Every election year evokes fear nationwide, partly because the electoral body (INEC) almost always skews the electoral process to favour particular candidates or sections of the country. Though INEC officials are quick to deny wrongdoings in their public statements and on radio and TV programmes, this year does not promise to be different. There is no sign that the 2019 general election starting next week will be free, fair or credible.
Yet, this year’s polls ought not to be preceded or accompanied by tension. The presidential election is simply a contest between two northern Muslims in the APC and the PDP. No geopolitical zone should feel too strongly about either candidate, and the vice-presidential slot is not one any zone should be excited about. If anything goes wrong, therefore, the blame should rest squarely on INEC and security agents, both institutions sustained by public funds and which ought to be impartial. They have no reason to show preference for one party over another.
INEC started failing from the time it began the continuous voter registration (CVR) last year. Certain areas lacked registration materials and competent registration officials. Queues stretched as far as the eye could see. The result was that many were frustrated and thus were disenfranchised. In certain other areas, however, the process proceeded smoothly, and even foreigners and little children got registered.
One issue concerns the permanent voter cards and their collection. Irregular registration must have given rise to non-collection of PVCs: either they belong to non-existent people (and therefore meant to be purchased by fraudulent politicians) or their owners live far from where they were registered (and thus see no value in travelling long distances just to pick a “near-worthless” PVC, since they believe the elections have been rigged).
Another act of discrimination by INEC has been noticed in the current recruitment of ad-hoc staff: returning officers, collation officers, presiding officers, polling clerks and others already hired or being hired are mainly people whose names were prepared in government houses and handed to INEC. Of course, most of them are partisan politicians. On Election Day, voting materials will arrive late in some places but will be delivered promptly in other places. The card reader is likely to malfunction in certain zones but work efficiently in other zones. “Incident forms”, ostensibly banned by INEC, may still resurface in some areas but get missing in other areas. Result sheets may be stolen on the way to some towns but remain intact until they are delivered to other towns.
After conducting six rounds of election in this Fourth Republic, INEC ought to have got its bearings right. Thousands of fraudsters and political thugs should have been in jail now to serve as a lesson to future criminals. By now, election petitions would have become rare. What is INEC up to this year?
At this time, we can only suggest ways to ameliorate an already bad situation. And we advise political parties to muster enough will and resources to give INEC and security agents close marking as they distribute sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials. Trucks and vans are currently moving these materials across states, and from the vaults of one branch of the Central Bank to another. Opposition parties in particular should not wait until Election Day to monitor movements of electoral materials. Computers in INEC’s situation room and collation centres should be examined properly by tech-savvy members of parties. Result sheets (appropriately numbered) must be sighted and examined before materials are moved to polling stations.
Now is the time for parties to ensure that genuine members are recruited as their agents in polling stations. No polling booth must be spared! It is also time to establish lines of communication with the police, INEC, army, DSS and other authorities involved in the polls. Vigilant party members can put them on their toes and, if need be, counter fraudulent activities that may be perpetrated through these institutions. Many international observers are already in the country; they will be watching events closely too.
INEC and security agencies say they are ready for the polls. Let us believe them. Next week, we shall see the preparations they have made, and we shall continue to point out their failings and strong points. Nigeria deserves peace.
With: The Oracle Today