Adamu Muhammad Hamid PhD
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) revealed last week that there are about 8 million Permanent Voter Cards yet to be collected across 17 states of Nigeria. This is in spite of aggressive mobilization of the public by the commission through mass media and interpersonal channels for the collection of the cards. Remember, the 8 million figure is of citizens who have actually taken interest to register but did not turn up to collect the cards. No one is talking about or considers the number of those who did not submit themselves for the biometric registration for whatever reason! Voter turnout in the last election in 2019 was the worst (34.75% of registered voters) since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999. If the figure translates as a percentage of eligible voters, data shows it’s mere 26.87 %, which literally means the nation’s election was of low quality because the basic metric for quality democracy is in terms of voter turnout. The trend of downward slide of the quality of Nigeria’s democracy started since 2007, and continued downwards by the passing general elections. Voter turnout in 1999 was 52.3%, 69.1 % in 2003, then 57.5 % in 2007, 53.7 % in 2011 and 43.7% in 2015.
In collaboration with UNDP, INEC had initiated adequate voter education and sensitization process across Nigeria. For example three months ago, the commission engaged civil society on the new voting procedure and technological advancement in voting, i.e. the introduction of Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), and the Provisions of the revised or amended electoral laws 2022. This was carried out at six centers across the six geo-political zones; the one for Northeast took place at Garden Hotel, Adamawa.
Mr Matthew Alao, Head of UNDP Governance in Nigeria praised INEC at the occasion for conducting free and fair elections in Ekiti state. Going on to specify that one of the functions of INEC is voter education, as provided for by the Electoral Act, 2006. INEC should tell people How to Vote, but not Who to Vote for! INEC should also conceptualize and institutionalize voter education in school curricula. In the process of voter education, it should engage interpersonal, traditional and mass media channels. So at the workshop, INEC personnel sensitized participants on innovations and voting procedure for 2023 elections. And generally, across the six geopolitical zones, INEC detailed on crucial themes such as access to voting, targeting traditionally marginalized groups, gender and age-related issues in voting, new technology, integrity, environment, sustainability and election conflict management.
The New Technology and Voting
One of the most important issues that the new technology for voting called BVAS has helped bypass is the two cumbersome processes of round of voter verification first before the round of balloting, which created many difficulties in former elections. Now the Bi-modal Voter Authentication System (BVAS) bypasses that by having face and thumbprint alternatives; so voter authentication and balloting could take place all at once. The Smart Card Reader (SCR) was also dropped because of many shortcomings. It was made to read PVCs which must always be kept away from direct sunlight, wet surfaces, etc. The SCR does not read defaced cards, or cards whose antenna was broken. In former general elections, the alternative provided to mitigate such situations was the Incidence Form, which voters filled in order to have voting eligibility when SCR fail to read PVCs or fail to authenticate the voter. True to Nigerian character, politicians and voters grossly abused this window alternative, so INEC had to block this miserable specimen of gap in the process by introducing the new BVAS. With BVAS, there is no need for electronic verification of voters’ cards. The BVAS will just verify a voter’s fingerprint or face after running on the bar code of a particular voter’s registration on paper. So in 2023 election, voting is expected to be fast and hitch free, given the ability of the BVAS which efficiency had been test run in Ekiti, Osun and Anambra gubernatorial elections.
BVAS is a technology dependent on geospatial coordinates. It is broadband dependent and requires 4G to guarantee optimum functionality. These characteristics of the technology concerned observers to cast misgivings as to its ability to be free of problems likely to be posed by geospatial width related to broadband. Examples cited are that it is not enough to take experiences of small states like Anambra, Ekiti and Osun and generalize to Nigeria. Anambra being Nigeria’s second smallest state is 4,844 km² large, however densely populated. The other two states in which INEC auditioned BVAS were Ekiti, 6,353 km², and Osun, 9,251 km², which combine as 15,604 km². This is nearly the size of Lagos State, and as well smaller than the smallest state in northern Nigeria, Gombe (18,768 km²).
By contrast, however, in northern Nigeria, Niger State is the largest with a size of 76,363 km². This is about 2.5 times the size of Oyo state, the largest state in southern Nigeria at 28,454 km² and the 14th in the country. Critics opine that INEC could get away with the electoral frustrations of BVAS in Anambra but the commission is unlikely to scale in Zamfara state, which has 39,762 km², or in Taraba state’s 54,473 km². So, in spite of its evident geospatial sensitivities, BVAS was only tested in three relatively small states of southern Nigeria before the coming 2023 elections but nowhere in the seemingly problematic largest states of the North. This would suggest that BVAS can only be deployed in Southern Nigeria in 2023 but not in the wider North. 4G coverage of Nigeria is realistically unlikely to give the 65 per cent expected success this year. It is hoped that blind spots in Nigeria’s telecommunications systems wouldn’t be manipulated to decide the elections.
What’s New in 2022 Electoral Amendment Act?
Some of the provisions that are new in the 2022 Electoral Amendment Act are that if a candidate vying for executive position dies, the running mate carries on, but fresh primaries would be conducted in the case of legislative posts. In the Act, INEC is categorically allowed to use electronic machines in voting, and that elections can be rescheduled. Overvoting is now determined by the number of accredited voters, not the number of registered voters as was the case.
If a Presiding Officer fails to transfer results constitutes an offence punishable with 6-month imprisonment or a fine of N500 000. While if a Collation Officer or Returning Officer collates a wrong result it is three years imprisonment or a fine of N5 million. Registration of political parties must stop at least 12 months before elections. The Act also mandates INEC to monitor party primary elections. General election funds should be released to INEC at least one year before the elections.
As for 2023 general elections, related to the laws is that voting starts at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 2:30 p.m. Last person on the queue as at 2:30 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
The early closure of voting I suppose was considered by INEC to facilitate early counting and ease collation procedures. There is actually no need for voting to take too long since ‘baby poling units’ have been separated from mother poling units, thereby becoming independent. More polling centres were also established, so the number of voters at each polling unit was sized to manageable levels.
Now all the voter education strategies and the achievement of voter education and actual voting are just means, the end is when the electorate has actually voted for the necessary leadership required for the nation’s development. So far, as for the success of the 2023 elections, the end has already been maimed and paralyzed in the conduct of primary elections when huge sums of monies, some in foreign currencies were used in buying delegates. So, literally, the major parties have limited the choice of the common man by presenting, albeit through contrived botched processes, candidates who may not be the best for the country now. Moreover, electoral experience in the country shows the key influences on the common man’s voting decision include the role of emotions, political socialization, tolerance of diversity of political views and the media. All these variables have been manipulated to the fullest by rich candidates to woo public opinion in their favour. Electoral
As mentioned earlier, the basic quality of any democracy lies in voter turnout. The more people participate in politics and elections, the better for the survival of democracy. On Wednesday this week, the chairman of INEC declared that they’re a little above 93 million registered voters in Nigeria and that INEC never contemplated shifting or altering the election timetable. If the declining voter turnout since 2007 were anything to go by in predicting this year’s election turnout, our election would not reflect democracy because only the few who eventually vote would determine the next executives and parliamentarians.
Again, poor turnout of voters causes colossal losses for the federal government. For example, Dataphyte revealed that the FG of Nigeria spent N444.5 billion to conduct the country’s last three general elections, albeit altogether wasted over N255 billion due to low voter turnout recorded in each of the elections. In the last two elections alone, the country wasted more than 62% of election funds due to poor turnout of voters. In 2011, out of the N139.19 billion, N64.47 billion was wasted to low turnout. In 2015, from the N116. 24 billion released, N66.63 billion was wasted, while N49.77 billion was used for voters who turned out. While in 2019 general elections, N124.57 billion was wasted to lack of voter turnout from the N188.93 billion spent.
When the figures are looked up with the number of people who actually turned out to vote in the last three general elections, data showed that low voter turnout has cost the country over N255 billion. In fact, except for the 2011 elections, the money wasted in the other two elections was more than the actual cost spent on the number of people who eventually turned out to vote on Election Day.
Reports on Nigeria’s elections noted the low level of voter participation in Nigeria’s general elections since 1999. The country’s election turnout in 2019 was the worst in Africa, in spite of a continuous increase in the number of registered voters So, this year’s recorded 93 million registered voters may mean nothing to the actual elections. An election observer speaking to Al Jazeera in 2019 recounted that voters, specifically young people, reported feeling betrayed by the INEC. They expressed the belief that their votes in the last elections did not count, and therefore they did not trust the system to come out to vote again.
In the same vein, in an article “Why Nigerians don’t vote”, Tobiloba cited widespread malpractice, electoral violence, and the people’s gradual disillusion with successive governments, as major reasons for low voter turnout in the country. He opined that these factors discourage even the most enthusiastic believers in the nation’s democracy.
. To sum it all, as mentioned earlier, even at this level, the size of voter turnout is only a means, the actual end is when there is among the alternatives the right candidate competent to drive Nigeria to its future, and the election finally reveals such a candidate.. So, in essence, the limited candidates among whom the common man must vote are ‘the highest bidders money-wise, not the highest bidders quality-wise. By contrast, in the last party primary elections in America, among the contenders of the Democrat party, Bloomberg is many times richer than Biden, but Biden clinched the ticket as a presidential candidate.