Compromising the integrity of the election is responsible for many political crises in many countries. The civil war fought in Nigeria (1966-1970) was remotely connected to the heavily rigged 1965 elections in the old Western Region.
Stealing of votes led to bitter and violent protests, a chaotic situation which some young, adventurous army officers believed they had a duty to salvage. Subsequently, the Federal coalition government was overthrown in a military coup of January 15, 1966, setting off chains of events that led to the civil war.
It is sad that members of the National Assembly, NASS, have not been able to pass the amended Electoral Act, designed to deploy technology into Nigeria’s electoral processes.
However, there is hope now for passage of the Bill given that the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, has promised in his 2021 New Year message that the Senate will ensure the Bill is passed before the second quarter of this year.
Indeed, the country desperately needs far-reaching electoral reforms. With electronic accreditation, uploading and e-transmission of results, the electoral process will become much more difficult to manipulate or steal from without leaving digital footprints.
Recently, an election observer group, Yiaga Africa, gave the verdict that the conduct of the just-concluded legislative bye-elections into 15 Senatorial and State Constituencies fell short of expectations, especially in polling units where the political class manipulated the results as usual.
According to the group, reports of kidnapping of INEC officials, destruction of voting materials and snatching of election results to truncate the process were prevalent in the last by-elections.
The observer group submitted that the country would do better with the passage of the electoral amendment bill to confer legality on the use of technology such as electronic accreditation and e-transmission of results.
Recurring electoral malfeasance, low turnout, commercialisation of votes and assault on voting rights underscore the need for NASS to prioritise electoral reforms. Besides, the reforms are more likely to strengthen INEC’s independence and deliver a process that inspires voters’ confidence.
The success of the Electoral Reforms Bill, if passed will, however, depend on the capacity of the state to prosecute electoral offenders and the law enforcement agencies to be effective and fair. People will always attempt to interfere in elections.
When the law enforcement agencies are weak or corrupt, politicians hire armed thugs and use them to steal the votes. The citizens, on their own part, must desire and demand free, fair and transparent elections. We must shun any act, as individuals, that could compromise the elections. Civil society organisations and election monitoring groups also need to expand and increase pressure on government and electoral authorities as INEC.
As Yiaga Africa observed, “INEC should continue to review its voting processes to allow voters to cast ballots without interference and intimidation.
“We must also invest more in voter education and mobilisation and refrain from vote buying and resorting to violence in elections. Elections should be about the people and debate of policies that will ensure inclusive growth and development.”