Commending INEC’s Increasingly Cleaner Elections

<strong>Commending INEC’s Increasingly Cleaner Elections</strong>

Recently concluded Ekiti and Osun governorship elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in June and July have continued to enjoy rave reviews and being described as marked improvements over preceding elections.

This is largely in terms of timeliness in the deployment of electoral materials and personnel, accountability on the level of the process, and the transparency of the results collation. Even though the elections were blighted by the criminal menace of vote merchandising, there are great signs that the power of the ballot truly belongs to the people.

Election observer groups commended the INEC, the Nigerian Police, other stakeholders and, of course, the residents of the states for their resilience and commitment to credible and non-violent elections. Going into the all-important 2023 general elections without the baggage of perennial logistics concerns is, no doubt, a major morale booster. As a matter of fact, Yiaga Africa, an elections observer group, reported that for the Osun election, 77% of polling units were open on time and 99% of them had commenced accreditation and voting by 9:30 a.m. This was a major improvement over the 2021 governorship election in Anambra and the Federal Capital Territory Area Council Elections earlier in February.

The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, is the latest technological device introduced into the electoral terrain, which verifies fingerprints and authenticates facial features to ensure that only those eligible are allowed to vote and prevents voting by proxy. This is steadily making electoral malpractice difficult or impossible, while boosting citizens’ confidence in the process. With the deployment and optimal functionality of the BVAS across all the 3,763 polling units, 332 Registration Area Centres and 30 local government areas of Osun State, this is a major statement of how important the role of innovations in technology will be, especially going into the 2023 general elections.

While the BVAS offers a technological leap that improves electoral integrity, the INEC Results Viewing, IREV, Portal and electronic transmission of election results have become a masterstroke that promotes transparency in the results collation process, while preventing malpractice during the physical transmission of results from polling units to collation centres. This, to a very large extent, enables ordinary citizens to access election results from the comfort of their homes, thereby encouraging accountability in the process. Thus, it was no surprise to see civil society organisations, CSOs, fighting tooth and nail to ensure the passage of the Electoral Act 2022 and specifically ensuring legal backing for the deployment of technology and electronic transmission of election results.

Certainly, innovations in technology have impacted positively on the Election Day deployment but the impact of technology was right from the pre-election preparation activities.

Irrespective of the aforementioned improvements, AljazirahNigeria is not oblivious of desperate moves by political actors to maintain the erstwhile status quo of sundry acts of malpractice which has impeded on the credibility of elections.

INEC successfully circulated its sensitive materials to all the local government areas and 332 Registration Area Centres, with trackers, to ensure that materials are deployed to appropriate locations. Similarly, unlike in previous years, the submission of the details of party agents and list of observers for elections are now done through the online portal. This has further standardised preparations for elections, while evading all forms of backdoor activities and, by extension, ensuring the religious implementation of the activities on the Commission’s timeline, going into the election.

It is also important to state that the only group that deployed a Parallel Vote Tabulation to verify the accuracy of election results, Yiaga Africa, had said that the INEC’s official announcement on the votes cast for the 2022 Osun State gubernatorial election is overall consistent with its election observation findings. There is also a high tendency that if official results had been changed at the ward, LGA and State Collation Centres, the electronically transmitted results and those from the IREV would have tracked the inconsistencies.

While technology may not be a silver bullet that would solve all our electoral problems, it is indeed proving to be an act of genius in promoting electoral transparency and integrity. It is however not yet Uhuru, as low voter turnout remains a proof that more needs to be done to boost citizens’ confidence, while vote merchandising must be curtailed to eradicate the transactional relationship between the government and the governed.

In this vein, AljazirahNigeria urges intentional steps like grass root engagements, town hall meetings, and community organising must be taken to task to mobilise eligible voters to participate in the electoral process from an informed perspective. Citizens must understand the implication of abdicating their civic responsibility and how this is directly connected to the standard and cost of living. Similarly, election stakeholders, especially security and other law enforcement agencies, must devise proactive and strategic ways of fighting vote-trading, as it continues to delegitimise political mandates and devalues the Nigerian citizenship.

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