No region of the globe has escaped the “wave of democratisation,” which hit the world from the early 1990s.
While regular elections by themselves do not and cannot guarantee true democracy, they serve as one of the major barometers for measuring an effective democratic process.
This is especially because elections provide the electorate with the opportunity to change a government which fails to deliver.
The UN Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, in its September 2012 Report noted that “Elections can further democracy, development, human rights, and security, or undermine them, and for this reason alone, they (elections) should command attention.”
But the Commission in the same report argued that “for elections to embody democracy, further development and promote security, they must be conducted with integrity.”
Relating this global phenomena to Africa, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who presided over Nigeria’s 2011 and 2015 presidential elections, posits that while “there is no African exceptionalism” when it comes to flawed elections, “the scale of (electoral) irregularities in Africa is immense and arguably more than in any other region of the world.”
So much has been said and written about those two highly contested presidential polls in Nigeria supervised by Jega as Chair of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC).
But it suffices to say that only a few heads of electoral bodies in Africa have supervised elections where an incumbent government lost power to the opposition.
So to a very large extent, Prof Jega is and will remain an authority in electoral management, especially from the African perspective.
Even before he assumed the INEC leadership from 2010-2015, the Political Science professor and former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, in Northern Nigeria, had acquitted himself creditably as leader of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) during the difficult years of military rule in the early 1990s.
In a lecture he delivered 1st March 2017 at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University, UK, where he has been on sabbatical, Prof. Jega acknowledged that “poorly conducted elections have become the “norm in Africa,” with the attendant “remarkable constraints on stability, regime legitimacy and good, democratic governance”
Of the 167 countries including 43 in Africa assessed and documented in its latest report, the Democracy Index, Economist Intelligence Unit, quoted by Jega, only one African country is classified as “Fully Democratic,” while seven are “Flawed Democracies,” 14 are ranked as “Hybrid Democracies,” and 21 of the 43, “Authoritarian.”
Nonetheless, Jega underscores the significance of elections and why “increasing the scope of electoral integrity has therefore become central to the concern for democratic consolidation in Africa.”
Narrating his experience while also quoting scholars, researchers and election experts in his presentation titled “Electoral Integrity in Africa: Lessons from Nigeria’s 2011 and 2015 General Elections,” the former INEC Chair examined the dynamics that shape the integrity of African elections; how to address challenges faced in conducting elections with integrity; and proffered some solutions on the way forward.
“When appointed Chairman of INEC in June 2010, I took it for granted that it would be an easy job: a piece of cake,” but “as it turned out, it is easier said than done,” he said, adding: “As with many things in Nigeria, the more you see, the less you understand.”
Even so, the “more general, good lesson,” according to Jega, “is that: although relatively difficult, it is not impossible to conduct elections with integrity in Africa.”
For him, the requirements are “planning, effective organisation, focus, resilience, relative autonomy of the Election Management Body (EMB), as well as its impartiality and integrity.”
Jega went on to enumerate the six major challenges faced by INEC in preparing for and conducting the 2011 and 2015 elections in Nigeria.
They included: how to strengthen the EMB (INEC), cleanse its negative image acquired over time and make it efficient and effective; how to deal with persistent, prevalent aspects of electoral fraud, including ballot paper and results sheet snatching, ballot stuffing, multiple voting etc.; and making election day logistics and procedures transparent, accountable and efficient.
The other challenges were, creating a level playing field, and how to protect and strengthen the relative autonomy of the EMB in its relations with the political parties, the legislature and the incumbent executive arm of government, Jega disclosed.
To tackle these challenges, he explained that INEC under his watch undertook some quick “restructuring and reorganisation, planning, programming and leadership by example.”
The electoral body also introduced the use of technology to secure sensitive election materials; biometric registration; smart voter’s card and smart card reader were also brought on board, along with online verification of registration status using SMS.
Other innovations were the scanning and uploading of result sheets on a secure database accessible via link to the website; decentralised distribution of election materials patterned with the Road transport workers union for movement of electoral personnel and materials, involvement of the Armed Forces in the movement in difficult terrain; and the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) Geo-referencing of all polling units and extensive mapping.