INEC must learn from its mistakes and conduct free and credible elections

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) put Nigeria on the spotlight by postponing the elections scheduled for last Saturday, 16th February, few hours before the commencement of polls. The rescheduled Presidential and the National Assembly elections will now hold tomorrow, 23rd February 2019 while the governorship and the state Houses of Assembly elections will be held on March 9.

The embattled chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu assured the nation during the week that the administrative and logistical inefficiencies that led to the postponed poll and which cost the nation a fortune had been overcome. He said both sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials had been distributed across the nation while smart card readers had been reconfigured with the new time-lines. “We have been making good progress on logistics,” said Professor Yakubu. “Similarly, all other arrangements for the movement of personnel from the local government areas to the ward are on course.”

Indeed, there have been steps forward and confidence is gradually seeping back into the electoral system, thus boosting the perilously low morale after the shocking postponement. The INEC daily interactions with the public of its plans and renewed pledge have helped greatly. The slash in the cost of petrol and air fares by some airlines and the public holiday a day before the election will also likely make some difference among voters. The resumption of political campaigns has also helped in lifting the prevailing gloom as it gave room for politicians to interact more with the voters ahead of the elections.

However, this little window for electioneering has also been abused by many politicians especially by those of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). They have still no regards for the extant laws guiding political campaigns or indeed the peace accord they all agreed to abide by. The amount of abusive and inciting messages in the political space is exasperating while security issues are being increasingly politicised.

Perhaps the most alarming came from President Muhammadu Buhari who is also the presidential candidate of the ruling APC. Buhari had on Monday during the national caucus meeting of his party in Abuja said ballot box snatchers would pay with their lives as security agencies had been given the green light to be ruthless with them. It was one worrying directive that heightened tension, coming as it did, from the commander-in-chief. It hurts as the order is dismissive of the law, and encourages scare tactics and brute force. Not surprisingly, the opposition and members of the civil society were outraged and rightly described the remark as a declaration of war on Nigerians. There are sufficient laws to deal with election violence and related matters.

As we have stated repeatedly, we expect the security agencies to be apolitical and display high sense of professionalism during and after the elections, a duty the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu has pledged to perform. It is heartening too that the electoral body itself has said that the conduct of the elections will be guided by our laws. The INEC, assigned the crucial role of conducting a free, fair and transparent election, must do well to disabuse the minds of many Nigerians. For this second chance, there is no room for mistakes. Nothing should be unattended to. The election must be free and seen as transparent.

And for Nigerians, we urge them to come out tomorrow and vote the candidate of their choice. As the Abdulsalami Abubakar-led National Peace Commission rightly enjoined, “do not relent, go out and fulfill your duty to your family and country on Election Day. We will soon turn the corner in hope. Rather than despair, rise up to defend our democracy.”

May the best candidates win.