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Logistics deployment, security and legal framework for the conduct of future elections in Nigeria are some of the fundamental issues that would be on the front burner during the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) review of the 2019 general election this May and June.
The February/March general election conducted by INEC were severely marred by poor logistics deployment, evident in the nationwide late arrival of election materials and poll officials, faulty smart card readers; security threats resulting in violent disruption of polls and poor legal framework culminating in inconclusive elections and suspension of polls in some cases.
According to the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room preliminary report, 58 people were killed during the elections. It also and expressed worries over excessive military involvement in the elections, particularly in the South-South and South-East, specifically Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Imo states.
The group, which raised serious concern over the shortcomings of the elections, said there was prevalence of vote-buying in Adamawa, Sokoto, Lagos, Delta, Enugu, Ekiti, Bauchi, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kwara, Zamfara, Kebbi, Oyo, Kano and Osun States within the range of N500 and N5,000.
It demanded an independent inquiry into the exercise and condemned the spate of violence as well as bloodshed, especially in Rivers State in the governorship and House of Assembly elections.
Apparently responding to the unfavourable assessments of the 2019 polls by international and domestic observer groups, public analysts and Nigerians generally, INEC at its postmortem meeting after the elections resolved to review the 2019 general election in May/June to evaluate its performance during the last polls.
Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Voter Education and Publicity, while announcing the resolution said: “The Commission approved a proposal to conduct an extensive review and debriefing on the 2019 general election, in line with its existing practice.
“This is intended to evaluate the Commission’s performance of the key activities of the general elections with a view to addressing identified challenges and strengthening operational and institutional capacities to conduct free, fair, credible and peaceful elections.
“The review will focus on the planning, organisation, conduct and coordination of the general elections, particularly on the following: Logistics, procurement and deployment of personnel and materials. Continuous Voter Registration and Collection of permanent voter’s cards, legal environment of the elections, particularly the legal challenges experienced over nomination of candidates and conduct of elections.
“Processes of party registration, party primaries and nomination of candidates; quality of ad hoc staff, Relationship between the Commission and diverse stakeholders, including political panics security agencies, civil society organisations, the media and development partners; and quality of inclusivity of the elections, particularly regarding persons with disability, lDPs and gender balance.
“Two sets of activities are envisaged in the reviews as follows: (a) internal reviews involving National Commissioners, resident electoral commissioners; electoral officers, collation and returning officers as well as other key staff of the Commission; (b) Review meetings with key stakeholders such as political parties, civil society organisations, security agencies, the media and development partners.
“These reviews and debriefing will take place between May and June 20l9. The Commission has commenced work on a comprehensive report of the 2019 general election and has mandated its Electoral Institute to undertake detailed research into various aspects of the elections. It is the Commission’s hope that the outcomes of these reviews and studies will feed into further electoral reforms and its preparations for handing and future elections”.
Okoye recently reiterated that the issues that would dominate consultations with stakeholders during the review include: deployment of personnel and materials; opening of polls, voting processes and performance of equipment; counting, collation and declaration of results; operation of the national situation room, election management and support centre.
Others are: “Challenges of violence, disruption of electoral process, kidnapping of key election staff, non-use of Smart Card Readers; audit of key processes and procedures; reverse logistics; storage of election materials; addressing electoral offences; handling of election petition and review of election observation report and recommendations”.
He further said the Commission would propose far-reaching changes in the nation’s electoral processes.
According to the INEC spokesman, one of these is the disposal of all pre-election cases before elections, adding that the extant law whereby pre-election cases are yet to be concluded on the eve of elections makes the Commission’s work difficult.
He stated that, “This keeps the Commission on edge to the Election Day. It makes it difficult for the Commission to produce sensitive materials ahead of time. The Commission will prefer a timeframe and timeline that allows for the disposal of all pre-election matters before elections.
“The Commission will work with the National Assembly and propose alterations to the constitutional and legal framework on critical issues that pose challenges to the conduct of the 2019 elections.
“The Commission will also follow closely the pronouncements and judgments of the various courts and tribunals on novel constitutional and electoral issues and incorporate them into our proposal and electoral reforms”.
Meanwhile, ahead of the planned review of the 2019 general election by INEC, stakeholders have made recommendations on what INEC should consider during the review and subsequent elections to correct anomalies that characterised the polls.
For instance, Clement Nwankwo, convener of Situation Room told INEC to commence an independent inquisition into the conduct of the exercise even as he condemned the role of the Nigerian Army in the polls.
Nwankwo recommended that the Executive arm of government should not carry out the inquiry on the grounds that it is an interested party.
“Situation Room is calling for an inquiry into what happened with the 2019 election because against the background of what happened and we step over it and lay it under the carpet and claim we are heading to 2023, then we are going to be in serious disaster. And I don’t think anybody in INEC should be doing countdown to 2023.
“What we should be doing is asking the question: what happened with 2019? Unless we answer that question, there can’t be no countdown to 2023 because it means that we will all have wasted our time and simply pretending that we are observing elections”.
Similarly, the Inter-party Advisory Council asked INEC to critically review election security, quality of election staff, election time table, and legal framework for elections in the country as it called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law.
“The Roundtable calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill into law when re-presented to him by the National Assembly to save the country from the problems associated with the extent law.
“In order to address dwindling turnout of voters after the first election and increase the zeal to elect credible leaders, The Roundtable recommends the conduct of the three principal elections, viz; Presidential/National Assembly election, Governorship/State Assembly elections and Chairmanship/Councillorship elections on the same day. This will save cost, ensure emergence of quality leadership, the integrity of the ballot, large voter turnout and guarantee improved security on Election Day.
“INEC should strengthen the capacity of its polling staff through training and retraining, particularly on the handling of the card readers, assisting voters as well as other electoral procedures to ensure transparency and credibility during future elections.
“INEC should consider, recruiting permanent staff whose schedule should be collation of results, train them thoroughly for the assignment to save the nation the embarrassment of adhoc collation officers.
“Efforts must be intensified to ensure proper coordination of Inter Agency Committee on Election Security (ICES) and the non-partisan deployment of security personnel to all the polling units to ensure peaceful conduct of polls.”
Idayat Hassan, director, Centre for Democracy and Development, noted that, “INEC has a lot to do on the management of logistics, welfare of adhoc staff and improvement on the coalition process,” as it reviews the 2019 general election and prepares for future polls.
On the other hand, Solomon Gbenga, National Youth Director of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) who said the proposed review of the 2019 general election is another academic exercise and effort in futility, charged INEC to work out modalities for even distribution of Permanent Voter Cards.
“If you ask me, I will say INEC proposal for a review of 2019 general election is actually another means of fraud to the nation and it’s not deserved. We have suffered enough in the hands of this particular body/set of government and in my candid opinion, I will say they should just leave us alone as a country to suffer and lick the wounds they inflicted on us all.
“To start with, in 2019 throughout the nation and at all levels there was no election in Nigeria; so, saying they want to review what didn’t hold/take place sounds and looks fraudulent to me in the first instance. The people trusted their lives, future and destiny to INEC; they went all out, suffered for days to get their PVC which is supposed to be stress-free and some people slept at collection centres just to make sure their vote will count. But the result was fruitless in most cases as we had to wait for our cases to either be settled in court or by a means of re-run which shows the actual inefficiency of the said Commission.”
Gbenga further said: “INEC is supposed to be the umpire to every election held in Nigeria and they are supposed to be fair in their judgment but in the case of 2019, it was like they came out to work for some certain individuals and this frustrated the nation as a whole. INEC being the umpire of the election made matters worse; first, by making election too expensive because in most cases politicians were saving for campaigns, elections and then court cases which in a normal situation is not supposed to be.
“I am talking from a strong point of view because in the just concluded elections, I participated fully by casting my votes at all levels and contesting too but the will of the people was left out and never saw the light of day as malpractice took over the day. So as for me there is nothing to be reviewed”, Gbenga lamented.
James Kwen, Abuja