The plan to press for electoral reform needs support. Incessant violence put the democratic process at great risks
The proposal by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to announce results of elections marred by violent disruptions is a welcome development that should be supported. According to its chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, “INEC has decided that although the commission has no power under the law to cancel an election, it will not proceed with the process in any constituency where the safety of our personnel and materials is threatened.” He added: “Collation of results will not proceed where the collation centres are invaded. No declaration of winners will be made where Returning Officers are threatened.”
Yakubu, who spoke at the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) prefaced his comment by highlighting that “the purpose of security deployment during elections is to protect the voters, election officials and materials, accredited observers, the media and to safeguard the integrity of the processes generally, including the polling units and collations centres”. But that, according to him, has not stemmed the violence. We understand why. While non-partisan cooperation and collaboration is imperative for election security, some of the security agencies worked at cross-purposes last year. In Rivers State, as widely reported, personnel of the Army and Police almost exchanged gun fire at the INEC head office in Port Harcourt. At the end, those that were brought in to enforce law and order became the real instigators of violence.
It is therefore important that the security agencies put their act together. But much more importantly, the decision by INEC not to hold elections in the face of violence is a pro-active step that will help to curb the activities of election vandals. From the primaries of the political parties to the campaigns preceding the exercise, the last general election in February /March 2019 was one of the most violent we have had in the country with several lives lost and scores of others injured. That sordid episode was replicated in the 16th November 2019 gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States as the process turned out to be a complete warfare with the attendant loss of lives.
It is sad that in Nigeria today, no election would be said to be complete without violence, in most cases resulting in the deaths of voters, INEC officials and also the destruction of election materials. For instance, all foreign observers during the 2019 general election, including the ECOWAS-Election Observation Mission (EOM), led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, reported that even though the campaigns were largely peaceful, the elections were marred by violence. The flaws inherent in the election got to a head when a presiding officer in Imo State, a university professor, disclosed that he declared the winner of a senatorial election ‘under duress’ from a candidate at gunpoint.
It should not be accepted as normal that instead of intensifying their campaigns to win votes, politicians now procure arms and other instruments of war for elections. Neither should it be accepted as a way of life that INEC officials should be killed or maimed while performing their official duties. But to give legal authority to this proposal aimed at curbing electoral violence, it is expected that the commission would, within the window of the electoral reforms that is ongoing at the National Assembly, ensure an amendment to the electoral act.
However, given a recent Supreme Court judgment which practically ousted the powers of INEC in the exercise of its duty on the matter in question and handed them to the police, the law has to be clear and ambiguous. If it is not, there is the likelihood that some unscrupulous politicians could still manufacture results from such polling units where INEC cancels elections and use them to conjure judicial electoral victory. But there is no doubt that a solution needs to be found to the incessant electoral violence that put the democratic experiment and our country at great risks before we are tripped over the precipice by the inordinate ambition of a few.
It should not be accepted as normal that instead of intensifying their campaigns to win votes, politicians now procure arms and other instruments of war for elections