must be congratulated on its newly developed website (May 2013). The site is much more user friendly and informative. However the data lapses mentioned earlier should still be considered. 

Strengthening of INEC’s relationship with the NYSC. 

The National Youth Service Corp members are primarily used as Adhoc staff by INEC. There have been some challenges with corp members as regarding their security and time of receipt of payments etc. The October 20, 2012 Governorship election in Ondo State had some logistic challenges because Batch ‘C’ corp members had done their passing out parade on the 18th of October and so a number of Corpers did not turn up for election duty. Even though there were still other batches (A and B) available, it affected the number of Adhoc personnel available at polling units, with some Pus having had no Adhoc personnel at all. This should not have occurred because the passing out date for Corpers is concluded several months in advance and the election timetable is also made public months in advance. INEC needs to improve it s communication and synergy with the NYSC. 

Effective Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) / Audit of the 2011 Voters Register

INEC did a great job in the 2011 voter registration exercise. All efforts must be made to ensure that continuous voter registration is credible and available for all eligible Nigerians. INEC also needs to carry out an audit of the 2011 register to ensure that duplications and other inconsistencies are completely removed. 

Credible conduct of the delimitation exercise. 

INEC should ensure that the current delimitation exercise on review of constituencies is credible and acceptable to all stakeholders. The primary way to do this is to make the whole process transparent and provide regular communications to all stakeholders. 

Reduction in cost structure. 

The 2011 elections were extremely expensive (they cost the tax payer 122.9 billion Naira) which is very significant for a developing nation like Nigeria. The major chunk of this cost went to the voter registration exercise (N66.3 billion Naira). 39 Since only the CVR is expected to take place preceding the 2015 polls, the cost of voter registration should drop considerably from 2011. However, INEC should try to cut costs in other areas so as to reduce the financial burden of the elections on Nigerians. 

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