We indeed live in very interesting times; every time we think we have seen, heard or experienced something bad, it seems we are further hit with something far worse. There are no words to describe the chaos and dysfunction. Never before have we seen so many people hanging on by a thread. Whether it is cavernous insecurity, infrastructure deficit, hyper-inflation, social injustice, obnoxious policies, pervasive poverty, high rate of (especially youth) unemployment, the systematic shrinking of the civic space, the asphyxiation of civil liberties and the general nosedive in the standard of living, there’s no denying that we are on the precipice on so many levels.
The angst is understandable but salvation will not come via emotions but emotional intelligence. Until you can channel your emotions into doing the things that actually move the needle, you will get no championship belt for punching the air. There was a time it was considered premature in Nigeria to start talking about elections that are two years away, especially for the citizenry. Thankfully, we have smartened up to such disingenuous narratives spun by those who wish to cast a spell of docility on us while they get the head-start on their machinations.
As battered and bruised as our democracy has been, it still remains a democracy and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. It is the government of the people, those of us who, through our collective franchise, entrust representatives with the mandate to oversee the affairs of our country at the federal, state and local governments respectively. This is what an election is – a leadership recruitment exercise. Now that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has opened its doors and portal for the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, the journey to carrying out your most sacred civic responsibility starts here and now.
The Electoral Act – The National Assembly Needs to Act
Regardless of whatever political affiliation or sentiments we hold, we can at least come to a respectable consensus that the Nigeria of 1999, when we formally switched to civilian rule, is not the Nigeria of 2021 and she will continue to morph and evolve in direct correlation to the dynamics of the people. It is therefore very unfortunate, unconscionable, and unequivocally a great disservice to the people of Nigeria that the current Electoral Act neither satisfactorily aligns with the yearning and aspirations of the people nor with the practical realities of today.
For example, while we must commend INEC for getting their ducks in a row, it is also critical to question why the CVR window has to be opened and closed intermittently, leaving the citizenry with a narrow corridor to get their PVCs. How does the electoral body that literally just has one job not be able to cater for eligible and unregistered voters whenever they so choose to sign up? Is it forgivable that if I were to turn 18 years of age when the window has ‘closed’, it implies that the system has effectively disenfranchised me or am I just collateral damage for inefficiency?
Why is it that in this age of digital technology and high social mobility, voters find it difficult to vote in a different place other than where they originally registered? What are the sufficient provisions for persons with disabilities to vote with ease? To what extent is technology playing a part, especially in real-time announcement of results at polling and collation centres respectively? What about the political neutrality and financial independence of INEC itself? Aren’t we due for independent candidacy? Are we thinking of diaspora voters or do we just love their remittances? These are the issues!
The National Assembly should realize that they are the representatives of the people and they must always protect the interests of those who employed them through the ballot. Anyone with a basic understanding of Nigeria’s political culture knows that the best time to effect changes to the Electoral Act is the year following a general election where there is supposedly ample political capital. The more we drag our feet, the more we are setting ourselves up for the undesirable.
About a year ago, I wrote that one of the consequences of ignoring this existential challenge is that, “mandates that are gotten from polls may be lost in the courts.” It’s not only playing out but it also comes with a predictable but avoidable social cost. It erodes legitimacy because people feel robbed of their civic powers and they are seemingly stuck with leaders they didn’t elect – it’s like taking candy from a baby. Some of these things are neither rocket science nor as complex as brain surgery, there are universal socio-political models that presage such outcomes. The next best time to act is now and we must all hold the feet of our NASS members to the fire. We as citizens must all be little fingers and apply the necessary pressures on our reps and senators to get this big job done.
The Voter Experience – Thinking Outside the Ballot Box
The most important stakeholder in every election is the voter and if there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that voters are willing but not able to cast their ballots, then the whole exercise, regardless of what other success metrics is brought forward, is a flop. This is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of INEC to midwife a credible process that ticks the boxes of best practices in democracies all over the world.
Aside from the much needed reforms to the electoral laws, what is the playbook for seamless voting? Especially in a world disrupted by a pandemic. What is the plan for ensuring that materials get to polling units at the right time? What is the accreditation process going to be like? What are the measures put in place to curb vote-buying or voter-intimidation? What is the security arrangement for those participating in the process? What is the plan for massive voter education on the voting process?
Owing to the inability of the electoral body’s logistical ingenuity to match the exponential growth of the voting population, isn’t it about time we started practising early voting? Why do certain paramilitary and other on-duty personnel be made to almost statutorily sacrifice their franchise on election day? Are there more creative ways that ensure they can walk and chew gum at the same time? What is the overarching design thinking that factors in glitches of election equipment or we just running on hope and vibes?
Understanding the Assignment
If you have energy to rant, vent or do paragraphs on socials, then you have energy to get your PVC. It doesn’t make sense to talk all day about the problem but not jump at the first opportunity we get at fixing it. Regardless of your sentiments or political affiliation, if you don’t actively participate in this process, you have ceded the right to complain in the future. Bad leaders are elected by the indifference of so called good people because, like Plato so aptly submitted, “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
That everyone will eat this breakfast is not in question, so should you decide to tow the way of nonchalance, the inevitable breakfast will still be served and you might end up paying a premium for it. That 2k from site that you’re getting now will be affected if you are so busy getting it that you don’t make out time to get your Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC). This is not a time to shill, go out there and get yours – the tortuous process is only but a small price to pay for salvation. Not only should you get your PVC, you should also use whatever platform you have to get others in your space to do same.