Given what is currently at stake, the Independent National Electoral Commission cannot afford to fail general expectations of credible elections in 2019, writes Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has a sacred constitutional duty to ensure a transparent and credible electoral process that will engender peace, stability and good governance in the country. It is a well-known fact that badly conducted elections had often triggered crisis in different countries of the world and sometimes leading to prolonged conflicts that threatened the corporate existence and survival of such country.
Recently, opposition political parties have raised serious concerns over the ability and intentions of the present leadership of INEC, led by Professor Mahmood Yakubu to conduct free, unbiased, credible and transparent elections in 2019. One of the leading opposition parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has gone a step further to cry out to the international community especially, the United Nations about its fears on the neutrality and overall capacity of INEC to conduct the elections without being pressured or compromised by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Understanding the Fears of Opposition
The PDP has often as possible, criticised the commission that it lacks capacity to be fair and also leaning towards the APC. The party said it had lost confidence in the ability of INEC to conduct credible polls. One of the issues raised by the PDP leadership was the allegation that the commission was registering underage persons. It went further to allege that INECâ€™s top management had relations and associates of President Muhammadu Buhari on its commission, which signifies their intention to rig the 2019 polls.
National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, while hosting a delegation of the United Nations led by Mohammed Ibn Chambas, urged the UN to help address the mindless killings going on in the country, stressing that same could be part of the grand design to prevent some eligible voters from casting their votes in 2019.
According to the PDP boss, â€œThe registration of the underage was part of their rigging strategies,â€ noting that the party was prepared to release a video evidence of the alleged electoral manipulation.
â€œINEC has not lived up to expectation. It should come out in clear terms and be seen as an umpire. Since they took over, a lot of issues have trailed their conduct of elections,â€ he said.
Another issue raised by the PDP was that security agents were being used to harass members of the opposition and the electorate, who hold opposing viewpoints. At another meeting with a team from the UN led by Mr. Serge G. Kubwimana, the PDP chairman sought the intervention of the international community, adding: â€œWe have fear since APC came on board, if election is not in their favour, there is a rerun.â€
Also, recently, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, made a strong case on the need to ensure that Nigeria holds a credible, free and fair election next year.
Ekwerenmadu, who spoke at the Parliament of the United Kingdom (UK), at a lecture titled: â€œAfrican Politics: The Dynamics and Lessonsâ€, charged the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to ensure that the process is sufficiently transparent and unarguably so, such that losers will see and be convinced that they lost fairly.
The Deputy Senate Presidentâ€™s concern aligned with that of his party, the PDP which expressed doubts over the ability of the present leadership of the INEC to conduct free and fair elections in 2019.
The opposition lawmaker said he would like to see the countries of Africa deploying the latest technology in voter registration, vote counting, and announcement of results, reiterating that â€œWe must ensure that the process is sufficiently transparent and unarguably so, such that losers will see and be convinced that they lost fairly. That way, election tribunals will be eliminatedâ€.
Another opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was also critical of the composition of the current INEC leadership. The partyâ€™s National Secretary, Shehu Gabam took out time to address the media last week during which he expressed the partyâ€™s distrust at the state of affairs in INEC.
He said there are some appointees at INEC that have taken sides politically and that these were among the fundamental issues that should be addressed in order to have free and fair elect.
â€œIf the parties are not comfortable with the composition of INEC, then a lot needs to done and I can tell you that we in SDP from our assessments and findings so far have not seen that deliberate attempt to conduct free and fair election by INECâ€.
Other political parties, the Action Democratic Party (ADP), United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Democratic Peoples Congress (DPP) have expressed similar apprehension over the neutrality of the electoral body.
INEC Pushes a Defence
INEC, on its part, has continued to insist that it has the capacity to organise credible and transparent elections in the country. Although the commission under the new team was yet to organise elections in the magnitude of a general election, the electoral body has so far undergone the baptism of fire by conducting a number of off-season elections and bye-elections.
In the first two major elections, the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States, the exercise was inconclusive. The INEC team said it improved on that record by going ahead to conclusively conduct the governorship elections in Edo, Ondo and Anambra States at first ballot.
INEC boss, Yakubu has also replied his critics, saying he and his team have what it takes to conduct the best general election ever. He defended the neutrality of the commission, saying with the level of preparations and new technological innovations being put in place by the commission, no one can reasonably question its capacity and readiness to conduct a credible election in 2019.
In the same vein, the commission had tried to look into the issue of underage voters by probing the Kano incident. The outcome of the internal investigation exonerated the commission and laid the blame squarely at the door step of the Kano State electoral body. Curiously, the Kano State government had also blamed INEC for it, claiming it had nothing to do with it.
In the area of capacity, there is the belief that the present INEC has strived to leverage what it met on the ground from the previous leadership by introducing new strategies and technological innovations that could help promote transparency.
For instance, in its effort to reduce the incidence of rigging, INEC has decided to introduce the use of satellite communication device to monitor and track elections. To actualise this, the commission entered into a collaborative deal with the agency managing Nigeriaâ€™s satellite, NIGCOMSAT to see how it could deploy its satellite to cover areas currently not covered by 3G and 4G networks (the so-called â€œblack spotsâ€) so that INEC could transmit election results from each Polling Unit nationwide irrespective of location; as well as voter education and sensitisation through electronic message display.
Yakubu assured the people that the measure would ensure that INEC transmits the raw figures of election results, as well as the scanned images of the result sheets from Polling Units in the 2019 elections. He promised that the Commission would continue â€œto make available hard copies of results sheets to political party agents at each Polling Unit and collation centres against which the integrity of the electronically-transmitted results could be compared, verified and authenticatedâ€.
He also said INEC would retain the current practice, where a copy of the result for each election is pasted at the Polling Units immediately after the counting of ballots for public knowledge and accountability.
INEC has equally shown capacity in its resolve to address some of the issues that often breed mistrust and heat the polity. This was why it caused the signing of the code of conduct by political parties under auspices of the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC).
Speaking at the signing ceremony, one of INEC staff, Prof. Okoosi-Simbine, who represented the national chairman, Yakubu, assured the parties of the commitment of the Commission to ensure a level playing field for all political parties during the elections in the country.
Simbine said INEC remained committed to strengthening its internal systems and providing a level playing field for all political parties and candidates by ensuring the sustenance of a credible electoral environment.
â€œIt is vital that political party leaders take their commitment to the code of conduct beyond the official signing of the document by translating the provisions of the code to visible actions that impact positively towards sustaining and enhancing the gains of Nigeriaâ€™s democratic evolution,â€ she said.
The code of conduct sets the parameters of acceptable behavior for political parties, their candidates and their supporters throughout the electoral cycle. There is no doubt that INEC has tried within the short time to add value to the electoral process. It has also exhibited some level of capacity in the conduct of elections as seen in those so far conducted.
Importantly, however, there is the need for more engagements with the critical stakeholders to try to iron out things and explain the motive behind measure being introduced to make our elections better. For now, it is apparent from the positions some of the opposition parties are taking that the gap between the opposition parties and INEC is widening.