By Tonnie Iredia
Those who know the contributions of Festus Okoye as Executive Director, Human Rights Monitor to our election process may have commended his nomination last week as one of the National Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Okoye is eminently qualified to hold the highest office in INEC.
While congratulating him and his colleagues in the commission, we are painfully unable to have faith that the appointment of such strong hands to INEC would resolve our unending poor elections.
We have had cause in the past to make the point that INEC needs more than men of integrity. If strong men such as Ovie-whiskey, Eme Awa Humphrey Nwosu and Attahiru Jega were unable to institutionalize our election process, the nation ought to at this point halt its self-deceit in leaving substance to pursue shadows. It is indeed sad that we have continued to look for strong men without strengthening the process thereby wasting the expertise of each strong man that gets added to the INEC team.
The second story about INEC in the week just ended came from the chairman of the electoral body, Professor Mahmood Yakub who told the nation what many people knew would be said which is that e-voting would not be adopted in 2019. If so, what change has been recorded concerning the conduct of elections in Nigeria?
The problem really is not about graduating into the group of nations that use e-voting. We have ample evidence that many nations that adopted it encountered by far too many challenges. The real problem is that we have not been able to take advantage of improved technology to sanitize the basics of an election process particularly the registration of voters. As a result, Nigeria is yet to have a near credible voter’s register.
As no one knows the exact number of ghosts in the document, we are left to conduct elections using unascertainable statistics. The other day, INEC announced its readiness to investigate an allegation of under-age voters in the last local elections in Kano. That was shocking because under-age voting has always been part of our elections before, during and after the card reader era not only in Kano but in many other locations. Is not instructive that INEC has found that a serving state governor was registered twice?
The reason for the malaise is pretty obvious; the process of registration is so tedious that many people especially the elderly who are too fragile or too busy to stand the rigours of registration are tempted to device other options to get registered. In some cases, people send their children to register and vote on their behalf.
The large number of unclaimed voter’s cards is a pointer to the bureaucratization of what it takes to become a registered voter in Nigeria. When Professor Jega introduced the famous Data Capturing Machine, it came with a message that some temporary voter’s cards would first be given while the Almighty Permanent Voter’s Cards PVC would follow. The process was tolerable as an innovation.
Alas many years down the line, people are still not able to pick up a PVC in a single process. When shall we have a voter’s card without adding the word ‘permanent’ and why is INEC unable to do what the Banks do so easily when an account is opened by a customer? Why is a bank able to design an identification that enables its customers to deposit or withdraw money in any of its branches whereas INEC’s card which is so tedious to obtain is usable only where it was obtained?
This appears to be the dissuading devil in our election process; too much of security that secures nothing. Perhaps, the fuss about elections in Nigeria can reduce if our electoral body can follow what our banks have done by making it fruitless for anyone to seek to use another person’s voter’s card.
Except, we design such a strategy that turns back an imposture from registering or voting, we are likely to continue to run an obsolete election process which is heavily ‘secured’ by materially influenced law enforcement agencies.
Apart from the huge cost involved and clashes between different groups, Nigerians and the world at large would continue to watch helplessly, televised scenes of politicians and security agencies openly distributing and collecting money at voting centres. In a poor economy such as ours where the gap between those who have and those who have not is exceedingly large, many people will do whatever can subvert an election process for any amount. Thus, brigandage during our elections is not likely to reduce.
Only last year, that is before Festus Okoye became an INEC nominee, he had opined that “for the 2019 general elections to be free, fair and credible the leadership of the country must commit to zero tolerance of political brigandage.” Okoye spoke in Kaduna at a colloquium on ‘elections, corruption and road map to 2019.’ Will anyone hear him?
Unfortunately, rather than concentrating on the foundation of election, that is, obtaining a credible and secured voter’s register, INEC is being diverted into less important issues such as monitoring election expenses. Luckily, those who know have cautioned against such dissipation of energy.
Professor Lai Olurode a former national electoral commissioner, explained recently that it is a difficult task for even countries with well developed sources of information because candidates and parties can spend through third parties. According to Olurode, INEC would be biting more than it can chew if she gets into that.
While it is not easy to identify who is diverting INEC into such areas, it seems clear that the electoral body is not as independent as its name suggests. We are guided here by a recent statement credited to the immediate past chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega that INEC was being manipulated ahead of the forthcoming elections in 2019.
Jega was reported to have made the statement in Kano, while answering questions from participants at a Public Lecture titled: ‘Electoral Democracy and Integrity in Nigeria: Reflections on INEC’s Transformation 2011-2015’, organised by the Aminu Kano Centre for Democratic Research and Training.
Whoever is running or manipulating INEC should be told that except our electoral body is allowed to be a strong institution rather than an institution with strong men, Nigeria can hardly attain credible elections