By Our Editors
The quest for perfect elections may be elusive but the necessity of a free, fair, credible and transparent election in any robust democratic system cannot be over emphasized. To this end, the need to begin work on Nigeria’s electoral laws before the next major election is of the essence.
It goes without saying that the nation’s electoral laws have left so much to be desired. Although we do not expect perfect laws, it is, however expedient that a conscientious work is done to address challenges as they evolve.
This is especially as operations around the world have since become an information and communications technology (ICT) driven. It goes without saying that technology affords not just ease in tackling cumbersome activities but efficiency and timeliness in complex processes.
Appropriate deployment of technology to electoral processes as has become the norm in most climes cuts costs, improves administrative efficiency, raises credibility, transparency and participation of voters.
Specifically, Electoral Management Body (EMB) now deploy technologies including sophisticated data processing tools, such as database management systems, optical scanning and geographic information systems designed to make the electoral process not just less cumbersome but efficient.
Nevertheless, efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that elections are improved must be commended. The interventions by the electoral commission to enhance the integrity of the electoral system have been instructive.
In recent times, the commission introduced some technology innovations to ensure transparency in the conduct of elections, including the Permanent Voter cards (PVC), Smart Card Readers (SCR) and regular update of voters register. Others include the introduction of a dedicated public election result viewing portal, known as “The INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal’’.
The portal enables Nigerians to view polling unit results in real time on Election Day. The portal was introduced alongside Z-pad, a tablet with dual functions of uploading scanned copies of election results at polling Units (PUs) to the portal, as well as a secondary authentication mechanism to support the smartcard readers on voters’ verification.
The technology was first test-run at the Nasarawa Central State Constituency by-election last year. Subsequently, it was deployed for Edo and Ondo governorship elections respectively as well as for 15 by-elections held in seven states.
Although much of these efforts have been made by INEC, it is insightful that a lot more still needs to be done. For one, Nigeria has yet to adopt e-voting regardless of how the commission has continued to demonstrate its commitment to the application of technology in line with existing legal frameworks.
Beyond the issues of technology, there are seeming lacunas that manifest in the existing law. Sadly, an attempt to rectify some of these issues during the last dispensation were overcome by a crisis of confidence between the leadership of the Eighth National Assembly and the presidency.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, at the time, withheld assent to the electoral amendment bill. The argument was that introducing a new law just two months to the general election could cause confusion. However, the vetoed Bill had contained provisions addressing current gaps in the law such as that experienced in the aftermath of the 2015 Kogi State governorship elections where a candidate died after polls began but before the result was declared.
The Bill had sought to address, in this instance, by empowering the Commission to suspend elections for a maximum period of 21 days provided the deceased candidate was leading at the election.
The Bill was also set to incorporate important technological innovations such as the use of the Smart Card Reader (SCR) in the body of the Electoral Act in light of a Supreme Court judgement prioritising the manual voters register over the Smart Card Reader in cases of conflict. Other novelties in the Bill included the proposal for a mandatory electronic voters register, the e-transmission of votes and the prohibition of arbitrary fees by setting maximum fees for all elective offices.
In this dispensation, the focus now is on the National Assembly to hasten work on the amendment of the laws. We expect that in this democratic dispensation where the executive and legislature have better relationship than the previous Assembly, it is expected that the amendment process ought to have a smooth process.
However the admonition for early start to the process remains key. The emphasis on time is to allow sufficient learning period for the electoral body and its staff during which they will come to terms with the modalities for the effective and efficient application of the provisions of the law. Not just staff of the electoral body but also the political operators and the electorate as well.
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