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Off-cycle polls: Rebuilding confidence in Nigeria’s electoral democracy

The months that followed the conduct of the 2023 General Elections were no doubt a rollercoaster with contrasting emotions about the outcome of the elections…

The months that followed the conduct of the 2023 General Elections were no doubt a rollercoaster with contrasting emotions about the outcome of the elections and, most recently, with the outcome of the Presidential Election Petition and other tribunals across the country. No matter what part of the political divide you belong to and how optimistic you tend to be, you will agree that the general election delivered less than it promised, taking the quality of the process into cognisance. A good understanding of citizens’ sentiments about Nigeria’s election can easily be seen in any social media posts that mention preparatory activities of the election management body towards the upcoming off-circle elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states. 

A brief sentiment analysis no doubt shows that the Independent National Electoral Commission has a herculean task of rebuilding the citizens’ confidence in Nigeria’s electoral democracy as we go into the off-circle elections. Thus, the threshold to measure the quality of these elections will be higher, but the first job is to convince potential voters of the sanctity of their votes. Already, there are significant concerns about the over 241,000 uncollected Permanent Voters Cards with just a little over a month to the elections proper. 

The reason is plausible as it seems again that politicians have found a way to circumvent the laws and manipulate the process, albeit with the judiciary’s support. This is despite enacting an electoral law permitting the deployment of technological devices like the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV). Similarly, the judiciary also pounced on these loopholes during tribunals across the nations, while INEC was left seemingly helpless mainly because they also needed help to fulfil their parts of the promises to Nigerians during the polls. 

According to Fact Check elections, the Electoral Commission consistently assured Nigerians that election results would be transmitted electronically via its result viewing portal in near real-time. This was expected to enable citizens to follow polling unit-level results on the INEC Result Viewing IReV portal in real time on Election Day. Manual results from polling units were expected to be checked against those uploaded on the IReV before being admitted. While the BVAS may have done its job of proper accreditation of voters, election results were not uploaded in real-time, particularly for the Presidential elections where only 45 per cent of results were on the portal three days after the elections, citing technical glitches. 

In this vein, the commission needs to take intentional steps in prosecuting electoral offenders, including its staff, who contributed to violating the electoral act during the 2023 general election. This may encourage participation as the commission will be seen to be at least making an effort to fish out the rotten eggs within its ranks. 

Beyond this, we have a huge responsibility to prove to Nigerians that BVAS remains a game changer, especially for the accreditation of voters as this device has consistently alleviated the manipulation of accreditation figures.  Also, the commission needs to convince Nigerians that it has the capacity, will and sincerity to upload the people’s results in the glaring eyes of the public. The upcoming elections also provide an opportunity for the commission, civil society organisations and other electoral stakeholders to debunk misinformation that may be circulating as regards the role of BVAS and IREV in the elections. 

The efforts to rebuild citizens’ confidence to participate in the forthcoming elections are definitely without prejudice to other perennial challenges that have characterised Nigeria’s elections over the years. The problem of security, logistics, technological and knowledge gaps must be addressed during and after the mock accreditations ahead of the polls. 

Experts remain optimistic that while the existing electoral law has its loopholes, the framework is sufficient to deliver an acceptable election only if implemented to the latter. However, the passage of the Electoral Offenses Commission bill will further provide a standard framework that will ensure electoral offenders are sternly and adequately punished to deter others. 


Olasupo Abideen wrote via [email protected] 


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