INEC And Bungled Elections

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The Osun governorship election seems to suggest that we are harking backwards

If justice, equity and fairness are the metric used, it is safe to conclude that the Osun State gubernatorial election was wide off the mark. The security agencies and indeed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) unwittingly allowed for several unwholesome practices such that the supplementary poll held last Thursday became nothing but a sham.

More disturbing is that all these too frequent inconclusive elections in our context undermine integrity by introducing gang-ups, intimidation, thuggery, and voter alienation. In the process, the initial verdict of the electorate is often thwarted while an unpopular outcome is rigged into place and legitimised through INEC’s stamp of authority. Therefore, the best way for INEC to restore confidence in the system is to avoid constantly walking into the technicalities that lead to inconclusive elections.

Before last Thursday’s victory for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Mr Gboyega Oyetola, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke had led with 353 votes. At the end, the most significant factor in the rerun was the role played by the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Mr Iyiola Omisore who endorsed the APC candidate. In his stronghold where the rerun poll held last Thursday, election observers, journalists and agents of the PDP were harassed and molested by thugs who practically took over the entire process while the police looked the other way.

It is therefore understandable that many critical stakeholders have condemned the election. “We hold strongly the view that the rerun poll does not meet up with the minimum standards for free, fair and credible elections. It falls short of global best practices in democratic elections which Nigeria aspires towards,” an election monitoring group, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), said on Thursday.

That position has been echoed by most other observers, including members of the international community that had earlier commended the manner the first exercise was conducted. “The missions of the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom observed voting at polling stations in Osun today (Thursday). We witnessed what appeared to be incidents of interference and intimidation of voters and have reports of harassment of party monitors, journalists and domestic observers. We are very concerned by these reports and we will be checking with stakeholders to determine the facts. We call on all stakeholders to remain calm,” the United States Consul General, Mr John F. Bray said.

The pertinent question is: What changed between Saturday and Thursday? The answer has to do with the nature of supplementary elections and that is why INEC cannot continue with the practice which allows for underhand deal-making and disproportionate deployment of partisan security agents and policemen that would not have been possible were the election conducted on the same day. In close elections such as we had in Osun State, the process of a supplementary poll in a few polling units could easily be gamed by the party in power. That, many believe, was what actually happened last Thursday. In the end, an election that was ordinarily between 48 candidates became a contest between two with all the implications for the eventual outcome even when it is not a run-off.

The purpose of democracy is to afford the people the opportunity to choose their leaders and subsequently participate in the way they are governed. The basic way this is done is through the ballot box. But when citizens are scared away from performing this civic duty, they are denied a fundamental right that is guaranteed by the constitution.

In both the Osun and other recent standalone state governorship elections, the ruling APC displayed an uncanny residue of the military hangover in our polity. Electoral victory is being pursued as a battle objective into which a combination of brute force, intimidation and aggressive vote-buying are deployed to conquer the opponent. While Nigeria is anxious to enthrone a lasting democracy, great care needs to be taken to ensure that our variant does not end up enshrining the rule of violent moneyed mobs that vitiate public expectations and disappoint the rest of the world.

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While Nigeria is anxious to enthrone a lasting democracy, great care needs to be taken to ensure that our variant does not end up enshrining the rule of violent moneyed mobs that vitiate public expectations and disappoint the rest of the world