• Friday, June 21, 2024
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Nigeria Decides 2023: How elections are stolen (2)

Six unique facts about 2023 election

By election day, 50 percent of the battle for effective, inspiring leadership has been lost because of the culture of undemocratic primaries of Nigeria’s major parties. Another 30 percent is lost to pre-election manipulation, while 15 percent is lost to outright rigging on election day. The remaining five percent we manage to wrest for ourselves is lost through judicial rigging.

The 2020 decision of the Supreme Court in the case of the Imo State gubernatorial election will haunt Nigeria for a long time. The role the judiciary has played in corrupting and delegitimising our elections deserves an entire series of its own.

In How elections are stolen (1), some of the ways in which the voter registration process, selection of election officers and interference of security forces are used to thwart the electorate were outlined. This week, it is collation centres and resident electoral commissioners and other ad-hoc election officers.

Resident electoral commissioners

The role of the resident electoral commissioner (REC) is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution in Section 14(3). It is a secure and influential role requiring two thirds of the Senate to remove a person from that role once appointed by the president. REC supervises the elections in the state, including taking responsibility for the electoral staff and verifying election results.

A REC is a god during elections and whether or not they get ‘shuffled’ around on the eve of elections, it makes no difference to those who will peddle their power. For example, in 2010, Ayoka Adebayo, Ondo State REC, was accused of announcing illegal results in the Ekiti gubernatorial elections in return for N250 million. Considering the value of the naira and the return of investment being in public office provides one, it is safe to assume that this price tag to compromise a REC is higher today.

Their discretionary powers are immense and being stationed in states for a term of five years gives governors decent time to build loyalty-inspiring relationships with them. All ad-hoc election day officials have the same opportunity to compromise elections.

Collation centres

In 2011, when I voted for the first time, I stayed doggedly at my polling unit (PU) until the votes were counted as advised. I captured the results and went home and sat in front of the television waiting to see my PU results flashing on the screen, so I could verify that INEC had the results of my PU. I am still waiting.

In the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the Federal Electoral Commission (1979-83), also known as the Babalakin Report, there is this entry: “In Kesa Ngala polling station, the actual vote for the NPN during counting at the station was 55 but when the presiding officer carried the box to the collation centre, the result was altered to 1,551.”

Falsification of results is a popular rigging tool. The violence and armed security power concentrated at collation centres (CC) during the 2019 elections are a clue to how important it is to do-or-die politicians to compromise collation.

The result sheets are absolutely critical – and despite INECs best intentions, using colour codes and watermarks for different levels of the collation process, there are still too many stories about how the results sheets are hijacked and how past blank result sheets are smuggled into the process and used – especially when there has not been adequate education of election officials about the security features of the results sheets to ensure they can spot the difference.

It is likely that over time, it is harder to change result sheets before they get to the collation centres; however, when they get there, the public would be shocked at how unprofessionally and chaotic collation is done.

Sometimes, there are not enough chairs; officers are bending over desks, or sitting on the floor, and instead of computers, officials are adding on paper with all the attendant risks of unintentional and intentional adding errors.

As of June 2021, Nigeria had 176,846 PUs nationally – verifying and adding the results at ward, local government and state level is a massive operation that requires organisation, excellent logistics and people with project management skills that are typically missing from those collating votes.

Read also: 2023: Most presidential aspirants running around now should be in jail – Obasanjo

What to do?

The most important thing to do to mitigate the risk of abuse of powers by RECs and election officials is to improve transparency. First, we must make it harder to manipulate election results at CCs by returning to the way we voted in 2015, which is: accreditation first, public counting and announcement of those accredited, so we know the exact number of voters accredited in our PU before we start voting.

Then we vote, count the votes, announce results and fill out the result sheets. Cumbersome and more time consuming, yes but necessary to do from our history.

Second, we need the results of all 176,846 PUs published on INEC’s website within two weeks – if we collate the way we should – using excel spreadsheets and matching the result sheets to the numbers in the spreadsheet, we should not need more time for this.

With electronic transmission of results and use of technology and applications, we can ensure that within weeks, millions of Nigerians become agents of election verification by cross-checking the published results for their individual PUs with what they witnessed at their PUs. This will improve the perception of integrity of our elections and likely increase voter turnout for the next elections.

Third, civil society organisations and private sector should collaborate with INEC on how to secure the best, most secure, public buildings for collation. INEC’s review of the 2019 general election admits that the inability to secure the right kind of CCs i.e., securable perimeters, electricity, water and restrooms, etc. have contributed to the invasion and compromise of CCs. Eleven months to the election, INEC should be able to confirm that it has learnt from the mistakes of 2019 and has since built a database, from previous elections and scouting of suitable public buildings adequate to accommodate collation in 2023.

Finally, we must care who the RECs and other ad-hoc election officials are; we monitor them, engage them on our aspirations for the elections and expose those within our communities whose track record indicates that they will not be worthy supervisors of our elections. Nigerians have an opportunity to influence the next 22 RECs who will be appointed before the 2023 elections by following the process and taking time to investigate and vet all nominees carefully to ensure we have a more level playing field in 2023.

While the idea, since 2011, of selecting academics from tertiary institutions to make up the ad-hoc team of collation and returning officers is a good one, more care needs to be taken into their selection. There is value in being random, but the list from which academics are selected and deployed (they should not cover areas where they work and live) must be vetted to ensure that only those with some technological skills, e.g. excel and strong ethical values, are selected. We must also expand the pool of ad-hoc officers beyond academics – with all the stories of corruption, sexploitation and sale of results and handouts – it is not a given that every professor has integrity. The growing sense of citizens that their role is an important one and the increased interest in protecting elections and democracy means that we have a large poll of Nigerians with integrity and the required skills to volunteer to serve as election officers. The state of Nigeria is too dire to continue to be lackadaisical about those who continually compromise our elections.

Various stakeholders desirous of improving the credibility of elections have to continue to push for reforms, inch by inch, cycle to cycle, until we have the advancements that will give Nigerians more confidence to take part in elections as voters and candidates.

Ayisha Osori, author of ‘Love Does Not Win Elections,’ will be writing for the Nigeria Decides 2023 series every second and fourth Wednesday of the month