Electoral Reform in Nigeria: Light at the End of The Tunnel?
Prof. M. K. Othman
The Nigerian watchdogs, the indefatigable press reported elaborately the entertaining drama played by senators and members of the House of Representatives during the passage of the electoral reform bill. The passage was done on Thursday, July 15th, and Friday, July 16th, 2021 in the Senate, and House of Representatives, respectively. Earlier, the two hollow houses promised to pass the Bill three times, and thrice they failed but were eventually done in the most unexpected theatrical manner. Electronic transmission of election results was the bone of contention in the two houses. Senators voted to place the power of determining the practicability of electronic transmission on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with the approval of the National Assembly. How practical and absurd?
52 APC Senators voted for while 28 mostly the PDP senators voted against and 28 others were conspicuously absent, they presumably took to their heels before the voting commenced to avoid being seen going against the Senate President position. The ruling All Progressives Congresses (APC) Senators kicked and voted against the electronic transmission of results while the opposition People Democratic Party (PDP) voted in favour. Earlier, the INEC joint Committee of the house presented its report, which indicated “INEC to transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable at its discretion”. However, the Chairman of the same committee, an APC senator voted against his committee’s report.
In the House of Representatives, a more rowdy, stalemated scenario was played for more than two hours, which resulted in having two of the lawmakers throwing caution to the wind, poured invectives at each other, and exchanged blows. What a shame? In the end, the House passed the bill stating, “Voting at an election and transmission of results under this Bill, shall be under the procedure determined by the Commission.”
Why did the two chambers not pass the same version as agreed on, at the technical Committee level? Which version of the two chambers will prevail when the Conference Committee is constituted to harmonize their positions on the two versions? Will the President sign the bill if the Senate’s version is presented to him, different from that of Reps? The whole thing seems to be charade and unconstitutional as the function of INEC, a supposedly independent umpire is being placed on NCC, an agency under the direct influence of the Executive. There is seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Senate should have passed the Bill the way House of Representatives did; now Will Nigerians receive convincing and credible election results electronically? Will the results be better if they are manually transmitted? Which is a better way of addressing rigging, votes-buying, bullying, ballot box snatching, and other electoral malpractices?
Before the passage of the Bill, The Nigerians expected that the 2023 election would be electronically conducted from the accreditation to the final presentation of results. This is because electronic or online services have been so integrated into our daily lives. On daily conducting our daily chores electronically; banking services, examination, business transaction, etc.
While some of us are looking forward to a good reform that will guarantee a credible and transparent electoral process, the politicians may be busy looking for shortcuts to electoral victory by hook or crook. This is why the “for and against” electoral transmission of election results with a clear division between APC and PDP members at the national assembly is fraught with uncertainty of their behind-scene political manoeuvres. Ordinarily, PDP and APC, the major parties are ideologically and principally not different from each other. A few weeks ago, I said in this column “the difference between PDP and APC is as the difference between APC and PDP is just like that of between six and half a dozen”.
The lack of clear difference between the two major parties; PDP and APC makes prominent members of the two parties cross over to each other at the twinkle of an eye. They have no qualms to change party members at will and move along the direction of the wind to get the undue advantage of securing electoral victory or plump political appointments. Several political bigwigs from presidential candidates to former governors, ministers, and others have at one time or the other changed party membership. Ideology and principles are thrown to the dogs as long as the situation provides an opportunity for our politicians to secure a political advantage over their opponents. This unscrupulous behaviour of the Nigerian politicians is making us, the mere mortal, common Nigerians to be suspicious of their action on electoral reform. It is a wake-up call to all of us and we must shine our eyes to go beyond the mere casting of votes but develop an interest in the happenings at the states and national assemblies.
It is high time, as a nation, we should stop allowing our last eleven to dominate our democratic terrain and play their myopic political agenda, as they will never score credible national goals. That is why the absurdity of Electoral Reform happened with shame. Something must be done urgently to raise our collective political consciousness and prepare us to take decisive action against political marauders. Nation-building is achieved through united efforts and acceptance of responsibilities. Can we organize ourselves and create platforms from ward level to sensorial district to demand accountability of elective politicians? Can we use the platforms to aggregate our opinions as inputs to the debate on issues at both states and National Assembly? NGOs and Civil Society Organizations have the responsibility of voters’ education, constitutional rights, and responsibilities.
This will stop vote-buying, ballot box snatching, and other electoral malpractices. The earlier we mount a massive campaign on civil responsibilities and raising the political consciousness of the populace, the better for the nation.