Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Chiemelie Ezeobi
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, yesterday passed a damning verdict on the 2019 general election, describing it as the most acrimonious in the history of the country.
Yakubu, at the ‘Review of the 2019 General Election-Commission’s Debriefing of the Media’ in Lagos, identified hostilities in the conduct of primaries among the political parties as the highest singular cause of creating an atmosphere of distrust, leading to enmity.
He said the acrimony that marred the electoral process had forced the commission, while obeying various court rulings, to issue 87 certificates of return.
“We have also been taken to court in 809 cases relating to the conduct of party primaries. That is more than the number of cases arising from the elections itself,” he said.
Earlier reports by the European Union Election Observation Mission and the joint Nigeria International Election Observation Mission of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) had identified flaws in the elections and called on the federal government and INEC to address them.
The EU EOM had slammed the leading parties for not preventing violence and intimidation of voters by their supporters.
It also called for the strengthening of INEC procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral results.
The NDI/IRI team, in its report, said the 2019 election did not meet the expectations of many Nigerians just as it criticised the parties and INEC for undermining confidence in the electoral process
Yakubu who also blamed the parties for the poor outing the electoral commission had, saying their attempts to change the names of candidates who duly won in the primaries was first noticed in the conduct of primaries of two political parties in Anambra State.
He alleged that as the parties were bringing the list from Awka to Abuja, they changed the names of those who won.
Explaining how the political parties were able to perpetrate such injustice for a long time, Yakubu said the commission in the past held the impression that Section 31 of the Electoral Act, which states that once a party submits the name of a candidate, INEC could not reject it under any condition whatsoever, was sacrosanct.
“That was until we discovered that Section 87 provides certain conditions be met for Section 31 to apply. A political party must conduct direct or indirect primaries. I am happy that issues were joined and we went all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, it is clear that where there is no evidence that Section 87 was complied with, you cannot plead Section 31. We have played such activist roles to advance the electoral and legal framework in our country,” he added.
Earlier, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, had said constitutional and legal alterations and amendments alone could not solve the challenges in conducting elections.
He said: “Reforms in the electoral process must include improvements in the administration and management of elections, as well as a change in attitude of major stakeholders.
“There is no doubt that the conclusion of the 2019 general election offers the commission and the major stakeholders in the electoral process an opportunity for reflection and appraisal of the constitutional, legal, administrative and logistic issues.
“It offers us an opportunity to appraise the challenges in the election and adjust it; jettison some of the issues and processes that did not work or did not work well.
“While it is right and rational to alter the constitution and amend the laws to take care of new, emerging and novel issues that may arise or have arisen, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of believing that every electoral challenge must be solved through constitutional or electoral act amendment.”
The Resident Electoral Commissioner, Lagos State, Mr. Sam Olumekun, in his address, said in Lagos where there are 6,570,290 registered voters, 245 registration areas and 13,423 voting points, the commission had to recruit 60,560 ad-hoc staff for the conduct of the elections.
In terms of the contest, he said there were 73 presidential candidates, 54 senatorial contestants, 276 for House of Representatives and 640 for state House of Assembly candidates, while 45 contestants entered the governorship race.
After reeling out the figures, Olumekun however lamented that INEC was being treated as a “solve-all” organisation.
He said: “lt is therefore not uncommon to blame the commission for every inconceivable fault during elections. It is surprising to hear people blaming the commission for issues such as vote buying, political violence and nomination of candidates.
“It is imperative for the media not only to interrogate the 2019 elections but to also ask where we were in 1999 and where are we today. If there have been improvements since 1999, I think these ones also should be mentioned.”
Briefly tackling the phenomenon of fake news, which often thrives during electioneering, he said faults should be put in proper perspectives.
Also speaking, President, European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), Monica Frassoni, said when journalists were prevented from reporting the facts and speaking the truth, others with no qualification, experience or judgment would fill the vacuum for a public hungry for content on social media and unquestioning of what they read or watch.
“I would like to say that this is by no means a Nigerian issue. This is growing global threat. As such, we have to deal with it.
“We are particularly proud that ECES held a “fake news” workshop, designed to help lNEC staff across the headquarters and states recognise, flag up and deal with fake news, disinformation and misinformation,” she added.
Earlier, the Chairman, Planning, Monitoring and Strategy Committee of INEC, Dr. Muhammed Lecky, had said the entire review would be concluded with the publication of the INEC report on the 2019 general election, as part of the commission’s accountability to Nigerians.
Lecky said it was within this context that the commission was considering a series of town hall platforms to engage a wider Nigerian audience on the outcome of the general election.
He lamented instances where INEC had to “fight off misinformation about its activities and position on some very sensitive matters, with repeated issuance of counter rebuttal and press release.
“While I am not sure of the documented outbreak of violence attributed to mainstream media in Nigeria, the same cannot be said of social media, which has taken a more virulent tone and large-scale falsification of the truths.
“INEC has been a victim of this. We may want to recall the bashing INEC received on account of fake news on the Kano under-age voting saga, which was widely and uncritically reported by even mainstream media.”
On his part, Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos State Council, Dr. Qasim Akinreti, said the commission should be more decisive in punishing parties for their misdeeds.
According to him, ‘‘INEC should not wait for the courts to make final pronouncement on party candidates as witnessed in the last election where remarkably the people of Zamfara were put on edge until the final hour. Once INEC compiles its findings with the security agencies, it should call a press conference to inform Nigerians on the impropriety of the political parties’ nominations.”
Akinreti also suggested the outsourcing of logistics.
“My solution to logistics issues, especially transportation of sensitive materials, is outsourcing of transportation process to reputable logistics company or companies, he said..
He also called for election debates for candidates to enable voters to make an informed choice and for the full involvement of the NUJ in the accreditation of journalists both local and foreign to cover the elections.