Thankfully, we can now do a little postmortem of the 23 February presidential and national assembly elections and the 9 March governorship and state assembly elections.
Let me first state that I am very happy that the elections are over and we can once again get on with our lives. These elections have a way of creating undue anxiety and general unease and I always feel better when the electoral process is over.
This electioneering process, like many before it, heated up the polity. At a point, it seemed what was coming was not an election but a war because of the level of attrition and name-calling by political combatants. So far, winners have emerged and are probably still basking in the joy of their success at the polls, while those who lost out are perhaps still evaluating how they lost and contemplating their next steps. From all indications, it is clear that the last has not been heard of the 2019 elections.
While the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been declared winner of the presidential election, the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) has already announced that he is going to challenge the result in court and has actually commenced the process of doing so.
There are quite a number of other results from the gubernatorial, National Assembly and state assembly elections that will make it to the election petition tribunals and eventually the law courts. This is aside from the fact that the elections in some states have also been declared inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, while there are still some of these serious issues to resolve, it is still safe to say that the big task of conducting the 2019 general election is already over.
Were the general elections free, fair and credible? I am clearly not competent to answer that question. The law courts are more competent and surely will be answering the question in the coming weeks. But it is clear that a lot has to be done to improve the electoral process. The election has shown that there are aspects of the electoral process under INEC that the body has to improve upon, and there are also aspects that are outside of its control that also need improvement.
Top of what INEC needs to improve on is the rampant cases of card reader failure and malfunctioning. The card reader has become a key component of our elections; therefore INEC must find a manufacturer that can supply ones that will give little or no problem and be very easy to power and use.
Another process INEC has to improve on is the long process and time it takes to collate and announce results, especially the presidential election result, which requires electoral officers from all the states to travel to the Abuja collation centre to personally declare the results of their states before the final result can be announced. I know this is a provision of the Electoral Act, but in this age, such provisions need to be amended and the collation and transmission of result should be better handled using technology.
I also think the time has come for us to get people who are experienced in logistics in the private sector involved in our elections, as their skill set and knowledge may be quite invaluable in the management of our electoral process. They can serve as consultants and given specific tasks to do with strict guidelines that will prevent meddling.
Perhaps the major aspect of the election that needs improvement, aside from transportation of electoral materials to where they are to be used is security. This is actually outside the control of INEC but how it is handled has far-reaching impacts on the election. With the cases of violence during the last elections which led to cases of killings, ballot-snatching and other misdemeanors, the security arrangements for our subsequent elections have to be better handled. We need to come up with a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for security during our election that will be unambiguous and be effective enough to provide a serene environment for Nigerians to exercise their voting right and for electoral officers to discharge their duties.
I must also say that while democratic elections are the best way to choose leaders, democracy itself is basically a system of government by the majority because those who have the higher numbers are declared winners, irrespective of the opinion of the thousands and in some cases millions of people that feel differently and said so with their votes.
It is therefore important that winners should always do more to encourage reconciliation and embrace those on the other side of the divide. This will reduce the pain of loss and enhance peace and togetherness. And for those who lost in the just concluded elections, there is always another election. History has shown that those who lose today can win in future. As one politician recently said: “The best time to prepare for the next election is immediately after the last one lost.”