By Olasupo Abideen
The just concluded off-circle Governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo state has yet again demonstrated the increasing worrisome regression in Nigeria’s electoral process. As a matter of fact, the process seemingly marks a sad anti-climax in the progress made in Nigeria’s electoral progress right from the inauguration of a fresh voter register to the successful amendment of the electoral framework in 2022.
Despite the calls by elections stakeholders to rebuild citizens’ confidence after the dashed hopes of the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) seem to have further dampened expectations of citizens on the commission’s capacity to conduct an acceptable election.
The elections have been described as another missed opportunity to rebuild trust & confidence in the electoral process. The elections question the commitment of democratic institutions to electoral integrity and credible elections. Foremost, election observer group Yiaga Africa raised concerns about the continuous decline in the quality of elections & the proclivity for lowering the integrity standards of elections irrespective of the reforms introduced by INEC & reforms to the electoral legal framework.
Despite all the efforts made by election stakeholders to improve the process, the actions and inactions of electoral officials, security agencies including the desperation of political actors has dampened hopes of Nigerians. This is due to the fact that the elections were characterized by the same shortcomings that impacted on previous elections. These challenges have continued to hamper the process because it benefits few political elites in power and offenders have consistently escaped severe punishment.
For instance, there were credible reports of the incidence of pre-filled results sheets before accreditation and voting in some wards in Ogori-Magongo, Okehi, Adavi, Okene and Ajaokuta of Kogi State. Similar reports were also reported in some Local Government Areas of Imo state but 4 days after, the commission is yet to reveal culprits despite having details of the exact locations and officials assigned to those polling units.
The commission claims it is investigating the situation but unfortunately experiences from the past limits expectations from citizens just as the commission is yet to tell Nigerians who and what is responsible for the “glitches” it experienced with transmission of ONLY the Presidential election results in February.
Sadly, it is gradually becoming boring to be reeling out the same challenges experienced 10 years ago but here we are still talking about ballot box snatching, harassment of voters, violent disruption of electoral process and by-passing of electronic accreditation in 2023. It’s quite unfortunate that many years after introducing Smart Card Readers and Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to alleviate overvoting, we are still struggling to reconcile figures of accredited voters with the number of votes cast in a polling unit.
The infractions in the just concluded elections have reaffirmed the lack of commitment to democratic principles and credible elections on the part of key electoral stakeholders. After a comprehensive audit, we must investigate and prosecute all electoral officers and everyone culpable for electoral practices in the just concluded elections.
While the future may look bleak with the intentional infiltration of the Commission with partisan politicians, it has never been a hopeless situation. Right from the recruitment and appointment of INEC Chairman, National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners, election administration requires fundamental reforms to inspire public confidence and enhance the legitimacy of election processes and outcomes.
Again, while laws are important to guide every process, the implementation of the laws to the latter remains vital to achieving positive outcomes. For instance, the current law allows the commission to deploy any mode of transmission including the highly favored electronic transmission of election results from the Polling unit, INEC gladly defended the fact that electronic transmission was not compulsory despite the fact that it promotes transparency and credibility
By and large, the 2022 electoral law in the 2022 Ekiti/Osun Governorship elections, 2023 Presidential/ 28 Governorship elections and the off-circle elections in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo states. There is a huge opportunity to identify the existing gaps in the legal framework and immediately commence the process of amendment. Similarly, the National Assembly must accelerate the legislative process of establishing the Electoral Offences Commission to promptly and diligently prosecute electoral offenders.
The bulk does not start and end on the table of INEC alone, security agencies and political elites have also become a very important hindrance to the conduct of quality elections in Nigeria. Thus, security agencies through the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on election should investigate and prosecute cases of complicity and unprofessional conduct of some police officers and political thugs.
If indeed we believe in democracy and its principle, the recruitment into public offices must be credible. This means we must get our electoral process right as this is the first step towards electing credible leaders that will deliver dividends of democracy.. Nigeria is too important to the African region to set a bad precedent with its electoral and democratic principles.
Olasupo Abideen is a good governance, youth investment, and public policy enthusiast. Abideen serves as the Kwara State coordinator of the NotTooYoungToRun movement and Global Director, Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative.
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