Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How prepared is Nigeria for the 2015 elections?

The countdown to the fifth general elections in this Fourth Republic has begun and it is barely 92 days to the presidential and National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) elections slated for February 14, 2015. Will there be show of love during the electoral war? In accordance with Section 99(1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, public campaign is to commence 90 days to the polls hence for the February 14 elections, campaign will officially start on November 16, 2014 while campaign for the governorship and House of Assembly elections scheduled for February 28, 2015 will commence on November 30, according to the timetable earlier released by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Many commentators including the electorate have been clamouring for free, fair and credible elections. That is a noble demand and is not unattainable. However, what do we need to achieve that ideal goal? How prepared are the various actors and stakeholders for the 2015 elections? Of what significance is election to a democracy?
The importance of election to the entrenchment of a democratic culture cannot be underestimated or over-emphasised. Election, by which we mean free choice of representatives in government, is one of the tenets of democracy and it is a gateway to achieving good governance. It is the elected leaders whether in executive or legislative positions that work on behalf of the rest of us to provide essential goods and services that will enhance our collective wellbeing.
INEC has been telling all those who care to listen about its optimum preparedness to conduct credible elections in 2015 which will be better than those of 2011. I have been privileged to attend two programmes in the recent past where the electoral commission gave account of its state of readiness for the forthcoming general polls. The first was on October 28 at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, where INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, gave a run-down of where the commission was with its preparations for 2015. The event was a national stakeholders’ forum on elections organised by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room. At the forum chaired by the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Hassan Matthew Kukah, Jega held the audience spellbound as he reeled out his agenda at INEC and how much of that he had achieved.
According to him, prior to the 2011 elections, INEC introduced the following reforms: A new biometric Register of Voters; a remodified open ballot system (REMOBS); improved security features on sensitive electoral materials such as serial numbering and colour coding of ballot papers and result sheets as well as security coding of ballot boxes; revised framework for engagement of ad hoc staff; more transparent framework for results collations and returns including pasting of results of elections at the Polling Units and Collation Centres; closer collaboration and partnerships with a range of critical stakeholders including the establishment of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security; enhanced voter education and citizens engagement as well as intensive training and retraining of the commission’s staff.
Immediately after the 2011 elections, Jega said the commission embarked on post-election audits which were done both internally and by external assessors. Four cardinal lessons the commission claimed to have learnt from the reviews conducted are as follows: Good elections require adequate and timely planning; good elections are about effective partnerships and cooperation; good elections are about openness and lastly, getting our elections right is still a work in progress. Jega said towards 2015 his concern was to have a progressive, incremental, value addition polls. To achieve these, the commission, he said, was focusing on three focal points namely, structure, policy and plan. Some of the milestones achieved in the last two years, he claimed, included putting together a strategic plan (2012 – 2016) and a detailed strategic programme of action; a detailed Election Project Plan; comprehensive reorganisation and restructuring of the commission; the consolidation and de-duplication of the biometric register of voters leading to the ongoing distribution of Permanent Voter Cards and the Continuous Voter Registration. The PVC is chip-based and the commission intends to deploy the use of card readers for verification and authentication of voters come 2015.
Other measures put in place by INEC include a communication policy; a gender policy; proposed amendments to the electoral laws; establishment of a Graphic Design Centre; mapping and re-engineering of the commission’s business process and election management system; review of electoral constituencies and planned creation of additional polling units; revision of all guidelines and regulations on the electoral process and the deployment of Election Management Tool.
Jega highlighted seven challenges faced by the commission ahead of 2015. These are insecurity, funding, attitude of the political class, apathetic and inactive citizenry, delay in the amendment of the legal framework, completion of the review of electoral constituencies and polling units and the prosecution of election offenders. After the submission, Jega fielded questions from the forum participants among other things on how the commission intends to field-test or pilot the card-reader ahead of the nationwide deployment in 2015. The question was asked against the background of the glitches experienced in Ghana and Kenya where a similar technology had been previously deployed. Jega assured us all that this would be done. He said the card reader being deployed has batteries with eight-hour lifespan. Nevertheless, he claimed INEC had also made provision for 10 per cent redundancy.
The second event took place last Friday, November 7 and it was a roundtable held for media practitioners on conflict-sensitive reporting. According to the director of Electoral Alternative Dispute Resolution Directorate of INEC, Mrs. Ngozi Irene Oghuma, “The choice of words used in reporting political and electoral news can generate conflict, sometimes resulting into violence which invariably impacts negatively on electoral processes.” The keynote speaker at the roundtable, who is also a veteran journalist, Mr. Bayo Amosemo, critically analysed issues involved in conflict sensitive reporting. According to him, “an explicit aim of conflict sensitive journalism is to promote peace initiatives…” To buttress his point, Awosemo, quoting the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, stated that, “while journalism should ensure balanced reporting, it cannot be neutral towards peace.” Media practitioners are generally enjoined to be biased towards peace in their news reportage particularly of electoral and political events.
Now we know what INEC has been doing preparing for 2015 polls. What about other stakeholders? We do know that the political parties are in the process of nominating their candidates and kicking off their campaigns. Quite unfortunately, their activities have started heating up the polity with intra and inter-party frictions becoming palpable. Hate speeches, inflammatory comments, and inciting statements are beginning to fly around and it behooves various regulatory agencies to caution these political gladiators.
On the part of the civil society, a lot is also being done. Many non-governmental organisations are embarking on voter education and preparing for election observation. Indeed, the Transition Monitoring Group is set to deploy an innovative election observation technology called Quick Counts or Parallel Vote Tabulation. This will provide an independent source of verification for INEC announced results and has the capacity to boost people’s confidence in the electoral process. As I write this, my mind went back to those seven critical challenges raised by Jega and I wonder if they are not capable of derailing all the grand plan of the commission towards a successful and peaceful 2015 polls.
Corrigendum: In my last week piece, I erroneously listed a former deputy governor of Lagos State Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele among the impeached deputy governors in the country. I got a call from her saying that she did resign and was not impeached. This inadvertent slip is regretted.
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