Barely two years to the next general elections, a notable organisation in the nation’s electoral system, Elections Roundtable Expert Group (EREG) recently held a stakeholders meeting in Lagos where issues relating to the post 2015 general elections were reviewed. MUYIWA OYINLOLA in this report examines how the outcome of the meeting can translate to a more credible 2019 polls
Dateline: Thursday 20th April 2017. Venue was Golden Tulip Hotel, Festac, Lagos. By 9:00 am, the hall had been filled up with the participants and journalists, considering the importance of the occasion.
About two years into the tenure of the current administration and two years to the next general elections, the essence of the gathering cannot be overemphasized. It was a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Strategy Meeting to Review Post 2015 general elections, and it was organised by the Election Roundtable Expert Group (EREG), with the support of Centre for Transparency, otherwise known as Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group (ISDMG).
o begin with, the Team Leader of EREG, Dr. Chima Amadi, set the tone of the gathering when in his welcome address he emphasized that the strategy meeting was aimed at “reviewing the elections in Nigeria post 2015 looking towards 2019 general elections. The theme of the meeting was ‘delivering a free, fair and credible election by 2019’.
Amadi, who was represented on the occasion by the Group’s Acting Executive Secretary, Faith Nwadishi, further gave reasons to justify why the event couldn’t have been held at a better time than this when she recalled that following the 2015 general elections, there were annulment of elections more than ever was seen in the election history of the country, noting that this gave the Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the Herculean task of conducting a total of 167 elections that covered reruns, bye-elections and end of tenure elections.
“Of these elections, a total of 123 were concluded on first ballot and 44 concluded on the 2nd ballot. There is a near zero annulment of any of the elections, Edo’s election had just been upheld”, she said, noting that the conduct of elections have improved in the country but for the activities of politicians, security operatives and some INEC staff who were recently prosecuted, first time such a number would be prosecuted sending out a very strong signal that it is no longer business as usual”.
He stated that “this meeting we are having today is the third in the series. Two years before the elections, INEC had announced dates of elections and we see the politicians are beginning to gather to re-strategise, so we have to be proactive to look at what are the lessons we have learnt from the 2015 elections and what is it that we need to do.”
While commending the efforts of the leadership of INEC towards ensuring that the nation’s electoral system is reliable, he recalled that a few weeks ago, INEC held a validation meeting with all stakeholders for the 2017-2021 strategic plan which outlines INEC’s activities across the electoral value chain.
He also commended the senate over the recently passed new amendments to the Electoral Act and granting the use of electronic voting in elections in Nigeria, even as he expressed optimism that the House of Representatives would also toe the path of the upper legislative chamber by passing it’s own version, harmonize with the senate and give the nation a clean Electoral Act taking on board recommendations from the Ken Nnamani-led committee.
She however, affirmed that “civil society and citizens have been very active in ensuring that the electoral process gets better and we recognise this contribution and continue to call on civil society and citizens to be eternally vigilant”.
“We must guard against the interference of the security operatives like we saw in the case of Edo and the hate speeches by politicians as was showcased in the Rivers election and every other election. Politicians, who are the final beneficiaries of the outcome of any election, must be committed to ensuring that people’s lives are protected and the process of getting them into office is violence free”.
Moreover, he added that “the media also is not left out in the role that you play in covering and reporting elections in the country”, stressing further that “to achieve free, fair and credible elections we must all close ranks, collaborate and work together as partners in the electoral process by contributing our quota”.
“Everyone starting with the federal government and the national assembly must ensure adequate funding of the EMB (Election Management Body) by ensuring that budgetary allocation is made and budgets passed early, civil society and the media must join INEC in educating the people, if we all take upon ourselves a part of this in our different corners, then we can ensure less voided votes during the elections. The international community is also not left out in this partnership.”
Consequently, he declared that “this meeting made up of participants across the value chain of the electoral process is expected to come up with strategies to ensure this happens. The outcome of this meeting will form part of the closing chapter of a report being put together by our organisation on the overview, challenges and prospects of elections in Nigeria post 2015”.
In his contribution, Prof. Yakubu highlighted apathetic citizenry, weak political parties and inadequate institutional support for voter mobilisation and enlightenment as part of the factors responsible for low participation at elections.
The INEC boss, who was represented at the event by the National Commissioner in Charge of Election and Party Monitoring, Prof. Anthonia Simbine, stated that “Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by any Election Management Body (EMB) is the general attitude of politicians. You will agree that here, there is acute desperation for power, eloquently captures in the dictum of ‘do or die’ politics. It is responsible for most other vices associated with the process, including violence (which often results to inconclusive elections) hate speeches, bribery and all forms of malpractices”.
“Unless and until there is attitudinal change and rejection of this mindset, our process is likely to be bedeviled by such negative and subversive tendencies.”
Yakubu, while listing other inhibitions to include security challenges as experienced in Edo and Rivers states poll, inadequacy of key officials, among others, however, assured that the commission was poised to meet the expectations of Nigerians and the international community, which he said were high.
“Even in the face of these and other challenges, the expectations of Nigerians and the international community are high. We are conscious of our responsibility to meet these expectations. This is what has informed our approach thus far.”
The INEC boss further disclosed some of the measures the Commission has come up with to address the issues to include collapse of the voting system from separation of accreditation and voting to simultaneous accreditation and voting, teamwork and partnership with increased engagement of stakeholders such as CSOs, CBOs, FBOs, MDAs, EFCC, increased deployment of technology, year round nationwide Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), among others.
While acknowledging that the commission has made tremendous improvement since the conduct of its first general elections in 1999, he cited delay in the passage of the 2017 budget as one of the challenges facing the Commission, stressing that the late passage was affecting its plan to acquire materials needed for the exercise.
He stated that whereas the Commission had already placed order for the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), it has yet to take possession of the materials due to the late passage of the budget.
He said that apart from the delay, conflicting state priorities as well as the volatile foreign exchange market had negatively impacted on the work of the Commission, noting that “although INEC is now on first line charge, the delay in passing the budget and the envelope system being implemented in the face of recession and conflicting state priorities as well as the volatile foreign exchange market have negative impact on the work of the commission”.
The occasion then went into the round table session where participants made contributions to the subject matter. The session was presided over by Right Activist, Mr. Ledum Mitee, after which a communique was issued.
In the communique signed by Dr. Chima Amadi, for ISDMG; Faith Nwadishi, for EREG
And Ezenwa Nwagu, for Partners for electoral reforms, participants highlighted some of the challenges faced in the electoral process to include Budget passage and funding, hate speeches and war mongering of politicians during elections, collusion of collation officers to manipulate election results as well as coordination and welfare of security personnel.
Others, according to the communique include interference of security personnel in the electoral process as occasioned at the Edo elections, vote buying, voter apathy, violence during elections, and the emerging trend where security agencies are becoming the driving force in the electoral process, a situation they describe as worrisome.
It also noted that people’s perception of INEC is poor judging from the conducts of INECs adhoc staff as they see INEC from the perspectives of the conducts of its adhoc staff.
But the stakeholders supported “the stance of the current INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu on corruption. This is highly commendable. His zero tolerance to corruption led to the suspension and prosecution of 202 INEC staff found complicit in electoral malpractices in addition to the collaboration with EFCC to mitigate corruption in the electoral process. INEC has done well by the engagement of stakeholders in its quarterly meetings with stakeholders, that resulted in the development of the INEC’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan. Participants also observed the introduction of E-Tracking and E-Collation of results by INEC for a more credible electoral process and therefore, support the process”.
The communique however, recommended that the present and any future amendments to election legislation should be enacted sufficiently in advance of elections to provide political parties, candidates and voters adequate time to become informed of the new rules of the election process.
It stressed that: “INEC should immediately commence arrangements to review constituencies and polling units in Nigeria, as this is long overdue. The process of reorganization should be made as systematic and as transparent as possible and must be completed well before the 2019 elections. INEC should clean up the voters registers to remove deceased voters, to ascertain exactly the numbers of voters that have been transferred and the authentic registered voters in the on-going continuous voters registration exercise”.
“INEC should continue engagements with stakeholders so far commend the INEC leadership in the string of successes recorded and pray for its sustainability through continuous consultations, collaborations and partnership with the media, and the citizenry while making amends where and when necessary. The House of Representatives should follow in the steps of the Senate to ensure speedy passage of amendment to the Electoral Act and entrenching electronic voting in the electoral process and all other positive amendments to the electoral act.
“INEC should put in place more transparent processes by engaging adhoc staff that have integrity and make the process of engagement of adhoc staff public and on time before elections are held.
The communique also noted that hate speeches from politicians should be penalized and perpetrators punished to reduce incidence of electoral violence, calling upon the electoral body to engage the media in this aspect.
It added that: “Continuous voter education is key, therefore, Voter education needs more attention as is obtainable in INEC and NOA and they should be made to work with the people and the CSOs to drive the process of enlightening the people on the electoral process”,noting that women participation in the electoral system should be strengthened to encourage women to vie for political positions instead of mere voters during elections. “The remaining outstanding appointments of REC’s and National Commissioners should be women”, it added.
The deliberation touched on areas where each and every one or group got it wrong in the 2015 general elections as well as where they need to improve upon in order to have more credible elections in the future.
It specifically detailed what are expected of the CSOs, the media, INEC, security agencies, the National Assembly as well the electorate.
Whereas 2015 general elections has been adjudged better than the previous elections since 1999, going by the array of the stakeholders which included the CSOs, INEC and the media, as well the observations and recommendations, it is hoped that if they are adhered to, the nation would be in for a better general elections in 2019.