NIGERIA’S electoral system has come a long way; passing through rough patches of experimentation with the ballot to be reckoned today amongst countries in Africa with uninterrupted democracy for over two decades.
Reaching this height has not come with marginal challenges but the good thing is, Nigeria has refused to succumb to forces compelling her slip from the pathway of modernity hinged on democracy.
As 2023 elections draw nearer, calls for expeditious approach to all preparations and strategies toward a successful election heightens. The country’s electoral umpire -Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and citizens are by nuances and actions prodded to put their acts together in making the project meet all expectations.
Arguably, the signs are there that the authorities saddled with the responsibilities are not leaving anything to chance. Innovations in the country’s electoral system over the years allude to the fact that Nigeria means business in her efforts toward improving on all structures of her democracy. The African giant is poised to conduct election that satisfies international recognition as credible, free and fair in 2023 and their electoral guidelines have not fallen short of achieving the target.
One area that currently draws public attention is the ongoing voter registration exercise across the country. Nigeria boasts of a population of over 200 million people- the most populous black nation, according to United Nations population report. Reputable rating organisation -Trading Economic Global Macro Models puts fellow West African neighbour, Ghana’s total population at about 31 million people as at 2021. Out of this figure, 17 million people registered to participate in their 2020 general elections. This represents 79 per cent of their population. Nigeria with 200 million people had 84 million eligible registered voters in 2019 presidential election, out of which only 29 million eventually voted. The figure represents 35 per cent turnout.
Apparently, Nigeria is yet to hit her potential in electoral exercise and given that they fly the flag of democracy in their electoral system, it becomes evident that apathy characterises their elections. This asserts the aptness of the current registration and revalidation process being conducted by INEC.
To give more credibility to the system, the use of electronic machine was introduced in 2007 elections. Certainly, appreciable achievements came with the innovation but much still need to be done. With only nine months remaining in the span of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure, another moment calls for election in the country.
Perhaps the biggest highlight to the current electoral trajectory is the new Electoral Act signed to guide 2023 poll. Many believe this will reduce electoral discrepancies to barest minimum and shore-up the country’s image. Consequently, INEC has included registration of qualified citizens for Permanent Voter Cards, revalidation of already registered electorate with varying issues, and transfer of data to preferred centres as may be requested by individuals for convenience in participation in the election; as part of the build-up to the poll.
Surprisingly, the number of citizens coming out to obtain the Permanent Voter Cards at designated centres exceeded expectations, thereby, putting INEC under pressure to have all eligible Nigerians get registered within the time frame allotted for the exercise.
Given observable upsurge of citizens, it is practically impossible to have them all captured in the process before June 30, 2022 deadline stipulated by INEC. Consequently, calls for extension of the exercise to ensure that willing Nigerians are not disenfranchised are being made by concerned Nigerians. However, INEC’s body language seems to put electorate in suspense. While reports have it that INEC has cancelled the June 30 deadline, it remains mere speculation as no official statement from the electoral authourity authenticates such conclusions.
Many questions bug the mind as the time-line crosses the red zone. First, what would be the fate of willing Nigerians who had put-in several hours and days at designated centres to obtain PVC and be part of the process, but have not been successful? Are their constitutional rights well considered if the door suddenly shuts against them, given the unrealistic time frame?
How adequate are INEC personnel and materials deployed for this purpose to justify drawing the exercise to a close based on rigid and ineffectual time allotment? Again, how constitutionally correct is it not to give electorate very fair opportunity to be part of the process?
INEC has much to answer here, should these crops of citizens be denied their civic right. International Conventions on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance unambiguously guarantee the right to political participation.
How would it be explained that these rights are not violated when citizens are by calculations of convenience denied opportunity to exercise this fundamental right? Findings reveal that the youth constitute greater percentage of the population in the current quest for PVC.
In a more organised clime, the development should not only be encouraged but celebrated. This is given the fact that the political field is being expanded through consciousness of citizens to their duties and obligations to the state. Whether the sudden interest is borne out of sensitisation or self realisation, the crux of the matter is that there is a spark which has kindled the political consciousness of youths and any effort to truncate this diminishes the country’s democracy image.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended clearly states in Section 14(1)(c) that, “the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’” Section 9, subsection (6) of 2022 Electoral Act further states that, “the registration of voters, updating and revision of the Register of Voters under this section shall not stop not later than 90 days before any election covered by this Act. The participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
From the foregoing, February and March 2023, when the elections will take place are still not less than eight months away, therefore, the justification in cutting short this voter registration exercise remains unclear to many minds. INEC should work in the interest of Nigeria; by expanding the registration centres and making them more available to the people.
The fact that in a population of over 200 million people, only 29 million participated in last election shows overwhelming apathy.
Now that the populace, particularly the youth seems to be buoyed into participation, no time is more apt than now to seize the opportunity and change the narrative in the building of a stronger democratic country.