Is there any direct correlation between the quality of electoral process and good governance? Yes, empirical evidence tends to suggests that countries with credible electoral processes also seem to be better governed the world over. The best examples of such countries are located in advanced democracies of the West and the United States. Conversely, countries still struggling with the conduct of their elections, countries yet to overcome the basic problems of the legitimacy of the outcome of their electoral processes present all the symptoms of bad governance and under-development. Nigeria and many other African countries fall into this category. And the reason for this is very simple: citizens largely believe that there votes do not count in elections which results are predetermined before the starting of the voting process.
On their own part, ‘elected officials’ tend to behave rascally because they also know that they owe their power not to the people, but to a rigged process. Herein lies the conundrum. Once politicians decipher the possibility of sidestepping the people through a corrupt electoral process, they tend to behave with the worst sense of impunity!
In Nigeria’s 2019 general election for instance, the process had already been flawed before actual voting began. Many eligible citizens were disenfranchised by the election management body, INEC, when they could not collect their Permanent Voter’s Cards, PVCs. What this means is that a sizable number of the voting population were thus denied their rights to be part of the process of electing their leaders before the Election Day. Sometimes if you look deeper, this trend may expose a political orchestration in collusion with INEC to favour a particular party. Even on Election Day, widespread irregularities, poor logistics, poor security, violence and political thuggery unleashed by desperate politicians only complete INEC’s incompetence and in some cases bias in the delivery of credible polls.
As reported recently by Premium Times, the United States government stated that the army, the secret police, the DSS, were used to manipulate the 2019 general elections. In that report titled 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria, “there was evidence military and security services intimidated voters, electoral officials, and election observers. In addition violence in several states contributed to lower voter participation and added to the sentiment the army is a tool of the ruling party in many parts of the country, particularly in the South”.
The 2019 election is done and dusted with the Supreme Court putting to rest all contestations over the elections both at the national and state levels. However, another election comes up in 2023. Therefore there is another opportunity for the Nigerian people to force INEC to toe the right direction. With the way INEC behaved in this past election, all stakeholders must not trust INEC’s good intentions alone. Neither must we give in to their verbose promises of delivering free and fair elections again. Lest we forget, when the President refused his assent to the 2018 electoral act passed by the Eight Assembly, INEC promised to deal with the elephant in the room, which was the provision to transmit results electronically, by resort to their own guidelines. But at the end of the day, INEC hid under grotesque legalism to deny all its promises and never even pretended to have any administrative powers over the conduct of the elections.
It must be clear to all stakeholders and all serious observers that the greatest challenge to free and credible elections in the land is no longer ballot box snatching and other violent actions but in the collation of results from different polling booths. INEC’s tepid response to this challenge is the ludicrous hiring of university lecturers to serve as returning officers when all that is needed is to preserve the integrity of the figures obtained at polling booths by transferring them electronically to INEC headquarters! Curiously, whenever any discussion on electronic voting is going on, INEC spokespersons seem to be worried more about the difficulties of achieving that than the advantages therefrom. In short, INEC always every time and everywhere takes the position to suggest that our country is unripe or not ready for electronic voting even when some of its budgetary requests verge on providing equipment for some kinds of electronic voting. Why is INEC afraid of electronic transmission of results from all polling units?
As stakeholders begin to mobilize for credible elections in the future, they must come to terms with the fact that INEC has never played in favour of the Nigerian people but the government of the day. And the best approach to reforming our electoral process must involve using the same laws that INEC hides under to paint a helpless scenario of tied up hands. Thus reforming our electoral laws now is very expedient in the national interest.
The semblance of democracy enjoyed by our people today was won for us by the dogged activism of few patriotic and courageous citizens who in spite of the muscular intimidations of the jackboot era strived for and created a civic population to agitate for all. Many of these activists, we owe not only our fledgling democracy, but also a vibrant civil society. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Chima Ubani, Bola Ige and other heroes past have bequeathed to us a growing democracy; it is our own duty now to nurture it to provide good governance for our people. Interestingly, animated conversations are ongoing countrywide on the need to improve the quality of our democracy through electoral reforms. Civil Society Organisations are talking to each other and mobilizing citizens to understand that democracy is far more profound than the holding of periodic elections. Holding elected officials accountable to the people and reforming the electoral system are essential parts of these conversations.
One of the results of the conversations and activism from the civil society aimed at improving the quality of democracy and good governance is the ongoing collaborations between The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and the Center for Liberty (CFL). The latter has commenced people-driven Electoral Reform Advocacy (ERA), sponsored by OSIWA, to ensure the immediate passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 by the 9th National Assembly. “ERA is committed to a comprehensive reform of the legal and constitutional framework underpinning elections in Nigeria.
This intervention will responsively galvanize the public towards electoral reform by creating awareness on the current deficit in the electoral process”, CFL had stated in a recently released statement. To show that they mean business, CFL had on January 28, 2020, alongside a group of volunteers, staged peaceful walk to the first gate of the National Assembly to remind federal lawmakers of the need to prioritize the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, to further demonstrate its commitment to free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
• Ms. Abake Fakunle, a civil rights activist, wrote from Ilorin