Thursday, 23 May 2013
Ghana Elections: New Lessons For Jega By Stephen Kifordu
Yet again, Ghanaians have voted in a peaceful election. They filled out in their numbers, waited patiently to cast their votes and went away with the firm belief that their votes had counted. In some places, voters even had the calmness to vote on two different days. It was an election marked by the absence of such vices like ballot snatching or a resort to violence. Luckily, for Ghanaians and their economy, the worldwide media will whole-heartedly continue to tell this good story of discipline and respect for the electoral process long after the elections.
The discussion about replicating this same level of electoral success in Nigeria should start now while the issues are still fresh. One thing Nigeria can gain from the success of Ghana is the openness of the Ghanaian electoral process to Ghana's political parties and Ghanaians. Key components of the Ghana process are as either proposed by the political parties or put in place in agreement with the political parties at the periodic meeting of the electoral commission and Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) and communicated effectively to the Ghana people. For example, the decision to use biometric voter verification was agreed on Tuesday, 12 May 2009, by the Electoral Commission (EC) and seven political parties including the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the Conventions People Party (CPP) and the Peoples National Convention (PNC) at an Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meeting.
The inclusion of biometric voter verification is another example of the unity of purpose in the Ghana system. The lesson there is that transparency pays. Following hitches experienced with the biometric verification at some polling stations, the NPP says it has grounds for doubting the results in some areas. However, its involvement in every step of the process is forcing it to take a calm attitude to the situation. The NPP with the help of the EC is cross checking results from the suspect areas. NPP and its supporters are not splitting heads, rather the party is carrying out a just and proper democratic examination of the EC records.
In Nigeria, it is arguable if there is an inter-party advisory committee that meets periodically with INEC to chart the electoral course of the Nation and report to the public. Prof. Jega and his INEC mates can conduct biometric voter registration and then use a manual voter's register no matter how loud the opposition parties shout against it. They can even trump up reasons like equating the use of biometric voter verification to electronic voting. Yet, Ghana has used the same biometric verification and no one is calling it electronic voting. Sections 78 and 118 of our constitution expect INEC to give direction and supervision but INEC prefers dictating and hiding its plans.
Prof. Jega almost secretly awarded the first contract for a biometric voters register in Nigeria to Lenovo via Request for Quotation (RFQ) INEC/CH/GC/073/VOL.1 dated August 18, 2010. On the other hand, Ghana's EC advertised for biometric technology on a global platform: the United Kingdom Trade Institute's newsletter of Wednesday, 16 Feb 2011. It should be clear by now that the seemingly small difference between how our INEC operates and how the Ghanaian EC relates to the parties and the populace is one of the lessons Nigeria should draw from and act on immediately to improve its electoral fortunes.
INEC should quickly form or breathe life into an Inter-Party Advisory Committee of our political parties if one exists. Thereafter, all the agreements reached at the meetings of the IPAC should be available to Nigerians to improve transparency and trustworthiness. The National assembly should also provide the funds for INEC to meet regularly and take advice from the political parties. Where INEC refuses to toe this path of honour, our president should speak out on behalf of the political class to put pressure on INEC to act in the best interest of Nigeria.
However, there is another aspect of Ghana's electoral journey, that if properly understood, will improve Nigeria's electoral fortunes. Nigeria stands to gain a lot by recognising the tolerated failings in Ghana's process that would blow up in the Nigerian context. Nigeria's diversity, experience, direction and way of doing things are markedly different from those of Ghana. Ghanaians have participated in six free elections from which they have come to trust the EC whereas most Nigerians can only point back to the June 12 1993 military-chaperoned elections as their experience of a free election.
Ghanaians have demonstrated a more matured approach to elections than Nigerians have and the authorities should humbly focus on articulating how we can achieve what Ghana has achieved in our own way. The failure of biometric voter verification in some areas during the Ghana elections resulted in voting extension to a second day in some places. Had that happened in Nigeria, we would still be counting the cost of the damage to lives and property.
According to the European Commission and United Nations Development Programme document: Operational Planning & Budgeting for Biometric Voter Registration, inadequate time and inadequate assessment of appropriate technology and needs are the list-toppers of operational planning challenges for this kind of exercise. Ghana has survived both a rushed mobile-phone based voter verification exercise and a number of voting day machine failures; will the Nigeria of 2015 survive such scenarios? Now is the time for INEC, the National assembly and President Jonathan to work towards assessing the technological options that will allow us to achieve credible elections come 2015.
This is by no means a call for electronic voting. All I am pointing out is that INEC is neither seeking nor searching for the best way rather it is busy awarding contracts to propagate a wretched process. No amount of cutting the lizard's tail will make it a frog. A word is enough for the wise just as a stitch in time saves nine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters