INEC and 2015: planning for tomorrow’s trouble today!

I. An Overview of Nigeria’s Electoral Management Challenges

As 2015 approaches, Nigeria must brace itself for the difficult challenges ahead. Political parties, opinion leaders, and other stakeholders must start in earnest to anticipate and tackle the challenges confronting that organization charged with the responsibility for electoral administration and management, the Independent National Electoral Commission/INEC. The Commission is constantly in the limelight. This is not surprising considering the role that the constitution expects it to play in entrenching democracy and strengthening the capacities of its “customers” (particularly, the political parties).

INEC’s performance over the years has also attracted a lot of attention, mostly of the negative kind. It is accused by political parties, especially, the opposition, of being anything but impartial, and of erecting obstacles to the conduct of free and fair elections. Even when there is proof that others are behind major electoral malpractices, it is the Commission that gets blamed anytime something goes wrong. And many things do go wrong most of the time!

The focus on INEC has deep historical roots. Its predecessors (the Electoral Commission of Nigeria, FEC, FEDECO, and NECO) were at one time or the other accused of letting the nation down because of the sloppiness and ineptitude that characterized the management of past elections. The Humphrey Nwosu-led National Electoral Commission (NEC) would have been an exception, particularly, with the way it competently handled the local government, gubernatorial and legislative elections that were to pave the way for the emergence and consolidation of democracy in the Third Republic. However, this exception soon proved the rule when the military government annulled the 1992 presidential election—an election conducted on NEC’s watch and generally acclaimed as free and fair.

The Fourth Republic is not without its own share of controversial elections. It does not matter whether the reference point is 1999, 2003, or even 2007. The nation’s electoral umpire (in the most recent case, INEC) never finished its task unless with a failing grade. The elections it previously conducted were marred by irregularities of various kinds—multiple registration, voter impersonation and intimidation, multiple thumb-printing of ballot papers in godfathers’ houses, ballot stuffing, snatching and swapping of ballot boxes, falsification of results, and violence.

In fairness to the Commission, not all the errors occasioning electoral harm were malicious or intentional. Faulty organization designs and inadequate mastery of appropriate electoral management techniques are as much to blame as human caprices in the conduct of elections.

It is against this background—that of the frequent interplay between human and technical constraints—that INEC needs to review its organization structure, and, hopefully, to map out a strategy aimed not only at check-mating unwholesome choices within the Commission and without, but also at applying the right organization models and management tools to tackle problems encountered under different circumstances.

It is seldom realized that organizing elections in a complex and heterogeneous society like Nigeria is very much akin to fighting a war—a war against corruption, cynicism, apathy, and sloppiness. Waging the war will sometime warrant the translation of broad strategies into tactics, the reconstitution of bureaucratic systems into combat-ready (that is, guerilla, ‘matrix’, project- and results-based) organizations, and the application of sophisticated logistics and operations management techniques.

II. INEC—the institution, the history, and the image

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was established in accordance with section 153(f) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The functions of the Commission as stipulated in Part I of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution are as listed below:

(i) Organize, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice-president, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a state, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation;

(ii) Register political parties in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution and an act of the National Assembly;

(iii) Monitor the organization and operation of the political parties, including their finances;

(iv) Arrange for the annual examination and auditing of the funds and accounts of political parties, and publish a report on such examination and audit for public information;

(v) Arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote as well as prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election under this Constitution;

(vi) Monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations, which shall govern the political parties;

(vii) Ensure that all Electoral Commissioners, Electoral and Returning officers take and subscribe to the oath of office prescribed by law;

(viii) Delegate any of its powers to any Resident Electoral Commissioners; and

(ix) Carry out such other functions as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly

Notwithstanding the constitutional stipulations, the Commission’s role as an independent, impartial and effective umpire has been consistently questioned. It started off in 1959 as the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) only to be re-named the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) the following year, that is, on the attainment of independence. With varying degrees of success, but always under controversial circumstances, FEC conducted federal and the regional elections which took place between 1964 and 1965.

As to be expected, the electoral body was one of the institutions swept aside in the wake of the 1966 military coup. After twelve years in the limbo, the body resurfaced as the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) in 1978 and handled multi-level elections when the Obasanjo regime decided to return the country to civilian rule the following year. The elections organized by FEDECO in 1979 were not only hotly disputed by opposition parties they also produced federal and state administrations which were short-lived. The first presidential election of 1979 was almost derailed by the dispute over what the constitution meant by one-third of votes cast in one quarter of the states. The second round of elections conducted by FEDECO in 1983 was also trailed by wide-ranging allegations. Among other things, FEDECO and election officials were accused of ineptitude, bias, failure to maintain accurate and up-to-date voting registers and to weed-out ghost voters, adoption of inefficient and time-consuming stock inventory methods (resulting in the fiasco surrounding timely procurement and supply of essential voting material), laxity in the storage and handling of election material, including ballot paper, failure to inform voters about the location of polling booths, and inability to anticipate, uncover, and pre-empt the rigging ploys devised by desperate candidates–with the connivance of law enforcement agents, the retention of unscrupulous presiding and returning officers on INEC payroll, delay in the payment of ad hoc staff’s honoraria, and failure to control overzealous party hacks.

FEDECO’s head-ache was frequently complicated by the conduct of political parties and their supporters. Thus, in their desperation to win, political parties often sponsored sundry acts of hooliganism and intimidation, encouraged their supporters to traffic in voting cards and other sensitive election material, and forged unholy alliances with security agents and polling officials. Party activists were known to be “pregnant” with ballot papers, to stuff ballot boxes, and to exchange winning candidates’ votes with the losers’.

FEDECO was subsequently replaced by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) which was established by the Babangida Administration in anticipation of the planned return to civilian rule. Bucking the past trend, NEC applied option A4 and successfully organized gubernatorial and legislative elections which heralded the birth of the Third Republic. It would have consolidated its image as a formidable agent of democracy but for the annulment of the 1992 presidential election, the first, perhaps the only one, to be generally acclaimed as transparently free and fair.

In December 1995, the military government of General Sani Abacha, which earlier dissolved NEC in 1993, established the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), which also conducted another round of elections, mostly, Local Government council and National Assembly elections. These elected bodies were, however, not inaugurated before the sudden death of General Abacha in June 1998. The succeeding General Abdulsalam Abubakar Administration dissolved NECON and established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

INEC organized all the transitional elections that ushered in the Fourth Republic on May 29 1999. Under a highly charged atmosphere, and amidst accusations of vote rigging, INEC conducted the presidential, the gubernatorial and the legislative elections of 2003 and 2007, along with the bye-elections necessitated by court invalidation of previous polls and by other unforeseen developments.

Besides the Chairman who serves as the Chief Executive of the Commission, and the 12 National Commissioners (that assist him in providing broad policy directions), the Headquarters organization includes the office of Administrative Secretary. The headquarters organization chart not only reflects the prominence given to the office of Administrative Secretary, but it also highlights the distance between the office of the substantive election management personnel (operations/logistics, voter registration, political party monitoring) where the buck starts, and the office of Chairman where the buck stops.

Under the Administrative Secretary are the key departments, like Human Resources, Administration, Estate and Works, Finance and Accounts, logistics, operations, procurement, voter education, voter registration, ICT, electoral institute, public affairs, political party monitoring, election observation. Since the number of those reporting to the Administrative Secretary is in excess of that sanctioned by the principle of span of control, only routine administrative questions get referred to the office, leaving technical issues (like Operations and Logistics, procurement, and ICT) to be handled by Committees. Management-by-committees of course comes with its own problem–that of accountability for the delivery of specified outcomes.

INEC has established itself in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, but maintained only a tenuous presence in the 774 Local Government Areas of Nigeria. While the number of offices reporting to the Administrative Secretary at the state level is lower than the figure for the Headquarters, the fact remains that substantive elections issues are liable to be lumped with general administration and “housekeeping” issues in the state offices as at the head office.
III. Towards a New and Shared INEC Vision

One of the problems facing INEC as it sought to fulfil its constitutional and statutory obligations has always been mapping out a clear strategic direction—a direction which would guide all actors, and mark out detours and roadblocks that must be avoided if the battles for free and fair elections are to be won decisively. The Commission set out in 2007 hoping to conduct elections that all would hail as free and fair. In the end, it became a target of attack from several different quarters. Preference for amateurish approaches to professional problems (like management of electoral operations) is one of the explanations for the gap between intentions and actual results. As its own response to SERVICOM’s guidelines, but without the assistance of professional management analysts, the Commission came out with a vision which curiously reads as follows:

to facilitate the realization of a dynamic, formidable and independent organization, committed to the institutionalization of an enduring democracy which allows for an effective and smooth political change”.

To bring greater clarity, focus and realism to the INEC visioning process, the Commission—whether at national, state or local government level–needs to start from its chequered history to identify what went wrong in the past, prior to building a consensus around future changes that every Nigerian craves. A recurring concern, for instance, is the average voter’s lack of confidence in INEC’s ability to make his/her vote count. Related to this is the lack of a democratic civic culture. Neither of the two critical challenges can be surmounted until INEC is seen to be actively committed to the conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections.

With the accent on history and the lessons learnt there-from, the new INEC vision may be recast as follows:

To restore voter confidence, leave a lasting legacy, and collaborate with other actors on the reinforcement of democratic institutions”.

IV. Knowing the “Customers” and their Delivery Expectations: the new Mission Statement

INEC’s problems are not confined to the visioning process, but extend to the identification of its “customers” and the latter’s expectations on INEC. Again, in the run up to the 2007 elections, the Commission erroneously projected its partners (like the police and other law enforcement agencies, civic organizations, and educational institutions) as its “customers”. The charter that it prepared for SERVICOM back in 2007 portrayed the following as INEC “customers”:

(i) The electorate or the voting public (spot on, except that the non-voting public is also a “customer”, albeit, a silent one);
(ii) Political Parties and their candidates (correct);
(iii) The civil society groups/NGOs who are expected to play pivotal role in sensitizing the people to election activities (wrong; these are
partners not customers);
(iv) The Ministry of Information and other mobilization agencies such as National Orientation Agency (NOA), the print and electronic media (wrong again);
(v) The Police, S.S.S and other Security agencies who provide security services to enhance success of elections (wrong; these are partners in the drive towards free and fair elections, if they would behave accordingly); and
(vi) The Ministries of Education, Teaching Service Commissions, Tertiary Educational Institutions and the entire Public Services who provide the pool of ad-hoc staff engaged by the Commission for elections (wrong again).

Having failed to identify the “customers” that it was out to serve and please, INEC has tried to serve all but has pleased none. It further confounded its situation by equating its activities and its medium- to long-term objectives, with its “Mission Statement”. Its 2007 Mission Statement was couched as:

(a) educating Nigerian citizens about democracy and the election process (a task or activity that ought to be shared with civic actors, the political parties, the media, etc);
(b) providing for voter registration (another activity which INEC could not undertake successfully all by itself except in partnership with the police, civic groups, the press, whistleblowers, etc.);
(c) compiling a credible voters’ register;
(d) demarcating constituency boundaries;
(e) organizing and conducting credible elections;
(f) monitoring the conduct of political parties;
(g) auditing the finances of political parties; and
(h) promoting an enduring democratic culture in Nigeria (a tall order considering the enormity of the challenge and the necessity for the active engagement of civic actors, the political parties, educational institutions, the media, etc).

In line with the sharply defined vision, and as part of the restructuring process, political parties and other stakeholders must ensure that INEC’s Mission Statement is substantially revised. INEC’s “customers” and partners must play an active role in the visioning process, more so, as this is the process where all the stakeholders can vent their grievances on INEC’s and its agents’ performance, and place specific demands on agencies planning, conducting, monitoring and observing elections in Nigeria.

V. Entering into a new compact with the citizen: New and Focused Performance Indicators

Whatever vision and mission statements are drafted by INEC cannot be considered final until they are brought to the attention of all stakeholders. Still, the drafts produced by INEC will serve a dual purpose. First, they will form the basis of the dialogue with other interested parties. In other words, the drafts will furnish the “raw material” that INEC’s “customers” (the citizens of Nigeria, the voting public, the political parties, and candidates for elective offices) and partners (security and law enforcement agencies, civic organizations, the media, and others) may wish to refine before signifying their buy-in. Second, the mission statement, particularly, when refined and substantially improved, will enable INEC to solicit the views of other interested parties on “customer service indicators”—that is, indicators of “customer preferences” and of standards against which the performance of INEC, the police, election observers, and other partners would be periodically assessed.

As this blog’s contribution to the visioning process, it is proposed that INEC consider sharpening its performance indicators, and at the same time, define the duties/obligations of its “customers” and its partners. Based on the vision and the mission statements previously outlined, the indicators relevant to the assessment of INEC’s performance will include:

(i) Clarity and consistency of eligibility rules (particularly, eligibility for registration as political parties, candidates, or voters);
(ii) Ease of access to basic electoral services, such as registration of eligible political parties, candidates, or voters; to polling stations/booths; and to security against intimidation, kidnapping, or ballot stuffing);
(iii) Promptness of polling officials at duty posts, and display of courtesy, impartiality, and professional attention to all classes of “customers” regardless of party affiliations, religious background, or social status;
(iv) Timely delivery of polling services, including but not limited to, ballot paper, finger printing/biometric accreditation, traffic control, poll monitoring, and law enforcement and security services;
(v) Capacity to anticipate and pre-empt electoral malpractices (through the establishment of a sound intelligence gathering and information processing system);
(vi) Courage displayed in drawing attention to, and checking, abuse of the “power of incumbency” for electoral gain;
(vii) Transparency (openness of electoral register to inspection, declaration of results at designated times and spots and in the presence of duly accredited agents);
(viii) Timeliness of error detection and correction systems (like prompt investigation and correction of errors spotted on voters’ register, on ballot papers, on declared results, in the conduct of actors, and the in imposition of sanctions/disqualifications etc.);
(ix) Adequacy and reliability of information (about polling dates, venues, booth numbers, voting method, and polling results);
(x) Degree of precision (as well as the balance between speed and accuracy) achieved by election managers in ordering, procuring, and supplying election equipment and material; and in sticking to announced polling commencement and closing hours;
(xi) Changes in public perceptions of the transparency and fairness of INEC decisions—on political parties, candidates, god-fathers, and conduct of elections;
(xii) Breakdown and rate of election-related violence by constituency, local government area, state, or zone (decline in each signifies improvement, while increase means deterioration);
(xiii) Timely release of the audited accounts of political parties and candidates, including information on revenue sources and expenditure outlays) and
(xiv) Other indicators suggested as stakeholders workshops.

VI. Aligning the field organization of INEC with new vision: options in the re-organization of State and Field Offices: restructuring options

Depending on the vision that finally emerges from the internal brainstorming and external consultation processes, INEC would need to review the existing organization structure. At the very least, the structure should give prominence to the performance of these critical election management functions:

• Strategic and logistics planning, simulation and scenario construction, and operations management;
• Election intelligence and monitoring of political parties’, candidates’, and supporters’ conduct (pending the recruitment of the right calibre staff, INEC may request the SSS to second highly competent and reliable staff who would be duly screened and required to undergo induction training);
• Procurement and supply of election material (including procurement, storage, security, and duly documented supply of equipment and material ahead of elections);
• Procurement and application of ICT soft- and hardware for the purpose of conducting credible elections;
• Election observation; and
* Intelligence gathering and security.

2015 is Nigeria’s year of destiny. It is just around the corner. Every minute available must be optimally spent anticipating what might go wrong before then, and taking necessary pre-emptive actions. Trouble-shooting INEC’s structure, organization, and operations management processes is where proactive action ought to start.

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

M J Balogun
Follow me on twitter @balogunjide1

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