Achieving free and fair elections: some simple measures?

By IbukunOluwa Ijaopo & Onyi Ough

Nigerians will go to the polls on Saturday February 16th to elect their President after months of campaigning.  It is important that we get things right for this crucial aspect of Nigeria’s democracy. However there are several challenges that makes this difficult. They include the following:

Firstly, vote buying is a common practice in Nigeria. Political aspirants make it a point to visit poor communities during electioneering periods to offer food items and money. In return, they are obliged to vote for the electoral candidate. This is most common in rural areas where community members are susceptible to being enticed.  In Nigeria, efforts are being made by INEC, NOA, EFCC, ICPC and CSOs to increase awareness on this issue.  Step Up Nigeria, under its Catch Them Young initiative recently visited a school and observed that more than half of the class had a bit of understanding of vote buying because they had seen it on TV.

Secondly, another challenge is that the middle-class Nigerians particularly the young rarely vote. They feel disconnected from the electoral process and do not believe that their votes will make a difference.  However, they make the loudest noise on social media platforms.  Yet, ironically if they were more engaged, they would have the power to demand that campaign promises are kept.

This issue points to the ineffectiveness the registration process. As at September 2018, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reported over 10 million uncollected PVCs.   Many have complained that is a stressful process to get registered to vote. The registration of under-aged citizens is another reported challenge.  Recently corps member gave an example of a principal in a secondary school in Katsina that had given few days off to students in forms 4-6 to get registered to vote. They were asked to go to a specific location and many of these students were under 18 and did not understand the implication of what they were asked to do.

To address some of these issues, we strongly recommend the following:

  • There should be reforms on campaign financing and audit on the use of these funds. We need to have more transparency on the source of campaign funds and how it is used.
  • Educating Nigerians on the dangers of vote buying early on and not just months to elections will be useful. The young people should also be targeted as part of the voter’s education campaign. If every Nigerian fully understands how powerful their votes are and how it could change the nation, maybe more people will participate in the electoral process.
  • Redesigning the registration process, ensuring that there are no queues or in the least short wait times for registration and voting. This will encourage the middle-class Nigerians to go and vote

If these measures can be tackled, Nigeria can achieve free and fair elections and produce credible leaders.

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