My piece on the inconclusive election – which was published by the Daily Nigerian newspaper and widely shared on social media platforms – has elicited comments and questions from readers. You may recall that in the concluding part of the piece I wrote that “I hope this piece will generate conversations among stakeholders about the need to revisit the INEC’s method of ascertaining the conclusiveness of election.” From the comments that trailed the piece, I can argue that my hope has not been dashed. One of the leading researches centres in Kano has promised to forward my observations to the INEC, having found them worthy for consideration.
Before responding to the observations and questions raised on my last week’s piece, I wish to make some clarification and reiterate some points. I am aware of the fact that the Principle of Margin of Lead, which is the basis of determining the conclusiveness of election, was invented to check the rigging culture of our unscrupulous politicians. In fact, that is why in the last week’s column I wrote that “I am not opposed to this principle.” My argument is simply that it is inappropriate to compare the margin of lead with number of registered voters in areas where elections were cancelled or not held in determining the conclusiveness of election, since not all registered voters have collected their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVCs) and not all holders of PVCs vote as evident by the poor voter turnout in this year’s general elections. Consequently, I argued that the more ideal thing to do is to compare the margin of lead with expected votes in the polling units where elections were cancelled or not held. I defined expected votes as the number of votes that would have been cast if elections were successfully conducted in the polling units where they were cancelled or not held.
I must also say that I am highly concerned about how our decadent political elites have been abusing this well-intentioned principle to subvert people’s choice. There are several instances where politicians deliberately disrupted the election process in order to make polls inconclusive. Therefore, I feel that rather than being acquiescent or remain enmeshed in lamentations, we should be creative enough to improve on the use of this principle.
Now, I go to the readers’ comments. One of the readers of the column said that there are many assumptions in my proposal. He didn’t mention the assumption, but I believe he was referring to the one I made on expected votes. I reminded him that INEC’s declaration of election as inconclusive is also predicated on the assumption that the outcome of the poll could have been different if it had not been cancelled in some polling units, or if it had been conducted in areas where it didn’t hold. Plus, by comparing the margin of lead between two major contenders with the total number of registered voters in the polling units where elections were cancelled or not held, INEC is assuming that all registered voters would have turned out to vote if the elections were successfully conducted. This assumption is obviously unrealistic. Even in countries where voting is much easier, 100% turnout is not being achieved.
With all sense of humility but without fear of contradiction, my assumption is more realistic and tenable than that of INEC. My assumption is that the percentage of turnout in the polling units where elections were cancelled or not held would be similar with that of other polling units in same Registration Area where elections were successfully held. Even if deviation exists, it will not be so pronounced. As a Registration Area Collation Officer (RACO) in 2015 and 2019 general elections, I have observed this pattern. But INEC can verify this using 2019 election results. This can be done by sampling a few Registration Areas (RAs) to compute their average voter turnouts and the standard deviations.
The point I want to make in the two preceding paragraphs is that we can’t avoid making assumptions. However, our assumptions must have bases. In other words, they must be premised on a scientific ground.
The second observation is that inconclusive election is “good” and an indication that our democracy is “coming of age.” Considering this, therefore, we shouldn’t bother about the prevalence of inconclusive elections. While I agree with premise of this argument, I beg to disagree with its conclusion. While it is true that inconclusive elections signify that elections in Nigeria have become more competitive and credible, we should be concerned about how our retrogressive politicians become more desperate to undermine the credibility of the elections. This is a serious challenge to our democratic consolidation. When you notice a challenge in the evolution of a system, you should strive to address it. It is naive to turn blind eyes to this challenge and assume that the system is self-correcting.
Aminu Ali wrote from the Department of Sociology, Bayero University, Kano. He can be reached via email: [email protected] com