It is quite possible for the electorate to take charge of setting the tone for the political climate in 2014.
“Morality is not really the doctrine of how to make ourselves happy, but of how we are to be worthy of happiness.” – Immanuel Kant, German Philosopher (1724-1804), in Critique of Practical Reason.
This year, 2014, will be among the most politically active in Nigeria’s modern history. Expectations are high in the Nigerian polity and beyond, justifiably so, because the year will feature a cluster of activities leading up to the 2015 General Elections. These elections, obviously, will be keenly contested. Ideally, the election season should be a political celebration of sorts – a celebration of the Nigerian democracy in the manner that Americans describe their election season as ‘a celebration of American democracy’. But the reality we live with is a political environment unduly charged by the desperation of partisan gladiators. This need not be so.
It is quite possible for the electorate to take charge of setting the tone for the political climate in 2014, and up to the 2015 elections. This, however, will require the public being much more conscious and positively involved politically. For instance, rather than being potential tools for fomenting political violence and abuses of the electoral process by desperate partisans, the electorate could stand up to demand compliance with civilised ethics of political participation from the partisans. Really, a dispassionate and informed citizenry could hold all role players, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to account on what is required to make the Nigerian electoral process more efficient and in conformity with global best practices. After all, credible elections are not a function of what INEC alone does or fails to do; but more a function of the commitment of all stakeholders to make positive and scrupulous contributions to the system.
Information is essential to the electorate’s ability to perform such oversight role; and so, it is necessary to know what INEC itself is doing to discharge its mandate as an election management body to satisfy the yearnings of Nigerians for free, fair and credible elections. There is no denying the considerable cynicism presently in the polity regarding the capacity of the Commission to do just that, especially in view of the unfortunate challenges encountered in recent elections it conducted. But the present leadership of INEC has always taken such challenges as lessons necessitating additional policy measures to further insulate the electoral system against potential breaches. The Professor Attahiru Jega-led Commission is leaving nothing to chance in its planning to make the 2015 elections the best in this country’s history. And the elections really could be if other stakeholders, including the electorate, also play their roles in making things work.
The 2015 elections will be characterised by some innovations being introduced to fortify the system against abuse by partisan desperadoes. But the foundations of these innovations will be laid in 2014, and INEC needs the full cooperation of Nigerians to make the most of these. For instance, elections henceforth will be conducted strictly with the biometric Register of Voters. The Addendum List, which is susceptible to abuse, is being eliminated. This list was generated for the 2011 elections from the Manual Register to accommodate persons who did come out to register during the general exercise early that year, but whose data were lost along the line and thus are not captured on the biometric register. INEC will in 2014 roll out the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise nationwide, towards updating the biometric Register of Voters. Basically, the exercise is targeted at persons who turned 18 years since the last registration and have thus not been biometrically captured; as well as those who, though were 18 years and above during the last exercise, did not come out to register.
But there is a third category for whom the CVR is also important: persons whose names are on the Addendum List. Before the exercise takes off, there will be a display of the biometric register as presently composed at the various polling units; and it is imperative that every registered person – even while in possession of a Temporary Voter Card (TVC) – go out to verify that their name is on the displayed register. (Such display was done before the Anambra State governorship election in November 2013, but many residents, unfortunately, didn’t take advantage of it.) Whoever can’t find his/her name when the biometric register is displayed is required to come out during the CVR to get their data recaptured, because such person must have voted in the 2011 elections on the Addendum List. Failure to come out to get recaptured during the CVR will amount to self-disenfranchisement in 2015 because the Addendum List will no longer be used for elections.
Now, a caveat: it is strongly advised that everyone avoids multiple registration. Multiple registration by itself is a punishable electoral offence. But also, the Advanced Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) software being used by INEC for de-duplication of voters’ consolidated data automatedly retains only one instance of an individual’s data and eliminates the extras. Some of the persons who accused INEC of disenfranchising them because they could not find their names in the biometric register during the Anambra election were really multiple registrants who on Election Day happened to have gone to polling units where the extras had been eliminated. For avoidance of doubt, a multiple registrant who on Election Day goes to the polling unit where the extra data had been eliminated will not find his/her name on the biometric register and will not be able to vote. Such a person cannot legitimately accuse INEC of having disenfranchised him/her.
Another activity related to the CVR is the impending issuance of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to all voters who have been properly captured on the biometric Register of Voters. The distribution of these cards will commence soon at the same polling units where people registered as voters. One ready value that these PVCs will add to the system is that anyone who fails to get his/her card (and who had not taken advantage of the display of the present register preceding the CVR) would instantly know that he/she is not captured on the biometric register and, hopefully, would do the needful before Election Day. That way, the challenge of ‘missing names’ on Election Day will be effectively averted. But more importantly, the use of the PVC will check the tendency by unscrupulous persons to engage in multiple voting during elections. With the use of card readers that will also be deployed, the PVC will allow for 100 per cent verification and authentication of anyone showing up at the polling unit before he/she is allowed to vote. In other words, the tendency in our electoral experience whereby partisans buy up the voter cards of other people will no longer be of any effect – well, other that denying those who choose to ‘sell’ their voter cards the opportunity to vote. One point to note is: the card readers are programmed to decline verifying anyone who presents a PVC not belonging to him/her, thus making such a person ineligible to vote. INEC will need the collaboration of voters at the polling units to monitor the process for possible human attempts to override this mechanical safety catch.
Before now, the Commission had reinforced the security features on sensitive electoral materials like ballot papers, result sheets and ballot boxes by customising them to polling centres. Much as cynics and partisans have been reluctant to acknowledge the fact, this factor, coupled with the effective cover provided by security agencies, has helped to discourage age-long tendencies in our electoral process such as ballot stuffing and ballot box snatching. The fact is, any ballot box snatched under the present system, for instance, is simply eliminated from the collation equation. Now, these security features are being further tightened towards 2015 such that attempts at infringements will all the more be futile. Actually, many of these features will be in place for the Ekiti and Osun state governorship elections coming up mid-year. And the challenge of logistical hitches that accounted for late arrival of materials at some polling units in the past is also being squarely addressed.
INEC will, in the course of 2014, further its programme for re-delimitation of electoral constituencies, towards enhancing equal weighting of votes. But the final authority on this matter will be the National Assembly, which has the constitutional power to give legal effect to new constituency boundaries that INEC will propose. However that goes, the Commission is, this year, certain to create new polling units, with the aim of easing the access of voters to the ballot box in 2015. But the challenge of low voter turnout in past elections is one that must be collectively tackled by all stakeholders in the Nigerian project. With the creation of more polling units, INEC hopes to address one of the potential factors that may have discouraged voter turnout on Election Day. It will help for party activists, civil society organisations and other civic groups to also reinforce their efforts on ‘get-the-voter-out’ drive. Political partisans have the greatest responsibility in this regard because voters will be casting the ballots for them. In any event, they manage to mobilise huge crowds to their political rallies in the build-up to elections; so, where are these huge numbers on Election Day?
The point must be made that elections are being planned for all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as the Commission hopes the security challenges presently being experienced in some North-East states will be resolved. INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, did not foreclose elections in these states as was reported recently in the media. At the Senate Forum where he spoke late in 2013, Professor Jega expressed the optimism as stated above; because it is common sense, anyway, that a state of emergency isn’t the best circumstance under which credible elections can be conducted. INEC is determined to make the 2015 elections and, indeed, the governorship as well as other elections to be conducted this year showpieces of Nigeria’s conformity with global best standards. But the Commission needs the cooperation of every stakeholder, especially the political class, to make this aspiration a reality.
Kayode R. Idowu is the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega.