There were over 84 million Nigerians on the electoral roll for the 2019 general elections but only a handful of Supreme Court Justices have determined the outcome in a third of the biggest elections, indicating growing deterioration in the credibility of elections in Africa’s biggest democracy.
Analysis shows that governorship votes in 10 out of the 29 state elections conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) since February 2019, have been decided by Supreme Court Justices. The Justices also called the presidential elections.
The Supreme Court nullified or upheld elections in governorship elections in Imo, Sokoto, Oyo, Osun, Bayelsa, Kano, Zamfara, Plateau, Bauchi and Adamawa states.
This means that under Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC, Nigeria’s elections are rapidly deteriorating after the country seemed to have turned the corner from the disastrous elections conducted by former INEC chairman Maurice Iwu in 2007.
Since the 2019 elections, 736 elections petitions have been filed at the Appeal Court. This more than the 611 petitions filed in 2015 and lower than the 1,290 petitions filed in 2007.
“Since the return to civil rule in 1999, Nigeria’s electoral process has been fraught with rancour and protestations, often giving rise to a plethora of election petition cases,” said the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room report on petitions arising from the 2015 elections.
Some analysts fear the power to decide election has shifted away from the electorates. “It’s a sad occurrence that the court is now determining matters of purely political nature,” says Idayat Hassan, director at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), an Abuja-based policy advocacy and research organisation.
“It is the agency of Nigerians that are being gradually taken away by the courts,” Hassan said.
This implies that the pain Nigerians go through at elections mean nothing. On the eve of a general election, Nigerians stock up on food and fuel as their movements are restricted. The government shuts land borders, seaports and airports and patrol roads with soldiers, leaving the country feeling like it’s under a siege.
Many Nigerians complain that elections also take an economic toll. The postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 16, 2019 cost the economy over $1.16billion, using a back of the envelope estimate that divides Nigeria’s $427billion GDP in 2018 by 365 days in a year and calculating for one wasted day.
Worse still the outcomes of these elections hardly justify the expense, experts say. Lawmakers voted over N242bn to INEC for the 2019 elections, yet basic facilities were including election materials were lacking, temporary staff reportedly worked in poor conditions and the results have been hotly contested.
“There’s a need for technology in the process of election management but the issue is trust,” said Sodiq Alabi, a technology expert based in Lagos.
But the electoral law has failed to keep up. In 2017, lawmakers passed the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2017 which among other things gave INEC unfettered powers to conduct elections through electronic voting. But the president withheld assent and Yakubu has said INEC it is unprepared for it. Inquiries show the Commission is still not ready.
The argument against electronic voting is based on cost, sanctity of the process, availability of electricity to power machines and the fear that uneducated rural folks could be excluded.
However, analysis shows these concerns are not valid. Nigeria’s 2019 elections of which 84m people registered cost US$625 million which is more than the US$600 million spent on India’s 2014 elections where 553.8 million people voted electronically.
Solar energy can keep machines charged in areas without grid connections and rural folks operate ATM machines, mobile money and smart phones and know how to press a button beneath a party flag.
In India, locally made Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have replaced paper ballots in all elections. To check abuse, the Election Commission introduced EVMs with voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) system, which is essentially a printout of results.
India’s EVM, which costs US$580 in 2017 can record 3840 votes and cater to 64 candidates. It consists of a control and ballot units. Balloting unit has buttons which indicates voting details and the control unit stores vote counts and displays results.
EVMs in India can transmit results back to the Election Commission but the facility was disabled to prevent intrusion during electronic transmission of results. Results are stored in the machine and party officials sign off. When election closes, no one can alter the results.
EVMs have saved India billions of dollars hitherto used in printing ballot papers, cut the number of staff and remuneration, promote faster counts and cancel out double voting. It comes with a battery unit that lasts between 10 and 14 hours a day on a full charge and has a shelf life of 15 years. This takes care of electricity concerns.
INEC deplored over 400,000 adhoc staff including from the National Youth Service Corps who only constitute 40percent of its staff. It spent over N1.4billion to buy ballot boxes and N35billion to print ballot papers and result sheets. Electronic voting will cut these costs.
In Nigeria alone, there are over 119,000 polling units, and if such machines are in use, a hacker will need to access over 50,000 to seriously impact an election outcome.
Some analysts also blame the major political parties for the poor election outcomes. “The political parties who are the culprit in all these bad news will have to henceforth work on internal party democracy. It is the lack of internal democracy in the parties that are leading to the judicialization of politics,” said Hassan.
“The parties must not just work on internal democracy but ensure proper gatekeeping. Bayelsa, Zamfara are all eye-openers to the dominant parties,” Hassan said.
Hassan said that Nigeria has to overhaul her electoral governance, and build institutions that work effectively and act responsibly so that it can rely less on the judiciary.