NO OPTION TO DEMOCRACY
The conduct of the 2019 Nigerian general election was largely peaceful in many parts of the country. Yet, there were a number of logistic and security issues that dogged the conduct of this year’s general election.
First, the date of the Presidential and National Assembly elections was shifted from 16th February 2019 to 3rd March 2019 in the early hours of E-day while Governorship and State House of Assembly elections was postponed from 3rd March to 9th March 2019. This attracted widespread condemnation by Nigerians and the international community and contributed to low turnout of voters during the 2019 general election.
The public expectation after the postponement was that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would put its acts together and ensure that the conduct of the elections on the postponed dates was impeccable. Unfortunately, that was hardly the case as the elections were blighted by perennial tardy logistics such as late arrival of election materials to polling units, failure of data capture machines in some polling units and poor knowledge of election rules by many INEC ad hoc staff. Furthermore, desperate politicians with an agenda to manipulate the electoral process to their own advantage played out the script of ballot box snatching, intimidation of election officials, waylaying of collation centres and general perpetration of violence.
While INEC should be commended for insisting on the use of card readers for elections in every part of the country and for issuing a policy statement that no election result obtained through duress would be validated by issuance of certificate of return, it is clear that these pronouncements hardly served as sufficient deterrence to those bent on foisting the rule of the jungle on our election process.
Despite the fears expressed by Nigerians with respect to the deployment of the military during elections, soldiers were deployed presumably to preempt ballot box snatching, destruction of voting materials and arrest any drift to widespread violence. While the deployment of the military was helpful in preventing skirmishes from different local hotspots from degenerating into society-wide brigandage, the conduct of some soldiers deployed in some parts of the country to maintain public order left a lot to be desired.
First, contrary to the judgements of Federal High Courts in Sokoto and Lagos which were later upheld by the Court of Appeal in the legal suit – “Yussuf vs Obasanjo” – and which stated that the job of maintaining security during elections primarily resides with the Police, some military personnel went outside their duty call to invade polling units and collation centres, and intimidate election officials, conducts that were in violation of our laws and scared many voters from exercising their franchise. Also, the deployment of military personnel to harass political rivals was a new low in our electoral history and presents a serious setback to recent electoral reform gains. We call on the military high command to investigate these infractions and bring the culprits, whoever they are, to book as a deterrence to others.
Going forward, there is need for serious national conversations on critical areas of improvement in the conduct of elections in Nigeria. We also call for a sincere revisit of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Report especially as it relates to reinforcing INEC’s independence, unbundling of INEC and setup of Elections Offences Commission. We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to show commitment to implementing aspects of Uwais Report which relevance is validated by recent developments in our electoral space. We also demand that INEC must ensure free, fair, and credible elections in some states where the process was declared inconclusive and polls rescheduled for 23rd March 2019.
Efforts must also be re-doubled to develop a new national civic culture that venerates the rule of law. The trend where politicians consider themselves successful to the extent that they are able to manipulate our electoral laws, maim and kill their fellow citizens, bribe voters and perpetrate all sort of electoral shenanigans must be put to a stop!
INEC shares some responsibilities in the shortcomings witnessed during the last general elections. First, despite the insistence by INEC on the use of card readers for the election, the purported failure of the card readers to read the finger prints of the electorates in many polling units resulted to widespread use of manual accreditation which many politicians took advantage of to deploy hired hands to vote with multiple Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) even in the absence of the authentic owners of the PVCs. We call on INEC to completely outlaw the use of manual accreditation for voting. We also call for continuous audit of the voters roll. We must take advantage of technological advancement and work with all relevant stakeholders to deploy technology in a way that minimizes to the barest human interference with our electoral process as a nation. INEC must stick to early planning and adequate training of personnel deployed on election duties.
Finally, in the spirit of the peace accord signed by the major political parties prior to the 2019 general election, we urge all persons aggrieved by the conduct of the elections to refrain from self-help. Those with genuine grievances should resort to the legal process for the redress of all wrongs.
As patriots who are committed to nation building, we have no other option but to collectively work towards the sustenance, improvement and deepening of our democracy. There is no option to democracy!
Comrade Amechi Asugwuni
Nigeria Labour Congress
13th March 2019