Role of INEC in Stabilizing Democracy through Free, Fair, Credible Elections ~ By Attahiru Jega
Presentation to Zoom Webinar, on the Theme: The Nigerian Youth: Discovering a Mission and Fulfilling It, Saturday, July 18, 2020, 3-5pm
If only we can get our youth to increase their engagement with the electoral and other political processes and play constructive roles, by 2023, we would be able to have elections with remarkable credibility, and as a consequence have qualitatively better elected executives and representatives. This is an absolute requirement for nurturing good democratic governance and sustainable socioeconomic development of Nigeria.
At the moment, few youth are engaged with the electoral process, and yet much fewer of these constructively. Many if not most of these are there to support other peoples’, especially reckless politicians’, personal self-serving agendas. We need to reverse this trend. Nigeria’s population is mostly youthful; we have what is being called a “youths bulge”, which needs to be harnessed properly so that the energies of our youths are invested appropriately, before they become irretrievably major risks to national development.
A very good starting point for this productive investment of youthful energy and resourcefulness would be in the electoral process, to improve the integrity of our elections and increase the credibility of our EMBs, the INEC and SIECs, in their role of conducting free, fir and credible elections.
Elections in Liberal Democracy
In a liberal democratic dispensation, such as what Nigeria has been attempting to nurture since 1999, Elections are central to constituting a representative form of government, with elected executives and legislatures who are periodically elected/re-elected for a defined tenure. Elections are the avenues through which a country gets good or bad elected officials, depending on how people engage with the electoral and political processes.
Role of Election Management Bodies (EMBs)
Elections are normally conducted by EMBs, such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the National level, and State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) at the state/local levels. There are different models of EMBs. Nonetheless, the extent to which an EMB conducts its affairs based on a sound legal framework, with professionalism, impartiality, non-partisanship and credibility has a bearing on the extent to which liberal democratic tenets of popular choices, and adequate representation and good governance are facilitated, nurtured and / or consolidated.
Role of INEC
In Nigeria, INEC has been saddled with the preparations and conduct of elections into executive offices of President/VP; Governors/DGs; and legislative offices of State and federal Legislatures (Houses of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate) as well as the municipal elections in FCT. While the SIECs have been saddled with elections into the LGA elective positions, namely Chairmen of LGAs and Councilors.
Since the First Republic (1960 – 66), the conduct of elections under democratic dispensations by EMBs has degenerated in terms of freeness, fairness, and credibility. Accusations of executive interference, corruption and partisanship, as well as electoral violence, have bedeviled the conduct of elections.
While at the onset of the Fourth Republic in 1999, there were high hopes that Nigerians would begin to get things right, especially with regards to the integrity and credibility of elections, after three circles of elections (1999, 2003 and 2007), in reality things degenerated from bad to worst. The 2007 elections were declared, by virtually all domestic and international observers, as the worst in Nigeria’s history.
An electoral reform process embarked upon in 2008/9 and the reconstitution of INEC following that, in 2010, has begun to reverse the negative trend. In spite of enormous challenges the 2011, 2015 and 2019 elections have significantly lifted the bar of integrity and credibility of Nigerian elections compared to the previous elections.
However, a lot more still needs to be done to protect the integrity and improve the credibility of future elections. It is not yet Uhuru. A lot of work still remains to be done to prevent a regression into the slippery slope of past misdeeds, as well as to remarkably keep adding value and improving the integrity of the electoral processes, at the INEC level, but most especially at the SIEC levels, because grassroots governance suffers the most and needs to be the foundation of the high levels of governance.
Outstanding Reforms and Improvements Before 2023
Specifically, the following outstanding issues need to be addressed to improve our electoral processes going forward:
1. The legal framework needs to be remarkably improved upon. The Electoral Act 2010 as Amended could be said to be better than previous electoral legislations, but it also needs further improvements. This must be done in good time before the 2023 general elections.
2. INEC needs to continuously refine and improve upon its deployment of technology in the electoral process. At the same time, it has to continuously train and retrain its staff towards requisite professionalism in the management and operational conduct of elections, learning from global best practices.
3. The independence of INEC and, especially, SIECS, administratively and financially, needs to be strengthened and protected from executive interference and/ or subversion.
4. The fight against corruption and use of money to subvert peoples will and electoral choices need to be made even more vigorously.
5. Political parties need to be reformed and repositioned, and internally democratized, so as to ensure that good quality candidates emerge democratically for elections. The corrupt roles of the party bureaucrats, “godfathers”, “moneybags”, and Governors, etc., need to be curtailed, with legislation and appropriate sanctions.
6. Significantly, ALL Stakeholders have to be engaged in the appropriate nurturing of a democratic political culture generally, and electoral integrity specifically.
Complimentary Roles of Other Stakeholders
All stakeholders need to recognize that the business of nurturing democracy, good governance and electoral integrity is a collective responsibility. It is not the business of EMBs alone, although their role is crucial. All hands must be joined together on deck, to bring this about.
Youths, in particular, with their incredible energy and resourcefulness need to be very actively but constructively engaged with the electoral process in particular and the democratization process generally. If the activism we see of our youth on social media were to be translated into constructive activism in the electoral and political arenas, for example in joining political parties to bring about positive reforms, Nigeria would be remarkably better after the next general elections in 2023.
Presently, it is a good guess that over 75% of the electoral workers deployed by INEC and CSOs in elections are youth. If we can get these to be resolved, to be brave and courageous, to resist intimidation or corrupt inducement by politicians and / or their agents, the integrity and credibility of our elections and politics would increase exponentially.
Special Roles for the Youth
Youths, therefore, have special roles to play in improving the integrity and credibility of our electoral processes, and in nurturing and consolidating our democracy towards good governance and sustainable development.
The Challenge is on how to draw their attention of our youths to this potential role; how to convince them of the need for this and how to get them well organized for constructive and productive engagements in our electoral and political processes.
We must be able to convince them that, for example, the lack of access to educational opportunities, the poor quality of the available educational institutions, and the lack of employment opportunities after schooling are all related to the lack of quality of people elected in to the governance processes through the current structures of political parties, as well as nonparticipation of youth, and good people generally, to ensure credibility and integrity of the electoral processes.
Youths active, constructive and productive involvement/ engagement into our electoral and political processes are a must; and we all must dedicate energies in finding ways and means of bringing this about, as soon as is possible.
As I often say, more and more nowadays, we must stop agonizing and focus on organizing!
Attahiru M. Jega, PhD
Department of political Science, Bayero University, Kano