INEC’s commitment to credible elections: Fiction versus Facts!
By Elegbede Abiodun
Elections play a crucial role in any democracy. It is the only acceptable process of choosing leaders in such democratic societies, and the credibility of which is founded on the principles of accountability, transparency, adherence to the rule of law, and compliance with due processes.
When these democratic principles are missing, elections become a tool to achieve preconceived outcomes, dislodging citizens of their rights to participate in governance. In the end, those elected on the platform of such a flawed process, will struggle to gain legitimacy and the support of the citizens whom they seek to govern.
The implication of this is the total erosion of trust – a major factor required for peaceful and progressive governance, and the absence of which is an invitation to total breakdown of law and order in society.
The reality of this therefore, places a premium on the electoral management body and its responsibility of conducting free and credible elections and ensuring peaceful and legitimate power transitions. As such, it is important for, in this case, the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to be committed to credible elections in Nigeria.
While this has been established, the onus lies on INEC to propose, plan, organize and commit to the conduct of credible elections in line with standard best practices. This essentially, is a burden of duty to the constitution and the people of Nigeria.
Over the years and particularly within the current democratic dispensation –where the agency has been known as INEC– it can be established and considerably so, that Nigeria’s electoral and democratic space has evolved with no small consequence.
INEC has continuously strived to improve on its commitment to credible power transitions through the ballot, and has not failed to develop improved systems and processes.
Thanks to the digital revolution. From the introduction of smartcard readers, to biometric identity machines, permanent voters registers and voters cards (PVCs), INEC has continued to evolve and enrich electoral processes.
It is also important to acknowledge the resourcefulness and doggedness of the commission to follow through with the new electoral act – which provided for the digitalization of our electoral system and processes.
Nigeria’s 2023 election stands out as the most expensive in the country’s history, with the electoral commission receiving N305 billion, representing a 62% increase from the funds spent on the 2019 general elections.
The motive behind this increase in expenditure was not only to enhance the electoral process but also to bolster the credibility of the system with the introduction of the Bimodal Voter.
Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing (IREV) portal, as provided by Section 47 and 50(2) of the new electoral act 2022.
The implementation of these cutting-edge technologies was expected to deliver reliable authentication of voters and enable almost instantaneous transmission of results, such that voters would have been able to carry out their own vote counting even before the official announcement of results at the INEC collation center in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
Another positive breakthrough by the commission in its drive for credible elections was securing its financial autonomy, under the new act.
Understanding the need for financial independence of sensitive government agencies like INEC, one would agree how much of a win the commission gained against any forms of interference that could influence its operations or outlook on electoral issues or outcomes, because more often than not “he who pays the piper, dictates the tune.”
The act also made provisions stipulating the release of election funds due to the Commission for any general elections, not later than one year before the next general election.
In the build up to the elections, INEC was deeply involved in civic engagement including implementing voter education programmes, aimed at improving citizens’ grasp of electoral laws and processes across the country.
From radio jingles, town hall meetings and TV appearances, to interactive cartoon presentations aimed at engaging and communicating the commission’s plans and programmes with citizens, even in rural communities.
Similarly, the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, the Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, as well as state officers of the commission embarked on various widespread engagements with the general public, civic societies and nongovernmental organisations to drive voters’ perception and information.
Organizing credible and fair elections entails that every eligible voter is given an opportunity to exercise their franchise and choose their representatives, no matter their creed, class or physical conditions. As a core mandate, the commission took on inclusivity to provide for visually impaired, special needs and vulnerable voters.
With the new act, people living with disability are recognised and allowed to exercise their inalienable voting rights with no reference to their physical disabilities, through the provision for assistance at the polling units and voting points including suitable communication mediums including braille, large embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, and/or off-site voting, where deemed appropriate.
It is also worthy of note that INEC in its graciousness had extended voters registration deadlines to allow eligible citizens to register.
The large turnout of voters and widespread enthusiasm saw a record 93.4 million registered voters during the 2023 election, of which 7.2 million new voters (76.5%) were young people between the ages of 18 – 34.
During the elections, the commission gave a good account of itself as an umpire. This however, was not without the challenges that sprung up in various areas across the country.
There were reports of violence, ballot snatching, voter suppression, threats to INEC officials and the destruction of sensitive materials by thugs.
This clearly shows that while elections may have come and gone, there is more to be done to improve the situation of Nigeria’s electoral processes and system. As such, INEC is tasked to continue to deepen its commitment to credible elections, introducing strategies, policies and plans to ensure that citizens’ confidence in the commission and electoral systems are strengthened.
Source: Vanguard news