With 402 days to the kick-off of 2019 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission released its timetable. The presidential and National Assembly polls will hold on February 16, while those of governorship and state assembly will follow on March 2. The details unveiled by the Chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, showed that political party primaries and the resolution of disputes arising thereof would be between August 18 and October 7, 2018.
Electioneering will start on November 18, 2018 and end on February 28, 2019. Regardless of the challenges this might pose to the parties, the timetable has put INEC on the spot, as it will be the first general election its present leadership will conduct.
Yakubu replaced Attahiru Jega shortly after the 2015 elections, which were adjudged to be successful. Since then, INEC has conducted governorship polls in Kogi, Edo, Bayelsa, Ondo and Anambra states; and several re-runs for national and state legislative seats. Each of them still exposed the commission’s inadequacies. Jega may have conducted an acceptable general election, but the integrity of the ballot in the country since 1999 has continued to be blighted by violence, killings and rigging, logistics nightmares and compromises by electoral personnel.
This explains why the card reader machine and permanent voter card novelties were introduced in 2015 to check fraud. Yet, the duration for the biometrics of a voter to be verified and total failure of the machine to read thumb-prints in some cases during accreditation; and the separate times for accreditation and voting dented the system.
Since then, the efficiency of this technology has not improved, save the simultaneous accreditation of voters and casting of ballots designed to avoid unnecessary delay, introduced in the recent polls. This adjustment is laudable and should be part of the 2019 elections.
For the integrity of the elections to be beyond reproach, our electoral process should be fully technology-driven. Observers are anxious to see an improvement on Jega’s scorecard in this regard. INEC has been empowered by the National Assembly with its amendment to the Electoral Act last year. While the Senate legalised the smart card reader, the Electoral Act 2017 further states, “INEC now has unfettered powers to conduct elections by electronic voting.”
This will reduce manipulation of results at the point of collation, stuffing of ballot boxes and snatching of such materials by hired thugs. The e-voting trend is a growing new normal globally. Apart from the West where advancement in technology has simplified their conduct of elections, even Third World nations are working hard to catch up. For instance, Namibia conducted Africa’s first electronic-voting in 2014. Kenya, too, deployed e-transmission of poll results in its last general election; just as strong digital quotient was part of Ghana’s electoral process in its past two polls.
However, for Nigeria to make a quantum leap from the past, it has to invest in technology. Therefore, INEC’s budget should be properly articulated and released on time by the Federal Government. This is an exigency the National Assembly, with its penchant for delaying budget passage, should take notice of. Before now, some had argued that INEC should be on First Line Charge funding to avoid the mistake of the past when the executive arm manipulated its activities with the release of its funds. As a result, there is wisdom in the advocacy of guaranteed funding.
But with unsettled integrity questions from previous elections, Nigerians should be concerned about the background of the 36 State Resident Electoral Commissioners and all INEC national commissioners and personnel. Twenty-three billion naira was allegedly siphoned from the treasury by a former minister to bribe electoral officials for the 2015 polls. The commission referred five RECs to the Presidency and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for their involvement in this scam.
No fewer than three INEC officials are currently being tried by the EFCC for allegedly receiving N265 million gratification from this fund. One of them has already pleaded guilty to collecting N30 million. Similarly, a governor from the South allegedly used N360 million to bribe officials in a legislative rerun. A total of 205 INEC officials have been interdicted and placed on half salary pending the conclusion of their cases. This is an impunity culture that should belong to the past. INEC has a critical role to play in achieving this by synergising with our electoral development partners and the security agencies to ensure all hands are on deck.
For too long, electoral bandits – thugs, assassins and result manipulators – have got away with their breaches of our electoral law. The INEC house cleansing should be total. This is why President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent directive to security agencies to carry out background checks on judges-designate should also be extended to INEC commissioners.
The result of elections in Nigeria should be a true reflection of the will of the people. This is the essence of democracy. But a mockery of this axiom, epitomised in the outcome of the 2007 the general election, compelled international observers to regard it as the worst electoral farce ever seen in the world. Having put the politicians on the starting block, INEC should have no reason to be caught napping.