This INEC should be reformed or disbanded
There is an open sore in the Nigerian electoral process that needs to be addressed, if we want this democracy of ours to truly thrive. The sore is called Independent National Electoral Commission. As it stands today, the body does not seem to be up to the important task that it is charged with. Its problem is not getting better and will not heal by itself. It is a sore that can only be healed by sheer courage and action that is premised on clarity of the mind.
You will agree with me that in its 20 years of conducting elections, INEC has not improved its performance. So far, no organisation has nor will tend to reference the commission as an example of best practice or a source of inspiration for operations, structuring or delivery. There have been some innovations and some milestones, but certainly no quantum leaps.
By contrast, INEC’s operations have cost Nigeria, via allocation to and spending by the commission, the sum of N1.5bn in 1999, N29bn in 2002, N45.5bn in 2006, N111bn in 2010, N108.8bn in 2015 and N189bn in 2018 for the just concluded 2019 elections. These figures do not include the cost to individuals and business in terms of preannounced shutdown of the country and sudden postponements.
It might interest the average Nigerian to learn that INEC spends more to conduct elections than other electoral bodies in countries with bigger economies and a better standard of living, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and India that has over 800 million voters.
Ordinarily and rationally, these figures should give Nigerians cause for concern, given the state of the economy and the condition of the voters for whom the money is spent. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, we are never really worried about spending money, especially government money, but the results we get from such spending will make even the most carefree of us wince.
Just as it was in 1999, conducting elections in Nigeria is still all about shutting down the country, having logistic problems, insufficient voting materials, malfunctioning card readers, violence, snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes, underage voting, vote-buying and more. Stories abound of compromised electoral officers and security agents, annoying sluggish announcement of results, candidates contesting election results, court interference and dislodging of sworn in office holders, inconclusive elections, unissued certificates and prolonged collation.
Those who are desperate for good news have lazily tried to feed us with the theory of gradual and marginal improvement. They say “INEC is trying and they want us to “manage it like that”. I say NO to this.
Let us tell ourselves the truth, the only raison d’être of INEC is to conduct elections that are devoid of all what we see today. Forcing Nigerians to accept INEC the way it is today and hoping that it will get better with time is wrong. It is not what Nigeria needs.
INEC today looks like a friend that offers a neat boy that can cook to a man who needs a wife. Where will that lead to?
We need to accept that this INEC, as it stands today, is not up to the task and we need to either radically reform it or simply disband it and form another body that will set out to avoid all the ills listed above.
Politicians, no doubt, are responsible for everything that is wrong with our electoral process, but I disagree with those that argue that we should work on them. My take is that if most politicians were good and decent citizens of this country, there would be no need for such a heavy electoral body. Given where we are and what we know of our politicians, INEC must be a body that is made to stop politicians from rigging.
We need a new INEC. Regardless of what is written on paper and posted on its website, the ethos and substantive definition of the new INEC should be: A body whose essence is to stop politicians and others from rigging elections. INEC of the future should be led by a person capable of leading and coordinating a team that can identify and prevent methods of electoral rigging, while ensuring the safety and even comfort of citizens and businesses during electoral processes.
To achieve these, INEC of the future needs to apply three crucial Ds: Devolve power, decentralise responsibility and digitalise its processes and operations.
It is not rocket science and we can use what we have. So far, we have not heard of many people manipulating the BVN, let us therefore link the PVC to the BVN. That way, we are sure of one person, one vote.
There is no reason why INEC should handle the distribution of PVCs or saddle its local government offices with that responsibility. The electoral body of the future can outsource such a task to the banks to do. The few or the many that have an allergy for banks, but are keen on voting, can go to their local government offices.
Voting itself does not have to be a manual affair anymore. In the future, voting will be driven by biometrics and the results will be stored and instantly tabulated. There will be no need for collation centres because everyone will see the same thing at the same time.
It is very possible to create a process wherein we make ballot box snatching a useless exercise, underage voting impossible and voter buying risky. The existing electoral body cannot do this, as it stands. We need to radically reform or totally disband this INEC.
- Anthony Kila is the Centre Director at the CIAPS, Lagos