UBA: INEC needs to institutionalise continuous voter education
For the country to improve on the gains of the 2015 general elections, as well as deepen its democracy, there is need to amend certain aspects of the constitution, especially, the ones that relate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) attempts to make Nigerians vote electronically during the polls, the Acting Executive Director of the African Heritage Institution (AfriHeritage), Mr. Chiwuike Uba, has said.
Emphasizing the need for continuous electoral reforms in the country, Uba stated that experiences have shown that new challenges emerge with every election conducted in Nigeria, stressing that reforms are made to tackle both the known and unknown issues.
Speaking to The Guardian, Uba said: “For a better outing in 2019, Nigeria must do the first things first. It is only in Nigeria that discussions and public enlightenment campaigns on elections/voting commence at the nick of election dates. As a strategy to improve Nigeria’s electoral process, INEC needs to institutionalise continuous voter education, using different information dissemination vehicles. Traditional and religious institutions are very important in this process. They must be co-opted in the voter education.”
According to Uba, “it is evident that politicians use students of higher institutions as thugs during the elections, and it is, therefore, important to also, target higher institutions in the voter education. The education should not be a one-off activity; it must be a continuous process. As a policy, government must also introduce voters’ rights as core subjects in the education curriculum of Nigeria, from primary to tertiary.
“In addition to education, voters’ registration is also very key to improved election in 2019. As a policy, we must also adopt continuous voter registration in Nigeria. Before the last elections, we discovered that it was very difficult for INEC to distribute the said permanent voter cards. Even when they did, it was skewed in favour of the states in northern Nigeria. If banks can issue ATM card within a week of making a request, why can’t INEC be able to issue permanent voter cards within same period. It is more worrisome when even people who took pains to register were not issued the permanent voter cards, and in some cases, even when they have the cards, they were disenfranchised, because the card could not work. It is on this premised that I argued that it is evident that the last elections were administratively rigged even before the elections.”
He continued: “The use of card reader and incident form during the last election failed and even created more confusion. This is evident in various judgments of the Supreme Court on election cases. African Heritage Institution (AfriHeritage) is currently doing a study on Beyond Card Readers: Technology and Strategies to make elections impossible to rig. I am confident that the findings from this study on completion will enrich discussion in this regard.
Going forward, I would recommend the immediate amendment of the electoral act and the relevant sections of the Constitution to empower INEC to commence electronic voting. This will in no small means reduce killings associated with ballot snatching. It will also increase accountability by INEC, while reducing electoral corruption. I am wondering why nobody is asking how INEC spent the money released for the elections.
“The process of choosing candidates by political parties needs to be reconsidered. If democracy is about the people, the people must be able to choose their representatives from the beginning. A situation where the party’s national body (NEC) has the final powers to determine the party’s flag bearer is incongruent to the dictates of democracy. Powers to choose must be devolved to Local Council party structure from National structure, depending on the political position involved. Finally, we must begin to prosecute electoral offenders as a deterrent to others who may want to get involved in electoral malpractices. The current situation is all ‘talks’ and no action by the relevant authorities.”
Speaking specifically on the challenges confronting INEC and the activities of the commission, the Policy Strategist, added: “It is important to state here, that Nigeria’s mantra, is, ‘winner takes all’. Interestingly, the winner is the party that produced the President. The party sitting in Aso rock is the ultimate winner, because of the enormous powers of the President guaranteed under the Constitution. In all honesty, the powers conferred on the President to ‘solely’ appoint the headship and even the commissioners of INEC is part of the problems of our electoral system. Despite the ‘independent’, which is part of the electoral body’s name, its functionality is highly dependent on the President. Outside the appointment of the entire INEC team, the President decides on how much to release to INEC for their work. He may decide to ‘punish’ them by releasing insufficient funds for the operations if they work against him. Sometimes, part of the symptoms of this dependence is traceable to ‘inconclusive’ elections. I would personally want to see a situation where a different body (composed of the judiciary and selected apolitical respected senior citizens) recommends three persons to the President to choose one for appointment, subject to Senate’s conformation. In addition, INEC’s budget must be a first line charge.”
Stressing that it was important that appointment of headship as well as budget to the commission were reviewed, he agreed, “electronic registration and the use of card reader are far from the answer.”
He argued: “Instead of reducing incidences of fraud in the last elections, it created more problems. This in no small means is attributable to the timing, unpreparedness of INEC to deploy the product and may be, the ‘third hand’ in our electoral system. To me, maybe the system was designed to fail from day one by the originators. As I earlier pointed out, the failure began with the printing of the cards. We were informed the cards were printed overseas and were not delivered till few weeks to the election. Even when it was delivered, not all the cards for the registered voters were printed and delivered. Secondly, the distribution process was flawed. Whereas it was alleged that INEC used both traditional heads (institutions) and religious bodies in the north to distribute the cards, the south were denied such a privilege as all the cards were directly given to voters through INEC offices in the southern part of the country. The effect was the uneven distribution of the cards between the northern states and southern states of the country.”
Uba noted, “during the elections, it was noted that the card readers performed excellently in the northern parts of the country and failed woefully in the southern part, most especially, in the Southeast and South South where voters were highly disenfranchised. I would recommend the introduction of electronic voting, maybe, in addition to manual voting (where it is absolutely necessary). This system can be deployed from next year and continuously used (demo/pilot) to determine its functionality and accuracy before full deployment in 2019. This will reduce electoral corruption and is easier to use to track electoral manipulation. In addition to these, it will entirely stop ballot snatching and killings; hence, promote peace and acceptability of election results. It will also reduce the cost and duration of election petitions. As I earlier pointed out, if INEC decides to adopt electronic voting, early and continuous voter’s education must be adopted. Before full deployment of electronic voting, INEC must test run the facilities in all states to ensure it will not fail in any part of the country during elections and also to reassure Nigerians that electronic voting is the panacea to our ‘woes’.”
He also advocated the streamlining of campaign expenses by political parties and individuals, explaining that the huge funds spent had always impacted on the resources and output of any administration.
“Politicians spend billions of Naira during election campaigns and the effect is the continuous pillage of our savings and collective resources when they eventually get into power. Even those elected on the premise of their ‘integrity’ lose the bite to bring those, who funded their campaign to book. INEC must have the powers to determine the ceiling for cost of political party’s nomination forms, campaign expenses and other related matters and ensure strict adherence to the policies by the concerned,” he concluded.
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