BY REUBEN ABATI
With the way the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) is carrying on under the watch of Professor Mahmood Yakubu as Chairman, it would take a miracle for the present Chairman of that controversial and embattled body, not to end up on the wrong side of history. Some jobs within the public space are by nature thankless regardless of efforts put in, but a job can be done so badly, what would be remembered are the ugly episodes and memories of failure. Professor Yakubu’s misfortune would be that it was in his time that the country came round to the idea that technology should be deployed as election tools, and that some of the reforms that Nigerians had been looking for should be addressed by updating the electoral framework.
In Yakubu’s time, Nigeria came up with the Electoral Act 2022, which indeed is a different kind of law, an advancement from the Electoral Act 2010. Everyone celebrated the emergence of the new Electoral Act as a game changer for Nigeria with the novel innovations about INEC’s financial independence in Section 3(3), early conduct of primaries and submission of candidates list in Section 29 (1), legal backing of electronic voting and transmission of results in Sections 47 and 50(2), overvoting redefined in Section 51, the non-eligibility of political appointees as delegates or aspirants in Section 84(12), special provisions for the physically challenged in Section 54, early commencement and longer period of campaigns in Section 94, provision for a central electronic data base in Section 99… Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC boasted that it had tested the law in the bye-elections in Osun and Ekiti and that during the then scheduled 2023 general elections, INEC would put all the reforms into effect. What have we seen? It turned out from the very beginning that the National Assembly did not understand the same law that it had enacted and the implications. The same people who enacted the law tried to change it. They didn’t succeed. Before the elections, INEC said it was ready. It put out messages about how results would be uploaded from polling units to the INEC Results Viewing Portal, real time. It said its officials were up to the task.
The details of how INEC disappointed Nigerians is well-captured by the reports of various observers, local and international, and the tsunami of litigations that have attended the elections held this year, on February 25 (Presidential and National Assembly), and March 18 (Gubernatorial and State Houses of Assembly). Nigeria’s 2023 general election would go down as one of the most disputed in the country’s electoral cycle since the first general elections were held in the country in September 1923 under the Clifford Constitution of 1922. It may be said, after a fashion, that the true test of a law is in its implementation. Any piece of legislation is a living organism. Laws are made for the good of society. Thus, as living organisms, laws evolve and implementation structures and organs are aligned with the law-givers’ original intentions. I am of the view that given the contortions that have been experienced so far with the Electoral Act 2022, Nigeria needs to work further on the electoral framework, to oxygenate and deepen our democracy, and to align it more reasonably with the people’s will. The minimum lesson at this point is that when a law is made, those who are expected to operationalize it must study and understand it. State and party officials are so routinely distracted, they do not pay enough attention.
The extent to which this is so is that after the elections of February 25 and March 18, the electoral body, INEC took the decision to conduct supplementary elections in 24 states of the Federation, 2,660 polling units, 93 Legislative constituencies and 185 local governments, where elections had been declared inconclusive. Those supplementary elections took place on Saturday, April 15. INEC said it was better prepared, having learnt lessons from its most recent exercises, and having tested the Electoral Act in a general election. It was possible to believe that certain lessons had been learnt within the space of close to a month: March 18 – April 15. The Inspector General of Police lent his voice to the matter and said that the supplementary elections would proceed smoothly. But on April 15, it was déjà vu. The morning after, The Vanguard newspaper reported as follows: “Supplementary Elections: Violence, vote-buying reign as NNPP wins more seats in Kano.” The Sunday Punch told us: “Supplementary Elections: Four Killed, Houses razed, Thugs Disrupt Polls in Rivers, Anambra, Others”. The paper added in its front-page story: “Three killed in Kano for disrupting poll, soldiers shoot Kebbi ballot snatcher dead, APC, PDP, NNPP await INEC declaration of Adamawa, Kebbi gov seats.” … The report by Sunday Sun was as follows: “Violence, Apathy, Late Arrival of Materials Mar Supplementary Elections”, with the rider: “3 feared killed in Kano, Thugs, police, Ebubeagu chase away voters, abduct electoral officials in Imo, 6 persons arrested, 1 at large in Adamawa, over attempt to hack BVAS, vote buying , thuggery in Anambra, apathy, intimidation in Edo…” The Nigerian Tribune reported: “Supplementary Elections: Again, violence, ballot snatching rock exercise – 4 killed in Kano, Kebbi, EFCC arrests 12 in Kano, Katsina for vote-buying.”. The Sunday Independent said: “Sokoto Polls suffer voter apathy, late arrival of materials”.
The same weekend, party primaries were held in some of the states where off-cycle elections would take place later in 2023. The primaries were just as problematic. In Kogi state, four aspirants were reported to have rejected APC Gubernatorial primaries. The Nation said: “Sylva wins Bayelsa APC Guber Primary… Confusion as Labour Party holds factional primaries in Imo… Anxiety in Kebbi, Adamawa over guber elections”. In one word, despite all the concerns and anxieties expressed about the 2023 process as seen on February 25 and March 18, the supplementary elections of April 15, and even the party primaries in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi states, indicated very clearly, that nothing had changed and nothing would probably change going forward. Nigerians run a peculiar kind of democracy where anything and everything is possible and the only thing that matters is winning at all costs. It is a democracy of deaf and dumb persons fixated on only one goal and who define democracy strictly by personal standards. I have stumbled on the argument that there will never be a time Nigerian democracy will be run by saints and I am tempted to believe that ours may well be described as a democracy of villains, where the smartest villain wins. The only consolation is that the day may never come when Nigerian democracy will be black-listed by the international community as a lost cause simply because Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the largest market in the continent, a country whose geo-political importance has direct bearing on the stability of the West African sub-region. Where then does that leave the endless talk in this country, about reforms, legacy and institutions?
Which takes us immediately to Adamawa State, Nigeria where a show of shame was enacted on Saturday by a certain Hudu Yunusa Ari, adult, male, and Resident Electoral Commissioner of Adamawa State who engaged in a violent act of breach of public peace by disrupting the collation of the results of the supplementary Gubernatorial election in Adamawa state in a criminal and roguish manner. It would be recalled that INEC had declared the Gubernatorial election in Adamawa State of March 18, 2023 inconclusive due to issues in Fufore Local Government, which caused much furore, and on the ground that the number of cancelled votes exceeded the margin of lead between the People’s Democratic Party candidate, incumbent Governor Ahmadu Fintiri and the closest challenger, Aishatu Dahiru of the All Progressives’ Congress. By 9 am on Sunday, April 16, collation officers and the returning officers at the State Collation Centre in Yola, the state capital had announced the results from 10 of the affected LGAS, with Fintiri, the PDP candidate leading with a wide margin. The Returning Officer then announced a recess for a continuation of collation and further announcement of results to re-commence by 11 am.
But before that advertised time of resumption, the State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) reportedly came into the centre and holding a handwritten note, without announcing any outstanding collated results, proceeded to announce Aisha Dahiru of the APC as the winner of the Gubernatorial election in Adamawa State. This threw the collation centre into confusion as party agents asked: How? Within a short while, the Gubernatorial candidate of the APC, Aisha Dahiru, popularly known as Binani, acting on this development, immediately gave an acceptance speech. INEC would later declare REC Hudu Yunusa Ari’s action “null, void and of no effect”. INEC said it would address the matter and asked the state REC, the Hudu Yunusa Ari man and the state Returning Officer, Professor Mele Lamido to report to the INEC Headquarters in Abuja. Yesterday, INEC directed that Hudu Yunusa-Ari should stay away from INEC office until further notice, and that Adamu Gujungu, administrative secretary in Adamawa should take charge of the office with immediate effect. The suspension of Hudu Yunusa-Ari does not go far enough. His rogue conduct must be addressed fully in accordance with the law. His behaviour amounts to impunity, criminality, desperation and such brazenness that deserves closer investigation. This is not a matter that can be swept under the carpet, because it is a mockery not just of the Adamawa supplementary election but of the entire electoral process. It provides strong justification for those who hold the view that this has been a shambolic event.
Hudu Yunusa-Ari was required to report to the INEC headquarters. If he has not done so, he should be declared a wanted person by the security agencies immediately! By INEC’s own declaration, he broke the law. One, the Electoral Act of 2022 grants specific powers to the Returning Officer as the official who is empowered to collate and announce results – see Section 64 (4) and (5). Indeed, Section 65 of the same Act uses the phrase “shall be final” with regard to the “decision of the Returning Officer on any question related to ballot papers and the declaration of results. Section 66 provides further specificity as regards the declaration of results, vested as it were in the person of “the appropriate returning officer”. The now suspended Adamawa Resident Electoral Commissioner not being the RO, knowingly violated the law. He should be made to face the full wrath of the law.
In Part VII of the Electoral Act, dealing with Electoral Offences, specific penalties are prescribed to deal with “dereliction of duty” in Section 120 (1 -6) where strong penalties are provided in Section 120(4) which states that “Any person who announces or publishes an election result knowing same to be false or which is at variance with the signed certificate of return commits an offence and is liable on conviction or imprisonment for a term of 36 months.” Sections 120 (5) and (6) also prescribe imprisonment for a term of three years. The indicted REC must be subjected to thorough investigation. Did he collude with others? Was he induced? Is he part of a ring of conspiracy? There have been allegations that sums running into about N2 billion exchanged hands. Really? Two, Yunusa-Ari’s disruptive and disorderly conduct is also questionable under Section 249 of the Criminal Code. His illegal declaration of Aisha Dahiru as winner threw Adamawa state and the entire country into a state of anxiety and confusion. Aggrieved persons in the state descended on the two INEC National commissioners who had been sent to oversee the Adamawa process. One of them was brutalized. The other, Professor Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, a former Vice Chancellor of Usman Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto was beaten and stripped naked with blood streaming down his body. It was a case of mistaken identity. His assailants thought he was the REC that made the illegal announcement. While we do not recommend jungle justice, the attack on innocent Professor Zuru is most unfortunate. INEC has asked the security agencies to identify the assailants and bring them to book, but INEC needs to learn a lesson from here: the need to protect its officials, and pay more attention to their personal security.
The unmasking of rogue elements like the embattled Adamawa REC should also point to something else. INEC officials on the field during elections must be subjected to routine alcohol and psychiatric tests. This is the strongest plausible response to Hudu Yunusa-Ari’s behaviour. What worsens the entire matter in our view is that he was reportedly accompanied on his unholy mission by the Adamawa state Commissioner of Police and other policemen. In other words, the illegality was committed in the presence of law enforcement officers! Nigeria is one country where those who are supposed to enforce the law do not know the laws of the land! The Inspector General of Police had promised that the police will live up to expectations during the supplementary elections on April 15. Your guess is as good as mine. The least that the IGP can do is to ask the Police Command in Adamawa to produce their friend, the now suspended Resident Electoral Commissioner! Going forward, much better attention must be paid to the recruitment of persons for electoral duties. The INEC Chairman before the election had said that RECs, Collation Officers and Returning Officers were expected to be non-partisan, that is neutral, in the discharge of their responsibilities. They even swore on oath to that effect. Nigeria’s 2023 elections coincided with the Holy Month of Lent (Christian) and Ramadan (Muslim), and yet in the same season, the country has witnessed so much corruption and dishonesty.
Mrs Aishatu Dahiru should not have delivered that acceptance speech of shame, knowing the motivation for it to be of dubious extraction. Nigerians would be excited to have a female Governor who contests and wins an election, but that must be through fair and square means, not by ambush or fraudulent means. She owes the people of Adamawa an explanation and an apology. Many others, including Festus Keyamo, SAN jumped the gun. I have expressed the shock that more than a day after the faux pas, Keyamo, an officer in the temple of justice, was yet to take down his twitter post on the Adamawa election. The ball is now squarely in INEC’s court to ensure that the process in Adamawa’s supplementary election is concluded and that due process runs its complete course in a just manner. The big ogre in all this is how corruption is at the core of the Nigerian character from politics to catering business.