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The electoral body should do more to ensure a credible election, writes Ayo Oyoze Baje

The surging tide of fears and apprehensions by concerned citizens with regard to the possibility of the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct free, fair and credible elections come 2019 cannot be swept aside with a wave of the hand. The reasons are both profound and obvious. Firstly, if the contentious electoral shenanigans that played out with allegations of vote buying in Ekiti governorship poll and subsequently the use of might-is- right in the re-run governorship election in Osun State are anything to go by, the fears are as real as the wavy lines on our palms.

In fact, not a few of the local and international observers, who monitored that election, decried the deployment of the crude instruments of intimidation, hooliganism and outright disfranchisement of some eligible voters. According to  the Southwest leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) about 4,387 votes were allegedly removed from the total ballots polled by the party. But that is just part of the cloud of doubts hovering over the next set of elections.

For instance, the use of TraderMoni coming on the eve of the general election, as a social intervention fund for the long-neglected marketers is suspicious. Worsening the allegation is the request for the numbers of the beneficiaries’ Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). This raises some fundamental questions. What is the PVC number for? Also, why should pupils in some public primary schools in Kaduna State requested to fill forms stating similar PVC numbers? How do we also explain or even rationalize the presence of the top army chiefs as the incumbent President Buhari presented his manifesto tagged the ‘Next Level’ in November?  That is not all.

Why should the National chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secondus allege before the European Union (EU), United States (US) and other international agencies that INEC has perfected a rigging arrangement through manipulated card readers and special election result sheets doctored to favour the APC?  Is this a possibility? According to INEC’s director of Information and voter education, Oluwole Osaze Uzzi, the PDP might be lacking the knowledge of how the Smart Card Readers (SCR) works. It cannot be preloaded.

Lest we forget, back in 2015 the then opposition party, the APC was alleged by the Directorate of the State Security Services to be attempting to clone some electoral materials. But the party described it all as hogwash, as it accused INEC of a deliberate manipulation of the process to favour the then ruling political party, the PDP. INEC denied such and as fate would have it, PDP lost the presidential contest.

Nonetheless, at the heart of heightened tension prior to the general elections is the desperation for political power. This is coming from both the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC to hang on to power by all means possible as well as the PDP, championed by Atiku Abubakar, its presidential candidate vowing to push his rival out by all the constitutional methods at its disposal.

The onus therefore, lies squarely on the shoulders of INEC to discharge its statutory functions to the nation without fear or favour to meet international standards. This is well spelt out in Section15, Part 1of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). So it is in Section 2 of the Electoral Act 2010.The subsisting laws empower INEC to conduct elections into elective political offices. These include executive offices such as that of the president, vice president, governors and their deputy. Also listed are elections into legislative offices such as the Senate and House of Representatives. INEC has the capacity to score the bull’s eye.

It is on record, for instance, that specifically in June 1993 the then National Electoral Commission of Nigeria under the Chairmanship of Prof. Humphrey Nwosu gave Nigeria such widely adjudged credible elections. The Commission used the Option A4 voting system and Open Ballot System. Most unfortunately, that milestone election which should have served as a template for subsequent ones was crudely annulled by the IBB-led military junta. The rest, as they say is history.  The million-naira question remains and reverberates: Can we have such free, fair and credible elections in 2019? 

According to a political analyst, Boladale Adekoya in a media chat the signs are not looking bright because there is a general distrust. “Most importantly, there is that feeling that those within the presidency will do everything to hold on to power, most especially with the help of security agencies. So largely, I think the fear of PDP is tangible and should serve as a form of caution to the present INEC Chairman to ensure he doesn’t become partisan while putting to check the elements that played out in Osun State.”  This runs against the assurance repeatedly given by President Buhari both to the country and the international community that all would be well. For me, we should give INEC and the president the benefit of doubt. Even then we should learn from the hands of history.

So, where did we get it wrong? Put in its proper perspective, while Prof.Maurice Iwu held sway, electoral anomalies such as under-age voting in parts of the north, multiple registration, non-serialization of ballot papers as well as deliberate delay in the display of the voter register took the centre stage especially in the 2007 polls.

Indeed, so questionable was the outcome of the polls that the independent observers of the election and the international community cried blue murder. There were reported incidents of the carting away of electoral materials between Abuja and Kogi State. The same sad scenario played itself out in parts of Delta State. INEC worsened matters by the controversial disqualification of candidates who refused to appear before its screening committee. That was contrary to Section 32(1-5) of the former Electoral Act 2006.

Matters got to an ugly head on the day of the election when some eligible voters could not locate their names on the voter register and were therefore, disenfranchised. Some candidates’ names, party logos and photographs were missing from the ballot papers. There were several reported incidents of mishandling of logistics characterized by late arrival of electoral materials, even keeping the voters waiting till 2.00pm for accreditation to commence! 

In addition to multiple thumb printing by paid fraudsters, snatching of ballot boxes with some top government functionaries involved went on with spree. Yet, announcement of results took place in Abuja instead of the state capitals in clear violation of the Electoral Act. Between then and now, the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led INEC made some positive input with electronic voting and the use of PVC.

The same eyes of history are currently riveted on the Prof. Yakubu-led INEC to overcome the challenges of the power of incumbency, under-age voting, vote-buying and undue influence of security forces. Will he succeed?

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