It is not that hard to hold elections that are free, fair, and transparent; elections that will yield acceptable results that are of world standards, if the relevant statutory bodies sincerely determine to do so. These two organizations—the Nigeria Police and the Independent National Electoral Commission—can make this happen. Others can play only ancillary roles. Unfortunately, despite their claims that they are carrying out their legal obligations to the best of their abilities, indeed, the two don’t always adhere to the law strictly to ensure free and fair elections.
The best results for the gubernatorial elections in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa, which are planned for November 11, are expected to be ensured once again by the same Nigeria Police and INEC. Their oft-underwhelming performance accounts for election results that local and foreign observers deem subpar.
Nigeria’s general elections in 2023 had held the potential to be the most successful in the country’s electoral history. But unexpectedly, it ended up being arguably the worst. This is the opinion of both domestic and foreign observers who watched the campaign with optimism and the Nigerian electorate, particularly the youths being most upbeat.
The country invested more than N350 billion in the general election of 2023, of which more than N100 billion went into operationalizing the electronic components. To give full implementation to the express provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 and INEC Election Guidelines 2022, the Commission upgraded from the usage of Smart Card Reader to Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and established the result viewing portal (IReV) for transmission of results from the polling units.
These digital infrastructures are necessary due to clear provisions in the Electoral Act. When in doubt, refer to section 64 subsection 4 of the Electoral Act 2022 and paragraph 137 of the Election Guideline 2022, which expressly provided electronic transmission of results from the polling units. INEC abandoned these provisions and resorted to manual collation when it got to the collation of presidential election results.
This was the reason the presidential election of February 25, 2023, failed the integrity test and is now before the nation’s Supreme Court. By transmitting elections from the polling units as specifically prescribed by the operational Electoral Act, the governorship elections in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa would have avoided falling into the same integrity trap.
Although the PEPT oddly decided that INEC staff are not required by law to transmit results from polling units, INEC must be made to understand that the real-time transmission of results from polling units was the reason CSOs fought for an electronic component of the 2022 electoral act, which Muhammadu Buhari graciously signed into law. If the manipulation of results that takes place at collation centres is to be done away with, then this measure is unavoidable.
In the last gubernatorial and house of assembly elections for Edo and Osun, transmitting results from voting locations was perfected. Although INEC shut down IReV when it came to uploading presidential election results, electronic transmission of results from the polling units in the 2023 Senate and House of Representatives elections also performed creditably and significantly contributed to ensuring that their outcomes generally represented the preferences of the voters.
The results from the polling units need to be uploaded if INEC truly wants the people of Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa to choose their next governors. Democracy is based on giving the people the power to choose who will represent or rule over them. Anything less than this isn’t democracy anymore.
In the execution of their duties during the previous elections, INEC personnel often displayed partisanship. Now is the time for the Commission to demonstrate a stronger commitment to the democratic ethos. The electoral body needs to stop acting like the main election tamper. The first demonstration of this commitment is the Commission’s swift redeployment of its resident electoral commissioners in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa, as such will better ensure transparency.
On security, the country’s primary security agency, which is the Nigeria Police, is statutorily in charge of both internal security and election security. At best, the Nigerian police have performed average in terms of election security. To benefit the incumbents, their officers and men have been observed compromising security. This is anathema and is primarily to blame for the dramatic increase in militancy and insecurity associated with elections in Nigeria.
Under the watch of the Nigeria Police, armed groups have become widespread throughout the country. These armed groups, which work for politicians, are employed before, during, and after the election to frighten, harm, and kill defenseless citizens.
The constitution of the country is unambiguous on the actions of cults and armed groups using military-grade weapons, primarily AK-47s: There must be only one police force and no citizen shall own a firearm without a permit. In Section 214, “Establishment of the Nigeria Police Force,” the Nigerian Constitution states, “There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.”
In other words, these illegal groups exist and possess weapons in violation of the law while being watched by Nigerian police, whose job is to stop such activity.
As the ruling parties and major opposition groups prepare to either keep power or wrest it from the incumbents, there has been a substantial increase in political violence and insecurity in these states. This portends violent elections in these states, which should necessitate commensurate action from the police such as implementing fresh and. more effective tactics.
The Nigeria Police traditionally uses more boots on the ground and invite large numbers of soldiers and civil defence officers to help secure elections. To persuade the political parties and their candidates to sign a peace treaty, the Police Commissioners and even the DIGs and AIGs in command of the zones grace the. An occasion to add to some optics. Yet, elections in the country have not been free of violence, no thanks to this ineffectual practice.
Therefore, even though the peace agreement may still be followed, it is important to engage the young people who serve as the perpetrators of political violence. To discuss issues with the youths, the IG of the Police needs to organise town hall meetings in each of the three states. Let the IG deploy more non-kinetic techniques and show less force.
The Police Commissioners of Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa also require redeployment, much as the Resident Electoral Commissioners. While working with the governors for some time, the Police Commissioners may desire to do the governors’ bidding. This is not to question their integrity or competency. Human psychology is the issue at play. However, deploying new commissioners now will drastically cut down on the likelihood.
Three conditions must be met for the governorship elections in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa states to be free, fair, and regarded as acceptable: deployment of the resident electoral commissioners and police commissioners in each of the three states, and most importantly, strict adherence to Section 64(4) of the Electoral Act 2022, which addresses the transfer of results from the polling units. The Police must deal exemplarily with thugs and politicians carrying guns both during the election and afterward to serve as deterrence in Nigerian elections in the future.
Let the Police and INEC avoid their typical lackluster performance and take the required actions to repair their shattered reputations and guarantee the fairness of these three governorship elections. Elections have repercussions, and INEC and the police should be reminded of this. Elections that are fair and free result in peace, prosperity, and development while manipulated elections have the reverse effect.
· Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; [email protected]; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.