There is no doubt that the conduct of free, fair and generally acceptable elections form the pivot on which Nigeria’s political problems revolves. Most of our major political crises since independence have resulted directly from disagreements over election results. For instance, the general ill feelings generated by the general elections of 1964 sparked off the violent protests which led to the first coup in January 1966 and this eventually culminated in a civil war. History also repeated itself in the highly celebrated December 1983, which was a direct response to the general ill feelings caused by the manipulations of the 1983 general elections by the incumbent National party of Nigeria (NPN). If we can be honest enough to ourselves, the fact that similar fate did not follow the unprecedented level of electoral fraud in the highly discredited April 2003 general elections could be linked more to the general mood of the country to strive to avoid another round of military rule rather than any ground breaking achievement by anyone.
We must therefore be aware that we have not yet broken the jinx even though it appears that we have successfully transited from democracy to democracy for the first time in 2003 (though power did not actually change hands). The challenge to transit from one person to another still faces us to beat in 2007 and the way to show genuine concern about Nigeria must be on how to conduct a credible, valid and verifiable elections. It is time for us to face some home truths and put aside personal and selfish interests in the overall interest of building a stable and prosperous society.No amount of grammar and international lobbying for good image (even though things are rotting at home) as has become the culture of the current administration can save Nigeria from political crisis unless a transparent political system is allowed to prevail. What must occupy public discourses now is how to ensure the conduct of elections that would not only be said to be free and fair, but must also be seen by all and capable of being proved to be so. This is a time for us to prove that the Black people are capable of organising themselves by ensuring that transparency prevails in the electoral system. In doing this we must look within us for ideas and not rely on importing foreign ideas, which are usually incompatible with our situations.
It is common sense fact that the problem with our electoral or voting systems is squarely about transparent conduct of the actual voting process and that all that is needed is how to eliminate all forms of rigging and manipulations. It is also necessary to appreciate that unlike previously thought that the great majority of electoral malpractices materialise in the field rather than in the electoral commission’s offices. The common street notion that even if people have overwhelmingly voted for a particular candidate, it could be changed at the electoral commission offices by the highest bidder is no longer as true as it used to be. Clear facts on the ground such as the chaos and general warlike scenarios usually generated by any serious electioneering activity in Nigeria ought to suggest to those uniformed about Nigeria’s electoral issues that the act ofelection rigging, though could start far in advance, culminate at the election field. It is very common today to start rigging elections far in advance by bribing the Electoral Commission during the process of delineating constituencies and pooling stations so that your stronghold (i.e. area you can easily manipulate things, usually your native area) has undue advantage in terms of having far more share than appropriate. Even if this passes you by and you have the cash, you can simply buy the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of your state or local government as the case may be to field in your own loyalists as presiding officers. This simply makes it virtually impossible for any manipulation that does not favour the candidate’s interests to take place. It is therefore very crucial to evolve a strategy, which is capable of frustrating any malpractices at the voting stage as the most efficient means of protecting the entire electoral system.
Audio-Visual Voting Method
Having noted the obvious fact above that electoral malpractices can only be eradicated at the point of the actual voting exercise, it is only sensible that we seek a common sense solution to the problem by means of ensuring that all stages of the voting exercise is videoed and that election results are only acceptable as authentic if backed up by audio-visual evidence.This is a simplistic and uncomplicated means of restoring the confidences of both the disenchanted and the cynical in the electoral process and thereby establishing a genuine democratic system where the people rightly wield the power and not a few fraudulent individuals. All that is required is to acquire video cameras for all the pooling stations in the country and to ensure that the crucial aspects of the voting exercise, namely, the accreditation, and the declaration of results are covered by audio-visual evidences. This will not only make elections most transparent, but the results will also be easily verifiable and therefore reliable.
One main advantage of insisting on a video coverage of the voting exercise is the fact that it is clearly leak proof as no science can manipulate results. It is impossible to use film tricks to manufacture non-existent people in a particular pooling station. There is not yet any science, which can create human beings who did not turn up for voting or imaginary hands doing thumb printing. Even if there becomes such a science, the fact that elections would be conducted at the same time would make it difficult to manipulate, as the time of videoing would normally indicate automatically in the tape.
It is also relevant to note that this system will effectively eradicate the problem of fictitious pooling booths. As there would be no possible way of faking video evidence of people who came and voted, it would be unnecessary to buy fake pooling stations.
Furthermore, violence will significantly reduce, as having thugs will no longer be more necessary as campaigning to convince people to turn up and vote. This will automatically impact on the crime wave as well know that the main reason while there are more crimes during civilian regimes in Nigeria is because they are encouraged by the politicians who use the services of criminals to rig elections and to assassinate opponents to more electoral frauds in the future.
Moreover, this system will cut significantly both time and costs of post election litigations. Contentions over election results would be very simple as the key issue would hinge on the production of a genuine audio-visual evidence of a true voting exercise.
It is also necessary to point out that the delays and inconsistencies in election conducts would be minimised as the voting can be conducted at the same time through out the federation. This also means that fear and security of ballot boxes would no longer count so much as anyone stealing a ballot box would not be actually stealing valid votes.
This system is very simple to operate and most importantly highly affordable. All that is required is the provision of video cameras for all the pooling stations in the country and the training of their operators, which is very simple. High quality video cameras for about one hundred and twenty thousand pooling stations (based on 2001 fact, could have changed) in Nigeria would not cost billions and even if it does would be well spent. However, quality video cameras do not cost a fortune. At the first time this submission was made in 2001 the total cost estimate based on 120 000 pooling stations was just under N2billion which is a fraction of what it c
ost today to organise a fraudulent election.
It may also be necessary to spend less on the usual ritual of registration of voters which cost huge amounts of resources yet highly prone to manipulations. If the actual voting exercises can be effectively controlled against fraud as this system clearly assures, there would be less need to spend fortunes on conducting a nationwide voters registration exercises. In fact, it could even be delegated to local government councils as any falsification would not help anyone during actual voting. Hence, an audio-visual election system would equally cut the cost of elections.
What about Voter Confidentiality?
One crucial area of possible criticism might be the issue of assuring confidentiality of voter’s choice. In the case of secret balloting, this will not really be a problem, as videoing of the voting exercise would not amount to videoing what a particular voter is doing with his ballot paper(s).The only situation where the issue of confidentiality may arise is in an open ballot system where it will be seen clearly where each person is standing. However, we are currently applying open-secrete system, which means the problem really does not arise. But even if we choose to operate an open ballot system, the gains of a transparency in the system should far outweigh any other considerations.
This is a system that has no complexity at all yet, the most scientific way of determining the genuine wishes of the electorates in a place like Nigeria where elections are the most sensitive issues. This is the most honest way we can demonstrate our desire to build a strong and viable society for the benefit of our children. The current culture of violence in electioneering activities will be a thing of the past as it would no longer be reasonable at all to kill or intimidate anyone as such.
It is a very elementary way of ensuring that everyone including the illiterates in the villages who are often alienated by the complexities of our electoral systems could have confidence in the system. Most crucially, this system will in the long run not only correct elections, but will also correct other associated fraudulent activities like falsification of population figures to ensure more pooling booths or more electoral wards/constituencies. Consequently, it will breed honesty in the system.
It will also help to reduce crime as the election malpractices provide jobs and great political relevance to student cultists and armed robbers including professional assassins. The society will be gradually sanitised, as more responsible Leaders would emerge.
The current chairman of the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) has the opportunity of making history today, by thinking deeply about a voting system that will change Nigeria. This is an opportunity to set aside personal interests for the overall interest of all Nigerians and by implication the entire Black race. There is no sensible need to spend fortunes importing complex electronic equipments for either voting or for registration of voters as currently being speculated when we can simply devise a cost effective system that is both transparent and suitable to our society. Acquiring technologies that promises to check fraud in registration exercises cannot impact meaningfully in stopping rigging as dispute over how the actual voting was conducted has always been the crux of post election quarrels. Introducing electronic gadgets which are not even applied in the first world countries into our electoral system would only benefit the Electoral Commission bosses through dodgy contract deals and other susceptible frauds at the expense of us all. We will continue to dance on the spot.
We ought to have come to a point where we need to honest to ourselves and think again about what we are doing. This is a moment of home truth! Let’s, save Nigeria and break the curse on the Black race as people who cannot organise themselves. Let’s apply our common sense and the basic rules of honesty and use Audio-visual voting, which appears to be the only transparent way of organising an election that cannot be easily manipulated by anyone. Audio-visual election or voting method is the only way to lay foundation for the emergence of a genuine and prosperous state out of the present fraud called Nigeria.
London, July 15th 2006
(This submission was originally made in 2001 to INEC at Abuja, but was re-drafted for presentation to the INEC chairman at the Nigerian High Commission in London, on the 15th of July, 2006 during an occasion of an interaction with Nigerians in London which never took place).