In addition to being marred with irregularities and violence, the electoral process in Nigeria has several pitfalls that hinder its fairness and participative nature. The recently concluded presidential election in Nigeria was trailed by some abnormalities in spite of the huge budgetary allocation dedicated to the process. In order to pilot the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’ s implementation of the 2019 elections, Mahmood Yakubu was appointed Chairman of the commission in October 2015.
Unfortunately, a 189 billion naira ($522,821,571) budget and four years later, the conduct of the 2019 presidential elections left much to be desired. In the wake of the 2011 and 2015 elections, INEC, other organizations and individual researchers made valuable recommendations on how to improve and democratize Nigeria’s electoral process. Their emphasis however ranged from issues like campaign expenditure limits to election security and rigging. Most of the recommendations provided here are new and are based on good practices from the electoral processes of other countries:
- Adequate Preparation to Forestall Postponement
Postponing elections have become somewhat of an electoral tradition in Nigeria, as elections have been postponed for the past three election cycles starting from 2011. Nonetheless, the postponement of a process to which four years and billions of naira were dedicated is still inexcusable. In preparation for the 2023 elections, the government and all bodies involved in the electoral process should work to ensure that adequate preparative measures are adopted and implemented. According to the official statement read by the INEC chairman, the election was rescheduled due to “logistics and operational” reasons. These are definitely reasons that can and should be avoided in future elections. The postponement not only cost Nigerians and Nigeria a lot of resources- the loss is pegged at N196 billion ($542,185,333)- but it also caused an embarrassment on a global scale.
For a country as populous as Nigeria, seeking alternatives to the traditional waiting-in-line registration and voting system should not be an option but a necessity.
- Seeking Options to Manual Registration and Voting
Due to the dangers and physical stress associated with the registration and voting system that Nigeria operates, voting in Nigeria is in itself, a patriotic act. The process is almost torturous as citizens find themselves on long queues in makeshift voting centers that lack chairs, umbrellas or other provisions that can lighten the discomfort of waiting to vote. For a country as populous as Nigeria, seeking alternatives to the traditional waiting-in-line registration and voting system should not be an option but a necessity. Below are some of the proposed options:
- Automatic Voters Registration: In France, citizens are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18. In Sweden, eligible voters are registered via tax registration rolls and in United States’ Oregon, voters can be automatically registered once they turn 18 or once they request or renew their driver’s license. This method is not only cost effective but it also boosts the rate of voters’ registration and consequent voting. Taking into account the system’s current weaknesses in birth registration and other identification data, it is however arguable that adopting models from well-organized countries in Europe and America might not be realistic for Nigeria.
Nonetheless, automatic registration could be put in place for those whose identity documents have been confirmed and used for previous elections. Furthermore, a system should be put in place to register new voters on a permanent basis and not just before every election. In the run up to the 2019 elections, many Nigerians were discouraged by the time and stress involved in the registration process and some of those who were successful at the registration stage, were not able to access their permanent voters’ cards. Hence, they could not participate in the voting process. Implementing automatic voters’ registration increases accuracy and curbs potential for fraud.
The electoral process in Nigeria which requires you to be physically present to vote where you registered disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of Nigerians especially police officers and INEC adhoc staff. In the United States, provision is made for absentee voting and this provision enables persons who are physically absent from their assigned locations to participate in the voting process.
- Digitalizing the Electoral Process: The processes of voting, counting and collation of votes are usually still done manually in Nigeria and this causes significant glitches that could compromise the integrity of the election. Besides reducing the potential for error, digitalizing the process also saves time and human resources. Furthermore, digitalizing the election process is more climate friendly. The heap of papers used during elections further contributes to the depletion of the environment and climate change. A digital-based process will also prevent the possibility of street thugs or area boys from hijacking ballot boxes or burning votes. Digitalizing the electoral process may not be the silver bullet to all of Nigeria’s electoral problems but it is a step in a good direction.
INEC should put in place a system that ensures that persons who present themselves as candidates have the expressed backing of a specific percentage of the population. In Senegal, every prospective candidate is expected to submit a list of eligible voters from different regions totaling between 0.8 and 1% of the electorate that support his candidacy.
- Validating Candidacy Based on Expressed Electorate Support
It was outrageous and borderline ridiculous that there were seventy-three candidates in the just concluded presidential election in Nigeria. Some of these candidates are unknown to the populace and are fully aware of their inability to win votes. It was therefore not surprising that twelve of the seventy-three candidates withdrew from the presidential race on the eve of the elections and endorsed the candidacy of the incumbent President- Muhammadu Buhari. This was a waste of the nation’s resources as the electoral commission had already printed ballot papers and documents with their names and party logos on them.
To reduce such incidences, INEC should put in place a system that ensures that persons who present themselves as candidates have the expressed backing of a specific percentage of the population. In Senegal, every prospective candidate is expected to submit a list of eligible voters from each region totaling between 0.8 and 1% of the electorate that support his candidacy. Implementing a similar system in Nigeria will definitely reduce the number of candidates, hence, clarifying the political offer to the electorate and reducing cost. The process, however, has to be fair and transparent especially when determining the required percentage of electorate support. This is to ensure that it does not further favour the well-established (and rich) parties.
- Enfranchisement of Nigerians in Diaspora
In a lecture delivered by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and The Diaspora, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa in 2017, it was noted that there are currently about 15 million Nigerians in various parts of the world. Unfortunately, during every election period, these 15 million Nigerians are deprived of the right to vote in their next set of leaders. There have been attempts by the Independent National Electoral Commission to allow for diaspora voting but there has been no concrete progress in this regard. This should be one of the key considerations in the 2023 general elections.
Reforming Nigeria’s Electoral Act to enfranchise over 15 million citizens in the diaspora is vital to ensuring participation and consolidating Nigeria’s democracy. Involving the diaspora in the electoral process could have a positive impact on Nigerian politics and also encourage the diaspora to further contribute to the country’s economic growth. Countries like Botswana, Mozambique and Senegal all have provisions in their Constitutions that allow their citizens in the diaspora to vote. This is an electoral practice that Nigeria should emulate.
- Facilitating the voting process for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)
Democracy emphasizes inclusion and the electoral process should not be designed to alienate the population of persons living with disabilities in Nigeria. According to the National Population Commission, no fewer than 19 million persons live with disability in Nigeria. In spite of this relatively large population of PWDs, the electoral process does not seem to fully take their needs into consideration. The Continuous Voter Registration CVR centers and polling units are sometimes not easily accessible to persons living with disability. Though it must be noted that INEC adopted a PWD Framework in 2018, the fact still remains that more intentionality has to be put into the process to ensure inclusion of PWDs.
Publishing documents and organizing sensitization workshops on the theme of PWD voting is not enough if it is not followed up with concrete actions that increase the accessibility of the process. At every polling unit, special booths should be dedicated to PWDs. It will also be a giant leap towards inclusion if provisions are made for PWDs whose conditions imply the absence of fingers, hence the impossibility to thumb print.
- Prosecuting Electoral Offences
As noted by a Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung paper authored by Festus Okoye, “electoral malpractice and prosecution of electoral offences is a mute issue in Nigeria.” Hence, it is no wonder that politicians continue to recruit youths as political thugs and the recruited youths willingly snatch or burn ballot boxes without fear of punishment. Albeit there have been several arrests on electoral issues, the prosecution and conviction rates leave much to be desired. Furthermore, due to the fact that the traditional courts are usually overwhelmed with cases, it is advisable to set up a Tribunal that deals with electoral offenses. This will not only deter miscreants from committing electoral fraud but it will also allow for peaceful elections.
It should however be noted, that Nigeria’s federal government is already proposing the passage of the Electoral Offenses Commission and Tribunal Establishment Bill. INEC should be applauded for their voter education efforts through their website and Social Media channels in the just concluded elections. However, recording a total of 1.2 million rejected votes shows that more can be done to better educate voters. Furthermore, to prevent claims of bias, INEC should ensure that voting methods are uniform across the country. If card readers are used in Borno, they should also be used in Anambra.
If the above-mentioned measures are put in place ahead of the 2023 elections, inclusion will be promoted and democracy, consolidated. Given the electoral history of Nigeria, it is however difficult to disagree with Pius Adesanmi, Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University, that these recommendations are “learnable lessons that will not be learned before 2023”.
Photo credit: CHATHAM HOUSE