Before the close of work on Monday, March 30, 2015, the results of the polls for the presidential and National Assembly elections would have been announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission. At the presidential level, a winner would have emerged or the need for a re-run election would have been established. On the other hand, politicians who did not fare well in the polls may be seriously giving a thought to proceeding to the election petitions tribunals to contest the outcome of the polls. But in all these, the good news is that March 28, 2015 has come and gone and the heavens did not fall.
It is not yet time for celebration because the threat is always in the conduct of the candidates and their followers after the announcement of the results. The security paraphernalia should have understudied the architecture of electoral violence and the likely flashpoints. They should be prepared and already deployed to counter any emergent negative trends while maintaining sufficient flexibility and mobility to contain violence in new flashpoints. Also, the agencies charged with national orientation should intensify the “no to violence” jingles and campaigns.
The turn out as shown in the electronic and print media appeared massive. Nigerians waited patiently in the sun and in the rain to cast their votes. Even where the card readers did not function well, a majority of Nigerians exercised utmost patience and dedicated the whole day to the task of electing a president and members of the federal legislature. In places where the people were unfortunate not to have sufficient logistics to conclude the elections, they continued on the following day, being a Sunday, whilst many voters stayed late into Saturday night to conclude the proceedings. This is the great sacrifice, patriotism and commitment to the nation which is commendable. But the logistics challenge was clearly avoidable. Late arrival and distribution of materials when INEC had assured and reassured Nigerians that it was on top of the logistics chain do not add up. There was a media show of movement and receipt of sensitive and non-sensitive materials a few days to the elections. And the fact that the materials were at the state and local government headquarters respectively on a no-movement day makes it difficult to fathom the reasons behind the materials arriving late and very late at some polling stations. Distances that normally take an hour due to road congestion would have been done in 30 minutes on the Election Day. Or were there deliberate acts of sabotage to discredit the electoral process? In due course, full reports of monitors and observers will put this to rest.
The issue of malfunctioning card readers and accreditation challenges shows that INEC’s procurement system did not perform optimally. Hopefully, the lessons learnt from these challenges should build into preparations for future elections. We do not need to reinvent the wheel and spend billions of naira in preparing for every election through a new voter register, voter cards and all the paraphernalia of elections. We can build on existing voter infrastructure. Alternatively, other identification systems such as the national identity card can be developed to such a functional level that it replaces the voter card. This will even be advantageous considering its multiple uses and the savings it will trigger in future elections. For this to happen, the planning must start immediately after these elections. Four years may be distant but it would not be long before we start the fire brigade approach to preparing for elections in 2019.
There were still instances of violence, ballot box snatching and the old things that discredited our electoral system. Considering the peace accords signed by the candidates and parties, it is imperative that incidences of violence be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to book to serve as a deterrent to future troublemakers. The reports of violence centred on murder, arson, maiming and assault occasioning harm. The law is the law and should be enforced to the letter. It seems those bent on ballot box snatching were still working with the mindset of the old order and may not have known that the new system in use will not countenance ballot box stuffing and associated ills. At some point on Saturday, INEC’s website was hacked by the “Nigerian Cyber Army”. But this kind of attack should have been anticipated and steps taken to prevent any untoward consequence. This is important especially for the supporting infrastructure of the card readers.
The idea of dedicating a whole day and locking down the entire country because of elections is not only outdated, it is not acceptable in a modern democracy. First, this is not the practice of other democracies. The second point is that although elections are very important in a democracy, this lockdown attaches undue importance to the elections thereby heightening the security scare and do-or-die context of our elections. The third is the economic loss occasioned by the no-movement order. Imagine the billions of naira worth of goods and services that would have been produced last Saturday but lost to the no-movement order. In all the foregoing, the nation is the loser and one of the few ways to show that our democracy is maturing is by expressing our franchise without closing down our national life. There were reported cases of abuse of state security resources for instance, in Gombe State, where Senator Danjuma Goje was reported to be under house arrest for no offence known to the law.
Preliminary reports from observers, monitors and the media indicate that the polls have been fairly credible. It is however too early in the day to give an outright verdict. For all the hardships endured to vote and sacrifices made by the people, whoever emerges as the president owes Nigerians a huge debt. It is not just to say thank you and make beautiful speeches and move on with business as usual. The debt is a commitment to positively change and transform the country; not as a political party slogan but a commitment that will reflect in day-to-day governance and all aspects of our national life. There may be no honey moon for the president; whether it is the continuation of the incumbent or a new one from the opposition. Nigerians will demand that he hits the ground running to fulfil the election promises and to change their lives for the better.
For INEC, it has started well and needs to conclude the work so that Nigerians can give it a good pass mark. And where there have been hitches, there should be a day for remediation. What is left is the diligent collation of the results and announcing the winner from the results of the collation. Is it too early to say a big congratulation to Nigerians? Let us wait a little.