While politicians blame inconclusive elections on incompetence of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the commission’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has in turn said that desperation among those seeking elective office is largely responsible. Where does the blame lie? Asks Segun James
Where will the next political crisis occur in the country? Certainly not where the last one did! But since the 1999 election that ushered in democracy back into the country after 30 years of hiatus, the belief is that a competent and unbiased umpire in the electoral process is as much essential as players in the political field of play.
For now, an uneasy calm has returned to the country after several months of accusation that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is free of bias, but emasculated by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who is bent at ensuring a total take over of all states in the federation.
For much of the last two years, the INEC has been under intense criticism of the handling of elections since the last general election of 2015. Much of the criticism was directed at Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who took over as the chairman of the electoral body from Prof. Attahiru Jega who was adjudged to have performed creditable well while the commission was under his watch.
Yakubu was particularly accused of lacking in ideas and not knowing which direction to take as major elections conducted by the commission under his watch were returned as inconclusive and in most cases; decisions taken were confusing and contradictory.
Most of the criticisms were coming from politician, political parties, civil society and even the Nigerian Bar Association who cried that with such trend, the nation is heading for disaster in 2019.
But in a year of extraordinary reversal, the song has changed. Yakubu is not only accusing politicians of being responsible for the spate of inconclusive elections, but that they are acutely desperate for power and engaging in “do or die” politics that could spell doom for the nation and its nascent democracy.
The INEC chairman in an address at the Civil Society Organisations Strategy Meeting to Review Elections in Nigeria, Post 2015 organised by the Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group (ISDMG) and chair by civil rights advocate, Mr. Ledum Mitee, lamented that it was this attitude and mindset that was responsible for most vices associated with the electoral process leading to inconclusive elections in some cases and not the incompetence of the commission under him.
Yakubu, who was represented by Prof. Anthonia Simbine, the national commissioner in charge of Election and Party Monitoring, said: “Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by any Election Management Body (EMB) is the general attitude of politicians. You will all agree that here, there is acute desperation for power, eloquently captured in the dictum of ‘do or die’ politics.”
He insisted that this attitude “is responsible for most other vices associated with the process, including violence, (which often results to inconclusive elections) hate speeches, bribery and all forms of malpractices. Unless there is attitudinal change and rejection of this mindset, our process is likely to be bedevilled by such negative and subversive tendencies.” He laid the blames of elections violence on this attitude of politicians whom he said wanted to win at cost.
While identifying security as a key challenge, he said that the violence that followed all the elections in the country underscored the desperation of politicians, adding that the violence that followed every election in Rivers state was unprecedented.
Yakubu also said that conflicting court judgments and orders are another major hindrance to the electoral process, saying that “this has led to much uncertainty in the electoral process with courts of coordinate jurisdiction giving conflicting orders even on the same subject matter or lower courts refusing to abide by the decisions of superior courts, in some cases even that of the Supreme Court!”
Other challenges the INEC is facing included “inadequacy of key officials such as Resident Electoral Commissioners,” adding that “it was not until recently that the balance of six national commissioners were appointed.
“Apathetic citizenry, weak political parties and inadequate institutional support for voter mobilization and enlightenment resulting in low participation at elections by both the voter and political parties and over seven million uncollected PVCs.”
Yakubu also stressed that delay in passage of the 2017 budget is one of the challenges facing it as it has affected its plan to acquire materials needed for all on-coming elections, especially the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), which it had since placed order for but is yet to take possession of.
Besides the delay, conflicting state priorities as well as the volatile foreign exchange market, he stressed, had negatively impacted on the work of the commission.
“Although INEC is now on first line charge, the delay in passing the budget and the envelope system being implemented in the face of recession and conflicting state priorities as well as the volatile foreign exchange market have negative impact on the work of the commission,” he said.
Despite these however, Yakubu has some cheering news about future elections, saying that the commission has initiated some internal operational initiatives and reforms.
The INEC boss disclosed that the commission had put measures measures to address the issues relating to oncoming elections including the collapse of the voting system, separation of accreditation and voting to simultaneous accreditation and voting, teamwork, partnership with increased engagement of stakeholders, increased deployment of technology and year round nationwide Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), among others.
“Several major initiatives are being undertaken by the commission. They include capacity building of staff, promotion and posting of competent staff in a targeted manner, establishment of operational review committee on polling units and constituencies.”
He therefore concluded that the nation’s nascent democracy was work in progress, “Hence we must guard against those things that will lead to or contribute to regeneration. We should all join hands to ensure that we build on the foundations for a virile, sustainable and indeed, enduring Nigerian electoral process.”
He disclosed that since the 2015 general election, the INEC had conducted over 167 elections nationwide with 123 concluded on first ballot while 44 were concluded on second ballot.
Also speaking, the chairman of the occasion, Mr. Mitee, while applauding the interaction and initiative of the commission in coming out to share it policy and action with the public, urged that “It is a conversation that should be holding regularly, it should be a continuous process.”
He said the challenge before the electoral commission and Nigerians in general was how to make the 2019 poll be an improvement on 2015 exercise, calling on INEC to address the perception of the people about its officials in colluding with politicians to scuttle the electoral process, adding that this will help to increase the people’s confidence in the process and the umpire.
Mitee called for punishment not only for electoral officers who were found wanting but those caught snatching ballot boxes and those in whose favour the acts were committed in order to address malpractices in conduct of elections in the country.
“There should be punishment for those who snatched ballot papers and those they committed the action in their favour. There should be sanctions, not in term of going to court, some of them if found guilty should be banned from taking part in election and holding public offices.
“So they would be able to tell those on ground that what you are doing is going to have consequences on their electoral future,” he said.
On her part, Acting Executive Secretary of ISDMG, Faith Nwadishi, said the body took special interest in INEC based on the successes recorded in 2015 election and the need to look ahead of 2019 to know what the challenges were and how the group could collaborate with the commission.
“We took special interest in INEC based on the successes recorded in 2015 and looking ahead of 2019 what are the challenges and see what we can do in collaborating and supporting what INEC had done before.
“This meeting we are having today is the third in the series. Two years before the elections, INEC had announced dates of elections and we see the politicians are beginning to gather to re-strategies, so we have to be proactive to look at what are the lessons we have learnt from the 2015 elections and what is it that we need to do,” she said.
As the clock ticks towards another election, and the amendment of Electoral Act which stipulates at least six months between the time of election as the period of takeover by another government may be passed by the National Assembly, the possibility that the next general election may take place next October looms near. But how ready the commission is will determine the future of democracy in the country.
Several major initiatives are being undertaken by the commission. They include capacity building of staff, promotion and posting of competent staff in a targeted manner, establishment of operational review committee on polling units and constituencies.