As Nigeria inches close to the 2023 Presidential Elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, must be up and doing to deliver free and fair election acceptable to the people of Nigeria, irrespective of tongue, creed, religion and tribe; and the judiciary must borrow a leaf from its Kenyan counterpart that delivered a judgement widely hailed as historic.
Doing this is an onerous but doable task before the commission, and there are reasons to believe that it is up to the task. Nothing speaks to its capacity to conduct acceptable election more than the progressive improvement witnessed in the recent elections. The upload of results from polling units in Nigeria was an excellent innovation.
In spite of the high expectations on INEC to deliver a credible poll, like in the case of Kenya, the judiciary may be the final arbiter, as bad as it sounds, on who wins. Given that virtually every election since 1999 had been contested in court, it is instructive to notice the conduct of the Supreme Court of Kenya handled the petition by going beyond technicality to decide the case on its merit. In Nigeria, all the case were decided on technicalities.
One cardinal lesson that we should all imbibe is that often opinion polls project outcomes, but do not always guarantee turnout. We could recall that in almost every serious opinion poll since May, Odinga was leading Ruto. Ruto’s victory, though narrow, put a lie to this trend. Given that the election was close, voter turnout in areas where Ruto was strong was massive and seemed to have made the difference.
Although Ruto led in only 20 out of Kenya’s 47 counties, turnout in those counties exceeded 70 percent. And in six of those counties, turnout was greater than 75 percent. On the other hand, turnout in the 27 counties Odinga won was just under 64 percent, and only one Odinga-supporting county exceeded 75 percent turnout.
The above figures have shown that voters were more disposed to Ruto’s candidacy; Odinga was less able to mobilize voters in areas that supported him, particularly on the coast. In Mombasa county, for example, which Odinga won this year, turnout was under 44 percent, compared to just under 67 percent in 2013 and 60 per cent in August 2017.
For presidential candidates in Nigeria, the Kenyan experience is a lesson that they need to go the whole hog to mobilise their supporters to vote instead of being armchair supporters.
And glaring lesson is that transparency really helped .The Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) did not waste time in posting scanned copies of the results forms from polling stations and constituencies on its public website.
This allowed political candidates, the media, analysts and interested citizens to see the data for themselves, and, if they so wished, to conduct their own tabulations. While some misinformation surfaced, this was quickly rebutted by access to the primary data,
In the end all of its efforts came to naught as some members of the election management body contrived a crisis and refused to sign the final results, leaving the ultimate decision to the Supreme Court. The spared few harsh words for lawyers who deliberately mislead their clients, and even misrepresent facts before the court for selfish aims; this is very pertinent in Nigeria and deserves emphasis.
Second, the court frown at the act of some members of the commission, who tried to create a technical situation to voided were misguided to believe that the chairman is a sole administrator taking collective decision throughput the process, because announcement of the results does constitute the entirety of the process.
Third, the immediate announcement of results and transparent collation ensure that there was no discrepancy in the outcome and raised the level of public confidence. Finally, the early decision on the case or petition before the candidate is sworn in is very important, technical issues were not entertained.
The Justice Uwais Report, set up late president Umaru Yar’Adua, after the 2007 election, which has been allowed to gather dust, resolved this matter, that caused the nation serious headaches. Both INEC and the Court owe Nigeria a new beginning with Kenya in mind. The infamy and notoriety of the Imo state judgment must never be allowed to repeat itself because of its damage to our national image.
Business Hallmark is of the view that INEC has to continue to build confidence given the importance in our nation’s history of the 2023 presidential elections.
The country is at crossroads at different levels, given the existential conditions and threats from rising insecurity, unprecedented economic meltdown, growing unemployment, capital flights, depreciating infrastructure, collapsing educational system, frightening dimensions of corruption at all spheres of the Nigerian life , including the judiciary and a weak parliament that’s, instead of being independent and maintaining oversights, is beholden to the executive among other dysfunctions in our body politics.
For these reasons, the country needs a new set of credible leaders to rebuild the nation, and to do this, this medium strongly argues that it should not be business as usual.
There have of recent been a lot of controversies around INEC, though it has at different times allayed people’s fears and concerns that it would do the needful and proper thing, and would not sabotage the electoral process in favour of any political interest.
INEC should note that the millennials who have recently become more visible in the current democratic dispensation are watching and ready to take their destiny into their hands.
The millennials, who mainly were those involved in the #Endsars protest have lost faith in the politicians, and they can not be blamed for this, given the sorry state of affairs in the country.
The rush to collect the PVC by the young people, a development, which is unprecedented in the political history of the country, is a warning that the 2023 election will be the most protected and watched by the young people, who have shown their desire for a change in the political direction of the country. INEC should tread softly, as the fate of the country is now in its hands and therefore, it can not afford to fail, as the consequences will be dire.
The issue of voter’s registration is still contentious; this newspaper is concerned, like most Nigerians and organisations, and international community that a large population of young people of voting age have not been able to register. Yet, the electoral body is insisting it will not reopen the registration portals until after the 2023 general elections.
For us at Business Hallmark, this position would amount to disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of youths who have attained voting age.
It is our position that the electoral umpire should not constitute impediment to democracy, given that the disenfranchisement of large population of young people will amount to illegal electoral outcomes that can not reflect popular will of the people.
Business Hallmark joins millions of Nigerians to appeal to the electoral umpire to have a rethink on the issue of reopening registration portals.
On the question of conducting free and fair election, INEC has insisted it would scrupulously apply laws, particularly the Electoral Act, of 2022 without fear or favour to ensure free, fair, credible, inclusive and transparent elections in 2023. While we commend such resolve and commitment, it is evident from the Kenyan polls that it does not depend on it entirely, although it conduct is critical.
We believe that with all the innovations introduced in the new Act, such as the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED); INEC Results Viewing Portal (IRev) and other technological devices, there reasonable assurance that the brigandage of the past will be largely minimized.