As Nigeria heads toward general elections in February, it’s in a race to stamp out the bane of the voting system in Africa’s biggest democracy: rigging. Ballot snatching and buying, underage and multiple voting, falsifying results and the suppression of turnout in opposition areas are among the abuses the National Assembly is trying to tackle with new legislation. The bill, passed last month, emerged from talks among the presidency, lawmakers and civic groups. As it awaits President Muhammadu Buhari’s signature, time is running out. “We put a lot of work into the bill and we believe a lot of the provisions are positive,” said Clement Nwankwo, the chairman of Situation Room, a coalition of 71 civic organizations monitoring the election process. “If it’s not signed now, there’ll really be worries.”
With state power seen as the shortest route to wealth in Africa’s biggest oil producer, the competition to gain office has intensified since military rule ended in 1999. To counter malpractices, the electoral commission introduced biometric voter-card readers in 2015, when Buhari became the West African nation’s first opposition candidate ever to win power through the ballot box.
“The card reader has reduced the broad-daylight rigging of elections,’’ said Idayat Hassan, the executive director of the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja, the capital. “The trend now is to buy votes, disrupt elections in opposition strongholds, which often leads to an inconclusive election.’’
The new law requires that voters be biometrically verified before casting their ballot, a departure from the past when filling in an incident form would allow those who couldn’t be properly identified to gain an exemption to vote. In areas where card readers malfunction, voting will be suspended until they’re fixed. Results will also be electronically transmitted to collation centers, with hard copies displayed at polling units.