Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Chairman of the National Electoral Commission ((INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, has said the emergence of two strong political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is clear indication that the country’s electoral process is making progress.
Against the background of criticisms trailing recent spate of inconclusive elections conducted under his watch, Yakubu said INEC has done nothing wrong in the eye of the law but has only strived to improve on the conduct of transparent elections where the votes of the electorate will count.
Addressing journalists covering the INEC at the headquarters of the commission in Abuja yesterday, Yakubu affirmed that the fact that recent conduct of elections has resulted in the emergence of two parties, the APC and PDP, as strong contenders, is an eloquent testimony to the fact that the electoral process has indeed improved.
Yakubu said: “Nigerians have been praying for the day our votes will count, today I am very happy to say that vote counts and that elections have now become more competitive. Secondly, Nigerians have been praying for a day when we would have two strong political parties and now we have two strong political parties and there are others that are equally coming on strong and winning in areas where they have never won before,” he said.
He said from all indications, elections were becoming very competitive and that the margin of victory had become very tight in recent elections, adding that most of the re-run elections conducted under his leadership of INEC has been keenly contested.
“Elections in Nigeria are becoming better and votes are now counting. For instance, there used to be one strong political party that always won elections but now there are two strong parties.
“Take the case of Kogi, for instance, in the last governorship election, two strong political parties and candidates, a former governor and an incumbent governor, in Bayelsa State, two strong parties, two strong candidates, a former governor and an incumbent governor and the same scenario played out also in Rivers State where a former governor and an incumbent governor were the main actors even though they were not candidates in the elections.
Regarding the spate of inconclusive elections, the INEC boss said that though the phenomon is already being addressed, it did not start with his leadership as INEC chairman.
According to Yakubu, incidence of inconclusive electoral process as witnessed in recent elections were caused by several factors among which are threat to violence and actual violent conduct by political actors.
“Whenever there is inconclusive election in the country, INEC gets the bashing for all manner of reasons. But there are reasons behind the inconclusive elections. I have read so much reports on the inconclusive elections but I have not seen anywhere that INEC has been accused of declaring a winner outside the provisions of the electoral Act.
“Sections 26 and 53 of the Electoral Act clearly stipulates when an election can be declared inconclusive and how INEC should respond to such a situation. It stated that where there is a threat of violence, actual outbreak of violence or natural disaster, INEC is empowered to suspend an election and to fix date for the conduct of another election. Section 53 is even more explicit, that where there is over-voting, INEC should declaration election in that polling unit null and void and fix another time for the election.
The INEC chairman said so far the commission has successfully conducted 49 re-run elections out 82 such re-run elections ordered by the courts.
Regarding the inconclusive elections recorded in the FCT council elections, Yakubu said the commission had to contend with various challenges including difficult terrains which were not easy to reach.
He explained that more progress was recorded in terms electorate participation in the last council poll in the Federal Capital territory, adding that available statistics showed that there was 20 per cent voter turn out in the 2016 FCT election as against 16 per cent in 2015.
Speaking on what INEC is doing to mitigate the incidence of violence, Yakubu said the commission will look at the constitution and the electoral guidelines with a view to finding ways of dealing with the matter.
He said that these days he and the commission’s leadership are always very apprehensive whenever there is going to be an election due the tendency for violence.
“It is easier for INEC to conduct a general election than for it to conduct a re-run and stand-alone election because during such general elections the politicians are usually scattered and are not able to mobilise their thugs unlike what happens during a re-run that they will be able to easily focus attention on that particular area and possibly cause trouble,” he said.