Monday Philips Ekpe writes that this weekend’s balloting can reignite confidence in the system if properly managed

All things being equal, the rescheduled governorship and state houses of assembly polls will hold across Nigeria in 48 hours’ time. In fairly normal times, one would have been more certain about electoral timelines. Not anymore. You don’t need to be a skeptic or cynic to doubt the capacity of this Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to put its house in order and keep to the time-table it has designed for itself. I agree that in projects of this nature, just like most other activities, rooms should be made for emergencies. But Nigerians have watched helplessly the manner in which matters that shouldn’t be left toconjectures are quickly midwifed into crises. If opinion polls were to be administered today on INEC’s capability and preparedness, the findings would most likely be unfavourable to it. While the commission may in fact not be guilty of some of the accusations being thrown at it, in our current charged political atmosphere, perceptions, especially when amplified by the media, can assume the status of truth until they’re debunked with hard evidence. Overwhelming public sentiments can be that powerful.

Whatever the probity of INEC’s actions and inactions, the mishandling of some critical aspects of the presidential election is too fresh to be waived aside. The electoral body had repeatedly assured the people that the introduction of relevant technology, especially Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal, would put this year’s elections in a class of their own and mark them as distinct from the nation’s other inglorious attempts. Expectations were, therefore, at their peak. Unknown to most Nigerians, however, the appreciable successes in the last set of governorship elections were never going to be adequate signposts for equal or improved replications on the national turf.

As it turned out, the commission slept on its achievements too early. Designed to identify and accredit eligible voters through facial recognition and fingerprints, some of the BVAS machines became duty-shy when they were most needed. With their entry, the nation had hoped that the nightmare produced by the card readers that couldn’t read many Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) during previous elections, would be put behind permanently. And the IReV, configured to directly upload results from polling units throughout the federation and transmit same to enable public monitoring, suddenly became shy of the presidential beat, in particular.

So it was that the devices which were employed to enhance the transparency and credibility of the electoral process created deep wounds of their own, instead. Some of the outcomes of the employment of BVAS and IReV, on which hundreds of billions of naira have been spent, are, by rational standards, mediocre, if not scandalous. Contrary to the INEC-inspired hopes of Nigerians, as at 7pm on election date, no results had been sent from any of the country’s 176,606 polling booths. Even one whole day after the results were announced, less than 150,000 had found their way onto the IReV platform. Not surprisingly, most issues raised by the opposition parties contesting the emergence of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu as president-elect, revolve around the application of the much-hyped technologies. It’s difficult not to ask INEC if it ever subjected them to load-test and stress-test before their February 25, 2023 outing. It has since tendered apologies to Nigerians and blamed the malfunctioning on some glitches but failed to give the yawning details, a situation that hasn’t helped its own embattled image and the mood on a troubled nation.

Now that INEC has reconfigured BVAS, hoping that the exercise hasn’t tampered with the fidelity of the materials sought by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP) and even the victorious All Progressives Congress (APC) to support their positions in the legal battles ahead, can we be truly confident of its operations this weekend? Let’s hope that the one-week extension of the governorship and houses of assembly polls has repositioned the umpire to perform much better than it did during the last polls.

One major reason for that wish is, the next elections are potentially more combustible than last February’s. The statistics support this concern. Those polls aimed to fill only 470 positions, namely president – one; senate – 109 and house of representatives – 360. But this weekend has 1,021 posts on offer, including governors – 28 and houses of assembly – 993. Interpretation: more candidates, more collation centres, more security challenges, more locally-generated interests, and more likelihood of loopholes. It’s equally noteworthy that the off-cycle governorship voting in Ondo, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Kogi, Anambra, Bayelsa and Imo states hasn’t significantly reduced the intensity of these looming challenges.

On a good day, what the National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno, said on Tuesday to the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security in Abuja should soothe the frayed nerves of the people as they look forward to choosing their leaders at the second tier of government. According to him, “For the security agencies, I know a lot has been done. I have been talking with the Chief of Defence Staff, and with the Inspector-General of Police, who is the head of the lead agency in the process of elections. So far, so good. We do not envisage anything that is going to be terrible or apocalyptic in the next few days. But that does not mean that we should all do away with our state of readiness. We must comply with the rules. We must also allow everyone to exercise their fundamental rights as citizens of this country.” Well put, no doubt. The National Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, gave a guarantee at the event of the commission’s optimal preparations to prosecute these critical assignments. He specifically assured everyone that the electoral gadgets and software had undergone the requisite experiments and also declared them ready.

But then, and, unfortunately too, for many citizens, this is a season when promises by government officials on virtually every pressing issue have amounted to little or nothing. From availability of petroleum products, cash, sufficient electricity, to transparent and violence-free ballot, the people’s expectations have been routinely and savagely dashed. Many people have succumbed to apathy, anger, nonchalance and nation-loathing. Yakubu, Monguno and other leaders in this weekend’s polls must realise that mere assurances, though professionally correct, will not really count after the elections. Only the faithful discharge of their responsibilities will. Lapses in the last outing must be rectified. Thugs who got away with voter intimidation, ballot box snatching and open disturbance of the peace mustn’t smile back to their homes this time. Something must happen to them to deter those perpetuating the culture of hooliganism in Nigeria. We don’t have enough proofs yet to assume that desperate political office seekers and their foot-soldiers, not in small quantity sadly, have changed their disgusting ways.    

How important are the coming polls, by the way? Various states do possess energies, endowments and tendencies that can catch domestic and global attention, for good or ill. The political fireworks coming from states like Lagos, Kano, Rivers, Kaduna, Delta, Akwa Ibom and others in the race for their respective government houses are pointers to those capacities.          

One fact that can’t easily be denied is that the announcement of the results of the presidential poll has brought more condemnation and rejection than it has elicited worthwhile celebrations, if any. One can conclude that voters’ enthusiasm may have ruptured substantially but let’s hope that they’ll still come out in sizable numbers to choose their state leaders. Nigeria has come a long way in its democratic journey to mess up spectacularly. INEC should rise to the occasion and salvage whatever is left of its integrity.

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board    

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