The Election Planning & Monitoring Story, a 240-Page Coffee Book by the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council, highlights the tough but rewarding 49-Day 2019 campaign undertaken by the Council that culminated in the victory for President Muhammadu Buhari.
In the old dispensation and since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria has always operated a multi-party political system. With mergers and alliances, it can be said that only two or three political parties have maintained strong footings in the polity. Since 1999, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had controlled the Presidency and the National Assembly until the 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections which the current President, Muhammadu Buhari, on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), won.
In 2015, the presidential candidate of the APC emerged after keenly contested primaries by aspirants such as Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwanso, Sam Nda-Isaiah and Owelle Rochas Okorocha at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, on December 10, 2014. Muhammadu Buhari polled 3,430 votes to get the ticket of the party after the delegates had voted. His votes outnumbered those of former Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwanso and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who got 974 and 954 votes, respectively. While Owelle Rochas Okorocha got 624, Sam Nda-Isaiah scored 10 votes as 16 voided votes were recorded.
In 2019, it was a different ball game as the APC chose the American-style direct presidential primaries. The primaries took place on Friday, September 28, 2018, and held across the states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). President Buhari, who was the sole aspirant, polled a total of 14, 842, 072 votes to be declared as the party’s candidate.
After the presidential primaries by the different political parties, candidates emerged. There were about 30 candidates who were poised to wrest power from the President Buhari-led All Progressives Congress. There were contenders like Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, Donald Duke of the SDP, Omoyele Sowore of the AAC, Kingsley Moghalu of the YPP, and many others. But after the 2019 Presidential election held on February 23, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari won his re-election bid as he polled 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, who polled 11,262,978 to lose the election with a margin of 3,928,869 votes.
Through the book, many issues around the 2019 elections were brought to the fore, one of which is strengthening of institutions around elections.
It showed that for us to advance our democracy further, institutions around the conduct of credible elections must be strengthened reasonably.
The electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), must be transparent and seen to be independent. They should also be provided with every needed support and legislation in order to effectively carry out their responsibilities. Adequate provisions should equally be made for proper security of properties, electoral materials and personnel to avoid reoccurrence of ugly incidences which would have truncated the entire process. The ad hoc staff often recruited must be adequately trained in good time before the commencement of elections in order to be accustomed to equipment and materials used in the electoral process. Adequate budget for the welfare of the ad-hoc staff should also be looked into to avoid issues witnessed in most places where some were forced to sleep on bare floor in the course of the exercise.
The judiciary should be positioned to handle matters arising from political party primaries in good time to avoid creating uncertainties and logistics challenge for the electoral body. Security agencies should also be given adequate training to handle cases that may arise before, during and after elections.
Before now, winning elections and emergence of winners had been herculean tasks. It is obvious that there is great need for proper documentation. Proper documentation will greatly take care of the usual tussle and violence associated with acceptance of winners. The opposition parties will have to look at the processes culminating in the winning of elections and can build memories looking at the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the 2019 as point of reference.
Political parties in Nigeria must as matter of urgency appreciate the role of technology and data collation in future elections. The old ways must be discarded as more Nigerians are embracing the use of technology in their daily lives. Political campaigns must be structured to be technology driven as more people for fear of violence shun the campaigns grounds and may not connect with their messages.
In the words of Babatunde Raji Fashola, senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), head of APC Directorate of Election Planning and Monitoring: “Those who want to defeat us, must first be able to outthink us”.
Delivering some key nuggets, Fashola, who led over 350 members of the EP&M Directorate, noted that political parties desirous of winning elections in the near future must put in place a great team to do the thinking.
The team must be able to draw up a Pre-Election plan, Election Day plan and Post Election plan.
They must deliver a data-driven campaign using polling and other election related data.
They should able to collate and manage datasets of polling unit agents, train polling agents, provide strategy, equip and staff the National Situation Room.
Political parties must fund Strategic Teams (War Rooms) that aid better performance at elections through the use of data gathering and use of media. Aside pre-election plans, political parties should put it place a team to monitor and track delivery of election materials on election days proper. They should be able to provide crisis support, collect intelligence from field agents to protect the interest of their, escalate incident and security issues to the relevant agencies. The team should equally be able to articulate a plan and coordinate post-election events and crisis management.
For APC, the party’s National Situation Room situated in Abuja had 150 staff strength with 80 Call Center Volunteers, 37 Support Staff (Medical, Admin, IT and Intelligence) and 33 Secretariat Staff (Data Analyst, Comms, Operations, Drivers and Support Staff).
The EP&M team processed over 200,000 datasets from polling units to state level via an exclusive online portal. There were over 81,000 calls made from the National Situation Room to party agents and stakeholders across the 37 States. On Election Day proper, the National Situation Room received over 520 intelligence and incident reports across the country.
“No great plan can be executed without a great team,” Fashola said.
Available data showed that the eligible voters for the 2019 elections were more of the youth population. Before now, the youth were used to cause mayhem during elections. But INEC deployed technology in the electoral process, the issue of using the youth to cause violence, snatch and stuff ballot boxes has reduced considerably. It is now left for political parties to more importantly encourage the youth participation in the whole process.
As it concerns elections, the book highlights the facts that Nigeria may not be where it ought to be but certainly not where it used to be. Nigeria has witnessed reasonable improvement in the democratisation process since 1999. It is believed before now by many voters across board that their votes do not count as the process will eventually be manipulated. But things are changing which had made many to insist on having their names on the voters register. Looking back, one can conveniently say that with a little more transparency in the process Nigeria’s democracy will be one that can be envied by other countries. The Card Reader used during the accreditation process during the elections guaranteed reasonable transparency and drastically reduced inflation and manipulation of figures, though a lot more can be done.
The cases of violence and rigging, seen as the chief factors around elections in Nigeria, will be things of the past if political parties can follow the APC example; ensure emergence of candidates through a transparent process, constructively engaging the youth population, assembling a formidable Situation Room, drawing up technology driven approaches to electioneering campaigns, having the political will to allow the independence of electoral body and being able to properly sell your policies to the populace through the proper channels.
Therefore, that the Coffee Book documented the collective efforts and the lessons learnt from the task undertaken by the EP&M team with intention of providing valuable insights and reference materials to the future generations of Nigerians and political gladiators.