INEC can hold all elections in one day
The Senate recently commenced consideration of three bills seeking to amend certain aspects of the 2010 Electoral Act ahead of the 2015 elections. Members were sharply divided over some of the proposals, including a proposal to grant the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) powers to use electronic voting machines in future polls.
The proposed legislation also seeks to remove INEC Chairman’s power to appoint secretary of the Commission and vest it in the president, further eroding the Commission’s nominal independence and making it more answerable and therefore susceptible to the manipulations of the appointing authority.
Perhaps the most crucial of the bills is the one that proposes that INEC should conduct all elections in one day. Leading the debate on the proposed legislation, Senator Abu Ibrahim, its sponsor, argued that such procedure would be in tune with global best practices and cost effective.
Although INEC chairman Professor Attahiru Jega on Monday foreclosed, rather unfortunately, the conduct of all elections in a single day in the 2015 elections, it would be useful for the country to prepare to do that in subsequent polls.
If the yearnings and hopes for credible elections are to be addressed in a positive way, holding all elections in one day is the way to go. The huge resources that the country expends on elections are a trend that is disturbing and should end. With only a day slated for all elections, this cost will be drastically reduced. In the last elections in 2011, staggered over three weeks, INEC paid the ad-hoc staff it engaged for the exercise 50 billion naira for one day, according to figures that Senator Ibrahim referenced in arguing the bill’s relevance.
Besides cutting cost, holding elections in one day will promote greater participation of all political parties in the process even if many of them relatively do not have enough resources as the ruling party does.
Crucially, such a process will eliminate the so-called ‘bandwagon’ effect, in which the outcome of preceding election shapes voter attitude in subsequent ones. Not surprising, ruling party stalwarts opposed the thrust of the proposed bill, hinging their argument on the tenuous argument that INEC lacked the capacity to embark on such exercise. Senate President David Mark opposed the procedure, and Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi insisted that the National Assembly was most suited to stipulate the procedure for elections, and that INEC should not have the power to determine their sequence. These are puerile and retrogressive arguments. It is amazing they would be canvassed in the Senate to shoot down what otherwise would address most of the succession crises that this country has had to grapple with in its leadership changes over the years since independence.
Moreover, such arguments are based on sentiments. If INEC can hold elections on five different days, what capacity would it require for conducting them in one day, since the number of polling stations would remain the same? If the amendment passes, INEC would then have the power to determine the sequence of elections. But holding all the elections in one day is the ideal that the country should strive, and INEC should prepare, for.
From bitter experience, spreading elections over a period of time has always been burdensome on the national resources, as INEC is required to pay for the welfare of polling clerks, presiding officers, the police, the SSS personnel, road safety personnel, the Civil Defence Corps, the military, immigration officials, organizations on special duty such as emergency agencies, and