Oh, forget about the rhetoric that Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election was free and fair; lots of irregularities greeted the poll.
In Nigeria, vote buying, electoral violence and disenfranchisement are still the order of the day, with a system that allows such reinforced by the powers that be, ensuring that there are loopholes through which they can reclaim power or hold on to it. The result of the election which took place on Saturday and extended into Sunday, is still being announced by the country’s electoral commission. This election, which is Nigeria’s most expensive ever, cost N242.45 billion ($671.14 million). It was earlier scheduled for February 16, but postponed to February 23, 2019 after the Chairman of INEC, Nigeria’s electoral commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu announced that the election could not hold as planned due to logistics and operational issues.
In a country like Nigeria, INEC’s job is a tough one. There are several interests that often frustrate the commission’s efforts, but while this is true, it does not absolve the commission of blame regarding how the presidential election ended.
Poor logistical planning is one of the bane of the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections. For an election that was well planned, electoral materials would have been sent to the 36 states in Nigeria a week before the election and if possible, kept safe at a place like the Central Bank of Nigeria headquarters in each state. A source said election materials arrived Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city in the week of February 16, the day the elections were originally supposed to hold. If the materials were printed above like our source said, one wonders why the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting company could not have printed election materials. The commission could have also liaised with the Nigerian Postal service which had in recent times upgraded its service. However, the fear of compromise in Nigeria is real. INEC might have feared election materials being compromised if they were produced locally and a government apparatus like NIPOST used for logistics.
The issue of disenfranchisement seems to have become a norm during Nigerian elections. According to reports about 1 million INEC officials, corps members, aides and security operatives who were part of the electioneering process, could not vote in order not to influence electoral processes. But this seems to be an archaic style of election that needs to be changed. A sister West African country like Ghana, for instance, conducted an election for its electoral commission officials and security operatives on a different day before the elections. The electoral commission of Ghana is doing this because it respects the fact that these group of people have to exercise their civic rights. Apart from these group of people being disenfranchised the ordinary Nigerians who couldn’t find their names on the voters’ register after accreditation were also not allowed to vote. A lot of Nigerians who could not transfer their voters’ card to the new location where they reside could not do so due to the rigorous voters’ card transfer process.
According to the result seen so far, the turnout for this election was relatively low when compared to last year’s and the total number of collected voters’ card. INEC this year, revealed that there are 84 million registered voters in Nigeria but only 72.8 million people which is a significant number picked up their voters card. In 2015, for instance, while 67.4 million Nigerians registered with the electoral commission, only 29.4 million voted. Similarly, in 2011, while 73.5 million persons were registered to vote, about 39.5 million voted. This is due to the structure of the Nigerian electoral process. Over the years, Nigeria has witnessed a drop in the turnout of voters either due to relocation or voters apathy. The issue of voters apathy seems to be the major reason why most Nigerians don’t go out to vote because people believe that their votes don’t count. This was reinforced on Saturday when voters in some parts of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital were attacked by hoodlums while trying to cast their votes. Although, voting went on smoothly in several parts of the city state, there were also parts where hoodlums burnt ballots. Nothing has been heard from INEC about what happens to such polling units nor has any of the hoodlums allegedly caught on video been arrested.
On another note, vote buying seems to be the order of the day during elections in Nigeria. People are paid as much as N10,000 ($28) in order to vote for a particular candidate. This was also seen during Saturday’s polls. It is worthy to note that the issue of vote buying will always be a problem in a country with the highest number of poor people in the world. According to a recent report, 86.9 million, representing nearly 50 percent of its estimated 180 million population, now live in extreme poverty. Also, about 152 million Nigerians live on less than $2 a day. In a country with widespread poverty and poor basic infrastructure, all the people at the lower end of the pyramid seem to enjoy from the government is the money paid for their votes, among other goodies distributed during campaigns. It is also why some youths will gladly bear arms to do the bidding of politicians who often use them to disrupt the electoral process to ensure elections favour their political parties.
One cannot overemphasize the need for improved security presence during Nigerian elections. The number of security personnel present at polling units during the poll on Saturday was very poor. Nigeria has a history of ballot box snatching and electoral violence, yet only one or two, unarmed police officers were allocated to a polling unit. A video which circulated on social media showed an unarmed police officer watching helplessly as thugs burnt ballot papers after he failed to stop them from emptying the ballot boxes.
Looking at these issues which have been persistent in all of Nigeria’s previous elections, one would wonder why INEC, led by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu decided to make use of the same old strategies. It is worthy to note that until these issues are tackled by INEC, Nigeria will always struggle to hold free and fair elections.