Challenges Before INEC’S Yakubu as He Begins Second Tenure

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Chuks Okocha highlight challenges the second term of Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu in the course of duty

Reappointed Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu on 10th December received a tumultuous welcome from ecstatic members of staff, who turned out en masse to usher him in.

On sighting them, a visibly delighted Prof. Yakubu alighted from his car immediately after being driven through the security gate to greet and acknowledge the excited workers who responded with shouts of “welcome sir” and accompanied him in a two-minute walk to the foyer, where the Acting Chairman, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Ahmed Mu’azu, other National Commissioners and the Secretary to the Commission, Mrs. Rose Orianran-Anthony were waiting to receive him

But yet another surprise was waiting to unfold. The Vice President of the INEC Cooperative Society, Mrs. Zainab Ndako, on behalf of her colleagues, presented a giant welcome card to Prof. Yakubu.

Thereafter, Mrs. Orianran-Anthony received and led him to the Conference Hall where scores of journalists were waiting.

Speaking before the impressive audience, AVM Mu’azu said it was exactly one month since Prof. Yakubu handed over the affairs of the Commission to him and his colleagues, pending his screening by the Senate and swearing-in by President Muhammadu Buhari for another term of five years as INEC Chairman.

“My colleagues and my humbly self heartily congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, over your re-appointment,” he said. “And on behalf of the Commission and staff of INEC, I warmly welcome you back. We pray that the Almighty will see you through this weighty and difficult national assignment.”

Giving an account of what transpired in the last 30 days, AVM Mu’azu said the Commission successfully conducted bye-elections into 15 Constituencies across 11 States. However, he regretted that six police officer lost their lives in Bayelsa State when the boat in which they were traveling capsized while escorting the Commission’s staff and materials to the riverine communities of Southern Ijaw.

“It is my singular honour and privilege to hand-over the reins of the Commission after what appears to me to be, perhaps, the longest one month of my life,” he concluded.

Responding, Prof. Yakubu said the successful conduct of the bye-elections under the acting chairman, supported by the five National Commissioners was a vindication of his policy over the last five years, to nominate a National Commissioner, by rotation, each time he was officially out of the country to oversee the affairs of the Commission. As a result, he noted, “we have steadily built institutional capacity that the Commission can discharge its constitutional responsibility at all times.”

He said the quick passage of the Electoral Act amendment would be the Commission’s top priority. His words: “You will recall that I appealed to the Senate Committee on INEC during my screening for confirmation two weeks ago, urging them to expedite action on the passage of the Electoral Act amendment by the first quarter of next year, meaning by the end of March 2021.

“I learnt that in response, the Senate President assured the nation only yesterday (9th December) at the public hearing for the amendment of the Electoral Act, that the National Assembly is committed to that target, and that it’s not only achievable, but they’ll ensure that it is actualized.”

Prof Yakubu also announced that the immediate area of attention for the Commission would be the resumption of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, also planned for the first quarter of 2021. “And this will continue until at least six months to the 2023 general elections,” he said, adding, “we will also seize the opportunity as required by law to update and clean up the Register of Voters.

He quickly added: “We are happy with our Register of Voters. It is robust, but we’ll continue to seek ways by which we can improve it. The credibility of any democratic election draws from the credibility of the Register of Voters. Without a clean, credible Register of Voters, you cannot have a credible election. “

He further stated that the Commission would introduce a new technology for voter enrollment in 2021, arising from the lessons learnt from the previous exercise conducted in 2017 and 2018.

Prof. Yakubu also noted: “It is exactly 799 days to the 2023 general elections, billed to hold on the 18th of February 2023. I was just speaking to the Technical Team and we identified 1508 activities between now and election day.” He pledged that the Commission would do everything possible to carry out all activities necessary for the smooth conduct of the next general elections.

Though, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has said that one of the hardest decision he has taken in the course of his job as INEC chairman, was the postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections last year. Today, he has been given the opportunity of serving for a second term in office for the next five years. He is therefore not on the job training like when he was appointed in 2015. He is coming to the job from December 10 with an already acquired five years experience.

He should ensure that the challenge of having to postpone a scheduled election does not occur again.
The sudden postponement of last year’s elections scheduled for February 16 (presidential and national assembly) and February 23 (governor and state assembly) should not be given another chance.
INEC has powers to postpone elections as stated in Section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides that: “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”

It as a result of this provision, that the 2015 and later the 2019 general elections were postponed without much backlash. The problem with 2019 postponement is that no real evidence was produced showing that any of the legal justifications, namely likelihood of “a serious breach of peace,” “natural disasters,” or “other emergencies” were at play. Instead, the elections were postponed due to logistical challenges, bad weather, and sabotage. The timing of the postponement, officially communicated hours before voting was expected to commence, complicated matters further.

Before the announcement was made. INEC had consistently assured the Nigerian public of its readiness to effectively conduct the elections as scheduled.

The question therefore is why did INEC not anticipate the challenges facing the long-scheduled elections in advance and respond proactively to avoid a last-minute postponement? Its failure to do so suggests an avoidable lapse in judgment and an inability to read the situation accurately.

That postponement as a result of failure in planning is somewhat surprising because many of the key actors in INEC, including national commissioners and advisors, are reputed professionals and distinguished professors in their respective fields.

The postponement opened up INEC to criticism by both the ruling party, All Progressive Congress (APC) and the leading opposition party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP). They have made accusations and counter-accusations of wrong doing against each other, while also expressing misgivings about INEC’s neutrality and impartiality. The insinuation that the postponement constitutes sabotage by the electoral body, with some going further and interpreting this in ethnic terms, has further complicated the issue.

The situation reached a boiling point that nearly undermined the independence of the commission when several news media outlets reported that the Department of State Services (DSS)—Nigeria’s main domestic intelligence agency—had invited top INEC officials for interrogation, including a national commissioner in charge of operations and logistics. The DSS has since withdrawn the invitation due to public outcry, which included accusations of an alleged ethnically-motivated witch-hunt. Even more important was the press conference held by a group of eminent Nigerian political scientists and democracy activists, including Professor Adele Jinadu, Jibrin Ibrahim and Barrister Femi Falana among others decrying the development.

Such ugly situation should not be allowed to repeat itself again, now that Prof Yakubu has a five years experience with him.

Another challenge before the second term INEC chairman is how to ensure the reduction in the cost of election management. As prudently pointed by Samson Itodo of the Yiaga Africa over N445 Billion were used to print ballot papers in the last three national elections with less than 35 percent voter turnout out, it means that the remaining 65 percent of ballots papers printed have become waste as all ballot papers are time bound.

Itodo stated stated that in three general elections from 2011, 2015 and 2019 that a whooping sum of N444.5 Billion have been spent on elections that witnessed a manifest low turn out

In the report, Itodo said, “Nigeria spent N139 Billion (N1,893 or $9 cost per voter) for the 2011 elections; N116.3 Billion (N1,691 or $8.5 cost per voter) for the 2015 elections; and N189.2 Billion (N2,249 $6.24 cost per voter) for the 2019 elections. All three elections recorded a poor turnout of voters.”

In Nigeria, he said that the law compels the electoral Commission to use the voter register as a basis for election planning as against the figures for collected Permanent Voters Card (PVC).

However, he explained that in 2019 elections, INEC printed over 427.5 million ballot papers (of currency quality) for 80 million registered voters in the six scheduled elections, but added that “Less than 30 million ballots were used in the elections because only 35 percent of registered voters showed up to vote. Billions of Naira went to waste due to a large number of unused ballots papers.

Still on funding Nigerian’s high cost elections: it’s public knowledge that Nigeria has one of the most expensive elections in Africa. With the economic recession, financial resources may be scarce and it could limit the Commission. He will need to make trade offs guided by two value judgements, equity and efficiency. He will need to lead an INEC that cuts wastage in the entire election funding value chain.

“These scarce resources plowed to produce the unused ballot papers would have been allocated to health, education, or jobs given Nigeria’s place as the world’s poverty capital.

“Efficient allocation of scarce resources should be a priority agenda for reformers of our electoral process. This should encompass a clear strategy for reversing the deeply entrenched culture of waste in public finance management

One of the issues that almost marred the credibility of the 2019 general elections was the non passage of the electoral act passed, though belatedly, by the 8th National Assembly. Though, the second term INEC Chairman has listed the passage of the electoral as one of his priority. He is in the right direction because the passage and implementation of the new electoral act will go a long way to give credibility to subsequent election.

The proposed innovations of the new act like electronic voting and electronic transfer of election results will go a long way to stop snatching of election results because once a voter votes the outcome is registered in the INEC website and the result would be common knowledge. The innovation of election results viewing should be given a legal authority. These are issues that the INEC chairman endeavour to do in order to write his name in history.

Closely related to this, is to ensure a register of voters. Prof Yakubu has already identified this as a priority of the commission under him.
Yakubu said when he assumed the office for a second term Thursday that the electoral act amendment and a clean voters register should be his main concern
According to the chairman, the commission had also concluded arrangements to introduce a new technology for voter enrolment in 2021.
Yakubu said the move to clean up the voters register was part of the commission’s efforts to check electoral fraud.

According to him, “We are happy with our register of voters because it is robust but we will continue to see ways that which we can improve the quality of the register. I am saying so because the credibility of any democratic elections draws from the credibility of the register of voters. That means without clean, credible register of voters you can have a credible election,” the INEC chairman stated.

Yakubu said commission’s work would be easier if the “Electoral Act Amendment is passed by the end of March 2021.”He said INEC had about 1,508 activities that must be accomplished between now and election day in 2023. He has said that the commission will give Nigeria a credible voters register. This is the only way to be sure a credible and transparent election.

Elections in the recent past have witnessed series of deaths and injuries for both the electorate, staff of the commission as well as security officials in the course of election duties. Though, the INEC chairman is not the Chief Security Officer of the country, but insecurity go a long way to colour elections in bad light. Prof Yakubu should liaise with appropriate security officials to address insecurity during elections.

The era where hoodlums would disrupt a peaceful elections should be made a thing of the past. Ghana just conducted its presidential election, not much violent activities were heard. He, with the security agencies, should ensure that election as civic duty should not result in deaths or injuries to all that participate in one way or the other.

The large size of the commission’s manpower could serve as both an opportunity and a constraint. The commission is able to deploy more permanent staff while depending on ad hoc staff for the conduct of national elections, yet its large staff numbers can be considered a constraint given the level of supervision required. In the absence of effective modernized administrative structures, the large staff could be inefficient.

The establishment of the Electoral Institute and the support of technical partners such as International IDEA, UNDP and IFES create an opportunity to professionalize the commission and develop the capacity of its staff, for example via B-R-I-D-G-E trainings. The very high level of trust that the current commission enjoys also creates an opportunity for it to plan toward future elections in an atmosphere of trust and transparency.

He needs to Build internal consensus on effective electoral governance. This is a major challenge because the President has made questionable appointments into INEC. For instance, the President appointed his aide who is partisan and her appointment places huge moral and ethical burden on the Commission if confirmed by Senate. Prof. Mahmood may have to manage a political if not partisan INEC. This could impact on the integrity on the 2023 election and diminish the integrity the commission has garnered with the last two elections. He will need to build a strong coalition o in INEC to protect the integrity of the 2023 elections.

Above all, the second term INEC chairman basking in five years experience will work hard to Protect institutional independence of the commission. By this, the Chairman has to rise to the occasion to protect the independence of INEC given the current context where the politicians takes delight in decimating democratic institutions like INEC. First, he will need to ensure politicians don’t interfere with the Commission’s procurement process or politicians who seek patronage from the Commission. INEC will be compelled to make difficult decisions ahead of the 2023 elections. The Chairman must be ready to call the bluff of politicians who seek to interfere with INEC’s mandate.

QUOTE 1

Another challenge before the second term INEC chairman is how to ensure the reduction in the cost of election management. As prudently pointed by Samson Itodo of the Yiaga Africa over N445 Billion were used to print ballot papers in the last three national elections with less than 35 percent voter turnout out, it means that the remaining 65 percent of ballots papers printed have become waste as all ballot papers are time bound. Itodo stated stated that in three general elections from 2011, 2015 and 2019 that a whooping sum of N444.5 Billion have been spent on elections that witnessed a manifest low turn out. In the report, Itodo said, “Nigeria spent N139 Billion (N1,893 or $9 cost per voter) for the 2011 elections; N116.3 Billion (N1,691 or $8.5 cost per voter) for the 2015 elections; and N189.2 Billion (N2,249 $6.24 cost per voter) for the 2019 elections. All three elections recorded a poor turnout of voters

QUOTE 2

Yakubu said commission’s work would be easier if the “Electoral Act Amendment is passed by the end of March 2021.”He said INEC had about 1,508 activities that must be accomplished between now and election day in 2023. He has said that the commission will give Nigeria a credible voters register. This is the only way to be sure a credible and transparent election. Elections in the recent past have witnessed series of deaths and injuries for both the electorate, staff of the commission as well as security officials in the course of election duties. Though, the INEC chairman is not the Chief Security Officer of the country, but insecurity go a long way to colour elections in bad light. Prof Yakubu should liaise with appropriate security officials to address insecurity during elections. The era where hoodlums would disrupt a peaceful elections should be made a thing of the past. Ghana just conducted its presidential election, not much violent activities were heard. He, with the security agencies, should ensure that election as civic duty should not result in deaths or injuries to all that participate in one way or the other