Sam Amadi, Former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, and Director, Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts

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  • Law & Economy
  • Public Sector Reform

Electoral reform as sorcery 13 Dec 2023

No sooner has the curtain being drawn on the 2023 general election than Nigerian civil society groups back to beat of electoral reform. Just like in 2020 after the fiasco of the 2019 presidential elections, when the civil society organisations went on a frolic of electoral reform, this time around they are not waiting for the ink to dry on the electoral perfidy committed by the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the usual industry of electoral reform commenced.
It is good that civil society leaders are meeting to review what happened and look forward to better outcomes for the next general elections. It is also in keeping with the typical Nigerian social psychology of moving on. As soon as the elections were over, we started hearing some Nigerians urge their compatriots to move on from the election. This urging is clothed in moralistic language that shames those who continue to point out how the elections were intentionally rigged. Those people would be counseled to remember that the nation is more important than anyone’s political ambition. Therefore, to be a patriot, you must move away from the mess that is the 2023 general elections.

Yes, we should move away from the election, provided that means thinking hard about why the 2023 elections were worse than the 2019 general elections. In 2019 there was little enthusiasm and confidence in the quality of legal and regulatory instruments guiding the conduct of the elections. In 2019, the commissioners did not give so much assurance that they would protect the integrity of the elections. In 2019, there was no provision for bimodal accreditation of voters and there was no provision for electronic transmission of results. Notwithstanding that the Electoral Act, 2022 built in these safeguards, and notwithstanding the many assurances of the electoral managers, we ended up with elections that have immensely discredited both INEC and the judiciary.
It would be right to say that the 2023 general elections were the worse because they dashed so much expectation. It was also the most expensive and least productive. The country spent a whooping N300 billion and more with a significant part of it to procure an electronic transmission technology which the commission refused to use. So far, there has been no financial audit or even legislative inquiry into the execution of the 2023 general elections. If previous electoral circles are anything to go by, we will not see any inquiry or investigation of the 2023 elections by any agency of government including the Office of Auditor General of the Federation that has statutory mandate for such audits.

So, where do we go from here? A lot of stuff hangs on the credibility of elections. It is not just about democracy. It is also about development, even about stability. Although democracy is not only about elections, but without free and fair elections, there could be no democracy. Credible elections are a necessary but not sufficient conditions for democracy. Without credible electoral system, there will be no mechanism to guarantee that public officials will respond to the demands of the people. Towards the end of his career as a political scientist, Robert Dahl defined democracy as a mechanism that allows those in power to response to the will of the people. If elections are shams as they are in Nigeria today, there is no basis to trust that politicians will pay attention to the demands of citizens. Development will be had to procure. In the long run, without good elections, you put in jeopardy the survival of society itself as good election is an effective conflict management mechanism.

As Nigeria looks frail and failing in its socioeconomy, we must decide whether we truly want to embark on a serious electoral reform or continue in our special form of sorcery. It seems clear to me that the Nigerian political elites do not want free and fair election. The reason for this lack of commitment is not far-fetched. Free and fair election will make it difficult for them to remain in power and could lead to the sort of accountability that will make it difficult for them to expropriate as much as they would. So, everyone expects that he will be able to exploit the deficits of the electoral process next time. In this mindset, they never get to seriously demand for transparent, credible, and reliable electoral system. They deliberately create ambiguity in the electoral law which they intend to use in future elections.

Two examples will prove this assertion. First, is the deliberate refusal of President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to implement the more radical recommendations of the Uwais Committee. The incumbent party in Nigeria always feels more comfortable with the incredible electoral system because they can exploit its provisions against the opposition. The second example is the block refusal of APC senators to accept electronic transmission of election results. At the plenary to consider the recommendation of the Senate Committee on INEC, all APC senators rejected electronic transmission. Both the National Chairman and the National Organising Secretary of the party also rejected the mechanism, arguing that it was not necessary. President Bola Tinubu, as a candidate at a talk at the Chatham House, expressed lack of confidence in the integrity of electronic transmission of election results.

You can now understand why INEC failed to electronically transfer results of the presidential polls from the polling centres. It is not a matter of inconvenience. It is deliberate. It is a continuation of elite lack of commitment to transparent, credible, and reliable elections. The political elites do not want free and fair elections. Their assistants and enablers in the election management body help them to achieve their political desire.

But we cannot continue the march to nowhere in electoral reform. We need to end the sorcery, dust up the Uwais Committee report and implement the radical reforms about the constitution of a credible electoral management body. A serious electoral reform starts with terminating the tenure of the current INEC commissioners.

Sam Amadi, PhD, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, is the Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts.