How to achieve credible elections in future – Stakeholders

  • BVAS Good, But Only e-Voting Will Tame Electoral Violence – Experts
  • We Need Improved IT Base To Support BVAS In Future Elections
  • Make Political Offices Less Lucrative, Give Room For Independent Candidacy – DAWN DG
  • Lawyers Seek Electoral Act Amendment On Total Use Of BVAS
  • HURIWA Seeks Probe Of NSA, IGP, Army Chief Over Usage Of Security Votes For Election

With the widespread violence, killings, and disruptions that characterised last week’s governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, stakeholders and election observers have blamed human factors rather than the failure of the electoral process for the flawed poll.

While there was unanimity that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) introduced helped to improve the electoral process greatly, they urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to subsequently deploy electronic voting in the process to curb the large-scale violence witnessed during the poll.

A former Minister of Defence and erstwhile National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr. Olu Agunloye, blamed the flaws on human factors. He said, “the preparations in terms of laws and regulations that were put in place before the elections were good, but for the human factors and implementation. So, to say that despite the huge amount of money the country spent to prepare for the elections, the exercise failed, is a wrong perception. No amount of money the country could have spent to get credible elections could be too much. The problem, as I see it, is the fact we are still unable to govern ourselves.

“The 2023 election is one of the most prepared-for poll, in that the INEC chairman assured us of tenacity, transparency, and introduction of technology. These things were achieved and we all saw them but for the human factors and implementation. So, we all failed; not only INEC, Nigerians deliberately left what is good to choose the bad things in the last elections.”

Agunloye noted that the introduction of BVAS was one of the best things in the last election since it addressed issues of multiple voting and ballot stuffing.

To address the human factor challenges, the former Federal Road Safety comptroller general said, “Nigeria’s electoral challenges are no longer about adequate preparation and/or laws, we must re-orientate ourselves to do the right thing. For instance, despite all the processes put in place to stop vote buying, surprisingly, politicians perfected another strategy to buy votes through the of use of cards with codes written on them.”

Agunloye also stressed the need for the system to bring electoral offenders to book. National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Nwosu, however, observed that it would be difficult to propose ways of achieving credible elections in the future without INEC and government agencies responsible for supervising the elections explaining what went wrong to Nigerians.

Nwosu, who said that the last elections brought out the demons in all the political actors in the country, noted: “If anybody is saying this or that is what we can do or should do to get our electoral processes right, it is merely an academic gesture because we are yet to get any satisfactory explanation from INEC on why the election went the way we saw it.”

He also blamed government agencies that are responsible for the election process, adding that the country has a lot of hypocritical elites, who joined hands in destroying the electoral process.

On the way out, Nwosu said, “this is the time to introspect and call a meeting of those who mean well for the country, to think out solutions. Otherwise, unforeseen circumstances and forces may choose the part we would follow if we fail to act fast.”

AN election expert, Austin Aigbe, is however of the opinion that the introduction of BVAS and cash scarcity were responsible for the large scale of violence.

“Two major issues that led to the increased violence were the cash crunch and the BVAS. The politicians did not have enough cash to buy votes and because of that, they devised measures to get legitimacy and one such way was violence. In the off-season elections, we saw vote-buying. The politicians then bought votes to secure legitimacy and votes counted at that time. Now, because they were not able to buy votes during the elections, they resorted to violence.

“The second factor was the BVAS, which I have continued to insist is a game changer. Before now, politicians inflated votes in their strongholds after seeing the votes of their opponents. We could see that even in this election. We saw how results from states such as Rivers came last, even when states that are nearer to Abuja had been announced. That should give us an idea of what happened.”

Going forward, he advised INEC to subsequently deploy electronic voting in the electoral process to curb the large-scale violence witnessed during the poll.
He added: “I have advocated long before now that we must abandon ballot papers and go into electronic voting. E-voting will remove human errors in the computation process. Politicians do change results before it gets to collation centres but it we vote without ballot papers and just click on the political party on the voting machine screen, results will be collated electronically and we will not have issues of politicians changing results during the collation process.”

Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE), Hamzat Lawal, revealed law enforcement agencies must ensure that politicians bear the consequences of making incitements to put a stop to electoral violence.

Noting that elections must not be seen as a war, Lawal also suggested a change of mindset by supporters of political actors. He stated: “We need to check our poverty indicator. You see, when people are not empowered and not employed, then mischief makers and politicians will use ethnicity, religion, and region to divide the country. When people are adequately engaged, they won’t care about religion or region. I think we need to put in place measures that will curtail and checkmate this.

“We also need to make politicians understand that in every election, there must be a winner and a loser. In a democracy, there must be winners and losers. If you look at the deployment of technology by INEC, it has curbed over-voting and rigging to some extent, so, both supporters and politicians need a change of mindset.”

A human rights activist and media practitioner, Wale Adeoye, said it would be wrong for anyone to condemn the last general elections or INEC in a blanket way over the flaws witnessed.

According to him, “except we decide not to say the fact, there were many improvements and new strides in the 2023 general elections that have never happened in the electoral process in Nigeria. For example, seven sitting governors, who attempted to go to the Senate lost their elections. The introduction of the BVAS reduced a lot of election shenanigans unlike in the past. Multiple Voting and ballot box snatching were also reduced tremendously.”

On way forward, Adeoye said Nigeria must look at the issue of political structure, which, according to him, are currently owned by few moneybags that dictate who gets what in the party. “This is why we always have do or die primary elections because the people do not have strong say over who represents them.”

Adeoye added that the country must look into the issue of building a strong technology base to further improve on the BVAS. “For now, our IT structure is still bad and we could see this also affecting our banking sector. I see no reason why a single day will be set aside for Nigerians to choose their leaders, we should be able to vote via IT and over a period of the day and not necessarily go to queue.”

Also sharing a similar view with Adeoye, Director General, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), Seye Oyeleye noted that INEC did its best to improve on the last elections, though with room for more adjustment.

He said the introduction of BVAS had kick-started the process to improve on Nigeria’s electoral system “but one of the major challenges is that we do not trust ourselves in this country. To solve the electoral challenges, we must deliberately be ready to trust one another.”

Oyeleye raised the need to lessen the lucrativeness of political offices. He said it is one of the reasons politicians are desperate to win elections. “We must also look for a way to ensure that politicians don’t spend their live earnings to contest. The electoral law should also give room for independent candidates just as government must be determined to ensure that electoral offenders are punished.”
LAWYER and human rights crusader, Kabir Akingbolu, on his part, believes that putting in place an enduring electoral body would greatly help in achieving credible elections in the country.

Akingbolu, who noted that the present INEC is not independent and as effective as it ought to be, said the commission would not perform in future elections “if it keeps changing the voting methods. It started with the card reader, but it was not in the Electoral Act and the court nullified it. Later, the law recognised it after an amendment, the next thing we saw was that they changed it and started using BVAS for accreditation.

“This change caused the problems we have, today because the Commission seemed not to have mastered the usage of the machine nor did they understand the many challenges it later posed for the election. The worst thing in the usage of BVAS is that it gives room for bypass. This is a big problem for future elections. I think INEC should develop a system of voting that is enduring so as to ensure a hitch-free election.”

He also said the electronic transfer of results is not captured or provided for by the Electoral Act 2022. Therefore, it will be difficult for anybody to fault INEC for the non-usage of electronic transfer of results.

“So, whatever is in the election manual, but not captured in the 2022 Electoral Act gives the option to INEC. Not only that, if INEC fails to use BVAS, which is only provided for in the manuals and guidelines, it will suffer the same fate suffered by the card reader when the court declared it as a good innovation, but its nonusage cannot invalidate any election. To use BVAS as a means of accreditation, the electoral act needs to be amended to accommodate or recognise it.”

In another reaction, human rights activist, Ms. Abiodun Kolawole, described the last general elections as pathetic. According to her, “To get the election processes right, the country must address the issue of political parties’ structure, especially as it bothers on selection and imposition of candidates that are not the people’s choice.”

She noted that what usually escalated into a major electoral crisis starts from the party primaries, which are mostly tainted with fraud and violence perpetrated by miscreants. In many cases, the shenanigans that characterised party primaries extended into the major elections, which are unpleasant for our democracy.”

Kolawole said there should be absolute respect for the Rule of Law and strict compliance from INEC officials in respect of the transmission of results if Nigeria wants to get the process right.

While she condemned vote buying, she charged the Nigerian electorate to rise up to protect the new Electoral Act. She also emphasised the need for the judicial arm of government to allow people’s choice in elections to prevail, saying, “that arm of government must not be seen to be handicapped or demonstrate lack of independence while taking decisions on election matters or petitions.”

Another legal practitioner, Barnabas Hunjo, also said the process must begin at the level of the parties primary for any position. He said the government must look at how to address those setting the ground for violence through hate speeches and or media incitement.

According to him, “If we want to have a free and fair election in the future, at least in 2027, the issue of voters suppression, violence, intimidation must be addressed.”

GOVERNORSHIP candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the elections in Enugu state, Frank Nweke Jnr, lamented what he described as ‘a new wave of violence” in the electioneering process, saying the election was far from fair and certainly not transparent.

To combat violence, hooliganism, and other associated vices in elections going forward, Nweke said there was a need to continue interrogating the electoral system and engaging the right people to head the electoral commission.

“A situation where an electoral umpire abandons its own rules will continue to impact negatively on elections. If we have a situation where the rules are obeyed to the letter, it will improve the system and guard against robberies and other atrocities in the exercise. Take for instance, Nkanu East, Enugu State, where there was overvoting in the current election. The INEC rule said in such a situation, the outcome should be canceled. We had such cases in some polling units in the state, but when it was the turn of Nkanu East, the commission called for a review. Now instead of cancellation, they started adding and subtracting figures to benefit a political party. What you have achieved by that action is that you have encouraged those who benefited from it to do more next time. So, we will continue to push for the appointment of the right people to enable us to have a strong system that will produce results in line with the aspirations of the people,” he said.

A civil rights lawyer, Jonna Onwumere, stated that the various changes introduced in elections since 1999 were aimed at combating hooliganism and violence in the electoral process, stressing however that Nigerians have continued to witness the ugly side of elections because of the lack of will to implement laid down rules.

“For instance, the laws are there on how the police should be involved in elections management to improve security. But we have a situation where even when the police are there, they look the other way while thuggery and violence, among others, are perpetrated. These are infractions, and any day our institutions decide to be responsible, we will get our elections right.”

MEANWHILE, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has demanded the immediate probe of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd), the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali Baba and the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Lucky Irabor, on the usage of billions of naira budgeted to keep the peace during the recently held general elections in the country.

HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, raised the need to allow forensic financial auditors to ascertain how the security chiefs spent the humongous amount of monies allocated to them prior to the general elections.

The rights activist noted that it was unfortunate that security was so porous that in a lot of states, armed violent hooligans had field days dispersing, suppressing, and attacking peaceful voters.

He claimed that politicians such as governors deployed a massive amounts of cash to buy votes and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) looked the other way, especially in states controlled by the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Reminiscing over what transpired during the poll, he noted: “The Police Service Commission showed a lack of capacity and competences to provide oversight responsibility to the police, which made them exposed and opened for manipulations by political forces and moneybags all across Nigeria.

“There is the need to set up a judicial commission of investigators so they look into what happened and why there was a total lack of supervisory responsibility on the part of the superior security officers who abandoned their briefs and allowed armed violent political hoodlums to harass, attack and shoot at voters or sporadically in the air to scare away voters.

“These failings must not be allowed to slide or be permanently tolerated before impunity would become the order of the day in the armed forces of Nigeria. But to put it mildly, security breaches led to a wide-ranging security breakdown of law and order that cost many people their precious lives.

“This is not the first time that security personnel have deliberately abdicated their functions and allowed armed political thugs to unleash violence. So , the indicted people must be named, shamed and prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others.”

The Guardian

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