The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed the Edo State governorship election for September 19. Assistant Editor LEKE SALAUDEEN writes measures that should be put in place by the agency to avoid violent and inconclusive election.
The people of Edo State will go to poll on September 19 to elect a new governor to pilot the affairs of the state in the next four years.
The poll promises to be one of the most keenly contested in the state. Like 2016, the candidates of the two dominant parties will slug it out, but on different political platforms.
For instance, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who was the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the last contest is now running on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), while Governor Godwin Obaseki who was elected on the platform of the APC is the PDP standard-bearer. So, what has changed are the platforms, not the dramatis personae.
Given the volatility of Edo State and the process through which the two leading contestants emerged, observers are sceptical about the capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a violence-free election in the state.
This is against the backdrop of its experience in Kogi and Bayelsa governorship held last year. At least, 10 people were reportedly killed in both states in election-related violence. Already, mobilisations towards the Edo election are already heating up the polity.
Observers are of the view that to conduct a credible and transparent contest in Edo, the commission must avoid the shortcomings witnessed in Kogi and Bayelsa. They insist INEC has a duty to live up to expectation as it prepares for the poll.
The credibility of an election starts with a credible voter’s register. All registered voters should be able to vote without hindrance.
Analysts say a credible voters’ register determines the acceptability of the election results. From experience, many registered voters have been disenfranchised by the INEC.
They were turned back by polling officers because their names could not be found on the voter’s register, even when they present voter’s cards issued during the registration.
The commission owes it a duty to halt the pollution of the ballot box. One-man, one-vote is not guaranteed when many people are excluded from voting due to INEC’s lapse.
The practice of the display of voters’ register and verification ahead of the election should be reintroduced in Edo. The commission would have ample time to address complaints rather than wait until the day of the election.
INEC should be strict in monitoring the campaign rallies of political parties fielding candidates for the governorship poll, to ensure they abide by the rules of the game.
The Electoral Act stipulates that the electioneering campaign should start three months to the elections. The commission is empowered to monitor the rallies to ensure that the campaigns are issue-driven.
But, instead of selling their programmes to the electorate, politicians use the forum to blackmail or run down opponents. The commission is also expected to monitor the spending of political parties during the campaigns and rallies.
The best way to do this is to closely monitor campaign funds; how they are raised and spent by the parties. The commission is empowered to sanction parties that go beyond the benchmark.
Electoral violence has also become a feature of periodic polls. Thugs and cultists, who are usually armed with sophisticated weapons beyond the reach of the police, are often recruited by desperate politicians to create panic, molest voters, scare away electorate, invade polling booths, snatch ballot boxes, inflict pain, maim and kill, in the interest of the highest bidder and in expectation of a fat reward for unleashing terror.
Thus, electoral security is very important. When security agents police the votes democracy will thrive. What has been experienced over the years is that security men who are supposed to protect the voters are used by desperate politicians to intimidate voters in the stronghold of the opposition.
There were cases where uniformed men gave cover to party thugs to snatch electoral materials for thumb printing in hideouts, only for the ballot boxes to resurface later.
Civil rights activist, Dr Soji Adesanya said that the behaviour of the police and other security agencies on poll days usually underscore the partisan interest of the security operatives who are supposed to be neutral.
He said security agents are not expected to intimidate voters, adding that their mandate is to maintain law and order.
He said: “It is only in Nigeria that you find security men carrying guns during elections to intimidate voters. Election day is a day when voters should feel free to perform their civic right of electing their leaders without intimidation or molestation.
The electoral umpire should be ready to invoke the various provisions in the constitution against electoral malpractices.
Electoral officers who act in concert with politicians and the police to commit atrocities against the ballot box should be prosecuted.
“It is impossible for INEC to recruit permanent staff for elections, hence the use of ad-hoc staff. It is cost-effective. However, the commission should endeavour to recruit people of high integrity. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members have been very useful in this regard.
But the commission should organise in-house training for them, two weeks before the election, so that they can understand the election procedure, timing and operation of card reader machines.”
Experience has shown that some of the ad-hoc staff learn on the job, thereby slowing down the voting process. INEC should make sure that the ad-hoc staff allowances are paid promptly.
Some ad-hoc staff had disrupted elections by refusing to move to the assigned polling units because of unpaid allowances.
The late arrival of polling materials is responsible for the late commencement of voting. The accreditation of voters is expected to start by 8.00 am.
In some cases, polling officers and materials do not get to the polling centre until 12 noon. As a result, accreditation starts hours behind schedule. Out of frustration, voters often return home. In the process, they are disenfranchised.
The commission should provide transport that would convey the polling officers and materials to their destination to guarantee their safety and prompt commencement of the voting exercise.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the introduction of the permanent voter card (PVC) and electronic smart card readers have been a massive improvement in the electoral process.
This system of verification has helped in reducing the incidence of multiple-registration and multiple voting to the barest minimum.
Having been introduced during the 2015 general elections, the card reader is supposed to be INEC’s primary method of accrediting voters during elections.
But the electronic device still malfunctions and fails to recognise valid voters in various polling centres.
The problem was first noticed in 2015 when it failed to read voters’ biometric data in polling centres across the country. The most prominent case was that of the former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The commission had assured Nigerians that the smart card readers will not fail again during the 2019 elections because the devices have been upgraded and enhanced prior to the election and found to be failure-proof. But that was not the case as there were widespread reports of card reader malfunction.
This included the inability to verify some voters and in some cases, the card readers did not function at all.
This ultimately hampered the electoral process by causing delays and in some cases, outright disenfranchisement of voters.
These malfunctioning card readers inadvertently caused delays in the voting process because the voters had to be verified manually, using their names and photographs.
This leaves room for electoral fraud and human manipulation, the very problems which the smart card readers are supposed to combat.
If after 2015 general elections and several elections in between the problem of card reader failure are still being witnessed, it calls to question the credibility of the whole system and the seriousness of INEC as an electoral umpire.
However, INEC still has more than two months before the Edo governorship election to improve on these flaws regarding the smart card readers. Failure to do so could cause pandemonium at the polling units and thereby disrupt the whole exercise.
Adesanya said collation and declaration of results are critical stages in the election process. He said: “Failure to complete the collation and transmission of results in a quick, transparent and accurate manner can jeopardise public confidence and the credibility of the elections and will most likely impinge on the acceptability of the final result by candidates and political parties.
“There are situations when the integrity of a well-run electoral process is severely compromised during collation and declaration of results. Collation and declaration of results are therefore critical moments that require proper care and attention.”
The Director of Centre for Democracy Development, Ms Idayatu Hassan said the election-monitoring body observed during the last general elections that the ward level collation is a major challenge in the electoral process. She said: “It is an important vulnerability that receives little domestic scrutiny or international attention.
Left unresolved, the widespread problems of collation at the ward level will continue to embolden election spoilers, weaken public trust in INEC and undermine the credibility of election results.”
Hassan said some states experienced significant problems during the collation process at the ward-level. These lapses, she added, accounted for 46 per cent of incidents of concern noted by CDD observers during the election.
The situation, she said, was particularly worrisome in Rivers State, where there were clashes between political thugs and security personnel, which amounts to proxy battles between top politicians intent on disrupting the process in several collation centres.
She added: “Disruptions of collations at the ward level, in bid to manipulate the process to give political parties and their candidates opportunities to dispute the outcome and legitimacy of elections, particularly in wards where such was the order of the day.
Such disputes frequently exacerbate political tensions, empower political thugs and even help fuel long-running communal conflicts.”
Adesanya said rigging is usually perpetrated during the collation of results. To have a credible and transparent election in Edo, he suggested that “INEC should ensure that the collation centres are accessible and secured”. He added: “Only party agents should be allowed into the venue.
Only ballot boxes accompanied by accredited polling officers and party agents should be received by the collation officers.
The results not signed by all party agents should not be accepted. The collation should be done in the presence of party agents and the result be announced on the spot.”
On its part, INEC has warned that where an election is disrupted in Edo and Ondo, the commission will not make a declaration on the outcome.
The commission’s Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu assured that the commission would take proactive measures in protecting the integrity of the electoral process.
He said the decision was taken against the backdrop of its experience in recent off-season governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, which were characterised by violence and electoral violations.
His words: “Where the election is disrupted and the commission cannot vouch for the integrity of the process, we will not go ahead to make any declaration. This we have told the political parties point-blank; you either behave for the elections to be concluded in a free and fair manner or we do what the law says.
“We are meeting with all the security agencies. But what are the proactive measures the commission is going to take, if there is a replay of what happened in Bayelsa and Kogi? We will protect the integrity of the process.”
Yakubu assured that adequate security would be put in place for both officials and voters in line with advisories and guideline listed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The CDD Director also called for sanctions against political parties and individuals who make efforts to jeopardise the electoral process.
She said unruly behaviour of politicians and their supporters should not be condoned. She canvassed for support for the commission in the area of crisis management, combating misinformation and dissuading bad behaviour.
Hassan also urged the international community to support INEC in the procurement process to reduce cost. She equally enjoined the commission to embark on civic education in adherence to the guidelines released by the authorities.