by Ayisha Osori
It is hard to imagine the pain of a disenfranchised voter. To have your voter card, to see your name on some weather-ravaged sheet pasted on a wall a few weeks ago, but to get told you cannot vote because your name is not on another paper register. It is the one time that regular citizens get to influence, albeit with reservations and cynicism about the process, the selection of the person who will be responsible for their welfare and they are not allowed to do that. In a country with high voter apathy, this is unforgivable.
It is even harder to imagine the pain and frustration of a disenfranchised candidate who cannot cast a ballot in support of his/her personal vision for their constituency. And neither can the members of their family. This, too, is unforgivable.
The Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) execution of elections in Anambra State last Saturday was a travesty. While INEC performed reasonably well in the Edo and Ondo gubernatorial elections, they seemed to have dropped the ball hard on this one. The signs of deteriorating management of recent elections are recognisable, like signposts along the INEC-is-tottering highway. First, the Imo State House of Assembly bye-elections which remain inconclusive five months after and the just concluded Delta Central senatorial election which is mired in the type of controversy which should no longer be connected with elections: ballot box stuffing and snatching, results illegally collated and announced and violent assault on voters and party agents. This does not bode well for Nigeria. Not when so much is riding on the electoral process.
All reports agree on a few things. The accreditation of voters started late in most of the 4,608 polling units and, in some, there was neither accreditation nor elections, which is why elections continued the next day – on a Sunday. We know that many registered voters were unable to vote because their names were not on the register. According to INEC in its statement yesterday, only 451,826 people were accredited to vote out of 1,763,751 voters. This particular revelation needs to be analysed. First, this number of registered voters for Anambra differs from the number that most Twitter users shared with each other on November 16. The number was 1,784,536. It is extremely disturbing that we cannot count in Nigeria. That for almost every possible thing that can have a value, we can never agree on it. There are always at least two different numbers for the same thing. Which one is the right one? We would like to presume it is INEC’s but it is also likely that the other number is also from INEC. Next, this revelation means only 25 per cent of the registered voters came out for the accreditation exercise. It does not mean 25 per cent of the registered voters actually voted and it is important that INEC confirm this because, surely, a governor should not be deemed duly elected if less than 25 per cent voted. This revelation also does not tell us how many people, who believed themselves duly registered, were prevented from being accredited because their names were not – due to no fault of theirs – on INEC’s register.
Now what does it take to run an election? This is not a question we should attempt to answer lightly because historical narratives tell us we have never held an election in Nigeria where the delivery on time and in full of the required materials was not an issue. Elections seem like a mainly logistical operation and, as such, we must continue to ask: what do professors and judges know about running logistic operations? If we won’t hire from DHL or UPS to manage our elections, then, the least we should do is go to them for training.
As far as August, the public was aware of the date for the Anambra gubernatorial elections. One would presume INEC knew that too. If INEC knew the number of registered voters and the number of polling units, and had hired 12,000 NYSC members as ad-hoc support staff, why did we wake up on November 16 to find INEC unprepared? What does it take to finalise the design for the ballots, return sheets and other accompanying bits of paper, send them to the printer, get them back and, without compromise to their security, distribute them to the polling units a day before?
If arguably printers disappoint and planes are delayed, what is INEC’s excuse for a voter register which repeatedly disenfranchises Nigerians? What is the difficulty in collating lists of people, and does this still have to be solely manual? Some of the data-capturing laptops could be put to use as back-up registers so that when the manual ones we are partial to magically eliminate the names of all the voters in a ward with surnames starting with the alphabets O-U we have electronic back-up. (What’s the probability of having Anambrarians with surnames not starting with O and U?) If it costs too much to design a programme for this, then 50 of those 12,000 NYSC members could manually put this data into excel sheets in order to prevent this from happening.
The issues are not only about corrupt electoral officers and bribing governors; sadly that is common. The real implication for the travesty in Anambra is that if INEC, with or without the help of experts and civil society, can’t manage the logistics of elections, we have little hope for well-organised elections in 2015; forget free and fair or credible. Now we can guess how 2015 will be won. It might not be the orgy of blatant rigging or the use of violence to intimidate which we are all worried about. INEC, it seems, regardless of who is attempting to lead it, will just be the usual ineffective, bumbling INEC; and that’s how the elections will be won (lost) with the majority of Nigerians, as usual, on the losing side.