He who pays the piper dictates the tune. The above saying could best illustrate how the affairs of local government areas as democratic institutions and the third tier of government under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999, as amended have been impended by states governments that are mandated by the highest law of the land to ensure their establishment.
While state governments have mastered the abuse of the constitutional rights of the local government vis-a-vis the financial autonomy and the democracy at the grassroots, of worrisome over the years has been the lack of political will of states to conduct free and fair elections for the officers of the council.
At least for the past decade and half, anystate government desirous of conducting council polls equally realises that the election of every officer to the council is based on reward for loyalty to the ruling government in the state. Indeed, council polls over the years have witnessed the affirmation of nearly all the candidates of the ruling government. With the State government constituting the electoral umpire for the council polls and perfectly taking charge of the tribunal, the opposition parties always concede defeat even before the elections are conducted. Some opposition parties consider boycotting the race. However, the beauty of democracy is not only in the outcome but more importantly, it is in the process which guarantees a level playing ground to all actors. This is a vehicle through which we can move forward as a nation.
The recent council elections in Lagos, Kogi, Ekiti, Abia et al are practical illustrations of the evil which has faced the democracy of the government supposedly closer to the vast majority of Nigerian people. With all political parties guilty of this charge of denial of democracy at the grass roots, the Nigerian people have continued to press for the reform in our electoral system.
The call for the electoral reform was translated into a famous Bill which is lying fainted before the National Assembly with provisions on electronic voting which many have argued would ensure transparency and accountability in our future elections.
Remarkably, in the heat of the debate against the adoption of the e-voting, the Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state demonstrated heavily by conducting his state’s council elections recently through electronic system. The El-Rufai’s e-voting in the council polls remains the first ever electronic elections to be conducted under the Nigerian constitution. Despite the criticisms that followed the e-voting polls, it remains a bold step in a right direction in our evolving electoral system in need of reform.
The striking beauty of what El-Rufai did is that a clear message was sent that INEC could conduct e-voting despite the contrary position held by the National Assembly that Nigerian is not ripe for e-voting come 2023.
Another pointer to the e-voting in Kaduna council polls is that El-Rufai being a sitting governor, his party, the All Progressives Congress, was defeated in his polling unit. Again, quite a number of wards and a few local government areas were lost to the opposition party. Surprisingly, his party the APC was reported to have protested against the council elections conducted by its own government. This is really a significant change brought by the APC since its governance of the federation.
There is need to extend the El-Rufai’s e-voting model to all elective positions including the elections of the principal officers of the various legislative arms. Adopting e-voting in legislative businesses both at the federal and state levels and transmitted through designated servers would afford us the opportunity to hold our representatives to account.
It is still within time to appeal to the National Assembly to reconsider the provisions of Electoral Act Amendment Bill with a view to adopting e-voting for the 2023 elections. Hence, the clause 52 of the Bill which grants INEC the discretion to adopt whatever voting system suitable in the elections is liberal enough to accommodate the fears created by the NCC. There is a need to have some rethinks in this regard.
Elections with integrity will not only ensure legitimacy but it will also foster peace and unity amongst the adversary supporters and parties to an election. Going in the way of the e-voting will equally reduce the rate of post elections disputes.It is a truth that by conducting for the first time e-voting under the Nigerian constitution, El-Rufai has demonstrated that the future of democracy vis-a-vis free, fair and credible elections stand a brighter chance in Nigeria. Indeed, the future of democratic institutions in Nigeria may well depend largely on the sincere purposes and integrity of our current generation of leaders. Time is past due that we should invite innovation to drive our fledging democracy.
Otiwe, a graduate of law from Kogi State University, Anyigba, writes from Abuja.