The outbreak of COVID-19 has made elections within Nigeria enormously challenging and threatens to overturn other democratic ideals including frequent political dialogues, political party campaigns and manifesto interrogations vis-à-vis active citizen participation across the state. Notwithstanding, the latest challenge of COVID-19 include the several intrigues that come into play seeking to affect the electoral process and its outcomes usually by political agents thereby making it difficult to achieve a free, fair and credible electoral outcome.
Although there have been about six successive general elections in Nigeria, there still exists a couple of bottlenecks in the process of election credibility. The amendment of the Electoral Act has attempted to make provisions for some electronic assistance in the reduction of political agents’ interference. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has introduced innovations to boost the credibility and trust of Nigerians in the electoral process such as the use of an electronic register of voters, the issuance of a chip-based Permanent Voter’ Card (PVC) to registered voters, and the use of the Smart Card Reader (SCR) for the verification and authentication of voters in 2015. The year 2019 saw the introduction of the Continuous Accreditation and Voting System (CAVS) designed to prevent the possible disenfranchisement of voters, the mandatory use of the SCR for the accreditation of voters, and the discontinuation of the use of Incident Forms to forestall the fraud or abuse by election officials or other stakeholders at the PUs.
The article thus seeks to review some of the challenges and categorize them while proffering solutions for a free and credible electoral process.
Challenges of Electoral Transparency
Despite the aforementioned improvements in the electoral system, elections appear to be losing credibility with the attendant voter apathy. The summary of the challenges of the electoral system is categorized thus:
- Violence and Intimidation: Violent disruptions in the electoral process occasioned by thugs or security forces actions, which either lead to or have the potential of leading to injuries or total/partial stoppage of the process.
- Voter Inducement: This includes activities that tend to push eligible voters to vote in favour of a particular political party or candidate. This can be monetary, gifts, or “stomach infrastructure” (food supplies given as a bribe to voters to sway the polls).
- Governance: These are issues that do not have any direct bearing with the election but are brought in because political actors are in power or have connections with people in power.
- Disenfranchisement: Issues of not being allowed to vote in elections by conscious and concerted efforts by either political thugs, polling unit agents, security forces, or party agents. This category can be on a personal or group basis.
- Natural Disaster: Incidences that are not man-made but also have adverse effects on the election or electoral process. This includes capsized boats, fire, flood, etc. Such issues can also include pandemics like in the case of the COVID-19. Even when guidelines and regulations are put in place, the voters may still not be able to fully exercise their rights.
- Intra/Inter-Party Squabbles: Issues of in-fighting within or across political parties. Issues can include counter-accusations, candidacy litigations, or substitution.
- Result declaration: Attempts to rig or manipulate already announced or yet to be announced results. It also includes results tweeted or tweets about results either through official channels or otherwise. Under this category, it is possible for mischievous elements to try to mislead the public through fake results which then casts doubts in their minds.
In planning for a free and credible electoral process, the electoral umpire must be seen to be free and fair even in the build-up to the elections. This is further driven by a lot of voter education which, in the case of Nigeria, appears not to be deliberate considering the dwindling number of voters.
Other proposals include:
More strategic engagement of the various organs of government empowered to conduct citizen education like the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, and the voter education unit of the electoral body. Such engagements should be deliberate and focused on the deployment of various languages and media to reach the grassroot populations.
Establishment of electoral offences commission and enforcement of roles and judgement of same.
To avoid misinformation and disinformation, there is a need for strategic partnership between fact-checking organizations and agencies of government referred to in 1. Fact-checking organizations should be strengthened and non-partisan.
More electoral training on citizen engagement should be done for security operatives and kitted with non-compact gears provided for election purposes.