THE FIRST FRUITS OF A CROOKED INEC

THE FIRST FRUITS OF A CROOKED INEC

  The numbers of elections petitions filed against results declared by the electoral body embody everything wrong with Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC, contends Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

         Evidence of the scope of the mess created by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the crooked leadership of Mahmood Yakubu began to emerge this past week. It all suggests network egregiousness on a monumental scale that easily rivals the elections of 2007, until now seen as the nadir in Nigeria’s journey of elective governance.

         As the National Judicial Council (NJC) released the names of the 257 judges who will sit to consider and decide on elections petitions around the country beginning in May 2023, it emerged this past week that so far 1,044 petitions have been filed against results declared by the INEC in the 2023 elections. That is already more than 70% of the 1,490 seats contested and it appears that these are not the final numbers.

         The relationship between election petitions and acceptability of elections in Nigeria is one of direct proportionality. Candidates and parties who believe that the results reflect the will of the people are generally disinclined to continue the contest and more expenditure through the courts. Those who do not so believe re-litigate the contest through the courts. The numbers tell the story.

         Some 1,299 petitions, representing about 86.35% of the seats contested in 2007 ended up before the courts, a fact that prompted The Economist to describe Nigeria as a “democracy by court order”. With a mere 10 months to prepare and deliver the 2011 elections, Professor Attahiru Jega whom President Goodluck Jonathan appointed in 2010 to replace the rampant Maurice Iwu at the leadership of INEC, cut the number of petitions by nearly 58% to 751 in 2011. In 2015, the last election conducted under Professor Jega, there were only 677 petitions or 45.4% of the seats on offer.

         By contrast, with four years to deliver the 2019 elections, Professor Mahmood Yakubu managed to grow the number of petitions from the 677 he inherited in 2015 to 811 petitions or 54.4% of the contested seats. Four years later, the bottom has fallen off the system of electoral administration under his watch, with the proportion of petitions guaranteed to be much nearer where they were in 2007. Only a fool will believe that the judiciary can clean up this mess.

         In many ways, the drama that accompanied the Adamawa State governorship elections embody everything wrong with the INEC under the watch of Mahmood Yakubu. In that contest, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), who goes under the appellation of “Barrister” Yunusa Hudu Ari, on 16 April and with full protection from senior officers of the Nigeria Police Force and allied security services, announced fake results without numbers and without authority, forcing an INEC hierarchy steeped in electoral scandal to make song and dance of disowning the declaration.

The antecedents to this development as well as the aftermath, should detain us.

         Like the Chairman of INEC, “Barrister” Hudu Ari is from Bauchi State; and like the INEC chairman, he came from a supply pipeline that appears to bear the fingerprints of the Attorney-General of the Federation. In his home state, Bauchi, Yunusa Ari had worked as a civil servant, before retiring as a Permanent Secretary. He also previously served as secretary to the Bauchi Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).

But these were not what qualified him to be appointed a REC. His claim to fame is that he was chummy with the Attorney-General of the Federation. According to Leadership Newspaper, “Yunusa was classmates with the minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation, Abubakar Malami”, and “the age-long relationship between Yunusa-Ari and Malami played a crucial role in his emergence as REC.”

         Less than eight months before the 2023 elections, in July 2022, President Buhari transmitted Yunusa Ari’s name to the Senate for confirmation as one of a cohort of 19 REC nominees. His identification with the ruling party was well known. Far from disqualifying him as the applicable laws required, these credentials of partisan propinquity made his nomination all the more appealing, guaranteeing his confirmation. Now that the elections are over, INEC admits that many of these RECs nominated by Buhari in 2022 “were clearly partisan and, to make matters worse, some were deployed to states where they had sympathy for the ruling parties.”

         After Yunusa Ari’s criminal announcement of a non-existent result, the INEC headquarters intervened purportedly to disown his conduct and summon him to the Abuja. From the venue of the announcement, meanwhile, Yunusa Ari headed to the airport in Yola all the time under high level Police protection, where he boarded a private jet. He did not turn up in Abuja to answer the summons of his employers, however. Instead, the same employers went public to claim that he had vanished and they could not find him. The police, under whose protection he acted up to the point of vanishing, suddenly announced an investigation into what happened.

         If this all sounds like co-ordinated institutional hyperventilation manufactured for a cover-up, it is because it probably is. The possibility that Yunusa Ari could have acted this script all by himself and without co-ordination with other agencies or with people higher up the political and institutional food chain is less than zero. It is equally impossible that he could have left Yola on a private jet that then vanished from the airspace. Air Traffic Control had to have cleared the flight and the manifest had to have been filed with the Civil Aviation Authority, all federal agencies. Bringing him to account would entail unmasking this command chain of complicity and conspiracy.

         Hours after Yunusa Ari’s fake declaration, Aishatu Dahiru, the serving Senator whom he sought to benefit in the Adamawa governorship contest, went to the Federal High Court in faraway Abuja, asking it to affirm her as winner of the election. She did this by way of an ex-parte application, essentially asking the court to decide this matter without hearing any of the other parties in the contest or the INEC whose REC purported to declare her the winner. The court invited her to show how it had jurisdiction over her claim. Rather than do that, her lawyers elected to ask the court for permission to discontinue the case. But, instead of granting her application, the court dismissed it.

         While he is supposedly a fugitive, meanwhile, Yunusa Ari has apparently been busy firing off missives to the police, the security services, and suing his employers. His address is presumably undisclosed and undiscoverable. The leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association, whose membership he advertises when he ostentatiously describes himself as a “Barrister”, has studiously averted its gaze from the peregrinations of this its infamous member despite the demand of many of its members for the Bar leadership to take steps to discipline him. Similarly, the Attorney-General of the Federation does not appear to have taken notice.

         If they were to choose to, the leadership of the Bar as well as the Attorney-General of the Federation would have remembered that Rule one of the Rules of Professional Conduct in Nigeria’s Legal Profession preclude every lawyer from “any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner.”

In a country in which the richest lawyers make their billions from inventing technicalities to justify crooked election results, it is no surprise that those who lead the Bar are unwilling and unable to notice that announcing fake election results and disappearing thereafter into thin air is not something that should be associated with a lawyer, especially not one who claims to be a “barrister”. But then again, anyone who feels a need to be addressed as “barrister” is probably far from fit for purpose, anyway.

A lawyer & a teacher, Odinkalu can be reached at chidi.odinkalu@tufts.edu

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