The Making of ‘Inconclusive’ National Electoral Commission

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Abdullahi Usman

It has been exactly a year since ex-President Goodluck Jonathan set a new tone for democracy and election in Nigeria and Africa by refusing the age-long penchant by African leaders to manipulate the electoral system to perpetuate themselves in power. Hate him or like him, you just have to give it to him that he scored the bull’s eye in bequeathing a far better electoral system than he inherited.

Under Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government, the INEC was given full political, administrative, and financial autonomy, which made success recorded by Prof. Attahiru Jega’s success possible. For example, while his predecessors went on their knees to beg the Federal Government (FG) for funds, Jega’s INEC received by far more money and through first line charge than the predecessors.

Beyond laws, Jonathan’s body language helped greatly in reshaping the nation’s elections history. For instance, while no law forbade him from appointing a fellow Ijaw man an INEC Chairman, he appointed Prof. Jega, a Fulani from Kebbi State.

He was always the first to issue statements congratulating the opposition parties each time they won governorship elections, even if the State PDP was kicking. While the opposition threatened that the dog and baboon would soak in blood, Jonathan’s sing-song was that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. And when Nigeria’s fate hung in the balance after the 2015 election, he showed statesmanship and courage by calling to congratulate Muhammadu Buhari. He did not even bother going to the tribunal, although he had good grounds to. He was apparently more concerned with Nigerians reuniting to move forward and in causing no distractions for his successor.
Unfortunately, all these worthy legacies are petering away before the eyes of Nigerians, with impunity, fumbling, and inconclusiveness taking centre stage.

First, the departing INEC Chairman handed over to his next in hierarchy, Mohammed Wali ,in acting capacity, but the presidency overruled him. In his stead was appointed Amina Zakari, an alleged relation of President Muhammadu Buhari, who also worked very closely with him at the Petroleum Trust Fund and also with Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. Even when her tenure as a Commissioner at INEC expired, she continued to hold sway as Acting INEC chairperson under no known law and an arrangement that sent legal luminaries pondering.

Next, security agencies got directly involved in electoral petitions for the first time since 1999. They invaded INEC offices, arresting, interrogating and intimidating INEC officials and PDP witnesses at will. Chairman of Rivers Governorship Election Panel was changed. Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Taraba tribunals were also relocated to Abuja for so-called ‘security’ reasons.
The DSS has carried on so obnoxiously under this regime that it has been nicknamed Daura Secret Service on the social media. President Buhari and the Director-General of DSS, a former member of the APC Presidential Campaign Team, both hail from Daura.

In another show of impunity and disregard for rule of law (Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution provides for 12 Commissioners and a Chairman), President Buhari refused to constitute INEC board until November 2015. Even when he eventually did, he ensured it was inconclusive as he appointed only six.

Buhari is the first Nigerian president to appoint someone of his ethnic extraction as INEC Chairman. Could he and his other opposition leaders have accepted it if Jonathan had appointed an Ijaw as INEC Chairman? Those who kept mute or justified this electoral coup are already paying with what is playing out in Kogi State governorship debacle.

How on earth could the Attorney-General direct INEC to direct APC to impose Yahaya Bello, who never participated in an election, to become the beneficiary of Audu Abubakar/James Faleke ticket? Only in Nigeria! Legal luminaries argue that the least INEC could have done in that unforeseen circumstance was to call for a fresh election or have Faleke complete the race he started with Audu Abubakar or declare Idris Abubakar winner; but certainly not to foist Bello on the people of Kogi. For disagreeing with this impunity, Falake and Audu Abubakar’s son were arrested/invited ‘for questioning’ by DSS.

Largely responsible for INEC’s sudden descent to gross incompetence and plethora of inconclusiveness, therefore, is APC’s desperation to have it all. While most PDP governorship candidates followed Jonathan’s example in congratulating their victorious APC counterparts, APC candidates refused to concede defeat. They not only challenged the elections, but also resorted to heavy media propaganda to run down their opponents and intimidate the judiciary. Wherever the judiciary ruled against the PDP, judiciary was a hero. But in places such as Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Abia, Taraba, etc where the judiciary upheld PDP’s victories on the same grounds it upheld APC’s victory in Lagos, Zamfara, etc, the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, was upbraided and demonised by the APC.

The APC, while in opposition, went up to the Court of Appeal to establish that the military have no role in elections, and also get the court to bar the FG from deploying them. The same APC, now in government, made a U-turn that led to the large-scale militarization of the Bayelsa and Rivers rerun elections. It was high scale killing/violence and inconclusiveness as the people refused to be rigged out. The world saw the battalions of soldiers moving about with Rotimi Amaechi, and how the police allegedly released an INEC officer to Amaechi and Hon. Peterside. The President’s body language in refusing to emulate Jonathan by congratulating Seriake Dickson signals a bad loser temperament that has emboldened APC members on the part of electoral impunity.

In view of the above, one is tempted to believe the narrative that INEC’s gargantuan lousiness in printing and attempting to distribute result sheets that had no security features in some areas may not be ordinary. INEC has refused to release all the results of concluded elections, its silence on completing elections where they it didn’t hold on 19th March smacks of executive manipulations.
However, if INEC wants to excuse its collateral lousiness and seeming complicity in continued inconclusiveness in Rivers rerun election on the grounds of violent atmosphere, what could be its excuse for not holding reruns in Imo North Senatorial District or Kogi East within the 90 days directed by the court?

The answer is simple. Imo North is a PDP stronghold with over 90 percent chances of returning Senator Athan Achonu. Governor Rochas Okorocha is now in the Black Book of Imo workers, while his unpopularity is soaring. In Kogi East, the court barred the APC from fielding candidate. In Rivers, the PDP has virtually retaken the three seats of Rivers in the Senate, pending the conclusion of the inconclusive elections. The PDP is poised to further close the tiny gap between it and the APC in the Senate. But, that is exactly what the APC doesn’t want, especially given the uncertainties currently surrounding Senator Saraki’s Senate Presidency. It is clear that if Saraki is removed, PDP Senators will not be as benevolent as they were on 9th June 2015 when they unanimously elected APC member as the Senate President even when they had the opportunity to elect one of their own. PDP will also have more than enough aggrieved pro-Saraki Senators to give them more than the needed number to take over the Senate.

So, the longer INEC delays the court-ordered reruns, the longer APC maintains its razor-slim majority and buys time to put their tattered house in order.
As Nigeria marks one-year anniversary of the historic 2015 general election, citizens are wont to reflect, regrettably, the emerging scenario in which INEC is metamorphosing from a respected independent electoral body in the last days of the PDP government to an Inconclusive National Electoral Commission, a palpable executive lapdog and the re-emergence of do-or-die politics. This is the sad story of Nigeria- one step forward, ten backwards.
–––Usman writes from Lagos