By Akanimo Sampson
The rejection of the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) draft guidelines by 61 political parties ahead of the general elections starting from this coming February 16, tends to be credence to the opposition that has been accusing the electoral body of being part of an alleged scheme to subvert the will of the electorate.
The 61 parties are alleging that the eight new clauses introduced by INEC were designed to ruin the elections.
Analysts however, say the legitimacy of democratic government is established, in large measure, by genuine elections, and they are much more than what happens on election day. A genuine electoral process, according to them, requires an open pre-election environment in which citizens can participate without fear or obstruction; political parties, candidates and the media can operate freely; an independent judiciary functions fairly and expeditiously; and electoral authorities operate impartially.
This does not seem to be the case at the moment in Nigeria. In a disturbing statement in Abuja Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, the National Chairman of the Action Peoples Party (APP) and the Publicity Secretary of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) said the 61 parties are demanding for the retention of 2011 and 2015 separate accreditation time and separate voting time to help forestall rigging with the presence of voters at the polling unit instead of INEC 2019 simultaneous accreditation and voting.
Already, a civic group, Open Election Data Initiative says inclusive elections provide equal opportunities for all eligible citizens to participate as voters in selecting their representatives and as candidates for election to government. This right to participate is a broad concept and can only be subject to reasonable restrictions that are provided by law.
According to them, ‘’authorities must take steps to assess and remove any barriers to the participation of all citizens. This includes removing barriers for traditionally marginalized populations such as ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities; women, youth or elderly citizens; and persons with disabilities. Reasonable restrictions on participation should be narrow, like a minimum age for voting and standing as an electoral contestant.
‘’Elections are transparent when each step is open to scrutiny, and stakeholders can independently verify whether the process is conducted honestly and accurately. The principle of transparency is linked to the fundamental right of citizens to seek, receive and impart information (which are elements of the freedom of expression), as well as the right to take part in government and public affairs.
‘’Decision making processes must be open to scrutiny, and reasonable opportunities for public input should be provided. Information relating to all stages of the electoral cycle must be made available and accessible to citizens, including voters and candidates. Nonpartisan and partisan observers should be accredited to observe all phases of the election process and be permitted to comment publicly on the process free from unreasonable restriction.
‘’Accountability in elections refers to the rights of citizens with respect to the conduct of other electoral stakeholders, including the government, election management bodies (EMBs), political parties, candidates and security forces. Elections are a key mechanism through which citizens hold their governments accountable, but there must also be accountability within election processes themselves.
‘’There must be effective remedies in place for violations of citizens’ election-related rights. There must also be administrative accountability for those organising elections and those conducting governmental activities related to elections. In addition, there must be timely procedures to bring to account those who conduct criminal acts that affect electoral-related rights.
‘’Elections are competitive when citizens have reasonable and equitable opportunities to compete to be elected to governmental offices. Political competition is a central component of elections that truly reflect the will of the people. The principle of competitiveness relates to aspects of the election throughout the electoral cycle.
‘’The legal framework must allow citizens to come together and register political parties to represent their interests, and provide access to spots on the ballot for parties and/or candidates. Parties and candidates must be able to campaign and voters to cast their ballots free from illegal influence, intimidation or violence.’’
In the mean time, the 61 protesting parties are also demanding for the announcement of accreditation figures by 12noon on election day and recorded in a signed form and given to party agents before voting starts to guide against manipulation of election figures during collation.
Their other demands include, ‘’stoppage of PVC collection 10 days to election and disclosure of the total number of PVC collected on polling unit basis to political parties. Rejection of the clauses in the guideline which allow unduly accredited voters to vote especially the clause that allows voters with PVC whose name is not in the register of voters to vote
‘’Transparency in collation and transmission of results with accredited representatives of Election observers and political parties monitoring Rejection of the creation or usage of secret polling units called voting point settlement and demand full list and location of such units
‘’Want INEC to meet with party chairmen before the final release of the Election guidelines and the redeployment of Amina Zakari as head of collation centre and replacement with Federal Commissioner in charge of Operation, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu to ensure credibility and balancing. Rejection of the use of former Youth Corps members, and staff of the federal government agencies as ad-hoc staff.’’
The parties threatened to pass a vote of no confidence on INEC Chairman if he decided to release the contentious guideline on Monday without further consultation with chairmen of political parties, adding that they still stand by their resolution and petition to the INEC chairman and his federal commissioners.
The protesting 61 parties are part of the 91 multi-parties in the country.