With the growing number of poor outings in recent elections, the capacity of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission is being called to question, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Coming from where the former National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega left the commission after the expiration of his tenure last year and the eventual takeover by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the expectations among Nigerians from the new INEC is clearly that the country is gradually moving to a point where it would be conducting fairly acceptable and credible elections.
Obviously, Nigerians are not prepared to go back to the Egypt of perpetually imperfect elections, but instead, they are looking forward to their Canaan Land that promises free, fair and credible elections and as such, expectations were high on the new leadership of INEC. But the few elections already conducted by the new boss of the electoral body is already generating concerns and opinionated Nigerians have begun to castigate the body. Yakubu himself has been under severe media bashings.
The reason is not far-fetched. Rather than sustaining the tempo of the 2015 general election, which was generally acclaimed as Jega’s best and one of the most credible elections in the history of the country, but in spite of the fact that he was handed a near-luxury commission, Yakubu’s INEC has bungled virtually all major elections conducted since he assumed office and worst still, there are no indications that the situation will get better.
For instance, till date, the confusion and anxiety created in the Kogi State political atmosphere after INEC declared the November 20, 2015 Kogi State governorship election inconclusive has not totally subsided. The state’s body polity is still depending on judicial interpretation because of an ongoing litigation that trailed INEC’s decision in the state.
Though the Kogi situation was further compounded by the sudden death of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Mr. Abubakar Audu, the contention among some members of his party was that INEC acted in questionable manners in the state because it acted as though it was not abreast of the statistics around the election before declaring it inconclusive.
Results earlier declared by the Returning Officer, Professor Emmanuel Kucha, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, had indicated that Audu of the APC scored 240, 867 while the former governor, Alhaji Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled 199, 514 votes.
Professor Kucha however pronounced the election inconclusive due to the fact that the margin of votes between Audu and Wada was 41, 353, and because the total number of registered voters in the 91 polling units in 18 local government areas, where election was cancelled was 49,953, a figure higher than the 41,353 votes with which Audu had led Wada.
Though Kucha relied on Section M, Paragraph 4 on Page 22 of INEC Approved Guidelines and Regulations for the Conduct of the 2015 General Election, which says “Where the margin between the two leading candidates is not in excess of the total number of registered voters of the polling units where elections were cancelled or not held, the Returning Officer will decline to make a return until another poll has taken place and the result incorporated…”
But critics contended that INEC was wrong to have branded the election inconclusive. Their argument was that the commission ought to have taken a more critical look at the election because if APC was leading by 41,000 votes and INEC is conducting supplementary election in 91 polling units where there are 49, 953 registered voters and there only 25,000 have PVCs, there is no way the supplementary election would have upturned Audu’s victory.
Audu’s running mate, Hon. James Faleke is in court against INEC, insisting that he was supposed to have been sworn-in as the governor of the state, relying on the votes already garnered by his principal, Audu, who died in the course of the election.
“If all of them voted for PDP, which is unlikely, the result won’t be enough to stop APC’s victory. Therefore, INEC should not have declared the election inconclusive in the first place,” argued Hon. Duro Meseko, a former House of Representatives member, who represented Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu local government area of Kogi State.
While observers would have overlooked the discordance in Kogi State, wait for how the court would rule and expect INEC to give a better performance at Bayelsa which was only about 15 days away, it was also an inconclusive election in the oil rich state as the electoral umpire cancelled the election in Southern Ijaw Local Government area – one of the state’s eight LGAs which has about 114 registered voters.
INEC reportedly took the decision because of violence, the abduction of electoral officials, ballot box snatching and other related electoral malpractices that the agency believed was a negation of global best practices in election conduct and that it was necessary to cancel the election as a way to ensure credibility in the process.
As tenable as that excuse may be, a major flaw by INEC in the election was still in the aspect of logistics, particularly moving electoral officers and materials to polling units on time. This was part of what was pointed by a group of 14 of the political parties that contested the December 5th 2015 governorship election in Yenagoa after they “extensively and exhaustively” deliberated on the incidences that occurred before, during and after the elections.
“Having collated the reports from our unit and LGA agents, reports from NGOs, INEC officers, Local and International observers and various security agencies, we strongly condemn the situation where materials were distributed late in the afternoon, accreditation done in the evening and voting done in the night in Southern Ijaw local government area which outright negates all democratic norms,” the politicians noted, though they also agreed that there were skirmishes in the conduct of the election.
No doubt, there were wide spread violence in the three senatorial districts, where legislative assemblies’ election held in Rivers State, the event that led to the inability of INEC to promptly announce the results in the state was partly due to a situation created by INEC itself. Or else, how does the body justify the fact that election material did not get to several polling units, even in Port Harcourt, until it was very late?
After the Kogi and Rivers State elections, even President Muhammadu Buhari was compelled to tender an apology to Nigerians over the poor conduct of the election, a move that meant nothing to the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Ayodele Fayose, who called for the immediate sack of Prof. Yakubu.
“If the 2019 elections will not be messed up and be made inconclusive, lovers of democracy in the country must not keep silent on the mess our elections have become under Professor Yakubu,” Fayose noted.
The real problem is, no one can say for sure when the Yakubu-led INEC hopes to get it right because the elections are all isolated elections that are expected to be easy to manage in terms of logistics. The hope for a better performance in the Abuja election was again botched. Again, after the Abuja Municipal Area Council held last weekend, INEC declared the election in Gwagwalada, Kuje, Abuja Municipal and Kwali area councils of the Federal Capital Territory inconclusive.
The Returning Officer, Prof. Sunday Ododo, said the election in the area council was declared inconclusive because the total number of cancelled votes cast, 15,560, was more than the margin between the two leading political parties. It is indeed an era of inconclusive election in the annals of election process in Nigeria’s history.
As suggested by Governor Fayose, who urged Nigerians not to keep quiet over Yakubu’s pattern of handling elections, Nigerians must begin to ask the INEC boss some pertinent questions. What really is the problem? Why is it that conclusive elections are becoming more difficult to come by? Since elections in this clime are always a do-or-die idea, why is INEC not always ready for the security issues associated with it or must the nation submit to the quest of election manipulators because of INEC’s incapacity?
Naturally, Yakubu should seek counsel from people on the ground at INEC and even Jega to know how to navigate through the difficult terrain and improve on what he met on the ground, because obviously, he has not been comparing note.
Aside the fact that his haphazard handling of elections is costly and could call to question Yakubu’s professorial tittle, it is better that the INEC chairman speaks out so that the people will understand his predicament. Is he just incompetent in handling of his responsibility or there are saboteurs both within and outside the commission, who are making his job difficult?