The Independent National Electoral Commission should apologise to Nigerians for not living up to expectations in the 2023 general elections, a coalition of over 700 human rights organisations under the aegis of the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room advised on Thursday.
“Since voter information no longer resides in the Permanent Voters Cards in future elections, INEC should consider abolishing the use of PVCs and introduce the use of alternative means of identification such as National Identity Card, International Passport, or Drivers’ License. This will further reduce the cost of elections in Nigeria,” the coalition also stated.
While demanding what it described post-election audit to enable the commission to understand and account for lapses during the elections, the organisations called on the National Assembly to set up an independent readiness assurance investigation to ascertain the level of preparations before major elections.
The coalition said the recommendations were necessary to improve INEC and the electoral processes offered for consideration and possible implementation by election stakeholders in Nigeria.
According to them, the Nigerian constitution should be amended to eliminate the position of Resident Electoral Commissioners under the control and direction of INEC through the appointments of State Directors of Elections to replace RECs.
The CSOs said the suggestion by the 2005 Justice Muhammadu Uwais Committee for the unbundling of INEC should be considered and implemented without delay, while an effective legal framework should be formulated for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal, Political Parties Registration and Regulation Commission, and an agency to handle constituency delimitation.
The Convener of NCSSR, Ene Obi, made the suggestions in Abuja during a post-election review meeting organised with support from the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office where the report of the 2023 elections in Nigeria was presented.
She said, “As a practice, INEC should institute a process of post-election audit to enable the commission to understand and account for lapses during elections, and to undertake measures to prevent future occurrence of the lapses. With regards to the 2023 general election, INEC should conduct: – an audit of polling units where elections did not take place to establish the reasons for the failure; – an audit to provide the public details of the process leading up to the results it collated for the election; and – an audit to provide to the public information on why the INEC Results Viewing Portal malfunctioned, despite assurances of its robustness.
“The Situation Room’s observation and analysis of the 2023 general election indicate that the election fell short of the credibility threshold set out by the Situation Room. INEC should therefore apologise to Nigerians for these avoidable lapses. Contrary to these expectations, the 2023 general election was marred by very poor organization, severe logistical and operational failure, lack of essential electoral transparency, substantial disruption of voting, and several incidents of violence.
“As a result, the process cannot be considered to have been credible. Given the lack of transparency, particularly in the result collation process, there can be no confidence in the results of the election. In addition, there was very poor communication from INEC on challenges with its processes on election day.
“In the light of these shortcomings, the Situation Room believes that additional reforms and improvements are required to ensure that the quality of future elections in Nigeria does not further decline and that public confidence in the capacity of INEC to conduct elections is restored, while trust in the credibility of elections is re-established.
“The constitution should be amended to eliminate the position of Resident Electoral Commissioners under the control and direction of the Commission through the appointments of State Directors of Elections to replace RECs.
“The suggestion by the Justice Uwais Committee for the unbundling of INEC should be considered and implemented without delay. An effective legal framework should be formulated for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal, Political Parties Registration and Regulation Commission, and an agency to handle constituency delimitation.
“Proposed amendments to the constitution should include issues critical to the inclusiveness of the electoral process, such as endorsement of early voting for election day workers, independent candidacy and voting by Nigerians in Diaspora, in conformity with international principles for democratic elections.
“Any future amendments to election legislation should be enacted sufficiently in advance of elections to provide political parties, candidates and voters adequate time to become informed of the new rules of the election process.
“To improve election administration, the National Assembly should be more vigorous in undertaking its oversight role over INEC and the electoral process. Pre- and post-election legislative scrutiny of the implementation of the Electoral Act and other legislations by INEC should be conducted regularly.”
The Governance Adviser, FCDO, British High Commission, Dr. Matthew Ayibakuro said, “The UK is especially proud of our very long-standing relationship with NGOs and the civil society situation. We have to all look forward to continuing this partnership to ensure that we’re able to address some of the challenges which are very simply referred to as qualitative translation.”
INEC National Commissioner and chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said in a few weeks time, the commission would begin a review of the 2023 elections.
While calling on CSOs to remain non-partisan, he said “We should not reduce the election success and hinge all issues on the challenges with result upload alone. They said BVAS performed optimally, and other logistics worked well but nobody is saying that.”
He continued, “You will agree with me that there were a lot of positives that arose from the conduct of the 2023 general elections. The commission will harvest all those positives, consolidate all those positives and move ahead toward the next general elections.
“There were also challenges that came with it; so based on those challenges, the commission will receive reports from both domestic and international election observers and then if there are changes that we have to carry out administratively, the commission will carry out all those changes.
“If there are also changes that require both legal and constitutional review or reforms, the commission will also pursue some of these legal and constitutional reforms.
“But I want to say that democracy is a work in progress. Democracy is not a finished product. So we have to keep on working in order to make sure that we get our electoral process and democracy to the positions we want it to be. But we cannot attain that position without the active collaboration, and active participation of civil society groups and organisations.
“I want to say that it is also important if you must consolidate on this journey for civil society groups and organisations to take the lead in terms of advocacy, and also in terms of enlightenment. There are so many people who do not understand some of the provisions of the Constitution guiding and regulating the conduct of elections
“There are so many people who have not seen the Electoral Act 2022 before. There are so many people who have not seen or read some of the guidelines and regulations for the conduct of elections.
“Some of these people have been making very serious comments around the constitutional legal and regulatory issues on the elections. Some of these comments are coming out of ignorance or lack of knowledge of the constitutive legal instruments guiding the elections.”