Nigeria's electoral commission needs to make more of an effort for a credible run in 2015.
On November 16, 2013, Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), conducted gubernatorial elections in the country’s southeastern state of Anambra. Nigeria keeps a set electoral calendar which usually sees politicians elected into federal, state, and local government seats every four years. However, the recent Anambra vote came 15 months before the next elections scheduled for April 2015.
The elections last November were therefore seen as a test for the INEC's preparedness, especially since it organized the election for only one seat in just one state. It was expected that the INEC would deliver a superbly organized vote. Credible elections would have indicated that the electoral commission will also deliver hitch-free votes next year.
In fact, however, many Nigerians themselves did not expect the INEC to have an uneventful outing in Anambra State.
A Test for the INEC
As the election day drew near, the question Nigerians asked was: Can the INEC succeed in clamping down on the arbitrary and abrasive character of the candidates and deliver a free and fair election?
It was evident to most Nigerians that such a delivery would involve getting a lot of things right at the same time. For instance, security had to be guaranteed; adequate training of electoral officers was required; a solid and error-free logistical system to ensure the correct supply and delivery of voting materials was needed; and finally, a set counting process was necessary to ensure that the results were accurate.
During previous elections, the Nigerian electoral commission had carried a marred reputation. Things only began to change once Professor Attahiru Jega, the current chair of the INEC, took office in April 2010. Until then, Nigeria’s electoral commission was widely known to be a tool of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The 2003 election, which gave Obasanjo his second term, as well as the 2007 vote that saw his anointed successor come to power were both notoriously tarnished by widespread irregularities.
Therefore, the rise of Jega and the commendable outing of the INEC in the 2011 elections lent some credence to an electoral commission in dire need of one. At last, Nigerians could pride themselves of having entered a new era in their journey to democracy – a time marked by political engagement and respect for the people's political choices.
Easily Surmountable Challenges
This journey to a Western style of democracy, characterized by an emphasis on elections which should be free and fair, is one that Nigerians have been tutored in and have learnt to cling onto.
As a result of this growing political awareness within the country, Nigerians widely expected that the INEC would deliver a well-organized election. Instead, what they got was a poorly organized vote that was marred by avoidable logistical quagmires.
The list of the commission’s failings is rather long. However, the avoidable concerns include the late arrival of voting materials, the disappearance of voters’ names from the register, and collusion of some INEC staff with politicians in an attempt to thwart the wishes of the electorate.
Nigerians have every right to be disappointed that over ten years since its establishment, the INEC cannot organize what is relatively an uncomplicated gubernatorial election. This disappointment has led to calls from several quarters, including a major national daily, that the Anambra elections should be declared null and void.
It is a pity that the INEC could only deliver such poorly organized work, especially at a time when elections in Sub-Saharan Africa have been increasingly hailed as free and fair. While the electoral commission and Nigerian police have made curative efforts aimed at salvaging the INEC’s poor handling of the Anambra vote, including the arrest of the commission’s staff who have purportedly colluded with politicians, it is nonetheless painful that the electoral commission succumbed to avoidable mistakes.
As 2015 draws closer, Nigerians can only hope that their electoral umpire will be better prepared. In this day and age when advancements in information technology can be put to great use or disuse, the INEC must ensure that it utilizes all the resources it needs to deliver free and fair elections in Nigeria.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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