Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Why 2015 elections may be a mirage
“I know that one thing that is dear to your hearts is what the elections in this country will look like next year. But let me use this unique opportunity to reassure you and I am conveying this to my brothers, your heads of government, that our elections next year will be free and fair. It will be peaceful in nature that will even surprise the whole world”
-President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday, July 24, 2014.
Last Wednesday, July 23, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, addressed a press conference in Abuja. At the interactive session, Jega listed seven hurdles before the commission for it to have a credible, peaceful and acceptable elections in 2015. The challenges listed by the INEC chairman are: “Insecurity, funding, attitudes of the political class, apathetic and inactive citizenry, delay in amendment to the legal framework, completion of the review of electoral constituencies and polling units and prosecution of election offenders.”
As a psephologist, I am very familiar with INEC’s preparations for the forthcoming elections. Among the commission’s arrangements, some of which were mentioned by Jega, are: Inauguration of the Prof. Adele Jinadu-led Registration and Election Review Committee; reorganisation of the Commission; unfolding of a Strategic Plan (2012 – 2016); Continuous voter registration, distribution of Permanent Voter Card, procurement of card readers for voters authentication, training and retraining of staff, delineation of electoral boundaries and creation of additional 30,000 Polling Units, launch of National Inter-agency Advisory Committee on Voter Education and Publicity and the improved feature of sensitive electoral materials through serial numbering and colour-coding of ballot papers and result sheets as well as security coding of ballot boxes.The commission has also recruited thousands of Registration Area Officers, established a Graphic Design Centre, established an online Voter Verification Platform, and plans to use Election Management System to aid smooth conduct of the polls.
In spite of these grand plans for the forthcoming polls, INEC is still faced with the aforementioned challenges some of which it has no control over. Take, for instance, the issue of security. The nation is facing a daunting security challenge. On its own, INEC has established an Inter-Agency Consultative Committee of Election Security, members of which were drawn from military, paramilitary and other security agencies. It is noteworthy that the ICCES was inaugurated ahead of the 2011 elections and in spite of the great efforts made by the committee to secure the electoral environment, the country still witnessed one of the most violent post-election crises in 2011. An estimated 800 persons were allegedly murdered in the post-presidential election violence of April 16 – 18, 2011. Now, with escalated insurgency, not many people share the optimism of the President as expressed in this article’s opening quote. If truth must be told, all tiers of government and all men and women of goodwill must work together to tame the monster of terrorism in Nigeria, that is if we hope to have a peaceful 2015 elections.
I sympathise with INEC on its parlous state of funding. Not a few people were excited when the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria was amended in 2010 and INEC was listed among the federal executive bodies to be on first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This means INEC will no longer go cap in hand to have its budgetary allocation released to it. What many of us did not factor in is that the electoral management body will only receive the amount earmarked for it by the Budget Office of the Federal Ministry of Finance and appropriated by the National Assembly. To the best of my knowledge, INEC had requested N93bn to prosecute the 2015 elections. However, by the time the budget was passed some two months ago, only N45bn was appropriated for the Commission leaving a balance of N48bn. Quite unfortunately, it is out of this amount that INEC has been conducting by-elections and governorship elections (June 21 Ekiti poll and the forthcoming August 9 Osun governorship election). The July 15 impeachment and removal of Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State was not envisaged by INEC neither is the impending one in Nasarawa State. Now, Section 191(2) of the CFRN makes it mandatory for INEC to organise another governorship election within three months of the impeachment. It is possibly from the little resources at the disposal of INEC that it will conduct these polls.
Election, for those who do not know, is not an event but a process. It is a system and improper or inadequate funding of the commission will surely cause a dislocation. As it is, INEC has had to review its strategic plan. If the Federal Government is serious about credible elections in February 2015, it will have to demonstrate that by ensuring that INEC is not starved of funds. A supplementary budget seems the best option available as waiting till 2015 to give INEC the balance of the financial resources it needs to prosecute the forthcoming elections will be too risky. The reason is simple. The 2014 appropriation bill was not passed and signed until May this year. Should that scenario play itself out again in 2015, how will INEC meet its financial obligations to its contractors when it plans to hold elections on February 14 and 28 next year?
Some ugly situations cannot be salvaged with all the money in the Central Bank of Nigeria. It is even criminal to award contracts without cash-backing according to the Fiscal Responsibility Act and Public Procurement Act. Election is time-bound. Should INEC be forced to postpone the elections either by the state of insecurity or inadequate funding, there is a constitutional caveat that must be addressed. Sections 132(2), 178(2), 76(2) and 116 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, have made it clear that all federal and state elections are to be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the expiration of the term of the incumbents which is May 29. Thus, all polls are to be concluded not later than April 29, 2015.
The non-passage of the amended legal framework for the next general elections is unfortunate and can negatively impact on the elections. This is my grouse with the setting up of the National Conference which will wind down on August 4. I have asked several times, will the implementation of the conference report be before or after the next general elections? There is no doubt that the National Assembly has had to filibustre in order to await the outcome of the conference. If the legal framework for the next polls is not in place barely seven months to the next elections, how effectively can the electoral umpire plan for the polls? The lacklustre and unpatriotic attitude of the political class nonetheless is a cause for concern. Their stock in trade which includes character assassination, propaganda, inflammatory comments and thuggery is a serious debacle on credible elections.
If these issues are not seriously addressed and redressed, a peaceful and credible polls come 2015 will be a pipe dream.