There is no gainsaying it: the 2015 General Elections hold the prospect of stabilizing and deepening Nigeria’s democracy. Little wonder, the elections continue to elicit and even dominate the upper reaches of political discourse. This interest (in the elections) reached a frenzied climax recently with the release of the Time Table annd Schedule of Activities for the elections on Friday, January 24, 2014 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
It is a measure of the interest Nigerians and members of the international community have shown in these elections that development partners continue to make sorties to the INEC headquarters. In the past one month alone, the European Union’s Managing Director for Africa, Nicholas Wescott; the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle; and the Netherlands Ambassador to Nigeria, John Groffen have visited the commission to inquire about its preparations to conduct the 2015 General Elections. In fact, Groffen visited INEC twice in one month!
Apart from these inquiries, concerns have been raised over a number of issues. Following the commission’s recent presentation before the Senate Committee on Electoral Matters, concerns have been raised about the rather high cost of the 2015 General Elections – N93billion against N87 billion to conduct the 2011 General Elections? How prepared is the commission to conduct the 2015 General Elections, especially in the light of its near debacle in the November 16, 2013 Anambra state governorship election? Why is INEC exuding so much confidence and gravitas despite this seeming shortcoming? What is the state of Voters’ Register, which is supposed to be the superstructure on which the entire elections rest and which has received lacerating and damning criticisms during the Anambra state governorship election? These questions demand urgent and cogent answers from the Election Management Body (EMB), INEC, so that it can assuage the anxiety of its stakeholders and be on the same page with the
Elections cost money the world over, more so in Nigeria. This is because in advanceddemocracies people volunteer to conduct elections. Here we use ad hoc staff, largely members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and students of tertiary institutions. In each national election over 500,000 ad hoc staff are recruited, trained, fed, deployed and paid allowances. When you consider that we have 120,000 Polling Units (PUs) and each PU requires about three ad hoc staff and two policemen, the math is very clear. This is not to add security agents being deployed to escort materials. Out of a budget of N93 billion by the commission, the largest chunk of N68.7 billion or 69% is to be expended on electoral matters. Another N17 billion or 18.3% goes to payment of allowances for ad hoc staff. Yet another N9 billion or 9.8% of the budget goes into capital projects. The long and short of it is that INECcan account for every kobo budgeted.
More than in 2011, INEC is prepared and determined to conduct elections that are better than previous ones. In the aftermath of the 2011 General Elections, the commission held a series of frank, no-holds-barred lesson learning retreats. Staff from Electoral Officers (EOs) to Administrative Secretaries (AS) and Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) were entreated, in these retreats, to be forthright and forthcoming about areas in which INEC did well, where it came short and remedies. These lessons were factored in a bottoms-up and elaborate Strategic Plan (2012-2016) articulated to guide the commission in the conduct of subsequent elections. As if these were not enough, when INEC had challenges in conducting the Anambra governorship election, all management staff – supervisors, RECs and national commissioners – were summoned and debriefed. Even as recent as INEC’s retreat which ended on January 24, 2014 in Kaduna, RECs who conducted governorship elections in Edo, Ondo and Anambra were asked to share their experiences with a view to overcoming pitfalls subsequently.
Also, in the aftermath of the 2011 General Elections, INEC commissioned independent experts from the academia, and society and veteran journalists imbued with integrity to review the elections and make recommendations. The commission has since increased its consultations and engagements with critical stakeholders such as political parties, civil society organisations and the media. These interfaces have reduced the friction between the commission and these stakeholders and have ensured that, as much as possible, we are on the same wavelength. These measures and other reforms have imbued INEC with greater confidence.
In the Anambra governorship election, and indeed subsequent elections,INEC will no longer use the Manual or Addendum Register. And as in the instance of the Anambra governorship election where eligible citizens were given the opportunity of Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) to have their particulars/biometrics captured by our DDCMs, the commission will soon flag off a national Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise. This will give opportunity for those not registered, attained 18 years since the last voter registration and those whose names are in the Manual or Addendum Register to register and it will provide an opportunity for those who have lost their cards to revalidate them. This exercise will coincide with a nation-wide distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). These important exercises will be preceded by adequate publicity so that no Nigerian who is eligible is left out or disenfranchised.
Even as INEC proposes to flag off CVR and distribute PVCs, Nigerians should rest assured that the Voters’ Register is in excellent shape, having been cleaned and de-duplicated several times. And before the 2015 General Elections, eligible voters who have registered should be able to interrogate our database over their status and ascertain for themselves that their names are verily in the Voters’ Register.
Dazang is Deputy Director and Head of Publicity, INECNo tags for this post.