A Fresh Start for INEC’S Yakubu

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu begins a fresh five-year mandate today with an equal measure of criticism and applause

Today was supposed to be his last day in office as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), having competed his tenure. However, instead of bidding his staff farewell, Professor Mahmood Yakubu will be revving the engine to begin a new journey in the momentous task of overseeing the nation’s electoral processes. Depending on which side of the political divide one is, Yakubu is either the best thing that has happened to Nigerian electioneering or he is the devil who has set the hand of the clock back and/or stunted its movement.

The years 2015 to 2020 have recorded some of the most history-making and calamitous events in Nigerian electoral history. And this is the period Yakubu took charge. Having served as Assistant Secretary of Finance and Administration at the 2014 National Conference organised by President Goodluck Jonathan, it was the vital interaction he needed to come close to Nigerian politicians. Jonathan later elevated him to his current office. Following the outcome of the 2015 presidential election in which Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an incumbent president lost to Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), many stalwarts of the PDP chastised Jonathan for choosing an enemy who did him in. But this is in the nature of politicians; as many of them are bad losers lacking the spirit of sportsmanship. In their calculation, they can only picture themselves as the winner in an electoral contest. And if some reason, they suffer a defeat, then the electoral umpire has denied them a deserved victory.

Assuming duty in an election year put all eyes on Yakubu. Under his watch, there have been11 End-of-Tenure/Off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi (November 2015), Bayelsa (December 2015), Edo (September 2016), Ondo (October 2016), Anambra (November 2017), Ekiti (July 2018) Osun (September 2018), Kogi (December 2019), Bayelsa (December 2019), Edo (September 2020) and Ondo (October 2020). There were Bye elections into 163 electoral constituencies comprising 15 senatorial districts, 47 federal constituencies and 101 state House of Assembly constituencies occasioned by the death of the incumbent and nullification of the original election by the Election Petition and Appeal Tribunals. There was also the FCT Area Council Elections in April 2016.

Innovations by Yakubu’s INEC
With each election, Yakubu showed willingness to incorporate lessons learnt from the previous exercise. Some of them were unexpected and tragic, catching the whole nation napping like the instance of the death of a candidate who was poised to win, but where the process had not reached a logical end like in the Kogi State governorship election of 2015. This necessitated an amendment of the constitution in that respect. Even the framers of the Nigerian constitution did not envisage such an occurrence.

Another deliberate novelty was introduced by Yakubu’s INEC for the first time in the Bayelsa 2015 governorship election and that was the simultaneous accreditation and voting. Previously, these two exercises were split, leading to extended voting period. Again, many who were accredited never bothered to come back and vote.
In the the Anambra governorship election of 2017, INEC introduced what is now known as the Peoples Result, whereby results are announced and pasted at each Polling Unit. This allows observerz like Yiaga Africa and CDD to self-collate and be able to project the winner.

A major achievement of the Yakubu first tenure as INEC Chairman was raising implementation of Continuous registration of voters as envisaged by the law. Before his tenure, registration of voters only took place close to a general election. But in April 2017 registration of voters began and ran till August 2018, when it was suspended to prepare for the 2019 national elections. During the period, a record number 14 million new voters were registered, raising the total number of voters across the country from close to 70 million to over 84 million.
With the recent EndSARS campaigns and the rejuvenated interest of Nigerian youths in the political process, it is anticipated that the interest in voters registration will be galvanised when the exercise resumes.

Of all these elections, the 2019 general election comprising the Presidential and National Assembly Election on February 23, Governorship, State Assembly and the FCT Area Council elections on March 9 deserve a special mention. It was the election in which Yakubu had come into himself and was ready to experiment with several suggestions and ideas put on board by different stakeholders in the electoral process. The election was the largest electoral undertaking in Nigeria’s electoral history contested by 24,353 candidates nominated by 91 political parties for 1558 constituencies and with a voter population of 84,004,084 spread across 119,973 Polling Units nationwide.

Inauguration and institutionalisation of all-year-round Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) as prescribed by law at LGA and other designated level resulting in the registration of 14,283,734 new voters. Procurement of upgraded Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCMs) with fingerprint scanners and camera. Re-capturing of incomplete bio data of previously registered in previous CVR exercise. Quarterly display of claims and objections on Register of Voters during the CVR exercise nationwide. Increased transparency and accountability in the Permanent Voter Card collection processes. The reliability of this exercise has automatically elevated the PVC to one of the widely accepted means of identification in Nigeria.

Regulation of Political Parties and Monitoring of their Finances

Development and design of enhanced tracking and monitoring tools for political parties through the publication and implementation of: a) Regulations and Guidelines for Registration, Merger and De-registration of Political Parties; b) Regulations and Guidelines for Political Party Operations; c) Regulations and Guidelines for Rallies and Campaigns by Political Parties, Candidates and their Supporters; d) Guidelines for Election Observation; and e) Code of Conduct for Political Parties. Capacity building for key officials of political parties to promote better understanding of INEC policies and guidelines. Strengthening of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms for intra and inter party disputes.

Determination and enforcement of the requirements for registration of political parties based on their compliance with extant rules and regulations and performance in the 2019 General Election resulting in the registration 50 political parties and deregistration of 74 Political Parties with 18 political parties in existence. At the end of the 2019, national elections, Yakubu said at several fora that it was the most challenged election in the history of the Commission with hundreds of cases into which the commission was inextricably drawn into by political parties. He blames the political parties for failing to play it by the rules and most times negating their rules and constitution, particularly in the selection process of candidates. Many of the political parties were also found to have flouted the laws regarding their finances, audited accounts and donations.

Strengthening Electoral Administration and Management
During his just ended tenure, Yakubu ensured a Revision of Regulations, Guidelines and Manuals to abolish separate accreditation and voting procedure, the introduction of the Continuous Accreditation and Voting System (CAVS) to address the possible disenfranchisement of voters; the mandatory use of the Smart Card Reader (SCR) for the accreditation of voters; the discontinuation of the use of Incident Forms to address fraud and the requirement by Poll Officials to paste results at each polling unit in a new Form EC60E. Progressive incorporation of the use of technology in elections through:
a) Deployment of upgraded Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCM) and SCRs with enhanced functionality to improve voter turnaround time, Development and deployment of the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV), an online portal accessible by the general public for viewing of election results (EC 8A) uploaded directly from the Polling Unit (PU) by the Presiding Officer (PO) at the close of polls.

c) Development and deployment of on-line portals. These are: INEC Portal for Recruitment of Election Staff (INECPRES) for the recruitment of all election ad-hoc staff; INEC INEC CANDIDATE NOMINATION PORTAL (ICNP) to capture information and documents of candidates nominated for election by Political Parties; INEC MEDIA ACCREDITATION PORTAL (IMAP) for the accreditation of media organizations for the coverage of Election Day activities; E-LEARNING PORTAL for the training of all categories of Ad-hoc staff and Security Agents; INEC OBSERVER GROUP PORTAL that enables observer groups submit applications and details of accredited observers for specific elections; INEC POLITICAL PARTY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM that allows political parties to submit polling agents for specific elections; and INEC Online Newspaper (INEC News).

The robust defence of Yakubu’s Development and implementation of the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan and Programme of Action, as well as the 2019 Election Project Plan to strengthen electoral managements and operations may have persuaded Buhari whose insistent promise is that he will leave a worthy electoral legacy for Nigerians to reappoint the INEC Chairman for another tenure. Part of this consideration is the Inauguration of a permanent election calendar scheduling the conduct a General Election on the third Saturday of the month of February of every election year to ensure regularity and certainty in the conduct of elections. Integration and transformation of Election Planning and Monitoring tools (ERM, EMS, EOSC) to a unified Election Monitoring and Support Centre (EMSC) for the effective management of elections. Strengthening the channels of distribution and retrieval for election materials.

Inauguration of a Committee to advise the Commission on Delimitation and Reconfiguration of Registration Area Centres and Polling Units. Establishment of Voting Point and Voting Point Settlements (VPS), equal in status to Polling Units to cater for voters in new settlement areas. The introduction of the harmonized procurement procedure for a coordinated, timely and transparent procurement process. The establishment of a Collation Support and Result Verification System (CRSVS) at Constituency and LGA Collation Centres for accurate tallying of votes. Reactivation of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory and the Graphic Design Centre.

xii. Enhanced customization and securitization of ballot papers and result sheets. Counting, tallying and mandatory announcement and publication of election results in every Polling Unit on Form EC60E to enhance transparency. Development and dissemination of the Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement for Security Personnel on Electoral Duty to guide the conduct of all security personnel on election duty. Development and dissemination of the INEC Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the first Supplementary to Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, the Supplementary Regulations and Guidelines for the Activities of Political Parties and Supplementary Guidelines for Election Observation in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Inclusivity in the Electoral Process

Previously disenfranchised group of Nigerians have never had it so good. Under Yakubu, a lot have been done including Deployment of Assistive Tactile Voting Guide (ATVG) for visually challenged voters. Deployment of magnifying glasses for visually challenged voters. Design and Development of Special Voting Support systems for Vulnerable Groups. Development and implementation of the revised framework for voting by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) nationwide. Collaboration with CSOs to conduct baseline survey of Persons living with Disabilities (PWDs) and the development and implementation of the INEC Framework on Access and Participation of Persons Living with Disabilities (PWDs) in the electoral process to promote the inclusion of PWDs in all aspects of the electoral process and reduce the barriers facing them as voters, aspirants, candidates, party officials and election officials. Revision of INEC Gender Policy to promote the participation of women in the political and electoral processes. Development and dissemination of the INEC Policy on Conducting Elections in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Braille.

Engagement with Stakeholders

At no other time in the history of election management has the umpire left its doors and activities to such open scrutiny. Yakubu has made it his policy to hold Regular and periodic consultation and engagement with stakeholders, including political parties, CSOs, Media, and Security personnel within the ambit of Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security. Information dissemination and Press Releases to the public following the weekly Commission’s meeting and after any major decisions by the Commission to promote transparency and reduce the circulation of fake news.Compliance with relevant statutes including FOI Act including the establishment of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Unit, as well as the Public Procurement Act and Evidence Act. Production and dissemination of the Revised INEC Communication Policy to enhance internal and external communication and the expansion of communication channels and platforms with increased use of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to promote civic and voter sensitisation programme.

Launch of the INEC Online Newspaper (inecnews.com) to disseminate information on the activities of the Commission.Engagement with relevant stakeholders, including National Assembly, the Judiciary, Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies and Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs). Engagement with International Development Partners. Unveiling of the revised Standard Operational Guidelines for Police Officers on electoral duty to enhance professionalism of security personnel on election duty. Enhanced engagements with relevant stakeholders towards the peaceful conduct of Governorship elections. Internal debriefing and Stakeholder Engagements for the comprehensive review of the 2019 General Election. Retreat with members of the Senate Committee on INEC and House Committee on Electoral Matters to develop a common understanding on the proposed reform of the Electoral Legal Framework. Enhanced collaboration with the National Population Commission, NYSC, Committee of Vice-Chancellors and other MDAs for support in the execution of various electoral activities. Collaboration with the National Peace Committee for the promotion of peaceful election conduct of elections.

Professionalisation, Staff Development and Welfare

Owing to the way, Yakubu has prioritised staff welfare, incidence of sabotage by INEC staff has reduced to the barest minimum. The summary dismissal of bad eggs has taught those who are privileged to work with the Commission to remain on the straight and narrow path because they enjoy, Training and re-training of staff through capacity building workshops, professional courses and in-service training programmes. Deployment of Staff on International Election Observation Missions. Enhanced hazard allowance and mid-year/end-of-year packages to boost morale and commitment. Provision of free basic health care, medical assistance and condolence/funeral grant. Regular promotion of deserving Staff members. Inauguration of INEC Long – Service Award Ceremony.

International Outreach, Engagement and Support to other EMBs

While some section of the political class take delight in highlighting what they consider the flaws of the Commission, for instance “inconclusive elections, which first happened in the 2018 governorship election in Osun State and in 2019 in Sokoto, Bauchi, Adamawa, Benue, Kano, Plateau, Rivers and Kano, these critics fail, because of the partisan view to mention the fact that it was the insistence of INEC in Zamfara and Rivers that ensured a different outcome in the elections. However, these high scores are applauded abroad, therefore bringing the Commission into membership of ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC); Association of African Election Authorities (AAEA); Commonwealth Election Professional (CEP) Initiative and Association of World Electoral Bodies (AWEB) with regular payment of membership dues. Collaboration with the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) and International Development Partners to organise and host two international conferences on the use of technology in elections and promoting inclusivity in the electoral process. Provision of a functional Secretariat for ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) Presidency of the ECONEC from 2017 to 2019 during which INEC strongly advocated for credible and peaceful elections in the ECOWAS Region and facilitated technical and material support from Nigeria to other Election Management Bodies in the ECOWAS Region and Africa.

v. Engagement with, and support from International Development Partners within the Framework of the EU Support for Democratic Development in Nigeria implemented by the European Centre of Electoral Support (ECES), the USAID/UK AID Strategic Partnership implemented the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Yakubu is a Professor of Political History and International Studies from the Nigerian Defence Academy. He is the first Northerner to obtain a First-Class in History from the University of Sokoto (now Usmanu Danfodiyo University). He is from Bauch State and also an alumnus of the prestigious Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Some of the controversies trailing his tenure are arguably beyond him. For instance, the assignment of INEC National Commissioner who happens to be a relation of the President, Hajiya Amina Bala-Zakari, to duties which the opposition party thought could compromise the result of the election. Lately, Yakubu has to weather the storm arising from the appointment of Ms. Lauretta Onochie, a presidential aide on Social Media, as a National Commissioner with the electoral body.
However, INEC’s performance in the recent governorship elections in Edo amd Ondo states may doused criticism of Yakubu, as many stakeholders are willing to give him a fair chance, if only he shows commitment to making Nigeria the envy of other countries by securing more trust from all stakeholders in the electoral process.

QUOTE 1

With each election, Yakubu showed willingness to incorporate lessons learnt from the previous exercise. Some of them were unexpected and tragic, catching the whole nation napping like the instance of the death of a candidate who was poised to win, but where the process had not reached a logical end like in the Kogi State governorship election of 2015. This necessitated an amendment of the constitution in that respect. Even the framers of the Nigerian constitution did not envisage such an occurrence.
Another deliberate novelty was introduced by Yakubu’s INEC for the first time in the Bayelsa 2015 governorship election and that was the simultaneous accreditation and voting. Previously, these two exercises were split, leading to extended voting period

QUOTE 2

A major achievement of the Yakubu first tenure as INEC Chairman was raising implementation of Continuous registration of voters as envisaged by the law. Before his tenure, registration of voters only took place close to a general election. But in April 2017 registration of voters began and ran till August 2018, when it was suspended to prepare for the 2019 national elections. During the period, a record number 14 million new voters were registered, raising the total number of voters across the country from close to 70 million to over 84 million. With the recent EndSARS campaigns and the rejuvenated interest of Nigerian youths in the political process, it is anticipated that the interest in voters registration will be galvanised when the exercise resumes