Towards Credible 2011 Elections - Another Try - P.M. News

Towards Credible 2011 Elections - Another Try

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INTRODUCTION
Ever since the Supreme Court in Nigeria ruled on December 12, 2008 that inter-alia a lack of serial numbers on our presidential ballot does not invalidate the election result,  I  have been psychologically hampered from making suggestions as to how we might improve our electoral process.  To ignore such a clear line-item in our electoral law:  What else is there to disobey?  As far as the dissenting judge George Oguntade was concerned, there was NO election, simplicita, and that is what common sense should also dictate.

His words bear repeating:

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The reasoning of the court below (the Appeal Court) would appear to be curious. They proceeded on the basis that the elections conducted with ballot papers unauthorized by law was valid; and then turned round to ask the petitioners/appellants to prove that the same election was invalid for non-compliance. They unwittingly put the cart before the horse. That was a strange way to reason for a court. A court could not first assume that a disputed act was valid and then place on the plaintiff the onus of proving the invalidity of the same act when what was in dispute was the constitutive elements which would lead to a pronouncement of the validity of the Act.

Even on the supposition that the burden to prove that the failure to use the ballot papers which did not conform with the law did substantially affect the result of the election was on the petitioner/appellant, it is my firm view that the petitioner/appellant discharged the burden. A ballot paper not in conformity with section 45(2) is prima facie an act of non-compliance. It is therefore an invalid ballot paper. Since it is the same invalid ballot paper that converts later in the process of an election into a vote, the resulting vote must also become an invalid vote. It was never the case of the respondents that the unserialized ballot papers were only used in some of the States in Nigeria. If that were their defence and the court below had found that this was truly the case, that would have placed on the court below the duty to determine what percentage of the votes cast at the election was valid or invalid. If the 4th and 5th respondents would still have won by a majority of the valid votes, the petition was liable to fail. But in this case, all the ballot papers used to cast votes for all the candidates in the election were invalid.

The result is that each of the candidates at the Presidential Elections, 2007 scored zero or no votes. An invalid ballot paper cannot yield a valid vote. Clearly therefore, the petitioner/appellant in my view succeeded in making the case that the non-compliance with section 45(1) of the Electoral Act 2007 substantially affected the result of the election. Let me reiterate very respectfully that the lower court erred by not coming to the conclusion that each of the candidates at the election scored zero as no valid votes were recorded for any of them.

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In the unfair treatment of Atiku’s candidacy as Action Congress presidential flag-bearer,  Justice Oguntade wrote that:

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In an election under a democratic system, all political parties recognized under the law and their candidates must be treated equally and fairly. The public body organizing the election must ensure that all the political parties and their candidates are afforded equal opportunity to approach the electors with their party programmes. The public body must not show special favour or disfavour to any of the candidates. An election is like a bazaar where political candidates advertise their party programmes to electors and that is as it should be in a democracy. In the interpretation of a provision in the Electoral Act 2006, a court must be conscious of its duty to jealously guard the underlying principles of democratic governance as enshrined in our Constitution.

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However, Prof. Maurice Iwu’s merciful displacement from, and Prof. Attahiru Jega’s worthy appointment to the INEC Chairmanship, and some “body movements” of President Goodluck Jonathan,  have put some slight wind back into my sail of suggestions.

So here goes….again….

MINIMUM SUGGESTIONS
In a companion essay Festus Okoye has stated that “Jega Owes Nigerians a Credible Voters’ Register.”  However, I say that Okoye and all of us owe Nigeria,  working closely with Jega,  even more to effect all of Okoye’s great ideas (his six challenges in excerpt in appendix below.)

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(Okoye’s Challenge #1 to Jega)  The first for him has to do with the voters’ register because no credible election can be conducted in this country without a credible voters’ register. The moment there is a problem with the voters’ register, there is already a problem. The existing voters’ register is not credible and the people believe it cannot produce credible election. He has to determine whether within the time available, it possible to have a new voters’ register.

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Very true, so very true.  So my own minimum suggestions on this one point – and many more – are as follows:

A.  OLD VOTER REGISTER
(1)  An army of university students (eg of the University of Abuja) should be deployed by INEC to visually inspect the current voters’ register and clean it up, removing:

(i)  all duplicate name-and-picture entries, retaining only one of the duplicates;
(ii)  pictures that are unclear, mismatched with age or gender or profession, or of of-color “celebrities” (like Mohammed Ali, Mike Tyson, etc.),  but retaining the names, and flagging them; and retaining all others.

B.  NEW VOTER REGISTRANTS
(1)  New voters should be registered, WITHOUT necessary requirement for pictures for 2011, due to cost and time exigencies. [They should return for pictures.]

(i)  registration via Internet (no pictures required); must provide full name, age, gender, and ward; registration slip will be emailed back for printing.

(ii)  registration via SMS (no pictures required); must provide full name, age, gender, and ward. Registration mumber for copying down

(iii) registration at each INEC office at the local government headquarters (pictures here); ID cawill be given.

(iv) registration at offices of selected NGOs and selected community organizations (like churches, mosques, etc.) on a ward-by-ward basis (no pictures required); registration card (no picture) will be given.

Alternate picture or corroboratory identification if available can be demanded at voting time – with such persons signing an affidavit in situ -  particularly if more than one person shows up to vote for one name.

C.  COMBINED VOTERS REGISTER & STATUS CHECK
(3)  The combined voters register (after cleaning up old one and adding new ones), flagged with how each registrant registered and availability (or lack) of picture,  should be made available,

(i) on websites; such that with name and Voter ID, a voter can check his or her own personal registration status;

(ii)  to all political parties by DVD

(iii) at each INEC office at the local government headquarters; DVD and paper copies relevant to the Local Government;

(iv) to NGOs and selected community organizations (like churches, mosques, etc.) on a ward basis, with DVD and paper copies relevant ONLY to the ward

This eliminates the ridiculous proposition of requiring people to ascertain their registration status by inspecting names posted on village walls and latrines 🙂

D.  BALLOT PAPER
1.  Pictures of ALL candidates – and ONLY those candidates – should be on the ballot paper for each particular election. [The idea of ONLY names of political parties, including even those that have NO candidates, should be absolutely unacceptable.]

2. There is really no need for constituency-coded (or state-color-coded) ballot papers once candidates’ pictures are on ballot papers.

E.  POLLING UNITS
1.  The current polling unit identifications (“Under Chief Abagin’s Mango Tree”, “Courtyard in Front of Mallam Umaru”, etc.) should be completely abandoned.  There should not be a polling unit WITHOUT a street address, even if it is a street address deliberately designated for election purpose by INEC. How do you get to a spot WITHOUT a street address?

2.  Primary  and secondary schools, religious extra-curricular buildings (not the sanctuaries themselves) and other existing establishments should be used to the greatest extent possible, with INEC refurbishing them where necessary.  We should not need to constantly re-designate polling units with each new election.

3.  Nominally or actually, there are 6 political zones, 36 states plus FCT, 109 senatorial districts, 360 house of representatives districts, 774 local governments, about 1,200 state assembly districts, 8,800 wards, and 120,000 polling units in the country.  The notion of 500 maximum voters per polling unit should be re-considered – number should be increased to 1,000 -  with a varied voting procedure depending on the actual size of registered voters for a given polling unit.

F.  VOTING DAY
1.  All intending voters come to Polling Unit assigned with voters card, slip or a note-down of their voters ID number.

2.  Those without INEC pictures – Alternate picture or corroboratory identification if available  should be demanded at voting time – with such persons signing an affidavit in situ -  particularly if more than one person shows up to vote for one name.

3.  No electronic voting.  Too much room for “wardrobe/electronic malfunctions”.  A paper trail is important.

4.  Voting should be by secret ballot, but ACCREDITATION should be as open as possible.

5.  As this is purely an administration function, nothing in the Electoral Law TODAY prevents a June 12-like process for accreditation FOLLOWED by voting:

– accredit the majority of those who wish to vote between 7 am and 9 am;
– commence voting at 9 am – 12 noon.
– however allow those who come to accredit after 12 noon to also  vote afterwards.

We really don’t need a new law for this.

G.  COUNTING & ANNOUNCEMENT

1.  Count and announce all results in-situ at each polling station
2.  Audio-tape, video-tape and take still pictures of announcement and results board
3.  Post the result at polling station so that it is available for inspection for at least one week after election.

FINAL POINTS
1.  The power of an INEC Chairman is great to assign and re-assign electoral Commissioners – both national and state.  So Jega can put his stamp of integrity on these commissioners.  He has no excuses.

2.  If Commissioners take their jobs simply as a Database Management function rather than a political job, it should be a relatively easy.  It is only  when (like Iwu) you have certain pre-determinations as to who should win certain results do you make moves:

(i) to prevent a certain candidate from running;

(ii) to prevent certain citizens from registering by hiding information as to where to register;

(iii) if registered, to prevent certain citizens from re-certifying their registration status;

(iv) if registered, to prevent them from voting by either hiding information of their polling units, or
preventing them from gaining access to them on election day;

(v)  having voted, from ultimately disenfranchising them by announcing different results.

Just let the People vote for the Candidates of their Choice – that is Democracy, Attahiru & Company!

There you have it.

APPENDIX:
A member of the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel, Mr. Festus Okoye recently spoke to reporter Saxon Akhaine (of the Guardian newspaper)  in Kaduna on the reconstitution of the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC).  On Wednesday, 16 June, 2010, Akhaine published his piece under the title “Jega Owes Nigerians a Credible Voters’ Register, Says Okoye”.

Okoye’s six challenges to incoming INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega are excerpted below.  They are:

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(1)  The first for him has to do with the voters’ register because no credible election can be conducted in this country without a credible voters’ register. The moment there is a problem with the voters’ register, there is already a problem. The existing voters’ register is not credible and the people believe it cannot produce credible election. He has to determine whether within the time available, it possible to have a new voters’ register.

(2)  The second challenge is for the president to make good his promise, in conjunction with members of the National Assembly of putting together an Electoral Offences Commission.  If we are going to get a clean voters’ register, we must set up this commission to checkmate criminal elements who thrive on corrupting the voters’ register. Unless there is a law that will sanction them and make it impossible for them to engage in criminal activities and not get away with it, they will continue to mess up the voters’ register.

(3)  The third challenge is for Jega to do an audit of the 774 INEC offices in all the councils of the federation. This is because it is the electoral offices at the councils that conduct elections and they are the key to election rigging.

(4)  The fourth challenge is within the headquarters of INEC. Unless he takes control of the place, it will be difficult for him to succeed. There are all manner of forces and people within the confines of the electoral commission, so he needs to do an urgent operation there to take control of the place. Thereafter, it is important to strengthen the legal department, the department of voter education and the department of political party monitoring and regulations.

(5) The fifth is the transport infrastructure in INEC. How do you get electoral materials and personnel from the offices of the Resident Electoral Commissioners in the states to the councils and to the polling units? INEC relies on local transporters and in so many places they have sabotaged the movement of electoral materials and personnel.

(6)  The sixth challenge is security. In the past, we have had a situation where security personnel are posted to the polling units without being paid their allowances and because of this, some of them abandon their duty posts. So, we must take care of this in the 2011 election.

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—Bolaji Aluko, PhD wrote from Burtonsville, MD, USA. [email protected]