Since I started working in the development sector in 1998, I have been very passionate about the socio-economic and political emancipation of women. I have conducted several researches for women-focused non-governmental organisations such as Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre and Nigeria Women Trust Fund to mention a few. I have equally been involved in capacity building and advocacy for these groups.
It is very saddening that Nigeria has the lowest female representation in governance in Africa, if not in the world. We have only a sprinkle of women elected into national and state houses of assembly. Among the ministers, commissioners and heads of government departments and agencies, the number of women in leadership positions is very abysmal. For instance, there are only seven women in the 43-member cabinet of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). The number at the state level is worse.
Last week, the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, better known as WARDC, in collaboration with UN Women and the Government of Canada decided to kick-start a coaching and mentoring workshop for female candidates in the 2023 general elections. Thus far, this exercise has been held in Ekiti, Calabar and Abakaliki. I was one of the eminent resource persons mobilised for the two-day programme at each of the centres. Other notable Nigerians who are involved in the coaching exercise include the former Minister of Women Affairs, Iyom Josephine Anineh; former member of the House of Representatives, Nkoyo Toyo; Ex- Edo State House of Assembly Speaker Elizabeth Ativie; Executive Director of WARDC, Dr Abiola Afolabi; Programme Manager with WARDC, Emmanuela Azu; Executive Director of International Press Centre, Lagos, Mr Lanre Arogundade; and Editor-in-Chief of Nigerian Chronicles, Mr Sam Egbala.
According to Afolabi, the exercise is aimed at building the capacity of the female candidates across party lines to ensure a better electoral outcome for them in the seventh general elections in this Fourth Republic. Some of the topics through which the all-female participants were taken include political journey- transformative leadership; understanding the status of women in Nigeria-gender power, politics & influence; what a candidate should know on election day; Winning elections: Public speaking, confidence building; Etiquettes and communications as well as experience sharing: Handling political party issues and fundraising.
Others include election landscape, framework and Electoral Act – What women need to know; Effective use of media by women: How women can use media to win election; management of campaign plan and fundraising.
In my own considered view, the coaching and mentoring are invaluable to both male and female candidates; hence my decision to write to amplify some of my thoughts at the programme for a wider audience. In one of my two presentations titled, “What a candidate should know about election day”, I took the participants through the three phases of the electoral cycle. Pre-election activities include electoral reform, strategic planning, budgeting, funding, procurement, recruitment, training, voter education, party registration, and voter registration. Election day activities are the deployment of election materials and personnel from the registration area centre to the polling units, setting up of polling units, accreditation, voting, sorting, counting, collating results and declaration of winners. Post-election phase involves reverse logistics, documentation, archiving, Certificate of return, post-election audit, and election dispute resolution.
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As to what a candidate should know about election day, I informed the participants about the need to know the following: Dos and don’ts for candidates; number of polling units in his or her constituency; number of polling agents to deploy and their roles and responsibilities; how many voters are in each PUs, wards, LGAs, and constituency; how many voters collected their Permanent Voter Cards in his or her constituency; hours of voting; how a winner will emerge in executive and legislative contests; collation centres locations; whom to call if there’s election violence or sharp practices; how to gather evidence for possible post-election dispute resolution and the need to be aware of the restriction of movement.
I further broke down the Dos and Don’ts for the candidates on election day. Here I mentioned four Dos which include: Right to deploy polling agents; right to seek a recount of votes at polling units; right to polling unit results, and right to set up a situation room and conduct parallel vote tabulation. The seven Don’ts highlighted include the fact that candidates: Cannot campaign on election day; should not wear a dress with party emblem; should not disrupt the conduct of elections; should not come to vote with aides and security personnel; should not engage in vote buying; should not resort to violence and should not indulge in the propagation of fake news, hate speech and electoral malpractices.
I used the opportunity of the coaching and mentoring exercise to stress the importance of having polling agents for the candidates. I said inter alia that after appointing the polling agents in accordance with the provision of Section 43(1) of the Electoral Act 2022, it behoves political parties and the candidates to build the capacities of these agents on their roles and responsibilities. The polling agents, otherwise known as party agents, have enormous powers to follow through with the distribution of election materials and personnel, observation of the voting process (accreditation, voting, sorting, counting and announcement of election results) as well as the watching of the collation process.
Among the legal rights of polling agents include: Section 41(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022 says, “The polling agents shall be entitled to be present at the distribution of the election materials, electronic voting machine and voting devices from the office to the polling booth.” Sub (4) says, “Polling agents who are in attendance at a polling unit may be entitled, before the commencement of the election, to have originals of electoral materials to be used by the commission for the election inspected, and this process may be recorded as evidence in writing, on video or by other means by any polling agent, accredited observer or official of the commission”. According to subsection (5), “A polling agent who is in attendance at a polling unit may observe originals of the electoral materials and this may be recorded as evidence.”
Other legal rights that candidates and polling agents have include those in the following sections of the Electoral Act, 2022. Section 48 says, “A candidate or a polling agent may challenge the right of a person to vote on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are provided for in this Act.” According to Section 57(1), a polling agent can challenge an underage voter or impersonator. Section 60(3) says polling agents and police shall be given an official copy of PU result. Section 61 of the Act says, “A candidate or a polling agent may, where present at a polling unit when counting of votes is completed by the presiding officer, demand to have the votes recounted provided that the presiding officer shall cause the votes to be so recounted only once.”
It is important that candidates know the various electoral laws governing the poll in which they are participating. They should do their best to abide by the code of conduct during electioneering. If aggrieved, rather than resorting to self-help, they should channel their grievances to the election petition tribunals in order to seek redress. Given the vital role assigned to polling agents by the Electoral Act, 2022, it is important for candidates to work with their political parties to ensure that they deploy credible polling agents across the various polling units in the constituencies where they are contesting election in order to oversee the electoral process for integrity and credibility.
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