As Nigerians prepare for the crucial 2015 elections, the role of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is very important in delivering the election without hiccups or at least in such a manner that the outcome will be acceptable to a large majority of the people. Many Nigerians would love to see a situation where the outcome of the polls is determined largely by the votes of the people, and not by the courts, which tantamount to an individual deciding for the population who becomes what after a bungling have taken place.
So far, the statements and actions coming out of INEC shows an institution that appreciates the enormous responsibility facing it and one who is keen on having a good result. Recently, the commission held a well- attended and strategic retreat in Kaduna where the INEC boss, Professor Attahiru Jega impressed on the staff of the commission the importance of the task ahead and how they should strive to meet the expectations of the people. He also appealed to them to allow transparency and probity to guide their conduct.
The point is that while indeed it is the constitutional responsibility of INEC to organise and deliver a credible election, all Nigerians are also duty bound to contribute their quota to a successful election. Previous elections since 1999 have been marred by a high degree of thuggery, violence and killings while ballot box snatching and stuffing by paid thugs, party agents and security men have been rife. Most times these criminal acts are perpetrated with the knowledge and participation of INEC officials. INEC has a challenge here.
We said above that the credibility of an election is questionable if at the end of the day, it is one man sitting as a judge in a court that determines who wins. It would mean that the entire resources, preparation and resources invested in the polls, as well as the time put in by the average voter have been in vain. For this reason, INEC should strive with the support of the government and people to ensure that the voters register is in good shape and that the register is clear enough for most voters to locate their names and cast their ballot. Incidences of voter disenfranchisement caused by a contentious voter register and the usual logistical problems that mars INEC’s effort in past polls should be checked.
Yet another issue, related to the above that can mar the credibility of an election, and the legitimacy of those declared winners is the number of votes cast when compared to the number of registered voters. The INEC time- table and order of elections come in here.
In the INEC time- table released recently for the 2015 polls, it is curious that INEC fixed the all-important presidential election first while the others namely, governorship, National Assembly and State Assemblies are to come later. One is of the view that INEC did not show enough sensitivity and assumes that Nigerians would dutifully file out every weekend to still vote in an election where their favoured party or candidate had already lost say in the presidential poll. Second, the question should be asked, ‘why can we hold all elections in one day, and let INEC take a whole week to complete the release of results rather than the current scattered one with its huge cost and demand on the voters and election personnel?
The Presidential elections mean a lot to many people. If for any reason, INEC cannot organise all elections in one day, and ensure with one stroke, a high voter turn- out in all the votes, the commission given the crucial nature of the polls and the possibility of violence breaking out in some parts of the country, should have listed the election for the number one position, as the last in the series. The thinking here is that voters who would have become fatigued voting for state assemblymen, national assembly members etc, would still muster the energy to file out to vote in the presidential poll.
The way INEC has prepared its order of elections makes one apprehensive that if there is controversy, violence or fighting after the announcement of the result of the presidential election, we might as well say good-bye to all the other polls. Perhaps, INEC is looking forward to the security personnel containing the situation. That is true; but the aggrieved may boycott the remaining polls thereby giving the victorious party the liberty to engage in ballot stuffing with crooked INEC officials!
If the scenario above plays out, the credibility of the 2015 polls will be in doubt, the legitimacy of the emergent winners will be questionable while in most cases, one man, a judge would be the ultimate decider of the winner thus wasting all the resources and energies put into the exercise.
Mohammed Alhassan wrote from Maitama, Abuja.