“Nigerians normally believe that election results do not reflect the choice of voters and that’s why they abstain” ―Ebuka Onyekwelu
The Anambra governorship election has come and gone but still, it resonates. Already there are tones of lessons that hopefully have been underscored by analysts and critical stakeholders in our democratic project and moving forward, it is expected that these lessons form the bedrock of further reforms and innovations in our electoral system. A seamless blend of technology into our electoral system has continued to be more tasking than anticipated, even as billions of public funds are expended on these efforts without convincing results.
The INEC is an apparent need to justify further expenditure on biometrics and must be sure that the technology will not be a tool of mass disenfranchisement as witnessed in the Anambra state experiment with the BIVAS, which replaced the Card Reader machine. Although, it has to be admitted that an all-inclusive, functionally responsive, suitable, and sustainable electoral system normally goes through a long process of reforms that involves trial and error before it finally evolves to become a true reflection of the people’s aspirations. In many ways, therefore, the 2021 Anambra state governorship election has provided a template for further improvements and more specific reforms tailored towards identified shortfalls in the extant electoral processes. Very clearly, the INEC has to as a matter of urgency, and for sustainability purposes, rethink its adhoc staffing process for any election. The INEC should painstakingly recruit and retain a handful of field staff during any election and retain them, rather than going all the way to recruit complete new hands every election cycle. Alternatively, they should keep a record of those who have been trained and who worked well in administering the INEC mandate and contact them during elections for further training and re-engagement.
But even beyond those, it does appear that the Anambra 2021 gubernatorial election might have a far-reaching impact on Nigeria’s politics; political evolvement, and public participation. Indeed, this would not be the first time political developments in Anambra are shaping national polity and strengthening our democracy. In 2006, Anambra became the very first state where a sitting governor, who is also a member of the national ruling party, was sacked by court. Before then, it was nearly unthinkable. That’s not all because, in 2007, Aso Rock anointed governor of Anambra, again of the ruling party, was sacked by the court.
These two audacious court judgments set precedence and revived the judiciary as a veritable partner in Nigeria’s democratic project. Before then, the judiciary was largely regarded to exist for the pleasures of Abuja. The developments have had an immense impact on Nigeria’s democracy such that recently, Zamfara and Bayelsa states where the current ruling party won governorship election, were lost to the opposition party. I have made these references to affirm that the long-lasting impact on the electoral system and improved democratic experience for the people, is not solely tied to electoral reforms or solely the duty of the electoral umpire. By implication, the politics, quality of contestants or candidates, fair and firm judiciary, consciousness level of voters, among others, can and do have a profound effect on democracy and elections; both primary and general elections.
While policy-driven reforms are suitable for enforcement of rights in the electoral process, summation of attitudes of key stakeholders and behaviours of key political actors, including major contestants in an election, leaves major landmarks that either renew the people’s faith in their government or dampen their desire which plunges the system in deeper uncertainties and mistrust, as well as frustrates chances of growth. In other words, when an election outcome reflects the noble aspiration of the people, chances are high that the people will be more confident in the government’s ability to do the right thing. But when quality and due process is in doubt, trust withers and this further diminishes any hope of making a significant impact by the people, in their electoral and democratic system.
The just-concluded governorship election in Anambra state might strengthen voters’ confidence because; the election outcome generally, is a reflection of the people’s wishes. Nigerians normally believe that election results do not reflect the choice of voters so they argued that’s why they abstain, feeling justified. But in reality, it is public abstinence from the political process that fuels electoral malpractices. For instance, an election in which the choice of voters is overwhelming and clear, the election result can hardly be rigged. It, therefore, stands to reason that political apathy is a major boost to election fraud. Of late, people always use Imo state as an example that votes do not matter and that the choice of voters in an election is inconsequential. But in truth, how can it be assessed if the people did not vote?
Election or, in fact, democracy is a journey rather than an automated system wherein everything works out perfectly. Instead, it is a process of continuous engagement and improvements especially when the system is subjected to trial through dutiful engagement by the people and in courts. Through these trial processes, the system gradually becomes a better version of its old self. For instance, since 2011, the transparency level of our electoral system has tremendously improved. As of now, every polling unit has the result of that unit publicly counted in the unit and signed by party agents, security operatives, while duplicate copies are issued to them and another pasted on the wall of that unit, all these done in the open. What this means is that it is increasingly difficult to manipulate polling unit election results, more so, if the voters themselves are actively involved by coming out to make their choice. In this regard, what the Anambra governorship election has done is to energize voters to be part of the election process and make their choices without any fear of manipulation. Hundreds of thousands of Anambra voters showed uncommon courage by coming out to cast their votes amidst disturbing security concerns. The implication for the rest of Nigerian voters is that there is really no excuse to stay away from voting, considering how desperate Nigeria’s situation is and how urgent the leadership needs to be changed.
The governor-elect, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, is a public intellectual and a well-known figure, reputed for high-quality public service. What this says is that the best hands that can be found in Nigeria actually stand a chance at winning elections in Nigeria. Why this is important is because the winning election is the first and most difficult huddle to cross in any attempt to clean up our system or articulate development option. You have to first of all win so that you can affect any change from within. The reality is that people cannot rise above the quality of leadership they have because no man or woman can give what they do not have. Therefore, what the election would trigger is a new hope that some of our bests can actually go through the demanding and sometimes deforming political process and emerge victoriously. Although it took Prof. Soludo about twelve years, which in itself is a lesson in consistency and a pointer that our best who desire to serve must persevere and never lose focus or faith, and they will have their chance if they persist. This is a major takeaway capable of generating an important sanitization of our polity.
♦ Ebuka Onyekwelu, strategic governance exponent, is a columnist with the WAP
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