Political observers in the country have expressed concerns about Nigeria’s electoral process in the aftermath of the overwhelming judicial interventions in the outcome of the 2023 general elections.
In the final analysis, many have made a rallying call for a review of some sections of the Electoral Act, 2022.
Indeed, the judiciary played a starring role in deciding the outcome of the 2023 elections, conducted between February and March.
The Supreme Court had the final say in at least 15 governorship elections, as well as determining the winner of the keenly contested presidential poll.
This has led many Nigerians to worry about the state of the country’s democracy.
Ironically, while a significant number of Nigerians are resentful about the general conduct of the election, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has seemingly given itself a pass mark for a ‘good job’, taking the verdicts from the courts as its vindication.
In a meeting with the leadership of political parties on December 18, 2023, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, disclosed that the courts had ordered the commission to conduct rerun elections in 34 constituencies made up of one senatorial district, 11 federal constituencies and 22 state constituencies, which constitute a mere 2.8 per cent of the 1, 191 petitions filed by litigants after the general elections.
Significantly, out of the 34 rerun elections, the INEC boss pointed out that it was only in three cases that the commission was ordered to conduct an election in an entire constituency, adding that in the other 31 constituencies, elections are to be held in few polling units
The undertone is loud and clear: If litigations were to be a referendum on the performance of INEC, then the electoral umpire could boldly say it has done extremely well and should not even be thinking of further improvements.
This belief was amplified by the youth wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, which recently declared that the decisions of both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal on the 2023 general elections have vindicated INEC.
At face value, this could not be further from the truth. With most of the cases dispensed with by the Supreme Court, the victory of all the governors was upheld.
The court delivered judgments on appeals challenging the outcome of governorship elections in Gombe, Kebbi, Ogun, Kaduna, Nasarawa, and Delta states on January 19, 2024.
This was after the apex court had decided the fate of 10 state governors―Hyacinth Alia of Benue; Alex Otti of Abia, Dauda Lawal of Zamfara; Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos; Bala Mohammed of Bauchi; Cross River’s Bassey Otu; Ebonyi’s Francis Nwifuru; Kano’s Abba Yusuf; Akwa Ibom’s Umo Eno; and Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau.
In all the decided cases, no governor was sacked from office despite the outcry by the electorate over alleged fraud and flaws that marred the election in many states.
Nonetheless, valid questions have been raised about the function or otherwise of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS and Election Result Viewing Portal, IREV, following the conclusion of the 2023 general elections.
The technologies, from all indications, failed to curb over-voting with many polling units recording over-voting, leading to the demand for cancellation of results.
After the election, Yiaga Africa, one of the civil society organisations, CSOs, that observed the polls first-hand, described the poll as a missed opportunity to enhance electoral integrity as it failed to deliver deserved results.
The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of over 70 CSOs that work to support credible election and good governance in the country, said: “Generally, the preparation for 2023 general elections as well as nomination campaign and other activities of political parties progressed without major hitches, nevertheless, it was the actual conduct of the election that significant challenges were experienced.
“The Situation Room called for more reforms and improvement in the electoral process to ensure that future elections in the country do not suffer further declines and that public confidence in the capacity of INEC to conduct elections is restored.”
The European Mission Election Observation, also added: “The 2023 election did not ensure a well-run transparent and inclusive democratic process as assured by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged and were not restored in State-level elections.”
For these obvious reasons, however, many political scholars believe that ahead of the 2027 general elections and other off-circle polls, it is important to further review the Electoral Act 2022, especially Section 135(1), which states that “election shall not be nullified except there is substantial non-compliance.”
Jide Ojo, a development consultant, author and columnist, took a dim view of this ‘substantial noncompliance.’
He told our correspondent, “It means that even if you don’t comply with 30 or 40 per cent of the electoral guidelines, it does not matter. The election will not be nullified, even when it is clear there were frauds and flaws.
“This means that INEC will never get it right in the many elections to come if it keeps depending on the judiciary. Unless you change that provision of Section 135, the court will continue to say, ‘Yes, in some polling units, wards and LGAs there were issues but the issues are not enough for us to nullify this election’.”
Speaking to newsmen during a one-day roundtable, with select media stakeholders and CSOs, Dr Mary Nkem, INEC’s director of Voter Education and Publicity, said the commission operates an open door policy, adding that stakeholders are always involved in any decision taken by INEC.
“After every election, like the 2023 general elections, we invite stakeholders to discuss what we did right or what we did wrongly and what are the ways we can improve on it,” she said.
“For the 2023 review, all the reports and recommendations that have been harvested, the Commission will look into them. And those that are worthy of implementation would be implemented in the next election,” she added.
Also speaking to Pmnews.ng on the subject matter, former INEC Commissioner for South East and a special rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council, Dr Okechukwu Ibeanu, said: “I guess there’ll be a number of sections of the Electoral Act that should be revisited.
“But the way we’ve approached the review of the Electoral Act in Nigeria is, for me, a little problematic.
“I think the initiative should move more from the National Assembly determining what to change and what not to change to the election management body and the citizens.
“I think first of all there should be a process ascertaining how the citizens of Nigeria feel about their laws and the things they want to change and then related to that is how the election management body thinks the laws have facilitated its work or encumbered it. It is from these two that we should determine what to change.
“Unfortunately, as it is now, it is for the National Assembly to determine what they will change.
“The problem with that is- the same people for whom the law is made are still the same people mending and tinkering with it. That is why we always have problems. In some countries, only the election management body can propose amendments to the electoral law.”
Jide Ojo also noted: “There are areas of ambiguity in the Electoral Act. For instance, the area that talks about the transfer and transmission of election results. Which one should be believed— transfer or transmission?
“Which one is more compelling for the commission to do so that there’ll be no ambivalence or ambiguity in the law.
“There should be certainty. That’s what I expected the National Assembly should do.”
He added: “There are also issues around electronic voting, earlier voting, diaspora voting. Issues around whether we should not have longer hours of voting or whether we should not have all of the elections in one day.
“So there are those issues that could be dealt with administratively and those that need legal reforms.”
ANAELE ANTHONY CHUKWUEBUKA is a blogger, the CEO, Owner and founder of “Pmnews.ng”. He graduated from Imo State University where he studied Education History.
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