FCT elections as a harbinger? – By: . .
By Nick Dazang
For stakeholders in the electoral process, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Regional Council elections were expected to achieve at least four salient objectives, thus placing them on par with, or even above, the Edo gubernatorial elections and of Ondo.
They were expected to serve as an antithesis and edifying departure from the conduct of Anambra’s gubernatorial election of November 6, 2021, which was defined and marred by violence; dysfunction of the new bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS); neglect of their electoral duties by a large number of ad hoc staff; and the late opening of polling stations.
The FCT regional council elections were expected to provide an auspicious opportunity to further test the BVAS in a relatively quiet election and hone its performance. They were expected to represent a remarkable overall improvement in the conduct of elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). And they were, above all, to give an idea and a taste of the elections of the governors of Ekiti and Osun scheduled for June 18 and July 16 respectively, as well as the general elections of 2023.
Alas, by early Saturday afternoon, it was crystal clear that the elections had fallen short of the aforementioned expectations. Most polling stations in the six regional councils opened late, despite the fact that voters had swarmed them as early as 8 a.m. Voter turnout was low in the city center, in Garki, in Wuse and in the bourgeois neighborhoods of Asokoro and Maitama. There have been many reports of the malfunctioning of the BVAS, especially in the rustic areas outside the Abuja City Council (AMAC) area, thus instilling a lot of tension and apprehension among the voters. There have been numerous incidents of vote buying and trading.
Stemming from his conduct, the questions stakeholders are most likely to ask are: Why couldn’t polling stations open on time, even in districts close to the FCT INEC office in Zone 10, Garki? ? SUPER RACs (Clusters of Registration Area Centres), supposed to facilitate the early deployment of electoral agents, were they not used or activated? Were the Commission’s efforts to deploy on time sabotaged by the National Union of Transport Workers (NURTW) and the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), whose vehicles were supposed to transport polling officials and equipment on election day?
Despite the co-opting of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) into the Inter-Agency Advisory Committee on Election Security (ICCES), why are the have elections turned into bazaars? where votes were brazenly exchanged and under the eyes of security agencies? Why did voter apathy attend elections beyond pallor? If so many challenges could visit elections in a placid FCT with just six regional councils, what would happen in a general election scenario where elections would be held in 774 local government areas (LGAs), some of which might be troubled by insurrection, banditry and kidnapping?
Ahead of the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections and the 2023 general elections, the CENI must answer these legitimate and relevant questions and address them squarely. Logistical challenges cannot sustainably define and follow our elections. Moreover, elections cannot continuously be delivered in a jerky fashion with its ebbs and flows. Once elections are characterized by flip-flops, the tendency is for the Election Management Body (EMB) to struggle to maintain strong empathy and support from its key stakeholders. The way forward, therefore, is to follow a consistent trajectory of excellence: once the commission raises the bar, it must not rest on its oars: it must continue to raise the bar higher and not allow it to come down .
Fortunately, on February 15, three days after the regional council elections were held, INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu was clear in acknowledging the challenges, especially with the BVAS. In a meeting with the Resident Election Commissioners (RECs), Prof Yakubu assured that the challenges with the BVAS were quickly addressed.
As the Commission works diligently to optimize the functionality of the BVAS with respect to voter accreditation, it must pay particular attention to the training of its ad hoc staff who are members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). The training must not only be rigorous, it must be concrete, practical and scrupulously supervised. There is no doubt that these ad hoc staff had played a salutary role in the conduct of previous elections. But gradually they became complacent, indifferent and lost their initial focus and enthusiasm.
The Commission should continue to engage, strengthen and refine its Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NURTW and NARTO. Some of their members, instead of bolstering INEC’s logistical efforts by showing up on time, often show up late. Others provide rickety vehicles or less than the required number. This results in poll workers and security guards being stranded and arriving late at polling stations.
The commission should also re-engage with the ICPC, EFCC and the police regarding the vote buying and trading that has become commonplace and threatens the integrity of our elections. If the three can apprehend and bring to justice the perpetrators of vote buying during the conduct of the Ekiti and Osun governorate elections, such arrests and sanctions will send strong signals to potential perpetrators in the general elections of 2023.
But beyond that, the commission, as the engine of our elections, must educate voters about violence, vote buying and visitation trading in the electoral process and good governance. Voters must be made to understand that once they sell their votes, they lose their right to hold politicians to account or their right to demand good governance.
Above all, the commission must view the challenges posed by the FCT regional council elections as a call to arms. He must proceed, with a renewed sense of urgency and determination, to reclaim the glorious position he achieved in the aftermath of the Edo and Ondo governorship elections. This is possible given his checkered pedigree, resilience and proven ability to challenge himself on the brink of failure.
Nick Dazang is a former Director of Media and Public Information at INEC