TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE ELECTORAL PROCESS IN NIGERIA
lections and electioneering campaigns are becoming interesting in Nigeria these days with the unthinkable number of political parties struggling for visibility and prominence. The dynamics of a successful election are beginning to appear, the new breed of younger politicians is waking up and the old breed is getting the message that the young has really and truly grown. The cultural, agelong minority group - the women folks are saying that in the new global era, women have arrived as a force to be reckoned with and no longer to be confined to the kitchen. The large grassroot groups in rural areas are signaling that they are part of the election equation. The world has finally been woven into a small global village and it will no longer be easy to rigged out any group of people. Lo and behold the political terrain in Nigeria has changed! The conventional 'old men only' political domain is now in disarray scampering for new patterns of alignments and affiliations and more importantly, the youths they want to mentor. The political game and jig-saw puzzle are definitely becoming interesting.
The political calculation has become one that has left the best of mathematicians and statisticians in a dilemma as to the probability of what will (will not) happen in the next couple of months in Nigeria. The political terrain and atmosphere is getting charged on a daily basis. While the 'Old Brigade (OB)', the established political parties (APC and PDP) are laying claim to having the electoral infrastructures in place in all parts of Nigeria, the youths seem to be convinced that they can give the 'Old Brigade' - senior politicians a run for their money even without the requisite infrastructures in place. This is because of their (youth) reliance on the number strength and the attributes of being technology savvy. For now, no one knows who can or will win the race. Is it the female folks, the youths, the grassroots group or the older veteran politicians? Remember, the OB can put their experience and the 'trick of the trade' on the line to outwit the other groups? Can or will thuggery and violence be removed from the electioneering equation in Nigeria this time around? Can the people or is the system going to eliminate rigging in some or all its ramifications? Our hope and prayers are that peace will reign and the best party which can bring progress and development to Nigeria will emerge as the winner.
There is an economic dimension to the dynamics of elections in Nigeria which must be addressed. The cliché known as 'Stomach infrastructure' becomes important today in Nigeria, a rich country with poor citizenry. The level of abject poverty prevalent makes it difficult for the hungry populace to resist the temptations. It is easy for the poor electorates to be corrupted, with the offer of small bags of rice or just a paltry financial incentive. The quality of life of the people is below the minimum living standard. One can only recommend to Government to take another look at the possibility of social welfare reform to improve the lots of the people to make them self-sufficient and less of being beggars. The baits from the Money Bag Politicians, which result in rigging of the elections must cease henceforth. The impoverished populace can be made less vulnerable by Government's improvement of peoples' welfare needs as well as INEC's elimination of the inadequacies of Election Officials in their different voting environments.
The current pressure on the electoral system in Nigeria is caused by the do-or-die attitudes of the Politicians. The people have come to realise that politics is the surest and quickest route to wealth and affluence in the society, with or without serious educational or professional qualifications or integrity! The main attraction in politics are the jumbo salaries, robust benefit packages and glamour of being a politician. Our unusual remuneration packages to politicians in Nigeria is the highest/fattest in the world developing or developed! This is what puts undue pressure on the electoral process. This is why it is expedient for normalcy to be introduced into the remunerations of those who opt for the political profession like other professions and as practiced in other democratic set ups in developed countries. Introducing 'sanity' into the jumbo packages of politicians will reduce the pressure on INEC or any other electoral agencies in Nigeria. Right now, the incentive to get involved in politics is because of the crazy jumbo pay packages and NOT in the service to the electorates. One hope is that with a review of the public service salary structure, remunerations and benefits of political office holders can be normalized. This will halt the mad rush to go into politics and ultimately reduce the ordeals of conducting successful elections for the electoral officials.
One can then see from the foregoing that political parties need to make Social Security and welfare concerns of the populace rank high on their political agenda and manifestos. They need to stop damaging the worth and ego of citizens by deliberately impoverishing them and condemning them to the status of beggars in the society. Politicians must also be made to change their orientation of being money-hungry and selfish to service-ready and people-friendly citizens.
My interest in this article is more on the general logistics of successful elections and preparations in Nigeria. One thing which is common in all the political camps for now, is the clarion calls for registration and collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVC). Regardless of popularity, readiness for governance and all other overriding factors, no political party can win elections where voters have been disenfranchised or have chosen to do so themselves by not having the PVC, for voting eligibility. All the parties are presently busy begging and encouraging eligible voters to go out and register as well as collect their PVCs. More importantly, parties are busy promising to deliver on their manifestos while urging voters not to forget to go out and vote in 2019.
Voter Education and Public Enlightenment remain very crucial in elections at any level. Unfortunately, voter education and enlightenment activities are seldom done to a level of thorough voter familiarity by many, if not all States in Nigeria for reasons best known to the State Chief Executives (greed and selfishness). The Local Government Authority (LGA) elections in States remain the most relevant an appropriate practice and voting rehearsals for citizens at the grassroots level. It is through the LGA elections that voters at the grassroots levels are able to experience the logistics of voting and get familiar with the paraphernalia of electioneering. The importance of voter education and public enlightenment cannot be over emphasized. It is through this enlightenment campaigns that voters are better told about their rights, privileges and the logistics of voting and being voted for.
Voting venues and voting booths vary in constructions, placements and positioning from one voting location to another. The extensive use of appropriate illustrations and graphic materials in various terrains and localities will educate and ease the ordeals of voting without assistance in many voting situations and circumstances. The handicapped and less privileged citizens will find voting less of an ordeal through the availability of graphic aids - visual and tactile. Such visual and tactile materials must be designed and representative of the normal voting process. Where this is not the case, many voters may get disenfranchised by default, as others who assist in voting, inevitably make the voting choices for them and may misrepresent the interest of such less privileged, handicapped or illiterate voters.
There must be some extensive voter education and enlightenment everywhere. The responsibility for voter education and enlightenment lies with both the electoral authority (INEC) as well as the political parties. Success in an election is dependent on which party has the larger number of voters. It is a game of numbers and all political parties are scrambling to get more votes than other parties. The onus is therefore on each party to educate and enlighten voters (literate, illiterate, and challenged alike) on what to look for when they get into the polling booths and are on their own. Many votes/ballots are lost (forfeited) to ignorance at the polling booths especially by the elderly and/or the illiterate villagers in rural areas because they are mutilated or mishandled.
The success of an electoral process may be severely limited with an illiterate citizenry. The remedy is therefore the efficient and timely use of a variety of appropriate technologies which may include - electronics, prints, and social media. The Social Media has become a veritable means of information dissemination for many purposes especially for election campaigns in recent times. The American, French, Canadian, Middle Eastern experiences with the success of the social media use in elections and social reforms are convincing. The popular social media which have been used with remarkable success include the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Skype, etc. Instant communication and outreach is the name of the game. Another new wave world over is called e-voting or e-elections. The form and shape will manifest and vary from one country to another as time goes on.
Television and Radio add values to electioneering campaigns and the technicalities of voting at the polling booths. The use of jingles on radio and television provide timely information and reminders to voters. The print media, with copious graphics will be of immense values in rural areas where electricity problems are prevalent. Posters and billboards must be installed in strategic locations for the benefit of the illiterate voters to see the steps in the voting process. Visuals and audio materials will do a lot in bridging the illiteracy gaps. The importance and use of rallies, drama, plays, video, simulations and games in getting voters in the rural areas (grassroot) to be conversant with the intricacies of voting cannot be overemphasized. Most essentially, in the design of the various enlightenment programmes is the axiom to KEEP IT SIMPLE! Designers and developers of education and enlightenment materials must avoid information overloads and make the electioneering messages interesting, easy to read and devoid of jargons and verbosities.
The Electoral Agency in Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must be constantly on its guard as there are many issues which can mar the electoral process. Rigging is the most popular term used to describe most forms of electoral dishonesties. Some of these anticlimax of elections and electioneering process include - stealing and disappearance of ballot boxes, alteration of election figures, favours, thuggery, fraud, corruption, bribery, dishonesty, and many other shades of untoward behaviours. In these days of economic downturn, the tendency and strong possibilities of undue temptations of electoral officers are many. INEC Officers are vulnerable to temptations of untold dimension. Electoral Officers who are not adequately armed and self-sufficient in terms of their basic welfare needs may become exposed in the strange environments used during elections. The requisite support logistics should be in place and ready before electoral officers at all levels, arrive on their voting localities - accommodation, security, transportation, and feeding etc. By the time a few of these are lacking, Officers are likely to call on available Government/Authority on ground for assistance and support. This is the best way to open officers up and make them vulnerable as they try to reciprocate for support received. This is where rigging begins. The electoral process must be insulated from any undue local favours to electoral officers.
Everyone is aware that the electoral process is dynamic and ever changing from one season to another and from one national situation to another. It then behooves the electoral arbitrators (INEC or whatever authority) to roll with the tide. The variables are so many and ignoring them can mar the electoral process. The least anyone wants is chaos and this can be averted by being proactive and remain at alert to avert eventualities before, during and after elections.
Politics has become a serious affair in Nigeria because it is the quickest way to get rich and be a super-star in the society. No one is in doubt that it has become a do-or-die affair in Nigeria. Politicians are prepared to go all the length to win, at all cost! This puts unnecessary pressure on the Electoral Officers and the electioneering machinery. Governments and authorities must endeavour to shield and cushion electoral officials from all the attending unpleasantness of elections in Nigeria, where politics is the shortest route to getting rich quick!
By this article, the writer should not be misconstrued as backing down on the need to restructure before elections as contained in my previous article. As things are in the nation, the cart (elections) is put before the horse (restructuring), signaling the lack of readiness to move and make progress. Should government decide to hold elections before straightening out anomalies in governance (restructuring), the results will vindicate me. The current social order has to be corrected to achieve equality, fairness and justice before elections. However, if the winning party decides to introduce normalcy and sanity by restructuring as its first business, it is all well and good. Any departure from this is back to 'business as usual' with the attending regrets. Nigeria cannot afford this regret. Restructuring is more of a priority than elections. To be 'forewarned is to be forearmed'. Let us wise up and do things in the right order. Restructure before Elections.…..
Professor Adekunle Akinyemi, Chairman/CEO, BookHouse Education Trust of Nigeria; President/CEO, Ceezek Foundation Inc. in Pikesville, Maryland, USA; former Director of the Institute of Education, University of Ilorin.