Wednesday, 28 August 2013
THE JOURNEY SO FAR? THE SYNERGY BETWEEN INEC AND DOMESTIC ELECTION OBSERVERS; ACHIEVEMENT, OBSTACLES AND OPPORTUNITIES
At a One Day Participatory Meeting on Road Map to Sustainable Electoral System in Nigeria: CSO Evaluation of INEC on Wednesday June26th 2013 by the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG)
Let us begin by thanking the indefatigable chairman of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) comrade Zikirulahi. M. Ibrahim and the amiable National Coordinator Zainab Abdullahi Mohammed and her team for inviting us and to heartily congratulate them for skillfully steering the ship of our foremost and enduring Election Observation group back to visible waters of election observation engagement, robust Democracy, good governance, transparency and accountability interrogation.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Our task in this effort, within a constricted space of time looks rather ambitious but suffice it at this point to state unhesitatingly that election observation exercise during the election circle of the April 2011 General election and the gubernatorial elections occasioned by litigations in Kogi, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo, Kebbi, Sokoto, Ondo states in 2012 witnessed relative substantial and procedural improvement, relative, against the background of what obtained under the inglorious Professor Maurice Iwu’s leadership of the Commission. Evidently, under Iwu, election observation was an all-comers affair, critical groups like TMG, ACE etc. were sufficiently blackmailed necessitating unbelievable cat and mouse relationship.
Hear the ranting by one of the hirelings of that era.
“Situations whereby civil society organisations have hanging around their necks the neo-colonialist toga in return for a few dollar, pound or Euro domination totally condemned, election rigging survived because the CSOs in Nigeria are perpetually cocooned in their slums and only wake up when white men need data to update their records for the perpetuation of their neo-colonialist Armageddon”….
It is also preposterous to be called ‘independent’ when INEC in most local governments in the states are housed and hosted in Local Government Secretariats, the journey will not be so far if this continues.Under professor Jega and the hardworking, untiring head of the Election observation unit, Mrs. Ikwuoma Haliday has witnessed vitality, reinvigorated vista of mutual engagement and cooperation. First a more strident process of engaging in the election observation exercise was put in place and advertised, we are aware that the chairman insists that only credible organisations are to be accredited for election observation exercise and in the 2011, 2012 election circles the unit has continued to prune down the number of participating groups.The lack of understanding of the mutuality of the important roles of observers and monitors continues to constitute hitches as observers see the monitors as not co-operating and monitors view observers as meddlesome; collaborative and joint training will help in lighting the fog.
“It is on this note that we condemn the flooding of Anambra state by every Tom, Dick and Harry in the civil society industry in the name of ‘election monitoring or observation from Alliance for credible elections to TMG, NLC, NBA, CAN, JDPC, SCIA,MWAN, AID etc…”
Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi Chairman, The Inter-society, Nigeria.
(Board of Trustees 2010)
As we are all aware, Iwu has the unenviable and stinking reputation of having conducted roundly and manifestly flawed 2007elections as adjudged by both foreign and domestic election observers groups and even the principal recipient of the electoral heist. Late president Umar Yar’Adua, God bless his soul.
Through 2010 to 2011, the concerted and unrelenting push by civil society for electoral reforms yielded the exit of professor Iwu and the appointment of professor Attahiru Jega (CFR) as the Honourable Chairman of the Commission, civil society and even the donor community received his appointment with glee and has supported him almost unquestionably.
Generally, public perception of the Commission had hit the bottom ebb. INEC was perceived as corrupt, most of the staff were seen as being in the service of electoral evil, Professor Jega quickly rallied to his constituency. The academia, vice chancellors, lecturers and corps members were drafted to shore-up public confidence, in the electoral process and voter registration exercise was conducted to weed out all the ‘Mike Tyson’s’, ‘Nelson Mandela’s etc. that found its way and were ubiquitous in Iwu’s register.
As expected, civil society rallied to the support of the new Commission and sought to work out a memorandum of understanding to set out clear parameters of engagement, unfortunately, for some inexplicable reasons that has yet to see the light of the day.
Aside and on a general note, while inarguably the current leadership of INEC inspires hope, its reforms have thrown up sour grapes causing the teeth to edge. The continued wide wholesale imposition of Ad-hoc staff (NYSC and Vice Chancellors), which in our view was meant to be interventionist, almost now the norm seem to have alienated career staff who when push gets to shove are still called in to help out; two years is enough time to instill the values of honesty, discipline, professionalism and reinstate staff to take leadership of the conduct of elections.
INEC will need to include demographic information (sex, age etc.) to identify and aid planning for both stakeholders and placeholders.
As 2015 beckons, the resonating issue of logistic challenges which prefaces all observation reports in 2011 and 2012 must be looked into; it is one hurdle INEC has been unable to cross.
We will need to rethink the time between accreditation and voting, we may create perhaps an hour buffer as this in our view has aided apathy.
Our non-challant attitude to the issue of monitoring campaign financing and sanctioning defaulters has been unhelpful.
Equitable media access for all political parties is a yawning imperative; DSTV penetration is still poor, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria barks but is toothless.
SYNERGY BETWEEN INEC AND DOMESTIC OBSERVATION GROUPS
1. Training: Even when it is clear that participating groups may have trained their personnel for the task, in order to build the capacity of the groups, the EMOU of INEC supported by IFES hosted a TOT for the observer groups and INEC staff who are involved in monitoring and handling election duties.
2. Prior to any of the elections mentioned earlier, INEC organised stakeholders engagement meetings in the states with the chairman of the commission in attendance also the public affairs unit made available phone lines and twitter handles for prompt complaints and intervention and this has proven very efficient in reporting and resolution of some election challenges.
3. Logistics for Observers:
a. The more revolutionary intervention by the unit has been the introduction of the plastic photo identity cards and aprons, which has helped to identify accredited organisations apart from those involved in citizen observation.
b. INEC/EMOU provided contact details of their staff on duty and area maps during the elections to aid the work of observers and answer questions when necessary and has consistently in all elections briefed and debriefed Groups engaged in the exercise.
There seems also to be better/professional conduct of observation as there has been complaints of misdemeanour in the field by accredited observers.
Though the relationship between election observers and the EMOU has been cordial, the lingering challenge of most accredited observer groups not turning in reports officially to INEC persists and needs to be addressed in future. It maybe expedient for the EMOU to work an easy format of sourcing e-report from the groups.
We need to seize this auspicious opportunity to re-open conversations and deal with grey areas if any and ultimately sign the elusive MOU between INEC and civil society groups. This will remove hiccups that have characterised the relationship.
The continued enjoyment of perks of office by beneficiaries of electoral infamy, due to unending litigation and prosecutorial inaction for electoral offenders and offences need to engage our contemplation especially now that electoral impunity is on the rise.
Going forward, we must find a way to remove restriction of movement on Election Day. We need to improve security during elections rather that shutting down social economic activities as it is done in other climes. We must also strengthen and ensure continued voter education especially around switching over to polling units closest to them.
The Electoral Management Body (EMB) needs to come out clear on the policy thrust and philosophical values that will underpin and drive the 2015 elections, stating where it stands on the evolving single/staggered election debate and at what point do broad citizens/stakeholders input be sought (not views of former colleagues, comrades turned consultants) to enrich the electoral process.
Collaboration, partnership, sharing of information especially with the Human Rights Commission on the novel electoral impunity Initiative, principled relationship with the donor community and development partners as we approach another election circle will be germane.
We must enhance advocacy around the continued voter registration exercise, depoliticise, mobilise and get stakeholders buy-in on the delimitation of constituency exercise.
Beyond all of these, we have to resist the temptation to be enveloped as critical and important as it is by our election matters pre-occupation and engage also in the struggles to enthrone a freer society, fight impunity and corruption which are the twin devils holding the Nigerian ruling elite hostage; it is a holistic imperative.