Discordant tunes playing on INEC’s election guidelines

With just 27 days to the conduct of the general elections, the guidelines released by the Independent National Electoral Commission a few days ago have attracted critical comments from stakeholders. MUDIAGA AFFE takes a look at some of the contentious issues.

 

Issues surrounding the conduct of the forthcoming elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission will continue to take the front burner until the elections are eventually held and seen to be free and fair.

 

On Monday, January 14, INEC released the regulations and guidelines for the conduct of the general elections. The 33-page document stipulates the use of Smart Card Readers and Permanent Voter Cards in the elections.

 

Other guidelines indicate that a ban has been placed on the use of telephones and other electronic devices to take pictures in voting cubicles; that ballot boxes should be placed not more than two metres away from the voting cubicle in the direction of the presiding officers and away from the polling agents; and that after casting the ballot, the voter is free to remain within the vicinity of the polling unit to witness the sorting and counting of votes and the announcement of results.

 

Also, in the guidelines is the simultaneous accreditation and voting during the exercise. INEC said the adoption of simultaneous accreditation and voting was to avoid what happened in 2015, where over 20 million persons accredited in the general election did not come back to vote.

 

But the commission had yet to roll out the guidelines for the general elections when 61 political parties, under the umbrella of Coalition of United Political Parties and Inter-Party Advisory Council, threatened to drag the electoral umpire before the court over the issue. The parties involved had based their decision on the draft guidelines presented to them by the electoral umpire.

 

Among the 61 parties that kicked against the guidelines are the Alliance for Democracy, Labour Party, Action Alliance, Progressives People’s Alliance, Green Party, Democratic Alternative, African Democratic Congress, Action Peoples Party, Coalition For Change, Young Democratic Party, Young Progressive Party, United Democratic Party, All Grand Alliance Party, National Conscience Party, Mass Action Grand Alliance and Restoration Party.

 

The coalition had gone ahead to file a suit against INEC seeking an injunction that the simultaneous accreditation and voting during the exercise should be expunged from the guidelines.

 

Spokesperson for IPAC, Ikenga Ugochinyere, said despite having the constitutional right to issue guidelines for the conduct of elections, INEC should consider the position of critical stakeholders before taking decisions.

 

He said the coalition was surprised that INEC had ignored most the ideas the group had canvassed that were hitherto included in the draft guidelines earlier presented to the political parties.

 

Ugochinyere stated, “We have filed the suit. Fortunately or unfortunately, INEC, in a swift move, granted eight of the 10 requests earlier canvassed by political parties, including the aspect that states that unregistered voter can vote and a voter, whose PVC reads another identity, can vote.

 

“For the order of voting, separate accreditation and separate voting is the main matter that was not attended to.

 

“INEC, as empowered by the Electoral Act, makes regulations. The whole process of how to vote and how not to vote is within its constitutional powers.

 

“The only legal argument we have is on the issue of ECOWAS Protocol (Article 2) that says nation members of states’ electoral commission should not tamper with electoral law administration six months to election; and Article 2 that says that political parties must be consulted by the electoral commission to arrive at consensus on guidelines for election.

 

“But some people will argue that the ECOWAS Protocol, even though it was signed by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, among other head of states, has not been statutorily domesticated.

 

“Apart from that, we can agitate, hoping that the commission will meet the demands of the majority of the political parties. Meetings will be held to see how INEC will shift ground on the contentious issues. We can both find a middle ground, giving us something that will ensure the credibility of the system. There must be a middle ground to douse tension. This is not a CUPP thing; it was signed by parties across board.”

 

But the National President of Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Macaulay Ugwummadu, said the simultaneous accreditation and voting was a welcome development, adding that it was within the purview of INEC to issue guidelines for the conduct of the forthcoming elections.

 

“I hold the view that this is well advised in the circumstance of the present legal regime to take care of some of the lapses associated with staggered elections and voting process. The lethargy of return after registration; the distance to be covered in returning to voting centres, and the possibility of mix-ups in the process will certainly be removed.

 

“The guidelines are within the purview of the powers donated to INEC as an election management body. Do not forget that the reforms sought to be introduced with the jettisoned electoral bill needed to be incorporated somewhat in the extant legal regime,” Ugwummadu said.

 

Possibly referring to last year’s elections in Ekiti and Osun states, the Chairman of Transition Monitoring Group, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said simultaneous accreditation and voting exercise had worked to make elections fast and more credible.

 

She reasoned that no one would want to devote the whole day to election matters.

 

Akiyode-Afolabi said, “The simultaneous accreditation and voting exercise made the recent elections fast and more credible. Though it has only been tested in the off-cycle elections, with proper election management mechanism, it can deal with the other challenges in the general elections such as malfunctioning card reader and other logistic challenges.

 

“The simultaneous voting and accreditation will support a more credible electoral process. We need a system that is fast and credible and I think that is what we need now in the absence of full electronic voting. It is one of the innovations that have helped our electoral system. No one wants to spend a whole day at the voting centre. It is an innovation that we should embrace.”

 

In his view, the Dean of School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Imo State, Paul Saint-Christopher, said the 2019 electoral guidelines had removed the burden of doubt from INEC on its preparedness to conduct free, credible and acceptable elections.

 

“The idea of accreditation and voting simultaneously makes the process seamless with collation, announcement and transmission of results as fast as it can ever be. The innovation of the ban on use of phones by collation officers at the collation centres rules out external influence, undue pressure and corruption from the system,” he said.

 

A political consultant and lecturer at the Department of Public Administration, University of Calabar, Prof Felix Akpan, said the new guidelines would eliminate vote buying and other forms of inducement since there would be no room for any voter to go back and negotiate with either a party or its candidate’s representative.

 

He said, “The new guideline will also encourage voters’ turnout since you can vote immediately and go for other engagements. Unlike before, some voters get accredited but don’t come back to vote due to other engagements that might crop up along the way.

 

“The guidelines will enable collation of votes to commence on time since voters are expected to vote immediately after accreditation. By the time the poll closes, counting can commence. In some polling units, voting might end early enough and that too will reduce the number of persons at the polling units that might want to cause problems.

 

“There will be a smaller crowd at the polling units for the security agents to manage since voters are expected to vote and move on.”

 

The President, Nigeria Voters Assembly, Mr Mashood Erubami, said the guidelines were not new except they were now itemised and systemised.

 

“The guidelines, particularly the simultaneous accreditation and simultaneous voting, are not new, having been adopted since the old voting procedure was amended in 2016 to discourage voter apathy.

 

“It came about as a result of the loss of millions of votes in 2015. Most voters, who registered under the old guidelines, did not come back to vote for reasons best known to them. To avoid this huge loss of votes is the reason why INEC has come out with the guidelines,” he said.

 

Erubami lambasted the 61 parties for kicking against the refreshed guidelines from INEC, adding that the parties had no genuine basis for opposing some of the guidelines.

 

He said, “Kicking against the guidelines is belated and unscrupulous. Kicking against the guidelines is an agenda set by the Peoples Democratic Party for their political partners to rubbish the good intention of INEC to conduct a fair election that will not only be fair but also free from fear.

“There is nothing new or obnoxious which should be expunged from the guidelines. Those against these guidelines are doing it for purposes beyond rational consideration.

 

“Registration with immediate voting is the same as simultaneous accreditation and simultaneous voting, which is different from the old process of accreditation and waiting for some hours before voting.”

 

Erubami added that the implementation of the guidelines would save a lot of time during the elections while making multiple voting difficult.

 

He stated, “The guidelines are quite innovative and time-saving. It debars multiple voting because it will not allow somebody, who has voted somewhere, to come and vote in another place. Once you register, you will vote and that happens simultaneously in all the voting units. It helps to save the time of INEC officials and the voters helping the processes to be completed in a timely manner.

 

“It improves the result counting and declaration process. There is no reason for kicking against guidelines that help save time and discourage multiple voting when, in the end, it will make the election visibly free, fair and credible as all processes take place in the daylight when everybody can see what is going on.”

 

Copyright PUNCH.