As the nation’s political parties strategise ahead of the forthcoming general elections, analysts say that one major headache is how to address the challenge of conducting credible and acceptable elections in 2015.
The origin of election in Nigeria can be traced to the pre-independence period, when the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) was established for the purpose of conducting the 1959 general elections.
In 1960, the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) also conducted the post-independence federal and regional elections of 1964 and 1965, respectively.
The Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) was constituted by the military regime of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, which organised the 1979 general elections that ushered in the Second Republic.
FEDECO also conducted the 1983 general elections before the military interruption.
Besides, the National Electoral Commission (NEC), which was established by the former Military President Ibrahim Babangida , also conducted the June 12, 1993 election, annulled by the same administration.
Also, in December 1995, the military government of late Gen. Sani Abacha scrapped NEC and established the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), which also conducted local government councils and National Assembly elections.
However, the sudden death of Abacha on June 1998 aborted the process of inauguration of the elected officials.
In 1998, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar-led military administration dissolved NECON and established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which ushered in the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999.
To consolidate its existence as a truly independent electoral body, INEC has so far conducted three major general elections – 1999, 2007 and 2011.
Pundits, however, argue that most of the previous elections conducted by INEC were either marred by allegations of rigging, ballot snatching, ballot stuffing, bribery and corruption or outright irregularities, thereby casting doubt on their credibility.
Available records show that while the 2007 election was generally described as flawed, the 2011 election was marred by electoral violence.
It is, perhaps, against this background that the President of the Senate, David Mark, urged INEC to do everything within its powers to conduct credible elections in 2015.
Mark gave the advice in his contributions on a motion for the extension of ongoing voter registration and distribution of permanent voter cards in the country.
He said that the 2015 elections were very critical and charged the commission to take the preparatory stages as voter registration and permanent voter cards distribution, seriously.
According to him, if people are disenfranchised from the early stages of election preparation, then there will be problem with the general elections.
He said that INEC did not give adequate publicity to the permanent voter cards distribution, adding that the quality of the card also needed to be improved upon.
“I think that the publicity given by INEC is not enough. We must get it right and if there are complaints, even if from only two persons, INEC should look into it.
“Some wards are very far from local government headquarters; so, between now and Dec. 5, they must rectify all these issues. The quality of the card is even very poor,” he said.
Mark advised INEC to embark on massive publicity at the local government and ward levels, of its ongoing activities, adding that the publicity should be continuous.
To allay the fears of people like Mark, INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega, assures Nigerians that the 2015 elections will be the best ever conducted in the country.
He said his optimism was based on the strategies put in place by the commission well ahead of the elections.
Jega spoke in Paris, France, at a luncheon in his honour by the staff of the Nigerian Embassy, saying that the commission would spare no effort to make the 2015 elections, not only the best in Nigeria’s political history, but also the most acceptable to the citizenry and the international community.
“Between now and 2015, INEC will put many structures in place to ensure that the 2015 elections are not only the best in the history of our country but also the most accepted by our citizens,” Jega said.
According to him, among the measures put in place are the ongoing consolidation and updating of the voter register and the issuance of permanent voter cards to all eligible voters.
“I assure Nigerians that INEC will achieve a seamless integration of the data of voters and institutionalise continuous voter registration before the 2015 elections,” he said.
Jega said INEC had set up databases at the national level and in all the states and the Federal Capital Territory, aimed at institutionalising a system of continuous voter registration.
“We are now working very hard to clean up that data and consolidate it and to ensure that both the states’ data and the national data are well integrated.
“Our hope is that before the end of this year, we will have the technology sorted out so that people can register continuously.
“And it will not just be fresh registration; but people who have changed their addresses can apply, following a stipulated procedure wherever they are, to have their registration status updated,” he stated.
He said if INEC could achieve that, there would be no need to continue to do a major registration before an election.
On the conduct of the 2015 general elections in the three northern states under emergency, Jega says the successful conduct of by-elections in Yobe is an indication that the commission will be able to conduct elections in the affected states.
The by-election was for the Nangere Constituency of the State House of Assembly, when the seat became vacant after the member representing the constituency, Adamu Degubi, was killed by gunmen in June 2012.
“From all the reports that we received, the by-election was one of the best elections that we have conducted so far in terms of turn out and in terms of commencement on time. All polling units were ready for the election before 7.30 a.m.” Jega said.
“If anybody had any doubts as to our preparedness to conduct any election in the three states, this is clear evidence that we are prepared to do it and do it well under any circumstances,” Jega said.
Re-enforcing the optimism of Jega, the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, says the 2015 elections will hold in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, in spite of the emergency rule in the affected areas.
Ekweremadu, who spoke recently in Abuja when a delegation from the European Union visited him, said the right to vote is fundamental human rights, even under emergency rule.
“We just extended the state of emergency and it will expire in November. We hope that by then, we would have contained the insurgency.
“If elections come and there is still insecurity, we will still hold election because we have had local government elections in the North-East despite the state of emergency,” he said.
Perceptive observers, nonetheless, advise INEC and the security agencies to also look at the issue of pockets of insecurity in other parts of the country particularly in the Niger Delta region.
Political analysts, however, insist that Nigerians cannot abandon the issue of election credibility to INEC and the government alone, adding that the citizens must see themselves as stakeholders in making it work.
According to them, Nigeria needs credible election in 2015 for the country to survive beyond 2015, noting that the fight against corruption and bad governance will also be a mirage as long as the legitimacy of elected leaders is questionable. NAN