Politics of Friday, 27 September 2013
Source: Ohemeng, Yaw
Electoral Reforms: What an Afari-Gyan-led Team Recommended to Nigeria
Following Nigeria’s 2007 general elections that was widely considered as flawed, the then President, Yar’ Adua, appointed an Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) to consult and make recommendations on electoral reforms. This committee submitted its report in late 2008. Rather than publish the recommendations, the President, in late 2009, also approached the British High Commissioner and the US Ambassador for assistance in improving the credibility of the then impending 2011 elections. Towards this end an international five-member team was set up, funded by DFID and USAID, to assess Nigeria’s preparedness for the 2011 elections and to make recommendations towards credible elections.
This international team was led by Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan. The other members were: Denis Kadima (from South Africa’s Electoral Institute); Prof. Darren Kew (from the University of Massachusetts); Hannah Roberts (described as an election consultant); and Margarita Aswani (described as a democracy and governance consultant). They spent 21 days in Nigeria during which they held meetings with the electoral commission (INEC), government representatives, State Governors, State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), political party leaders, civil society representatives, academics, media representatives, and the diplomatic community.
It will be recalled that during Ghana’s presidential election petition, some of the recommendations made by this team became the subject of cross-examination by Mr Philip Addison. Contrary to what Dr Afari-Gyan’s response then that all they did was to recommend that Nigeria adopts Ghana’s electoral practices, the recommendations were actually more far reaching than has been practiced in Ghana. In this article, I am repeating the recommendations made to Nigeria whilst asking that we adopt some or all of them to improve the credibility of future elections in Ghana.
One of the major issues that the international team identified as problematic was abuse of incumbency and its effects on the independence of INEC. There was widespread perception that the Executive had unwarranted and excessive influence on the electoral process. This was attributed to how the leadership of INEC was appointed and how it was funded. In accordance with Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, the INEC Chairman and its twelve Commissioners were appointed by the President after consultation with the Council of State and subject to approval by the Senate. The Commissioners could only be removed from office by the President with two-thirds approval by the Senate. In addition INEC offices at the state level were ran by Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), who were directly appointed by the President without Senate approval.
The international team led by Dr Afari-Gyan considered such an appointment process as undermining the impartiality of the Electoral Commission and consequently observed that:
“The independence of an election administration is internationally recognised to be central to genuine elections. Of particular importance is independence from incumbent authorities.’
Regarding the lack of confidence in the independence of INEC, the team further observed that:
‘Such a strong lack of confidence in the independence of an electoral authority can profoundly undermine its credibility and the perception of fairness of an election process.’
If you thought that the Nigerian appointment process was undermining the impartiality of INEC, contrast that with Ghana. As provided in Article 70(2) of Ghana’s constitution:
‘The President shall, acting on the advice of the Council of State, appoint the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, and other members of the Electoral Commission.’
Unlike Nigeria, the appointments in Ghana are not subject to the approval of Parliament, yet the international team found the Nigerian appointment process rather problematic for holding credible elections. What cannot be overlooked, though, is that the team was actually led by the Chairman of the Ghana EC.
To strengthen INEC’s independence and enhance public confidence in its ability to operate autonomously, the team made the following recommendations:
1. The 1999 Constitution should be amended to provide for a transparent appointment process based on wider stakeholder consultation and a more inclusive approval mechanism; and
2. INEC’s financial resources should be fully independent from the Executive and this can be assured by making INEC funding a first line charge on the Consolidated Fund.
As an interim action (i.e. before the recommended constitutional amendments), the team recommended that the INEC Chair and Board be reconstituted based on a broad inclusive consultation process. If our own EC Chairman wanted this for Nigeria, why has a similar call by AFAG for Dr Afari-Gyan to step down and the NPP’s letter to the Council of State, calling on the President to consult more broadly before the next EC Chairman is appointed, been met with protests from some quarters?
Another area that came to the attention of the international team was to do with the accuracy of the voters register. Nigeria had a continuous voter registration system that appeared never to come to an end before elections. There were no clear policies for dealing with duplications in the register and the political parties were not supplied with the final register in time for them to scrutinise and to guide their campaigns. Here too the Afari-Gyan-led team recommended that:
1. Before an election it would be necessary to have both an end to voter registration and an end to making corrections to the voters register. This should be done in a timely manner for the provisional voters register to be printed and thoroughly checked before it is put out for verification. Time should also be given for the necessary corrections and transfers to be made for the final register to be printed.
2. Consistent with having a cut off point for registration, fresh registration should not be carried out during the public verification period and there should be a clear public policy on how duplicate entries in the register are dealt with by the Commission.
3. Copies of the register should be given to the political parties in a timely manner so that they can thoroughly scrutinise them and also use them for effective campaigning.
These very good recommendations were not followed in Ghana during the 2012 elections. No provisional register was prepared and the final register was given to the political parties in ‘drips and drabs’, the last batch, only a few days before the elections. The total voter number kept on varying - from 14,031,680 to 14,031,791 and then to 14,158,890. The EC, in its response to the petition, pleaded lack of time for not preparing provisional voters register. It even defended the lack of a stable total number of registered voters by pleading the dynamic nature of the registration. It appears what its chairman was prescribing for Nigeria was somehow not applicable for Ghana.
During its interaction with the stakeholders, the international team also received several reports that polling in Nigeria was seriously being affected by the late arrival of materials and misconduct of election staff. It was noted in the team’s report that, before its arrival, INEC had already decided to discontinue the use of ad hoc polling staff to improve the conduct of elections. The earlier Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) had also recommended that the list of all electoral workers be published ahead of elections. The international team, however, thought this may be an onerous task given the numbers involved due to Nigeria’s size. It therefore recommended that the list be limited to key officials (e.g. returning officers and presiding officers), who make critical decisions in elections. They wanted the list published so that the general public can carry out proper scrutiny and raise objections as to character or partisanship. It is to be noted that Dr Afari-Gyan did not adopt same in Ghana for such a list to be made available to the general public? It is a widely held view that some of the presiding officers trained to administer the 2012 elections were actually replaced on the eve of the elections by some employees of NADMO.
The international team also found that a situation had been created where voters and other election stakeholders were vulnerable to financial inducements. This, they claimed was due to the widespread extreme poverty in Nigeria amid massive wealth concentration in few hands, especially the political elites. As a result, party agents in polling stations and collation points who should serve as witnesses and who should safeguard the process were said to have often been co-opted by opposing parties.
Further, there were issues raised about the lack of transparency, reliability and verifiability of results aggregations at collation centres. This had led to many petitions to the courts following the 2007 elections. Some of the complaints were about election totals that were announced without breakdown of the polling unit results making up the totals. This made it difficult to check the veracity of the announced results and outcome. Does this not mirror exactly what happened in the just ended Ghana election petition where the EC objected to the production of constituency collation sheets? However, in the case of Nigeria, the international team led by our EC Chairman found it appropriate to observe that:
“Lack of transparency in the results process fundamentally compromises confidence in an electoral process, thereby potentially undermining acceptance of the electoral outcome.”
The following actions, among others, were recommended to INEC ‘to prevent lack of confidence in future results announcements’:
1. The results of each polling unit should not only be announced at the polling station but should also be displayed there and at all other points of collation. Copies of polling unit results should be given to party and candidate agents as required by law, but could also be given to domestic observers present at the count to enhance transparency and confidence in the process. Media accredited by INEC should be allowed the same access as given to observers.
2. All result totals at collation centres must be accompanied with a breakdown of the composite polling unit results. A copy of such results could also be made available to domestic observers.
3. Results announced by Returning Officers at constituency levels should be regarded as provisional with INEC announcing the final results. In this wise, INEC should review the results announced by Returning Officers and to correct any mistakes. Results should only be declared final after review and approval by INEC.
4. Support should be given to political parties and competent civil society organisations to facilitate independent vote tabulation.
With these wide ranging reforms recommended to Nigeria by an international team led by the Chairman of Ghana’s EC, one wonders why these could not be implemented in Ghana to ensure transparency and credibility during the 2012 elections. In fact some of the flaws that were exposed in court had been pointed out by the Carter Centre in its report covering the 2008 elections, but the EC ignored them. If some of the administrative reforms recommended to Nigeria had been voluntarily implemented by the Ghana EC, the nation would have been spared the 8-month long election petition. However, we are where we are now, so what is the way forward?
It is very much clear that the electoral reforms required in Ghana cannot be left to the EC. It requires administrative, legislative and constitutional actions that go beyond the remit of the EC. Both the Executive and Parliament should play their proper roles in this. They should not underestimate the capacity for election disputes to topple the nascent democracy in Ghana. There is a limit to what peace exhortations can achieve, if we fail to seize the chance presented now to embark on comprehensive and far-reaching reforms.
Dr Afari-Gyan needs to be informed by what his team recommended to Nigeria. He also should be receptive to the calls for the EC to be reconstituted after broad consultations. This is the only way that credibility of future elections can be assured and for the EC to salvage its sullied image.
Dr Yaw Ohemeng