- Charlie Boy group’s advocacy for sound voter registration is the first crucial step to free elections
Any move to make voter registration impeccable is welcome; and that is why Charles Oputa, otherwise known as Charlie Boy, and his Our Mumu Don Do movement deserve praise for their call to make the ongoing voter registration exercise better.
From news reports, the group visited the Abuja national headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to complain about the alleged shambolic nature of the registration exercise; and also called on INEC to make amends. The areas it wanted improvements were challenges noted in electronic voting, documentation and the adequate capture of as many as eligible voters that turn up.
“We humbly request a strategic engagement with INEC to discuss issues identified above,” Deji Adeyanju said, reading a formal letter to his INEC hosts, “and other likely developments obstructing the electoral processes; and how we can equally be of significant help as stakeholders.”
The group also complained of alleged under-aged voting in the just concluded local government election in Kano. INEC has responded, at another forum, that local government elections were conducted by State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs).
That defence would appear sound since SIECs seldom use card readers, a vital quality control check, to ensure the integrity of the voter register, by ascertaining every potential voter’s fingerprint, before being allowed to vote. Still, it is a pointer to the imperative for even better vigilance, at the registration stage, to checkmate the systemic skewing of the electoral roll by unscrupulous politicians. That is why every concerned democrat must push for SIECs too to invest in card readers, so that they don’t continue to kill the electoral culture at the grassroots.
However, moving for INEC to conduct local government elections would be anti-federal. That would jar against the spirit of the Constitution; and further reinforce the debacle of over-centralisation of the Nigerian space, logically resulting in stunted development in all spheres of life.
The Charlie Boy group also cautioned INEC against disenfranchising a large swathe of the populace. This was a natural worry from reported glitches during the registration exercise. This has made not a few to declare the exercise erratic, so much so that even within a state, it cannot boast of a uniform level of success.
These are key observations, and INEC would do well to address them dispassionately. If the collective goal is to achieve elections that reflect the true will of the people, that should not be any especial chore.
Still, it is a truism of the Nigerian situation that between activism and partisan politics, there might be but a very thin line, at times as thin as gossamer. So, it is not impossible that an activist is a front for a rabid partisan, sworn to blackmailing INEC to doing his partisan bidding. Such phoney lobbies should be isolated and discounted.
The best way to do this is for INEC itself to stay focused on its mandate and execute it with candour, openness and integrity. As the old saying goes, honesty is the best policy. If INEC is fair to all, and is perceived to be so, its first hurdle in free and fair elections may have been scaled.
Still, to be fair is one thing. To be perceived as fair is another, particularly in the Nigerian space, with its terrible blur of the normative and the dysfunctional. That is why INEC must keep engaging its critical stakeholders and the general public; to share its experiences and difficulties with them.
As routine, it should also mount periodic and ceaseless public enlightenment campaigns to educate voters on their duties and responsibilities. That it could do by partnering with political parties, pressure groups and non-governmental organisations interested in voter education, organisation and allied activities.
But even before going public, it must get its training, organisation and logistics right. The more Nigeria deepens its democracy — it is the 18th year now, going to 19 since 1999 — INEC should be seen to have developed a certain level of competence and capacity, which can only get better with more practice.
Elections are the most visible rituals of democracy. Although elections alone cannot aggregate the whole gamut of democracy, they are the most physical and observable gauge, which must be kept sacred and legitimate. The integrity or otherwise of the electoral roll occupies the central pillar of it all. That is why INEC cannot afford to get it wrong, without catastrophic consequences.