BY CHINWE OGBUKA
Since after the 2011 General Elections and the subsequent Governorship elections in 2012, the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the conduct of election has improved remarkably. The leadership of the Commission has consistently assured the nation that the bar in the conduct of election in Nigeria, which was raised in 2011 will be sustained. Although there were few problems and challenges the Commission had to contend with, the election was adjudged far better than previous elections conducted by the Commission.
Learning from experience of the general elections and factoring those lessons into preparations for the governorship elections in other States, namely: Kogi, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Sokoto, Edo and Ondo, the Commission has strived to make its performance in the conduct of election in one State better than the previous exercises.
At sundry public engagements with stakeholders, the Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega maintained that, though there was a remarkable improvement in the conduct of elections in the country, as attested to by local and International observers, a lot needs to be done to sanitize the electoral system in Nigeria. He was quick to state that it was not a perfect election, not because INEC planned it to be so but because the Commission is operating in an imperfect system where extraneous factors interfere with its plans.
Basically, election is not an event but a process with series of activities and programmes involving other stakeholders and agencies with INEC as a major stakeholder striving for perfection in the conduct of elections. The Commission tries to inject new techniques and measures in any election based on the lessons learnt in the previous elections.
Way ahead of Anambra State Governorship Election in November 2013, the Commission started planning to ensure its performance would be better than that of Ondo as the Chairman assured the nation. But as political tension started mounting in Anambra state, Nigerians expressed fears about the nature the election would take and if INEC would be able to get it right. It was even seen as a litmus test for INEC as its performance would be an indication of what 2015 would look like.
Realizing the challenge posed by Anambra election, the Commission, diligently planned for the conduct of the election with the intention of disappointing those prophets of doom who were insinuating that there would be crisis and blood shed in the election.
In fact, INEC had a comprehensive plan for the election. Consequently, the Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega assured Nigerians that the Anambra governorship election would be far better than other previous governorship elections.
His assurances and confidence were based on several measures put in place by the Commission to ensure that Anambra election was not just free, fair, credible and peaceful, but that the result would be acceptable by all parties and indeed all Nigerians.
Three months prior to Anambra Poll in November, precisely in August, the Commission embarked on Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) in the state. The exercise was an opportunity for those whose names were on the Addendum Register to be re-captured so as to have their details on the Electronic Register.
It was also meant to register those who just turned 18 years of age, those with incomplete data and those with few fingerprints so as to have comprehensive information on the Commission’s database.
Unfortunately, many people did not take advantage of this opportunity provided by the Commission. As a result, their names were not on the e-register used for the election.
The reason for the missing names in the Anambra register has been explained several times by the Chairman of the Commission following accusations that the Commission deliberately disenfranchised so many voters in the State.
One wonders what the Commission stands to gain by disenfranchising people as it is being accused by critics of the process. It is equally difficult to comprehend the rationals for blaming the Election Management Body for negligence on the part of the electorate who failed to utilize an opportunity offered by the Commission to participate in the electoral process.
It is necessary to state clearly that the intention of this piece is not to continue to sermonize on the mistakes of Anambra election which the Commission had the most comprehensive preparation and plans for, or apportion blame or even defend INEC but to avert a repeat of such incidents in Ekiti, Osun and even the general elections in 2015.
This is why the Chairman, at every opportunity pleads with Nigerians especially eligible voters to ensure that their data are captured in e-register which it will be using in future elections in the country. He repeated at a recent event that the era of Addendum and Manual Register is gone and urged all those who want to vote in future elections to come out during the nation wide Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) scheduled for this year to get registered.
Prof. Jega, while making a passionate appeal to Nigerians in a radio programme on Road to 2015: preparations INEC is making said, “Please if you are not on the register, use the opportunity of the CVR to get your details captured in electronic register.’’
While emphasising the need for Nigerians to do their part by coming out to be registered, Prof. Jega urged Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other critical stakeholders in the electoral process to cooperate with the Commission to ensure the success of Ekiti and Osun States’ Governorship elections and the general elections in 2015.
The Commission is presently making elaborate preparations for the elections, one of which is to carry out CVR in the two states for the elections. Indigenes of Ekiti and Osun States who desire to vote in the election should avail themselves of this opportunity when the CVR commences to avoid a situation of missing names in the e-register, or accusing INEC of disenfranchising people in the two states.
While appealing for support and assistance of the electorate and indeed all Nigerians, the Commission urged them to participate in the electoral process because it is the responsibility of all to participate in the process of deepening democracy in Nigeria.
Whatever INEC is doing will be complemented by what other critical stakeholders including the electorate do. Though INEC is the driver of the electoral process, but it must work with other stakeholders. Electorate should play their part, by participating in the CVR before Ekiti and Osun governorship elections for those from the two states.
For all Nigerians, when the Commission begins the nation wide CVR, we plead that you come out and get registered. The essence of the CVR is to ensure that the Commission has a very credible, and near perfect register of voters come 2015.
The Commission is determined to make Ekiti and Osun a lot better than Anambra by correcting the mistakes and shortcomings of that election and is appealing to Nigerians not to judge the Commission’s ability to deliver a credible election in 2015 based on the Anambra experience.
•Ogbuka is Chief Information Officer, INEC Headquarters, Abuja.