On January 9, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made public the 2019 Election Time Table and Schedule of Activities for 2019 Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Elections. This timely notice effectively kick-starts the 2019 election season, while complementing an earlier announcement by INEC, in March 2016, of the dates of the 2019 Presidential, National Assembly, Governorship and FCT Area Council polls.
In announcing what may be considered the final 2019 election arrangements, INEC Chair, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, wittingly or unwittingly pointed to the enormous tasks ahead: conducting elections for 1,558 constituencies made up of one presidential constituency, 36 governorship constituencies, 109 senatorial districts, 360 federal constituencies, 991 state Assembly constituencies, 6 Area Council chairmen as well as 62 FCT councilors.
We add, for good measure, that the elections, will be contested by at least 60 political parties, in an area of 923,768 sq. km — extending from mangrove swamp forests in the south to semi-desert in the northern fringes — and carrying a population of 186 million, speaking 520 different languages.
INEC deserves commendation for these early bird announcements.
For one thing, the announcements will help to keep INEC on its toes as it develops, pilots and implements systems that will be deployed in the polls; for another, they will help political parties (including the two major ones that are hardly models of perfect organisations) to put their houses in order ahead of E-day. One of the INEC novelties worth mentioning here is the fixing of election dates into our electoral calendar. This will help to engender certainty and enable all stakeholders to prepare adequately for elections, as is the case in many mature and developing democracies.
Another is INEC’s plan to introduce sign languages and communication techniques to aid the full participation of Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) in the 2019 general elections. INEC is also reportedly working towards prevailing on political parties to mainstream PLWDs into party decision-making processes and leadership. These are welcome developments.
However, the core and key message at this point for all Nigerians and especially for INEC, our security agencies and the judiciary is that next year’s elections will be among the most important ever to be organised in this country. This is mainly because one of the elections, the Presidential poll, is the first to be organised after an incumbent President was unseated by an opposition candidate. The attention of the world will be rivetted on Nigeria.
What areas require special attention for ‘Verdict 2019’?
- Technology. Two innovative technologies — the Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC), for the accreditation of voters, and the Smart Card Reader (SCR), for the verification of voters’ biometrics, have been largely successfully deployed since 2015. We expect recent improvements to these, such as the system that permits simultaneous accreditation and voting, to make even bigger differences in 2019. With this new time-saving system, the voter now visits the polling station only once (instead of twice), gets accredited and then votes. INEC’s ongoing research into fingerprint-matching algorithm and the development of a Voter Authentication software will, hopefully, blunt the challenges which SCRs faced in 2015.
Much hope is also placed in the recent introduction by INEC of an electronic collation system which picks all Polling Unit (PU) results, collates them up to the required level and takes a photograph of the same PU results signed by the Presiding Officers.
- Inconclusive elections — like those held in 2017 in Kogi and Bayelsa States, left a bitter taste in the mouth of all. Efforts should be made to reduce or eliminate factors that lead to inconclusive elections.
- Party primaries – these are a major source of electoral problems caused mostly by imposition of unworthy candidates on citizens, granting of automatic tickets, last minute substitution of names for party conventions, arguments over zoning, illegal substitution of elected candidates, among others.
These end up serving only two undesirable ends: confusing voters and disorganising INEC. Judges who issue ridiculous ex-parte orders to stop elections or to substitute candidates should be sanctioned. The gold standard is that party primaries be democratic, transparent, credible and accessible to all aspirants. INEC guidelines are clear on this.
- Voter disenfranchisement due to logistical failure in the PVC distribution process should be addressed ahead of the elections.
- Electoral violence and hate speech. One incentive for hate speech and the violence accompanying politicking in Nigeria is the non-prescription of definite punishment for those who perpetrate electoral violence. Indeed, says the INEC Chair, this is being responsible for the unsuccessful prosecution of electoral offenders over the years.
- Social media, which are slowly overtaking newspapers and nearly matching television in reach, played a prominent role in relaying information from and to the people, as well as to the relevant authorities during the 2015 elections. They are poised to play a similar role in 2019. Can they be regulated? Of course, the legacy media have their traditional role to play, in terms of analysis and punditry.
- the casting of invalid votes due to voter ignorance and the issue of voter disenfranchisement due to logistical failure in the PVC distribution process should be addressed through aggressive voter education ahead of the elections.
The challenges facing INEC in the build-up to 2019 are many, but, evidently, so are the successes that can be built upon. The successful conduct of the 2015 elections revolved mainly around the integrity and steadfastness of the immediate past INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega. He deserves all the accolades he got, and is still getting, for a job well done.
We expect the current INEC under its Chair, Mahmood Yakubu, to do just as well. Even better. Much better.