By AHMED ABUBAKAR
As the 2011 general elections has past and INEC is assiduously working towards conducting credible and acceptable elections in 2015, it may be said that it has at the moment impressively put in place some necessary machineries for a successful election.
But in spite of all the efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission which is solely saddled with the task of conducting a free, fair and credible election for the country, the facts still remain that a number of challenges are visible which if measures are not taken to correct them, the task of the electoral body to deliver an acceptable election for the nation may not be realistic.
Although the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega was seen to have signaled a new dawn for a credible and fair election compared to the past, INEC’s controversial budget for the elections presented to the National Assembly has indeed generated lot of tension and controversies between the electoral body and legislatures.
Similarly, the procurement of the Direct Data Capture machines meant to be used for the Voters Register update of eligible voters across the country rise eye brows and the protracted earlier announced missing of some of the DDC machines at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos before their delivery or hand over to INEC, which were said to be recovered or found by law enforcement agents, generated lot of suspicion and confusion among the political stakeholders across the country and even beyond as the world [International Community], Nigeria and INEC are doing in respect of our democracy.
The timely release of elections time table is also an achievement despite the surrounding controversies about the workability of the time table among some politicians and even Nigerians which was followed by the recruitment and training of ad-hoc staff [NYSC Corps members and University Students] among others could be recorded as prospects.
Consultations with all political stakeholders and relevant authorities and NGOs by INEC, which interestingly served as an education and enlightenment avenue for Nigerians to know much about what they don’t know in the past with the new systematic approach the new INEC has introduced, is another prospect.
Despite the fact that party primaries were marred by series of allegations, conflicts and clashes among political interest groups all over the country, the successful party primaries nationwide including the national conventions of political parties is a way forward.
And although the on-going update of Voters Register is beclouded by number of complaints and lapses upon the efforts of the commission to conduct successful voters register update nationwide, at least it can be said that it has started and steadily making progress despite all odds but this challenge should serve as a lesson for future consideration.
It is a public knowledge that adequate funds have been released to INEC to conduct a free, fair and credible election in April 2011 having worked out formidable plans and action plans to achieve its goal for the nation with the confidence Nigerians, government and international community have on INEC.
Interestingly, government has also pledged never to interfere into the activities of INEC and provide a free and fair level play ground for all political parties as evidenced during the party primaries nationwide.
It is worth mentioning that despite all the prospects, there are however number of challenges ahead for INEC to ensure that 2015 general elections were free, fair and credible. And some of these challenges include transparency in the conduct of the elections without fear and favour by INEC, distancing itself from the presidency or not dancing to the tune of the presidency or succumbing to its influences and dictatorship as well as interferences.
Other challenges that should be noted and addressed squarely are the issues of security of INEC and ad-hoc staff as well as the electoral materials during and after elections.
The correction of all the mistakes of the past elections, sincerity in handling election results at all levels by INEC, returning and declaring the right candidates or winners of the elections by respecting people’s choices stand strong as some of the greatest challenges before INEC.
Election rigging, which has been the order of the day during past general elections and manipulation of election results by politicians and party candidates, including snatching of ballot boxes and papers, are other challenges before INEC in the forthcoming elections which it should look at considerably.
After the elections may have been concluded, INEC may still face the challenges of giving room for grievances or objections and other electoral complaints to be addressed by the electoral tribunals, Appeal and Supreme Courts of law which may not be so easy with the manner things prevailed in the recent bye-elections in some parts of the country under the new INEC.
However, the issue of distribution and provision of electoral materials on time and at every polling unit as well ensuring all votes are counted and announced at every polling unit cannot be over emphasized for a credible election.
Electoral offences have always been some of the major challenges too in the past for the national electoral body to tackle. Therefore, the new INEC must ensure that all electoral offenders are punished accordingly, especially offences of electoral violence and mal-practices irrespective whoever is involved no matter how highly placed such an offender is or political affiliation.
It is only with these issues tackled that Nigerians will be rest assured that an acceptable election will be conducted and delivered by INEC in 2015.
Considerably, INEC should try as much as possible to maintain standard and work according to the rules of the game [Electoral Act 2010] by keeping the tempo and closely monitoring as well as ensuring that all machinery are in place and working towards a successful elections that will be free, fair and credible as well as acceptable to Nigerians and international community.