Jubril Adamu contends the time is ripe for a change in the leadership of the electoral body

Classical believers in democracy hold that, its basic fundamentals rest upon three ideal pillars, equality among all people, liberty and respect for law and justice. But even contemporary democratic theorists such as Schumpeter, Riker, Przeworski and Hardin who argue that such idealism is untenable still maintain that at a minimum, democracy offers a system in which rulers are selected by competitive elections. For the sake of the latter utility, Karl Popper insisted that democracy is thus preferred over other forms of government because of its propensity as the only type in which governments can be changed without bloodshed. Unfortunately, between 1999 to 2007 and again between 2015 and 2019, the experiences of Nigerians with democracy defied such Popperian faith that it can bring about political transition and leadership turnover without violence to citizens and violence to the law. What is however most disturbing is how elections, the minimal pillar of democracy has suffered more grievous decay since 2015 and how 2023 may usher in the end of democracy in Nigeria if there is no drastic change in the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

After the electoral fiascos of 2003 and 2007, a revival of faith in democracy was growing in Nigeria after the 2011 Election, when Professor Jega, a member of the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, was appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan to head INEC. Jega took up some of the key recommendations of the reform committee and set about introducing several remarkable changes. Backed by a supportive executive leadership under the Jonathan regime, which liberally promoted an ambience supportive of democratic practices, the electoral commission under Jega introduced innovations such as an electronic biometric voter register, a smartcard enabled permanent voters card (PVC) generated from the biometric voter register, electronic smart card readers for verifying voters as they present their PVC at polling units, customized ballot papers making each ballot paper unique to specified polling units and useless for electoral fraudsters and ballot snatchers who will usually steal such ballot papers and use them in preferred locations.

Moreover, despite the supportive executive ambiance of the Jonathan regime, Prof. Jega never held meetings with the executive arm on the eve of election like the 2016 Kogi and denied same only for Shehu Garba to confirm that such a meeting took place but for just five minutes. The electoral commission under him never accepted elections conducted under obvious voter suppression, particularly those recorded with viral videos circulated all over the World. INEC under his leadership though recorded some inchoate elections but never made inconclusive election results an art for collusion with preferred electoral competitors. The commission under Jega stamped its regulatory authority on elections and ensured minimal deviations from International Election norms and standards, generating not only credibility for the electoral process but fidelity in the outcome on the part of many Nigerians and the image of the country improved significantly within the international community. It was therefore not surprising that the outcome of the two general elections conducted under his leadership of the commission in a single term were widely accepted as credible without seeking a second term that he deserved.

Unfortunately, since the exit of the Jega leadership, the fidelity of election outcome and the credibility of the electoral process have undergone continuous decline and decay. First, the integrity of leadership of the commission was tarnished from outset with the appointment of a relative of the leader of the executive branch, Mrs. Amina Zakari, despite forceful denials of such relationship, the subsequent appointments of her siblings and other close relatives of hers to ministerial, ambassadorial and other federal appointments confirmed rather than dispel the unethical conflicts of interest that motivated her appointment. The mistrust it created, regarding the intentions of the executive arm to disrupt vertical and horizontal accountability in the Nigerian democracy was huge. It dented the credibility of the executive arm regarding the promotion of democracy and made it clear that under the Buhari regime, the promotion of democratic practices was going to suffer significant setbacks.

Vertical and horizontal accountability of elected political actors are significant indicators of a thriving democracy or stated in another form, they are barometers of good quality in democratic practices. Vertical accountability refers to the direct control of elected governments through elections and referenda, where the voters express their sovereignty by hiring or firing elected officers with their aggregated votes or by accepting or rejecting proposed actions, policies or issues through their aggregated votes in a referendum (unfortunately the Nigerian Constitution has no provision for referenda, making elections the only source of vertical accountability in Nigeria). Whereas horizontal accountability involves the ability or capacity of other institutional pillars of governance (Judiciary, legislature, Civil Society, Media, etc.) to hold the executive arm to account for their actions with consequences for breaching or failing in expected responsibilities. By appointing a relative to potentially arbiter elections between his political foes, the Buhari regime sent out the clear signal that it was unwilling to brook vertical accountability, a major bastion of democracy. Under significant public outcry against this anomaly, and having seriously dented the credibility of INEC, while also foreseeing how such incongruous actions with international election norms and standards can harm any elections conducted by INEC under such famished credibility, Mrs Zakari was replaced by Professor Mahmoud Yakubu.

Upon his appointment, many Nigerians speculated that Prof. Yakubu was a cosmetic replacement to veneer the actions of frustrating any vertical accountability of the executive arm of governance under the Buhari regime that were intended to be accomplished using Mrs. Zakari, albeit indirectly. The latter suspicion grew stronger as one election after the other revealed more evidence of democratic decay. First, in Kogi, the commission declared the gubernatorial election of 2015 inconclusive and subsequently conducted a supplementary election by which time a new candidate was brought to replace the deceased candidate. Then again in the gubernatorial election that followed in Edo State in 2016, INEC could not stamp its regulatory authority and control on the electoral process, besides the postponement of the election that was forced upon the commission by political actors, the election result collation was brazenly taken out of INEC’s control and manipulated over night while INEC leadership remained aloof. Again in Osun, against the overwhelming evidence of voter suppression and results manipulation, the commission’s leadership watched idly as the credibility of the electoral process degenerated before the voting public. Further, in 2019 despite long periods of preparation, the logistics of delivering election materials for the general elections was so shambolic that INEC had to concede a late postponement. Despite the postponement, there was evidence that in several states, politicians had pre-knowledge of the design of the result sheets and went ahead to print them for their uses, while some had result sheets delivered to them before the elections.

In addition to the aforestated irregularities, the electronic smart card readers which the Prof. Jega regime had procured and used extensively to improve the fidelity of the election process, by deploying the device to prevent fake and bogus results, were not used in many places across the country. Yet INEC leadership allowed results to be returned from such places. The use of card reader to verify the fingers of a holder of a PVC (if he or she is the same person) that recorded impressive performance of 54% in the 2015 election surprisingly dropped to less than 20% in the 2019 elections and has further dipped in recent elections to 16% in Nasarawa bye election. Statistics after the Edo election are not yet out but what is shocking is that under Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, polling results are accepted where card reader finger authentication were not carried out contrary to provisions in the guidelines published for the election. Moreover, the same INEC leadership distanced itself from the electronic transmission of results which it had promoted prior to the elections. Beyond promoting the use of electronic transmission of result, the commission had not only procured resources to implement the plan, but also accepted installation of central server equipment and the training of its staff to accomplish real-time electronic monitoring to record election activities, electoral incidents and election outcomes. As evidence of this fact, there are ad-hoc staff and election assisting institutions which have evidence trails of INEC’s monitoring activities using such electronic devices with transmissions from z-Pads, pictures of staff in monitoring centres, printouts of tracked activities from field officers, as well as other significant evidence trails in the public domain that will forever blemish the current INEC’s leadership as lacking in courage and as collaborators in electoral malpractices and fraud rather than neutral election umpires.

The commission’s leadership which had instituted several new guidelines and implemented them in places such as Ekiti State prior to the general election as the constitution and extant Electoral Act had empowered it to do, rather found shelter in the excuse that, the executive arm had not signed an amendment to enable electronic transmission. In other words, it cherry-picked what it wanted to implement as it suits its electoral collaborators.

Fortunately, these inglorious almost five years of recession and regression in electoral credibility at INEC under Prof. Yakubu is expected to end in next month, November, this year. Given the background set out above, where the current leadership of INEC is seen as a collaborator in disabling vertical accountability of the executive arm, political actors, voters and other stakeholders, who truly believe in both the classical and contemporary notions of democracy, that it is able to deliver normative values such as equality among all people, liberty and respect for law and justice, or at a minimum, the ability to sustain and maintain a system in which rulers are selected by competitive elections, can see the danger of continuing the current trend of democratic decay retaining this uninspired set of people in office.

The decay has been enabled as a result of the focus of the current leadership for a second term like politicians and this quest has emasculated the instruments of vertical accountability that the current pliant INEC leadership has foistered. Further decay includes the degrading of the institutions of horizontal accountability by orchestrating the appointment of a subservient. To prolong and sustain such decay in democratic practices by another re-appointment or extension of a failed INEC leadership as the main weak link will pose a grave danger to the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria. A remedy must be found and the earlier a more credible leadership for INEC is sought, the better for Nigeria. Credible lovers of democracy must insist that the right thing be done to restore the credibility of INEC.

Thus, what kind of individuals if appointed to the leadership of INEC can command the public confidence and will restore hope and trust in the electoral process in Nigerian once more? Given the loss of public confidence in the current INEC, the nation needs an individual that Nigerians can easily approve of possessing the competence, integrity, courage and the kind of profile that will inspire confidence of the people. The next INEC Chairman in particular and National Commissioners in general should possess certain qualities that will inspire interest of the Nigerian people. The chairman could be appointed from among the serving national commissioners, if any given the poor record of them lacking in integrity and extremely corrupt or State Resident Electoral Commissioners with cognate experience and integrity or appointed from outside the commission.

Dr. Adamu wrote from Kaduna