- INEC and The Hurdles Before 2019 Election
It’s 394 days to Nigeria’s sixth general elections in the Fourth Republic and that is official. The Independent National Electoral Commission, constitutionally empowered to organise and conduct federal and state elections in Nigeria, had on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 issued what it called the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2019 general elections, consisting the Presidential, National and State Assembly, Governorship and the Federal Capital Territory Council elections. The timetable was issued at a press briefing by the INEC Chairman, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, which held at the Commission’s Headquarters in Abuja. The day after, Mahmood gave registration certificates to 21 newly registered political parties. The country now has a total of 68 registered parties with about 90 fresh applications still being processed by the election management body.
According to the timetable, there are 14 listed activities ranging from when party primaries will be conducted, when candidates’ names should be filed and when campaigns will start and end. One unique feature about the released timetable is that elections into the chairmanship and councillorship seats of the six Federal Capital Territory Area Councils will hold on March 2, 2019 alongside governorship and state Houses of Assembly polls. It will be recalled that INEC had on March 9, 2017, announced dates for the Presidential and National Assembly elections indicating that the presidential election would hold on February 16, 2019, while the governorship and state assembly elections would be conducted on March 2, 2019.
Given that the umpire has blown the whistle, how prepared are the election stakeholders for the Herculean task ahead? What has changed since INEC on March 9 last year announced the dates for the next general elections? Are we going to have credible, peaceful and successful polls? Are there going to be strict adherence to internal party democracy by our political parties? Will there be issue-based campaigns? Will the voter turnout be high? Will the media reportage be unbiased and professional? Will our courts be spared of being dragged into determining party candidates? Will the elections hold as scheduled? So many questions for actors and stakeholders in the electoral process to answer.
In the official report of INEC on the last general elections held in 2015, the commission identified nine challenges it faced in the lead up to the polls. They were: Rising insecurity in the North-East of the country, due to insurgency; looming threats of violence in the elections particularly linked to the intemperate attitude and rhetoric of politicians; tortuous process of procurement, which could jeopardise timely preparations for elections; non-finalisation of amendments to the electoral legal framework namely, the constitution and Electoral Act; and inability of the commission to finalise the review of electoral constituencies and creation of new Polling Units. Others were: Persistent incapacity of the commission to effectively prosecute electoral offenders to serve as deterrent to those who may plan to engage in electoral malpractices; difficulties of the production and distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards as well as conduct of the CVR exercise; delay in the finalisation of the guidelines for the elections which particularly affected the production of the training manual; and lingering challenges of maximising the impact of voter education.
A critical look at these challenges will reveal that some of them are internal to the electoral management body while others are external to it. Issues of insecurity, legal reform, hate speech and heating up of the polity are all external to INEC. Much as the issue of insurgency can been largely reined in unlike when Boko Haram was in control of about 14 local government areas in the North-East, no part of Nigeria’s territory is under the insurgents. However, the terrorist group still poses a potent threat to peaceful conduct of elections. Fulani herders versus farmers’ conflicts and soaring incidences of crimes and criminality have introduced fresh a dimension to a serious challenge to peaceful conduct of election. If we are not going to have to shift elections for any security reason, all security agencies involved in the elections, particularly those members of Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, must hone their skills, be proactive and secure the election environment. INEC itself must have realised by now that it needs to revise its policy on integration of the Internally Displaced Persons for election. As more conflicts ensue, more IDP camps are sprouting almost on a monthly basis and as was done in 2015, they must be allowed to vote.
Still under insecurity, soft and hard approaches must be devised to curb hate speech and fake news ahead of the forthcoming elections. While it is good for INEC to have frequent meetings with political parties and contestants as well as get them to sign peace accord as was previously done, those who are in breach of the Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates must be administratively and or legally sanctioned. The National Broadcasting Commission as a regulatory agency must be proactive and punish severely any erring broadcast station that aids and abets promotion of inflammatory comments. The Nigeria Press Council must do the same for newspapers and magazines. We must play politics without bitterness and imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship.
However, it is very worrisome that barely a year to the next elections, the legal framework for the conduct of the polls remains uncertain. Will there be reduction in the age to contest certain political offices such as the Presidency, governorship, House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly as being proposed under the Not Too Young To Run Bill? Will there be any provision for independent candidacy as was the case in the First Republic and the practice in many climes? Will there be electronic voting in 2019? Will it be possible to have a timeline for conclusion of pre-election litigations as is currently with post-election dispute resolution? Will there be Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal to effectively prosecute electoral offenders before the next general elections? For INEC to be able to properly plan for the next general elections, it is imperative for our federal and state lawmakers to expedite actions aimed at concluding the constitution amendment as well as the passage of the proposed new Electoral Act.
On the issues internal to INEC itself, the commission must implement its Strategic Plan and Election Project Plan faithfully. It should resolve all issues relating to the functionality of the SmartCard Reader particularly the authentication of the voter’s fingerprint by the device. Procurement of all sensitive and non-sensitive materials must also be done in a timely manner. The recruitment, training and deployment of poll workers must be seamless. INEC must fine-tune its logistic plan including ensuring that corps members and transport union members contracted for electioneering purposes do not hold the commission and indeed the country to ransom. The commission should also rev up its current Continuous Voter Registration, clean the register of “ghost” names, and ensure prompt delivery of the Permanent Voter Cards (I learnt over eight million PVCs have not been collected from INEC since 2015). Also urgent and important is the creation of additional polling units to effectively ensure that the PUs are close to the electorate as possible; more so since there will be restriction of movement during elections.
INEC must also ensure effective monitoring of political parties and integration of persons with disabilities into the electoral process. Finally, it must be well-resourced in a timely manner to ensure prompt delivery of services. Best wishes, Nigeria!