The reappointment of Professor Mahmoud Yakubu as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, has presented him with a rare opportunity to conclusively see to some of the ongoing reforms in the nation’s electoral system, writes Shola Oyeyipo
The announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari that the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu has been reappointed, and his name forwarded to the Senate for confirmation, was not unexpected and many analysts are of the opinion that the government took the best decision in the circumstance.
The reasons are not far-fetched. But crucial is because there is a need for the current INEC leadership to sustain the recent level of improvement in the general conduct of elections, ensure reforms that would make the votes count and actualise the president’s promise to reform the electoral process.
The main problem confronting Nigeria’s democratic system has been the inability of INEC to get to the point where it conducts hitch-free, transparent, fair, and credible elections. This challenge is one that every successive chairman of the electoral body has made frantic efforts to confront with little success.
There was pressure on Yakubu’s predecessor, Prof Attahiru Jega, acclaimed to have conducted one of the freest elections in Nigeria’s modern political history in 2015, to have a second term as the INEC chairman so as to improve upon the good work he started.
But he declined the offer. So, in line with the provision of Section 154 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), President Buhari presented the incumbent INEC chairman to the Senate for confirmation.
With the ruling APC dominating the Senate and the applauds he is getting even from the opposition parties over the recent Edo and Ondo States elections, it is expected that he would be confirmed without any serious opposition from the lawmakers.
This would make Yakubu, who was first appointed as INEC chairman in November 2015, the first INEC chairman to have a second term and serve for 10 years, back-to-back. He would also be the first chair of the commission to have supervised two presidential elections.
However, the debate among Nigerians has been whether or not he really deserved such a consideration going by his record at the initial stage. His critics are likely to antagonise President Buhari’s choice of Yakubu on the grounds that at the inception of his tenure, a number of elections conducted were poorly done and largely inconclusive.
Within his first 11 months in office, INEC conducted 163 elections and 21 of them were inconclusive. Notable was the off-season governorship election in Kogi Sate, when former governor and All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, the late Alhaji Abubakar Audu, died while the election was still on. That unprecedented development put Yakubu’s INEC in a precarious, albeit constitutional situation.
The era of inconclusive election under Yakubu’s watch did not go down well with a lot of Nigerians and he also did not get fair commentaries from the media.
This is particularly so, because despite the activities of the Boko Haram insurgency, inadequate infrastructure, and the do-or-die attitude of politicians, four political parties merged into APC, contested against the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president in the 2015 presidential election, won the presidency, and a lot of governorship positions with majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
But Yakubu has said time and time again that elections were declared inconclusive whenever violence perpetrated by political thugs prevented INEC officials from carrying out their electoral duties. Politicians sponsor violence; hire thugs to snatch ballot boxes, mutilate election results and try to take over election on the field and create situations that often lead to inconclusive elections.
According to him, the best option open to INEC was to declare elections inconclusive in such circumstances, when the number of cancelled ballots based on Permanent Voting Cards (PVCs) is more than the number of votes separating the winner and the person coming second.
Drawing inference from what transpired in Akun, Nasarawa State, during one of his media interviews, Yakubu noted that whereas there were 1,181 registered voters, 200 accredited voters and 779 valid votes, making additional 579 votes, he queried the excess.
There is no doubt that the Yakubu-led INEC has been making frantic efforts to change the narratives about the Nigerian electoral system. He is trying to introduce openness into the process of collating results and announcing it.
This was part of why the recent elections in Edo and Ondo States were acceptable as credible, because INEC deployed INEC Result Viewing (IReV) that enabled Nigerians to view Polling Unit results real time for as long as the collation lasted.
The viewing portal, where results were uploaded at every level of the collation process, made it practically impossible for anyone to tamper with the results. The simultaneous accreditation and voting process invented under his leadership has significantly helped in reducing time spent at polling units by voters and in effect, improved time spent voting.
Likewise, the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) conducted between April 27, 2017 and August 31, 2018, significantly helped in capturing more voters. Before, the total number of registered voters in Nigeria was 69,720, 350 but with the CVR across the country, 14, 283, 734 new voters were registered bringing the total number of registered voters to 84, 004, 084.
Though Yakubu is already working on the idea of electronic voting, expectation is that given the rare opportunity to serve a second term, he should endevour to really overhaul the Nigerian electoral system by bringing in more technological innovations, and electoral reforms that would make votes count.
Already, the reforms in INEC are making some of the politicians reconsider their tactics as the rate of electoral violence is reducing, although they are largely resorting to vote buying instead.
Curiously, Nigeria’s main opposition party, the PDP did not oppose Yakubu’s reappointment, instead, the party advised him to use the opportunity to deliver credible and conclusive elections. The party also urged him to use the next five years to fix all the problems he encountered during his first five years.
PDP’s spokesperson, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said in a statement that the INEC boss has the delicate responsibility of preserving the fate, hope and future of over 200 million Nigerians as well as that of generations yet unborn.
Also, the National Chairman, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Dr. Leonard Nzenwa, attributed the success of the Edo and Ondo elections to the introduction of technology and digitization brought in by Yakubu.
“We urge him (Yakubu) to continue with the strident effort to help in the reformation of the electoral process, even as we urge the chairman to put his foot down to ensure that Nigerians’ votes count in all elections in the country, going forward,” he said.
There is no point belabouring the matter, what every Nigerian want is an electoral umpire that is able to conduct credible elections, therefore, Yakubu must put forward well-informed reforms with global best practices to the National Assembly.
The INEC boss has earned his date with destiny as the first ever-electoral boss in Nigeria to be nominated twice, in addition to being the first to superintend over two presidential polls. He is believed to have demonstrated commitment to reforming the electoral process in the country and a lot of Nigerians will be watching to see what he makes of the next five years.