Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that despite the challenges of managing elections in Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission under the leadership of Professor Mahmood Yakubu has taken courageous decisions in a continuous attempt to improve the balloting process
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has conducted seven general elections since the advent of democracy in 1999 (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 & 2019). Conducting a general election in a vast county like Nigeria with a size of over 923,000 square kilometers, plenty of difficult terrains and riverine communities pose significant logistical challenges. In spite of these challenges, the commission has continued to improve over the years.
At inception in November 2015, the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led commission elected to consolidate the gains recorded in 2015 general election and further expand the frontiers. It embarked a number of innovations and planned meticulously for the 2019 general elections. It also took deliberate steps to improve the welfare of the Commission’s staff.
The number of political parties registered under the watch of, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are 50. Five political parties were registered in June 2017. They are ADP, AGAP, APDA, NGP and YPP. In December of the same year, the number of registered political parties increased by 21. The parties are ABP, AGA, ANN, ANRP, CC, FJP, GPDN, JMPP, LPN, MAJA, MDP, NIP, NRM, NRM, NDCP, PANDEL, PT, PPC, RNP, RP and SNP. Twenty three more political parties made the list in August 2018. They are AAP, ANDP, AAC, AUN, ASD, ANP, APM, APN, CNP, COP, LM, MRDD, NCMP, NFD, PCP, RAP, SNC, UP, UPC, WTPN, YES, YP and ZLP. For the 2015 general elections, there were 30 political parties out of which 28 contested. Between 2015 and 2019, the Commission registered 91 political parties out of which 73 contested the 2019 general elections. However, one more political party has been registered after the general election via a court order.
In 2017, INEC launched a five-year to help the commission develop a pragmatic roadmap that will serve as a practical, action-oriented guide for its work over a five-year period. The process of developing the strategy was guided by the need for ownership of the process by INEC staff and engagement with key stakeholders.
The purpose of the strategy is to provide a strategic direction for INEC and the actions to be taken to achieve its mandate given the international and national context of its operations, propose what needs to be done by the organization to achieve its mandate following a review of the previous strategic plan, provide a framework and focus for improvement within the Commission as a whole and optimise the Commission’s organizational systems and structures
The Strategic Programme of Action was put together to ensure that the key five objectives of the Strategic Plan are achieved. It identifies the activities to be undertaken to achieve each objective, the time frame needed and the expected outcomes. These five objectives are; to provide electoral operations, systems and infrastructure to support delivery of free, fair and credible elections; to improve voter education, training and research; to register political parties and monitor their operations; to interact nationally and internationally with relevant stakeholders and to strengthen INEC for sustained conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
Election Project Plan
Elections are huge logistic undertakings. Nigeria’s landmass, difficult terrain, number of constituencies, size of voter population and the number of staff required to conduct a general election all make planning and management of elections a very complex exercise. It was in recognition of these complexities that the commission instituted the practice of developing and implementing an Election Project Plan (EPP).
The 2019 EPP is the second since 2015 and was designed to ensure the implementation of the 2019 general election as a single coordinated plan to deepen the voter experience and deliver better services. The 2019 general election was conducted in 1,558 constituencies, made up of one presidential, 29 governorship, (seven governorship are off-season), 109 senatorial, 360 federal, 991 state and 68 area councils in the Federal Capital Territory. There are 119,973 Polling Units across 774 Local Government Areas in 8,809 Registration Areas in Nigeria.
Before the 2019 general election, the commission conducted 195 offseason bye, re-run and end-of-tenure elections, including governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states. This enabled the commission to fine-tune its processes and procedures.
Continuous Voter Registration
Prior to the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) carried out by the commission between April 27 2017 and August 31 2018, the total number of Registered Voters was 69,720,350.
But after the CVR was undertaken in all the 774 INEC Local Government Areas offices and other designated centres nationwide and following laid down procedures, the commission verified and confirmed 14,283,734 new registrants. The total number of registered now stands at 84,004,084.
This is unprecedented. It was the first time that the commission would undertake the CVR on a continuous basis as prescribed by law. On previous occasions, the commission had only undertaken the CVR close to a general election.
For the 2019 general election, INEC monitored 29,607 party primaries across the country comprising presidential – 7; governorship – 853; senate – 2,357; reps 7,337 and state assembly – 18, 990.
A total of 335 observer groups (OGs) applied for accreditation to observe the 2019 elections, made up of 293 domestic and 42 foreign. The commission accredited 159 OGs (120 Domestic and 39 Foreign). They deployed 73,562 personnel out of which 71,256 were domestic and 2,306 foreign. Out of the 71,256 domestic observers deployed, 51,320 were males and 19,936 females. Out of the 2,306 foreign observers deployed, 1,711 were males and 595 females.
Only 42 domestic observer groups have so far submitted reports on the 2019 general elections.
The Commission launched its Regulations for Voting by Internally Displaced Persons in December 2018 to give internally displaced qualified Nigerians, who were forced out of their homes due to natural disasters, insurgency and other conflicts the opportunity to vote.
The commission unveiled its revised Communication Policy in July 2019. The policy provides guidance on standards for the management of the commission’s internal and external communications. As an institution saddled with the enormous responsibility of managing the entire electoral process, the commission needs to constantly and expeditiously provide information within its vast network of staff and offices as well as to the public. The purpose of policy is to, among other things, ensure that communications across the commission and between the commission and the public are well coordinated, effectively managed and responsive to the diverse information needs of the public.
As part of efforts to proactively provide the general public and other stakeholders with up-to-date information about its activities and in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, the Commission established, for the first time, an online newspaper – INECNEWS (www.inecnews.com). Since its debut in 2017, the newspaper has been reporting on the Commission’s activities exclusively. The reports are being shared with the general public at regular intervals.
Youth Votes Count Campus Outreach
One of the remarkable collaborations the current commission had with the European Union and the European Centre for Electoral Support within the framework of the European Union Support for Democratic Governance (EU-SDGN) was the Youth Votes Count Campus campaign. The campaign was intended to increase the level of participation of youths, women, Persons with Disabilities and other vulnerable groups in elections as well as boost citizens’ trust and confidence in the electoral process. The programme was also designed to increase the enthusiasm of and encourage young people to register during the CVR and vote in elections. Several Nollywood stars made appearances during the campaign that took place on the campuses of six federal universities across six geo-political zones. The institutions include: University of Lagos, University of Nigeria Nsukka, University of Abuja, University of Port Harcourt, Moddibo Adama University of Technology, Yola and Bayero University, Kano.
The Commission issued its Guidelines and Regulations for the conduct of all elections to the offices of President and Vice President; Governor and Deputy Governor, National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives), State Houses of Assembly; Chairmen and Vice Chairmen of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Councils and Councillors of FCT Area Councils Legislature in January 2019 and the document was used for the 2019 general elections. It supersedes all other regulations/guidelines issued previously by the commission and shall remain in force until replaced by new regulations or amendments.
Some of its key components include: Simultaneous Accreditation and Voting, Pasting of Form EC60E or “People’s Result Sheet” at each polling unit after an election and Compulsory use of the Smart Card Reader
The commission approved the promotion of 4,917 senior officers who were successful in the promotion exercise conducted at the headquarters and state offices between August and November 2017. The commission also endorsed the promotion of 2,413 eligible junior staff on Grade level 03 – 06. Earlier in 2016, the commission had increased the hazard allowance for staff from 35 to 50 percent and has just increased it by 15 percent to put a smile on staff faces.
Efforts Made by INEC to Ensure Free, Fair and Credible Governorship Elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections on November 16, 2019. Adequate preparations were made. The commission initially released the Timetable and Schedule of Activities (T&SA) on April 9,2019, fixing the date of election for November 2. However, following appeals from the Bayelsa State Government, the Commission shifted the date to November 16. The commission also combined the court-ordered Kogi West Senatorial re-run and Brass I State Constituency supplementary elections with the governorship elections. It is noteworthy that by combining the Kogi West Senatorial District Election with the Kogi Governorship Election, the Commission saved N300 million that would have been spent if the election had been conducted as a stand-alone.
In the updated T&SA released on May 16, 2019, 14 activities were listed and were meticulously carried out. For the first time in the history of governorship elections in Nigeria, and with the benefit of hindsight, INEC organized two stakeholders’ meetings in both Yenagoa (Bayelsa) and Lokoja (Kogi) to implore political actors and their supporters/sympathisers and other stakeholders to allow peaceful elections. The political actors in both states signed the Peace Accord, committing themselves to be law abiding and allow peaceful conduct of the polls on November 16.
The Commission carried out its Risk Assessment of the two states and shared its findings with the security agencies. It was on the basis on this Risk Assessment, together with the report of the Risk Assessment carried out by the Police that a deployment plan was drawn up for the elections. INEC also consulted widely with the security agencies under the auspices of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), which is being chaired by the National Security Adviser with the INEC Chairman as Co-Chair. Learning from the 2019 general election experience, the Commission signed MoUs with individual transport and boat owners in both states to ensure smooth movement and delivery of elections officials and elections materials for the elections in the two states and to fulfill all other logistic requirements.
All ad-hoc staff were adequately trained and in good time too. Besides, in order to prevent any complications, the Commission issued individual Letters of Appointment to all ad-hoc staff with full details about their remuneration and what is required of them. All sensitive and non-sensitive materials were delivered to the specified location in good time. Adequate number of Smart Card Readers were deployed.
On Election Day, over 80 percent of all the polling units were opened between 7am and 10am. The system of simultaneous accreditation and voting was successfully used. Collation took place at the RAC, LGA and State levels as planned. Results were declared within 48 hours.
Despite signing the Peace Accord, political actors still hired thugs to disrupt the polls in some areas. There were reports that armed men went to some polling units in Kogi and Bayelsa states and snatched/destroyed ballot boxes. There were also reported cases of unprovoked attacks by armed thugs in some areas.
Prevailing conditions forced the Returning Officer for the Kogi West Senatorial Election to declare the election inconclusive, while returns were made for the governorship elections in the two states.
The reported disruptions were not so widespread enough to prevent the Commission from announcing the overall results. In other words, the Commission did not receive reports from the field in both states that could have justified the suspension of process. The conditions for suspending the process in an on-gong election are stated in the extant laws and taking any action to the contrary would have amounted to an illegality.
Arising from the 2019 General Election, a total of 807 post-election petitions were filed at the tribunals. Out of this figure, 582 were dismissed, 183 withdrawn by the petitioners, 30 for re-run election and 12 for issuance of certificates of return. This means that the commission is required by order of the tribunals to conduct re-run elections in 30 constituencies across 12 States of the federation involving, two Senatorial Districts out of 109, 13 Federal Constituencies out of 360 and 15 State Constituencies out of 991. In a majority of cases, elections are to be re-run in just a few polling units, some of them in only one polling unit in the entire constituency.
Recall that elections were held in 1,558 constituencies nationwide in the 2019 General Election. The 30 constituencies into which re-run elections will be conducted represent 1.92% (approximately 2%) of the total number of constituencies. The Commission believes that progress is being made in this respect. For instance, in the 2015 General Election held in 1,490 constituencies (excluding the 68 constituencies in FCT where elections were not due as was the case in 2019), re-run elections by court order were held in 80 constituencies (5.37%) made of 10 Senatorial Districts, 17 Federal Constituencies and 53 State Constituencies across 15 States of the Federation.
One critical area that the Commission will engage the National Assembly is the status of the Smart Card Reader (SCR). According to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, “the SCR has come to stay” and “it cannot be jettisoned or abandoned. Rather, the Commission will seek ways by which its utility in elections can be enhanced for the triple objectives of verification of the genuineness of the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), confirmation of ownership and fingerprint authentication of voters.”
The INEC Chairman also said at a recent meeting: “The status of the SCR must be provided for and protected by law. Similarly, accreditation data from the SCR should be used to determine over-voting and the margin of lead principle. The judgement of the Supreme Court on the primacy of the voters’ register as the determinant of over-voting in law merely draws attention to the lacuna in the electoral legal framework which must be addressed through immediate and appropriate amendment to the Electoral Act. The commission will present a proposal to the National Assembly on this matter as well as other areas in which further deployment of technology will deepen the integrity of our electoral process.”
The Commission is deeply concerned that elections in Nigeria, especially for executive positions, are increasingly characterised by brazen acts of impunity. The commission plans for all elections to be successfully concluded and for the will of the people to prevail. It is thus inconceivable that INEC will make elaborate arrangement for the deployment of personnel and materials and then turn around to undermine ourselves in the field on Election Day. Impunity has become the bane of our elections. The best antidote to impunity is the enforcement of sanctions under our laws without fear and favour. Where offenders are not punished, bad behaviour is encouraged.
Over the last 40 years, virtually all our elections have been accompanied by the report of one committee or another on electoral reform, among them the Babalakin Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO, 1986), the Uwais Report on electoral reform (2008), the Lemu Committee on post-election violence (2011), the Ken Nnamani Committee on constitutional and electoral reform (2017), the various administrative reports by INEC, investigation reports by the security agencies (the Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Army), the independent studies by the National Human Right Commission (2015 and 2017), the judgements of the various election petition tribunals, the reports of domestic and international observers, record of public hearing for the amendment of the electoral legal framework by the National Assembly and even confessional statements by some political actors. The Commission will continue to work with the National Assembly and all stakeholders for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal as recommended by the Uwias, Lemu and Nnamani Committees.
Arising from the 2019 General Election, a total of 807 post-election petitions were filed at the tribunals. Out of this figure, 582 were dismissed, 183 withdrawn by the petitioners, 30 for re-run election and 12 for issuance of certificates of return. This means that the commission is required by order of the tribunals to conduct re-run elections in 30 constituencies across 12 States of the federation involving, two Senatorial Districts out of 109, 13 Federal Constituencies out of 360 and 15 State Constituencies out of 991. In a majority of cases, elections are to be re-run in just a few polling units, some of them in only one polling unit in the entire constituency