The Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on Electoral Matters, will tomorrow, Tuesday, November 28, be holding a citizens town hall on electoral reforms in Abuja. The Joint Committee, with the support of Yiaga Africa and the European Union, is inviting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political parties, civil society organisations, development partners, etc. to the Citizens’ Town hall on Electoral Matters.
Ordinarily, this should excite one, but who really cares? Of what relevance are all our electoral reforms since 1999 when we returned to democracy? What is the use of reforming the process with amended Electoral Acts and new guidelines when this process will be run by people who themselves are either corrupt, compromised or helpless when it comes to real implementation or enforcement of these electoral laws and guidelines?
Since 1999 when the fourth Republic began after years of military regimes that gave way for Democracy, Nigeria has witnessed three reforms in the electoral process. The first was under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2002, which resulted in the Electoral Act, used for the conduct of the 2003 and 2007 general elections.
The second reform in the Electoral process occurred under the then President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2010, culminating into the 2010 Electoral Act, which was used for the conduct of three national elections in 2011, 2015, and 2019.
Then came the Electoral Act of 2022 that went through rigorous legislative processes with many critical reviews of past Electoral Acts, as well as other political antecedents that were not fully captured in the 2002, and 2010 Electoral Acts.
On 25th February, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2022 Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law, after months of withholding assent. The 2022 Electoral Act (“the new Act”) repeals the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 (“the former Act”) and is intended to bring innovations to the regulation of Federal, State and Area Council elections in Nigeria.
These three reform processes should have helped to improve our elections and deepen our democracy, but in reality, nothing really has changed. It had been hoped that technology would improve the process, but technology can only be as useful as the human beings who operate them want them to be.
By far the most promising of these electoral reforms was the Electoral Act of 2022. The excitement and energy with which Nigerians pursued it and the many hitches and stumbling blocks on its way by the executive and the legislative arms of government, because they remain the main beneficiaries of the crooked process, was such that once signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, we all heaved a sigh of relief believing that finally we shall be witnessing a less contentious, more transparent and less violent process. How wrong!
Sadly, the last elections (2023) will go down in history as the most disappointing in outcomes as it was merely long on promises, short on delivery. We had anticipated that by the 2022 Electoral Act would reduce human interface to the barest minimum that the Act would permit. That was not to be because it turned out to be a case of a huge investment in technology and underutilisation of those technologies, resulting in what will go down in our history as the most disputed and contentious presidential elections since 1999.
Under the new Act, the use of electronic devices such as smart card readers, electronic voting machines and other technological devices, were allowed in the accreditation process for voters and in the general conduct of elections. The new Act provides for electronic transmission of election results in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission. This procedure on electronic transmission was vigorously advertised both at home and abroad by the INEC chairman and his team. It assured voters that with the examples of the Edo, Osun and Ekiti governorship elections before the general elections of 2023 Nigerian voters should brace up to a new experience with the presidential poll. Strangely, INEC fell short and still kept a straight face as though nothing really happened.
The 2022 Electoral Act also provided financial autonomy for INEC wherein payments from the Federal Government, investments made from the fund and other aids and grants shall be paid to enable the Commission to perform its functions. Furthermore, the Act stipulates that election funds due to the Commission for any general elections are to be released not later than one year before the next general election. This provision grants financial autonomy to the Commission, as it may now receive funds for the conduct of elections directly as opposed to getting funds subsequent to vetting by the Ministry of Finance as provided under the former Act.
Therefore, in terms of support, INEC got both financial and the legal framework to deepen the electoral process but because they failed on their part to meet the expectation of a lot of Nigerians who fought to ensure that they got the necessary support, the election outcomes have been left for the tribunals and courts to decide. You wonder why waste time queuing under the sun and rain to vote when only a few wise men and women can do that for us at the tribunals or courts.
What the outcome of the 2023 general elections has shown is that the problems with our elections so far are not essentially that of a lack of legal framework for elections to succeed but the lack of will by both INEC as regulator and the politicians as actors to make our elections work.
Because our politicians would always want to circumvent the laws and guidelines governing our elections, our elections will continue to remain flawed. The failure by INEC to electronically transmit the results of the last presidential elections to its IReV as publicly advertised and promised, left not a few Nigerians disappointed and crestfallen because for them it was hope raised so high but mercilessly dashed by the electoral body.
Progress therefore for many Nigerians in the next electoral process coming up in 2027 would be for Nigerians abroad to enjoy diaspora voting, more use of technology and the ability to vote without a voter card since the voters are already captured in the INEC database. The inability of some registered voters to vote during the last election because they were denied their voters card greatly disenfranchised a lot of voters because it was obvious that INEC officials were reluctant to release their voters card for reasons known to us all. INEC officials made it impossible for some eligible voters to vote. Some large numbers of voter cards were dumped in several places.