Democracies, globally, have faced various phases of evolution. Ours has been a toddlers’ crawl from 1999 when the present republic began. It is more disturbing that Nigeria seem to face several unnecessary election challenges in an era where technological innovations capable of uplifting our process abound.
I am probably one of the harshest critics of the pretense and slow walk of those that are supposed to bring about necessary changes needed to rapidly grow Nigeria’s democracy. The case of Nigeria is however different because wickedness, insincerity, corruption, waste of resources, ineptitude and crass incompetence is the lot of many political office holders. They are so selfish that they gloat even in their own abysmal performances in delivering the goods of governance.
That the opposition could win an election is not new to our current system. Besides, the present Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari was an opposition and won with the APC after the 2015 presidential election. The votes that brought the APC to power was a protest against the undesirable situation Nigerians were in at the time. It is the same feeling in Osun State that has just given the PDP power.
I remember when Nigerians protested, killed and caused post-election violence due to the stealing and manipulation of their mandates in previous elections. From 1999 to 2011, there were hardly elections without some disputes of humongous calamities such as killings and destruction of properties. The level of corruption is so deep that the judiciary joined the fray and the elections petitions tribunals became another avenue by which lawyers fed fat from the stolen monies dolled out by politicians to retain their manipulated victories at the polls.
Some persons are hailing President Buhari for signing the current electoral act which seem to give INEC a breather in terms of efforts to conduct a more generally acceptable polls. The recent off – season elections in Ekiti and now Osun, have shown that with necessary enabling environment, Nigeria can get it right. Our elections can be better managed with the true choices of the masses handed to them without political fifth columnists being allowed to throw spanners in the works of true stakeholders in the nation’s democracy.
Proactiveness of INEC is one thing, the other is the resolve to do the right thing. Doing the right thing requires resolve to ensure removal of doubts from the responsibilities expected of an institution or body. The election umpire, being the most maligned and blamed whenever election results go south seem to have listened to the recommendations of stakeholders, including ordinary Nigerians on how to improve the nation’s electioneering process.
Despite foot dragging, the Buhari administration seem to have given Nigerians their “Out of Jail” card from the stronghold of election manipulators. Rigging as we know it has drastically reduced with the only problem currently being vote – buying.
At the risk of sounding like a Prophet of doom, let me comfortably tell us that the phenomenon called ‘vote – buying’ would remain with us for a while. Thanks to the high rate of poverty in the land, many would gladly collect their N5000 to N10,000 before voting any candidate in the next election in 2023. People are hungry and the cost of goods are soaring by the second.
Until the government is able to control inflation rate in the economy and create enabling environment for employment, the issue of vote – buying would remain intractable and the EFCC would be overwhelmed during next year’s elections. They cannot track everyone in all polling units across the country. Success in tackling the menace in one state at a time is different, unless there is a process where even the general elections can be held in one state at a time.
Be that as it may, there is no way we could have turned the corners and start deliberate efforts to right the wrongs on old without empowering INEC to do the right thing. I am very big about technological inclusion in human activities for automation and speed. Thank goodness that was also in the thoughts of those who crafter the new electoral act.
For example, under the new Act, the use of electronic devices such as smart card readers, electronic voting machines and other technological devices, is allowed in the accreditation process for voters and in the general conduct of elections. Furthermore, the new Act provides for electronic transmission of election results in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission. This is huge because it would ensure actuality or real time collation of results. This would go a long way to curtail activities of thugs who specialize in ballot box snatching and attack of election officials conveying results. Also, the issue of ‘collation centres’ have become obsolete as there would be no need because results tallied at the polling stations can be electronically transmitted without the need of a soecialised centres for collation because rather than the activities such centres were meant for, they had become another avenues for results tampering and manipulation. It is also faster.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2022 Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law on the 25th February 2022. This was after months of withholding assent.
Financial independence to INEC is another change introduced in the new act as it established the Independent National Electoral Commission Fund, wherein payments from the Federal Government, investments made from the fund and other aids and grants shall be paid to enable the Independent National Electoral Commission (“the Commission”) to perform its functions. Furthermore, the Act stipulates that election funds due to the Commission for any general elections are to be released not later than one year before the next general election.
This provision grants financial autonomy to the Commission, as it may now receive funds for the conduct of elections directly as opposed to getting funds subsequent to vetting by the Ministry of Finance as provided under the former Act.
Furthermore, the new Act provides that the Commission shall, not later than 360 days before the day appointed for holding of an election under this Act, publish a notice in each State of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory stating the date of the election and appointing the place at which nomination papers are to be delivered. This notice is to be published in each constituency in respect of which an election is to be held.
This is in contrast to the provisions of the erstwhile Electoral Act which provided that the Commission should publish this notice not later than 90 days before the date of election. The effect of this extension of time is to give the Commission more time to prepare for the election and also give the political parties no excuse as regards the candidacy and the partisan and propaganda politics that comes with choosing a candidate and preparing for a campaign.
However, for by-elections, the new Act retains the same provision as the old Act, as the timeframe for publishing a notice stating the date of by-elections is 14 days.
The new Act also mandates political parties to submit the list of their sponsored candidates who have emerged from valid primaries conducted by the party, not later than 180 days before the date appointed for a general election. This is in contrast to the former Act which prescribed that this submission should be done not less than 60 days before the date of general elections. The change in the timeframe to submit the names of party candidates from 60 days to 180 days makes it compulsory for political parties to conduct their primaries early enough to meet up with submission of their list of candidates at least 180 days before the general elections.
In the same vein, the new Act provides that the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 150 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day. This is different from the provisions of the former Act which prescribe that campaigns shall commence 90 days prior to polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day. The impact of this provision is the extended time given to political parties to disseminate their campaign messages to the populace and the corresponding extended time for the electorate to decide what party and candidate would receive their votes.
The new Act provides that the Commission shall keep the Register of Voters at its National Headquarters and other locations, provided that the Register shall be kept in electronic format in its central database, in addition to being kept in manual or hardcopy format. This is a departure from the old act which provided only for hard copy format. This provision is laudable as it will promote transparency and effectiveness in the Commission’s record-keeping and in tracking the number of registered voters who will be voting in the upcoming elections, thereby curbing illegal voting by non-registered voters.
The issue of over voting, devolution of polling units, the power to review final decision of the returning officer in respect of questions of unmarked ballot papers, rejected ballot papers, declaration of scores of candidates and the return of a candidate within 7 days of the decision, and return where the declaration was not made voluntarily or was made contrary to the provisions of the law or the guidelines for the election are apt and within the purview of past public concerns.
Exclusion of Political Appointees from Acting as Voting Delegates or Aspirants Section 84 (12), issue of death of a candidate in elections which had generated lots of bickering among political parties and politicians in the past and others have shown that the crafters of the new act are interested in helping the country get rid of past occurences that have hampered the growth of the nation’s democracy.
Whether Nigeria’s democracy is turning the corner for the better is too early to predict. What is sure is the fact that efforts are being and some level of sanity is coming into the country’s electioneering process.
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