Many Nigerians believe that election is democracy and democracy is elections. What has seemingly helped to establish that maxim or belief in the hearts and minds of many of our people is that quip that says that voting is our civic responsibility. Part of the problem with that kind of emblematic statement, and particularly with its framers heretofore is that voting on election day has been made to look as if it the only area of responsibility for civilians and the general populace. Yes, voting is one of our responsibilities as stakeholders but certainly not the only one of them.
We are making this clarification for the benefit of our people, and to make it clear that even though elections is one very important aspect of the processes that usher in a democracy, it is not the silver bullet that we all think it is. We have observed over the years that our people are hardly interested in any other processes that precede the elections or those that come after it, except perhaps to participate in riots if a preferred candidate has not won.
At a seminar in 2022 by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, this idea, that elections are not the be-all-and-end-all of the democratic process was eloquently spelt out by Professor Tony Iredia.
Having said this, we seek to put to the fore another one civic responsibility which helps elections usher in credible, fair and balanced outcomes. It is election monitoring, election observation and voter education and enlightenment. In times past, observer and monitoring groups were mostly European Union, EU, delegations, together with the local media. Whilst EU members seeking to monitor elections often have a straightforward access to the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, materials, the local media often had difficulties. I vouchsafe a guess at why this was always so: at the end of the election, you would almost instantly get a very comprehensive report from the EU regarding wide ranging aspects of the election. The local media, almost always, and beyond pockets of reportage of the elections has not come out with definitive statements that lend credence to itself as the fourth estate of the realm.
There are insinuations from some quarters that journalists monitoring these elections, or observing same are not, to all intents and purposes, ‘real’ journalists. This line of thought is strong, especially when we consider the modus operandi for the accreditation of these journalists – one individual sitting in an office somewhere is likely to put a call through to another chap somewhere and ask to forward names of ‘journalists’ for election monitoring. Mostly because governance systems within the media is governed by anathema aka beats, the paddy-paddy and hunhunhun, only those in the favour of the chap in charge of either the chapel or otherwise will get the nod whether they are fit or not.
I had an experience many years ago with one editor. One big company wanted names of regular correspondents from that media house who were regular columnists. They took my name and used it to collect the largesse, and gave it to another Dundee in the company. When I found out after about two years of the Dundee eating my sweat, I was told that I had not paid my dues in the industry.
But today though, and with a deft stroke as the INEC has done with the accreditation of journalists seeking to cover the 2023 General Elections, the paddy-paddy, hunhunhun system has been flushed down the water closet. The process is now online, and with a tough deadline – 5th February, 2023. I had waited to see if the INEC were going to shift their own goalpost as is the oddity of many a Nigerian system but it didn’t shift it. Journalists seeking to cover the 2023 Presidential and Governorship Elections were expected to produce several documentations – ID cards, evidence of their work either in the areas of elections or otherwise. Before the deadline, INEC has gone ahead to conduct due diligence, and as I speak, the chaff has been sifted from the wheat.
Commendable as this is though, this column on evelopment matters wants INEC to take a step further. And that step would be for INEC to empower journalists on the field to produce reports from their experiences on the field, apart from their regular press reports. In 2015, just before the presidential elections, INEC mobilized certain Civil Society organisations to go into the field, and engage with voters. What that engagement was, was voter education, enlightenment and mobilization. The CSOs had moral and financial support with which they went into the field on that assignment. At the end of the day, the CSOs produced several reports, bound, and with pictures which were submitted to INEC. Whether or not those reports were put in a central database for review and analysis is another matter. The other people who can produce reports, just like the EU does are our journalists. What then will happen when journalists and the EU produce reports from the same elections, is data that can be analysed either for election petition cases or just for a SWOT analyses for future elections.
But on the whole, what INEC has done with making online the accreditation of journalists is one example that the INEC under the Mahmoud Yakubu is serious about getting its act right. It also goes to identify that when we as Nigerians are ready to move this country forward, and get it moving, we can. We believe that the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System too was modeled after the online accreditation of those interested in looking at the innards of the 2023 General Elections. At some time during the INEC Chairman’s discourse at the Chatham House in the United Kingdom, he also discussed a future use of a voter-body odour to checkmate incidences of vote-buying, vote selling and all such ill associated with the election processes. We affirm support for these novel ideas and hope the day comes in our lifetimes when these new systems will adjust these embarrassing scenarios so common in a journey of development.