By Nick Dazang
FOLLOWING the enactment of the Electoral Act 2022 (with its sundry salutary provisions), the prompt issuance of the Timetable And Schedule of Activities for the conduct of the 2023 General Elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the fact that we have less than one year to the conduct of the crucially important 2023 General Elections, it is to be expected that issues that directly concern, or are tangential to the electoral process, will continue to dominate the upper reaches of our national discourse.
The aforementioned developments have been made urgent and compelling by the acute challenges that incessantly buffet and adversely affect the electoral process. One of these challenges is that of growing voter apathy or low voter turnout. We have observed, with alarm, over the course of six election cycles, a progressive decline in the turnout of voters on Election Day.
The second major challenge is the menace of vote buying and trading which reared their ugly heads again in the recent FCT Area Council Elections. Vote buying and trading constitute a clear and present danger to the integrity of our elections. The brazen manner in which they are perpetrated across the board makes none sense of INEC’s concerted efforts and avowed commitment to provide a level playing field for all contenders.
It also makes a huge mockery of the electoral process. For apart from undermining the sanctity of our elections, it means political office can be bought and sold to the highest bidder and that at the end of the day, the wishes of the voters, which are supposed to be sacred, are perverted. The import is that it is impossible for a credible candidate who is bereft of a deep pocket or who is not inclined to buying votes to win an election.
The third major challenge is inadequate information and education about the electoral process. Even though it is INEC’s statutory duty to conduct voter and civic education and to promote knowledge of sound democratic processes and even though resources are usually appropriated for the Commission and it gets support from Development Partners to conduct voter education and publicity, these resources are often inadequate.
Matters are not helped by the fact that the pre-eminent stakeholder and chief beneficiary in the process, namely, the political parties, seldom invests its resources in voter education. When you add to this unhappy state of affair the fact that we are dealing with an electorate that is largely illiterate and beleaguered by massive poverty, the task of voter education becomes arduous.
The task of voter education becomes even more arduous when you consider the many activities and innovations introduced by the Commission and which need to be lucidly explained to voters.
They include the on-going Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise which has just been devolved to the 8,809 Wards or Registration Area Centers(RACs) across the country, the new, progressive provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, the INEC Elections Results Viewing Portal(IReV), the INEC Voter Enrollment Device(IVED), the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System(BVAS), electronic transmission of results and the entire gamut of INEC’s processes aimed at bringing transparency to bear on our elections.
To augment and reinforce its voter education, which calls for proficient and professional couching of messages and their strategic placement, the Commission has had to find recourse in collaborating with other critical stakeholders, particularly the Media, Civil Society, People With Disability, Youth and Women Groups, Musicians and Actors etc.
This collaboration has been a win-win, with INEC leveraging on the extensive goodwill, talents and the ubiquitous reach of these stakeholders. As we move steadily, but surely, towards the 2023 General Elections, the Commission and its critical stakeholders must up their game and sustain the momentum that came with the Electoral Act 2022 in the voter education and publicity arenas.
I say this informed by the deep disappointment Nigerians feel about the political class. A majority of Nigerians feel betrayed by its lackluster performance. In a country where nothing appears to work in spite of abundant resources and a country where the political class has failed woefully to impact positively on lives by delivering good governance, most Nigerians, out of anger, are likely to keep away from the polls. This is unless, of course, concerted efforts are made to dissuade them.
It is good tidings that the Electoral Act 2022 has strengthened the Commission and imbued the electoral process with even more transparent measures to ensure that the votes of Nigerians will ultimately count. But these will certainly not suffice. The Commission and other stakeholders need to rekindle and restore the confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process.
One of the ways to do that is to engender a remarkable improvement in the conduct of the off season governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States scheduled for Saturday, June 8 and Saturday, July 16 2022 respectively. Once Nigerians behold a remarkable improvement in our elections and have sufficient proof that the new technologies/innovations introduced by the Commission are working seamlessly, the task of marketing the 2023 general elections will become easier. As the well worn saying goes, a good wine needs no bush.
Where INEC’s remit stops, which is the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections, Civil Society and the Media must take over. For whereas INEC can entreat Nigerians to “vote wisely” and to vote for credible candidates, it cannot set criteria for or recommend candidates, even if they were paragons.
Otherwise, it shall be crossing the line into partisanship and undermining its high minded core values of neutrality and impartiality. In view of our sordid experience, the Media and Civil Society, apart from serving as purveyors of electoral information, should be able to: set criteria for the type of candidates we need at all levels; set agenda on leadership; subject candidates to scrutiny; and provide the platforms for the candidates to robustly debate so that, arising from their arguments and deportment, the voter can make wise and informed choices.
One is delighted that even as I write, not a few journalists, especially against the backdrop of our quagmire, have begun to reflect on the type of leader Nigeria needs. An example is the thought provoking treatise entitled: “Searching for Godot” by Mr Dan Agbese (see Guardian of Friday, March 4, 2022).
Even as this writer canvasses for massive voter education and publicity and the need for robust support by other stakeholders to augment INEC’s yeoman’s efforts, one must underscore the need for such stakeholders to, at all times, take their electoral information from the Commission (usually provided on its interactive website and social media platforms) and run with it.
Once information disseminated by other stakeholders bear fidelity and fealty to the one provided by INEC, it will ensure that all involved in the electoral process are on the same page. It will also eschew the prospect of singing discordant tunes and confusing the electorate.
Dazang, a former director in INEC, wrote via: email@example.com