INEC has long said that a credible voter’s register is the cornerstone of a credible election in Nigeria. It sits alongside the commissions multi billion naira electronic accreditation plans for the 2015 polls. Delays on both fronts have been of concern to civil society groups and partners of INEC, as registration that should have taken place many months before the election crept into the final stages of the election calendar.
The collapse of plans to distribute voters cards to several of the largest states (including Rivers) in the first week of December amounted to nothing less than a debacle. The exercise was postponed in most states at just 24 hours notice. In at least two states, Rivers and Nassarawa, a reduced exercise was cancelled on the day it was due to commence. Public statements from INEC carried barely a hint of an apology and only after days did it emerge that data had been lost for at least 1 million voters in Lagos. The public and civil society collapse in confidence in INEC’s capacity has been swift and unambiguous.
INEC has announced new dates for collection of voters cards at the end of November and registration in the first week of December. The plausibility of its pre-election plans are now at stake as the number of incomplete pieces of its electoral jigsaw become apparent. The preparations for its electronic accreditation system are known to be far behind schedule – to the point where it will go into the field effectively untested in a smaller poll. There is as yet no schedule for the delivery of voters cards to the 5-8 million voters who are expected to have registered over the past 9 months.
There is no question that there are voters who have been disenfranchised by the sometimes extraordinarily shoddy execution of the ‘continuous voters registration exercise’ which in many states is now effectively closed. The only question is how many people have been impacted and whether INEC is prepared to make last ditch efforts at remedial actions for those impacted. In retrospect, we should have responded more aggressively to warning signs – such as the ‘loss of data’ for an entire LGA in Delta state which appears to have shrunk the register there from around 75,000 to just over 21,000 people.
It is now clear that there are serious questions to ask of INEC on election preparations. The commission must provide evidence that it has taken remedial steps over its registration failures and that it has acted on the specific concerns of disenfranchised voters. It must now provide clear evidence to all stakeholders that its electronic accreditation system is viable and that preparations for its deployment are adequate. Since this will be led by the same team responsible for the registration debacle this will be a considerable challenge.
In all probability INEC is not yet ready for the 2011 elections and is in need of urgent assistance. Civil society groups and the international community have a wealth of talent that can be applied. Now it appears that there must be an unprecedented level of co-operation to move the 2015 polls from a position of obvious uncertainty to a point where public confidence and commitment to the elections are restored across the nation.