Citizen Observation as a Panacea to Credible Polls – Moshood Isah

The importance of citizens especially youths to democratic advancement cannot be overruled thus youth participation in ensuring transparent governance is an obligation. In this vein, election, the fulcrum of democracy, has to be taken seriously by the authorities and the citizens who are always at the receiving end of consequences emanating from political choices. Close observation and monitoring of elections especially in Africa has become a phenomenon and evolved significantly in the first years of the 21st century.

Observation of elections by the citizens has become one of the global yardsticks for assessing credibility and transparency of an election, highlighting specific recommendations for improvement and garner support of their international community for genuine democratic elections. Also, election observation promotes public confidence in the democratic process.

One of the techniques devised to deepen democratic process through close monitoring of elections is the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) methodology which made its name in the Philippines when the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) exposed the issues involved with the 1986 Philippine Presidential election.

While the PVT methodology which uses Statistics and Information Communication Technology to calculate elections result using trained accredited citizen observers may not be a popular concept amongst Nigerians, it has proven to be a dependable means of verifying elections results over the years.

Citizen observation also successfully ended the 27 years reign of former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda when a group of citizen observers called Z-vote revealed to the public how Kaunda had woefully lost the 1991 elections but the electoral commission announces him as the winner. The accurate figures obtained via observers’ analysis left Kaunda with no choice but to step down.

In recent times, citizen observation was also successfully deployed in the 2016 general elections in Zambia Tunisia in 2014, Burkina Faso in 2015, Ivory Coast in 2015, Ghana in 2016 and Nigeria 2011 and 2015. Nigeria has also experienced a fair share of citizen observers during elections as Non-Governmental Organisations deployed observers for both general elections in 2011 and 2015 including gubernatorial elections in Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states.

Nigerian citizens should know that political apathy like the one experienced during the last Local Government elections in Lagos and much more will do more harm than good to governance as participation will strengthen electoral commissions in discharging their duties accurately.

In view of foregoing, a civic hub dedicated to the promotion of democracy, accountability and citizens’ participation, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) recently deployed 75 observers to rotationally observe at least 225 wards out of the 326 Continuous Voters Registration ward centers across Anambra State in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration exercise.  This was to observe and report to the Independent National Electoral Commissions the entire registration process ranging from the opening of centers and registration of prospective voters.

Citizen Observation could also cover certain areas like the functionality of the new Direct Data Capturing machine and the time frame it takes to register as this will help INEC in sorting out related issues in time for the coming elections.

It’s also within the whims and caprices to observe record and report issues relating to registration of under-aged voters or double registration or any critical incident can undermine the electoral process.  Issuance of Temporary and Permanent Voters Card is also part and parcel of Continuous Voters Registration process and thus accredited citizens can track to see the rate of the issuance and collection of both the temporary and permanent Voters card.

Interim report on the process based on reports from its observers should be shared with the public, Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), political parties, civic society organizations and other stakeholders. With this kind of observation, it is expected that electoral commission and other authorities involved can easily handle issues to ensure free, fair and transparent elections.

In the longer term, citizen election observation helps ensure electoral integrity and strengthens civil society’s capacity to promote citizen participation, engage in policy advocacy and foster governmental accountability within and well beyond the election cycle.

Moshood Isah

Media Officer, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA)

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