By Tony Iredia
One does not have to be critical of Nigeria’s electoral commission to loathe the fact that Nigeria has never had a free and credible election in her history. The only one that was globally accepted to be close to international standards – June 12, 1993, presidential election was annulled making it difficult for it to be officially relied upon. Before and after 1993, the same impediment that has thwarted every election in the country has subsisted at varying degrees.
That impediment has been the antics of the nation’s political class described by the famous Supreme Court Justice Babalakinas the chief perpetrators of electoral malpractices in the country.
The situation has not changed as some well-meaning Nigerians are, now and again, appointed to superintend our convoluted electoral system. Consequently, each time the electoral body introduces a new device to monitor and check-mate strategies invented byelection riggers, the latter are always able to overwhelm the arrangement. It is against this background that we welcome with some apprehension, the decision of INEC to introduce a new device that may redress the situation whereby election results in Nigeria are hardly consistent with the votes cast. Four days back, the election umpire decided to introduce a dedicated public portal to enable Nigerians to view Polling Unit results as soon as voting ends in each centre. In other words, in addition to the only legal INEC result sheet, known as Form EC8A, the commission has arranged for a People’s Form EC8A which enables citizens to view a replica of the official result. It is a great device that INEC has now scheduled to use in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye-election of yesterday August 8, 2020, before extending it to the forthcoming Edo and Ondo governorship elections.
We need to note, however, that this innovation is really not new. Earlier, INEC had introduced it in the form of a Poster pasted at each Polling Unit at the end of counting, recording and announcement of votes at that level, but it had to be discontinued when people began to photograph it and add to others obtained elsewhere to arrive at winners. Such an attempt at election collation is dangerous because it can contradict figures officially released after appropriate moderation collation centres unknown to the self-appointed collators. While agreeing with INECthat the new device can increase the credibility of elections, we are not persuaded that our ‘desperados’ will allow it to be properly employed. To start with, because not much has been done to appropriately penalize electoral infractions in previous elections in the country, desperate politicians are not deterred from abusing any innovation. In the area of heated polity amidst failure to attain a level playing field in electioneering campaigns, we have seen all the failed attempts
to stop political fake news and hate speech. During the military era, the police were empowered to deal with that at public rallies, but in the recent past, it is only media organizations which transmit such unacceptable statements that are fined. Nothing is done to the politicians who have ample funds to spend and who simply provide more than enough to settle the fines, thereby, empowering sections of the media to breach the laws on political communication.
If it is in the area of law enforcement, the same class, the politicians, compromise all law enforcement agencies such that electoral malpractices continue unhindered. In the circumstance, it is difficult to imagine that simple devices such as election viewing portal, will not be exploited to give room for greater threats to free, fair and credible elections. In times past, some candidates and their parties believed that the judiciary was well placed to reverse election results obtained by fraud or some other fake arrangements. In the last few years, however, it is only those who obtain victory in the courts that hail the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.
But then, we can’t really blame the increasing lack of faith in how election petitions are resolved which tends to make people believe that the technical justice obtained in courts do not represent the real wishes of the people. A good example is the case of the governorship election in Osun state where a candidate generally believed to be the preferred choice of the people lost because one of the members of the Tribunal that ruled in his favour was alleged to have been absent on one occasion during the trial. It is therefore, not enough for INEC to introduce new devices to stop election rigging while other institutions who have roles to play in an election are doing nothing to stop a recurrence of the exploitation of loopholes in their own arrangements. For instance, what new devices have the police evolved to improve the enforcement of electoral law?
Each time we have an election in a state, the police will announce the deployment of well-over 20, 000 operatives to the relevant venues and talk tough on the level of their preparedness to combat any breach, yet during the process, undesirable elements appear and disrupt the system without hindrance. Sometimes, they destroy some materials and run-away with others in public glare without challenge. Our premise, therefore, is that it is only a Polling Unit where the election was properly held that can produce authentic results sheets before a so-called People’s form EC8A can be generated as a replica for public viewing. Otherwise, the INEC innovation would only remain a theoretical supposition. On the other hand, the situation would bedifferent if those who are to complement the work of the electoral commission are also thinking ahead in line with best practices in other jurisdictions. The Judiciary, for example, needs to work out strategies for dealing with elections without derogating
from the features of democracy to arrive at a ruling. Indeed, the case of the last Imostate governorship election where the winner ended up with more votes than voters has remained a mockery.
That case showed the judiciary to have ventured into election operations without the required technical expertise in the process thereby making the mistake of simply adding upvotes to get a total sum which in an election is essentially a dependent variable. The new INEC election viewing portal is great only if it is part of global realities in the conduct of elections. Today, there is a worldwide consensus that technology is the redeeming feature of humanity. Those who discountenance this reality live in the analogue past where productivity is encumbered by diminishing returns.
So can we have an INEC that introduces a modern portal within its obsolete framework? Just before the 2019 election, the legislature produced an amendment to the electoral act that would have rescued INEC’s operations from obsolescence, but it didn’t become law because it was said to have come too late to the election. For more than a year now, we have had ample time to represent the amendment but it has not been done because some people who usually gain from the old system wouldn’t allow it. This is why we welcome INEC’s innovation but with a high degree of trepidation.
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