The experience from the recent governorship elections in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo states has shown that the Independent National Electoral Commission did not learn from the mistakes of the 2023 general election, Wale Igbintade reports
The off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states have come and gone. While Governor Hope Uzodimma and Mr. Usman Ododo of the All Progressives Congress (APC), were declared winners in Imo and Kogi states respectively, Governor Duoye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was reelected in Bayelsa State.
In line with the tradition, the opposition political parties and their candidates have cried foul and rejected the results declared in the three states. The implication of this is that they may contest the election results in court. This development is expected to hurt the finances of not only the candidates and their parties but also the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), whose failure to conduct acceptable elections often leads to protracted litigations.
Before the polls, stakeholders had described the process as another litmus test for the INEC in view of the controversies that trailed the conduct of the 2023 general election. They had expected INEC to learn from the last elections and regain the confidence of Nigerians by organising free, fair, transparent and credible polls. But this was not to be.
Generally, a free, fair and credible election is one in which the electorate is free to make their choices through the ballot without fear, inducement, threat, or intimidation from anyone, and all contestants given a level-playing field to compete without anyone enjoying any undue advantage over the other(s). The process is also conducted with transparency, and the results devoid of manipulations.
Following the failure of INEC in the three off-season elections, some have written the commission off, accusing it of colluding with the three incumbent state governors to manipulate the process in their favour.
Election observers believe that INEC officials condoned irregularities as manifested in several people who were caught with pre-filled result sheets before the elections started. The commission allegedly uploaded fictitious figures into IReV, especially in Imo State where it declared APC winner in all the 27 local government areas, including areas where there were no elections due to insecurity.
The same thing happened in Kogi and also in Bayelsa, where the commission was forced to cancel 24,000 ‘voodoo’ votes, though it has since denied manipulating figures in IReV.
In Kogi Central Senatorial District huge amount of money exchanged hands for instance, investigation revealed that there was no election. Results were written before voting even began.
This is why in his briefing in Abuja on the election day, the Chairman of the Centre for Democracy and Development Election Analysis Centre (CDD-EAC), Professor Adele Jinadu, explained that CDD observers reported that voting in 65 per cent of polling units observed in Bayelsa and 80 per cent of polling units observed in Imo started late. While this was different in Kogi, where this rate was 40 per cent, there were still pockets of late polls commencing across the state.
Also reacting when he appeared on a programme on ARISE News, foremost Nigerian constitutional lawyer and Founding Convener of the Civil Society Monitoring Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo, expressed disappointment.
“We had thought that given the disappointments in the 2023 general election that there would been some efforts by INEC to do a better job, but apparently, this is a worse job and for some of us it is extremely sad to see elections conducted this way in this country,” Nwankwo said.
Nwankwo declared that the electoral system in this country had collapsed, pointing out that “we have to go back to the drawing board. Certainly, we cannot build anything to what is now.
“The system has been captured and it is delivering incredibly sad results, not in terms of who wins or who doesn’t win, but in terms of the process, in terms of the abuses of the process, in terms of citizens’ lack of confidence in elections as a way of running a referendum on those who have ruled them or given a chance for people to take over,” he added.
By conducting hotly disputed elections, INEC has failed to realise that it is always listed as a party in lawsuits instituted by those who feel cheated in the process.
There are cost implications when political parties and politicians engage in endless court battles over compromised primaries and major elections. For instance, after the 2015 elections, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu disclosed that the commission was taken to court 680 times by litigants over the 2015 elections. He, however, explained that of the 680 court cases, 600 were dismissed while 80 were upheld.
Similarly, litigations after the 2019 elections were higher. About 1,689 court cases arose from the conduct of the 2019 general elections, according to the commission.
While more than 890 of the cases were pre-election matters from the conduct of political party primary elections, 799 were election petitions that went to various tribunals across the country.
For the 2023 elections, a total of 1,280 political offices were contested, comprising the office of the presidency, 109 members of the Senate, 360 seats for the House of Representatives, 782 House of Assembly seats across the 36 states of the federation and 28 governorship positions.
Out of the total figure, 1,209 petitions are before the judiciary for adjudication, according to the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Monica Dongban-mensem during the ceremony to commence the 2023/2024 legal year in Abuja, representing a whopping 94.453 per cent of the positions where votes were cast.
The implication is that the electorate have less say about who becomes their leader, as that responsibility has substantially been shifted to the judiciary.
As it is, only 71 offices are truly decided by the citizens, representing a paltry 5.547 per cent of the offices contested.
Due to INEC’s culpability in conducting fraudulent elections, many have argued that the commission should not be allowed to waste public resources to defend such frauds in court.
For instance, the Kogi State governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Murtala Ajaka, has alleged that the election was rigged in favour of Usman Ododo of the APC.
He however said going to court to contest the outcome of the poll would be a waste of time as INEC would come as a witness to defend the outcome of the charade it conducted in the name of election.
“I have been around for the past 20 years. I know what it is. What am I going to court to do when the same INEC that did this is going to come as a witness to defend what they did? So, it is a waste of time. Except for the party people, I’m hugely disappointed. If the INEC chairman allows this to stand, they are looking for trouble in Nigeria,” Ajaka explained.
Worried by the level of irregularities and the culpability of INEC, the PDP governorship candidate in the state, Senator Dino Melaye had on the election day, called for the cancellation of the poll in five LGAs in the state.
On their part, the governorship candidate of the PDP in Imo State, Sam Anyanwu and his Labour Party counterpart, Athan Achonu have also called for the cancellation of the Imo State governorship poll.
For Yiaga Africa, the off-season governorship elections represented another missed opportunity to deepen democracy and rebuild trust and confidence in the electoral process in the country.
The Chair, Yiaga Africa Watching The Vote (WTV) Working Group, Dr Hussain Abdu, and the Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said this on Monday in Abuja at the presentation of its final report on the elections in the three states.
The group expressed concern about the continuous decline in the quality of elections and the proclivity for lowering the integrity standards of elections irrespective of reforms introduced by INEC and reforms to the electoral legal framework.