Fellow Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari is on the verge of making history as the president to have made the most profound changes to our electoral laws. These profound changes are contained in the electoral bill that currently awaits his assent. To understand how important this bill is, the national conversation in the last couple of weeks has centered on the need for the President to assent to this bill. The bill itself has had to be re-worked to address some grey areas. As it is, the President currently has no reason not to give his assent.
Why is this bill so important? Over the years, elections in Nigeria have been marred with almost intractable irregularities. There was a reported case of voters still on the queue waiting to cast their ballot, while results of that particular election were been announced. The issue of ballot box snatching, ballot box stuffing, manipulation of result sheets, thuggery, compromising INEC officials, and recently, vote-buying, has been the bane of our elections. In most cases, the results announced are usually not the true reflection of the wishes and aspirations of the people. A politician once said that the aim is to win elections by all means and then allow your opponent to go to court. The reason why we have many election litigations after each election cycle can be narrowed down to the gaps in the electoral process. A process that is seen to be free and fair will be less litigious.
The major technological reforms to our electoral process can be traced to the introduction of the temporary voter’s card (TVC). The TVC was meant to ensure that whoever was coming to vote was duly registered and eligible to vote. We then migrated to the permanent voter’s card (PVC) and the card readers. The challenge was that while the introduction of these technological innovations was excellent, there was no enabling law to back their usage in any election. Ideally, both the card reader and the PVC would have eliminated most of the hitherto identified electoral challenges. The absence of legal backing was the main bottleneck.
President Muhammadu Buhari himself has been a victim of the lacuna in our electoral process. He went up to the Supreme Court to challenge the elections in 2003, 2007, and 2011 when he felt that he was shortchanged. The improvements in our electoral processes started with the 2011 elections. By 2015, the card readers were deployed and were supposed to ensure the biometric validation of all voters. This was mainly to ensure that the integrity of the voter was assured, eliminate multiple voting, and maintain the sanctity of the ballot. In most of the cases that arose from the 2015 and 2019 elections, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the use of the card reader was obviously a good improvement. However, the fact remains that the voter register is what was recognized in law and not the card reader. Whatever information came from the card reader became useless in the eyes of the law.
In many polling units, there was no correlation between the votes that were announced and the number of cards that were validated by the card reader. If this bill is signed into law, it will mean that cards validated must tally with the number of votes coming from each polling unit. Another major area that will be greatly impacted is the area of result transmission. Over the years, we have witnessed the manipulation and mutilation of election results to favour the candidate that is able to deploy thugs to hijack the process. This new law will allow for electronic transmission of results directly from the polling unit. This will completely eliminate the issue of the hijacking of ballot boxes.
In 2019, we witnessed an incident where sponsored thugs descended on a polling unit and burnt already cast a ballot. This action disenfranchised the people that came out to exercise their franchise. The perpetrators were neither apprehended nor taken to court. With this new law, incidences like this will become a thing of the past. The positive implications of having a law that guarantees the integrity of the ballot are too numerous to mention. It will encourage more people to participate in the electoral processes since they will have the confidence that their votes will count. Thugs will no longer have a role to play in our elections, and we will begin to see fewer elections-related litigations in our courts.
This is a huge moment for President Muhammadu Buhari. Will he be a statesman and give his assent to this bill or will he allow this opportunity to slip away? If he assents to this bill, President Muhamadu Buhari would have fulfilled his promise to leave the electoral process better than he met it.
Will President Buhari make history tomorrow?