Posers For INEC, Parties In Kogi And Bayelsa

Acting Chairman, INEC Amina Zakari

Acting Chairman, INEC Amina Zakari

Another crucial test awaits the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Nigerian politicians at the forthcoming governorship elections in Kogi, (November 19) and Bayelsa, (December 5) this year. The elections provide for INEC a golden opportunity to perfect its systems and processes and convince Nigerians that it has learnt some useful lessons from its past mistakes. And given the fact that the staggered governorship elections are not coming the same day, INEC could develop schemes for proper conduct of election in the country.

In doing this, the Commission would also take into consideration the plethora of infractions being canvassed at the various election tribunals. An important question that INEC officials should seek to answer is how far the card readers have helped to plug the loopholes for inflation of ballots. Was the card enough check on the excesses of dubious polling officers in the last elections?

From the official angle, the issue of filling up the vacant positions left by members of the Board that have served out their tenure should be carried out before the elections to avoid unnecessary litigations. Contemporaneously, the status of the acting Chairman of the Commission should be spelt out in line with the extant laws setting up INEC. What is the implication of an INEC commissioner whose tenure had elapsed conducting an election even in acting capacity as the National Chairman? Can a former INEC commissioner be appointed a substantive National Chairman? Does the continued stay in office of Mrs. Amina Zakari, as Acting National Chairman, after her full term amount to elongating her term through the backdoor?  These are some of the issues that the authorities, including the National Assembly should address before the testy elections in Kogi and Bayelsa.

For the political parties, Kogi and Bayelsa present a new opportunity to drive party politics on the precepts of internal democracy. Despite the strength of the argument that parties are built on strong caucuses, the alienation of members of the party and in some instances, side-stepping of the constitutions contribute to the confusion in the nation’s polity. It has been observed that some party officials cleverly devise means of fleecing those aspiring to elective offices by distancing the members from decision-making processes. Additionally, some privileged stalwarts dread open competition and fair contests, thereby, reducing the process of candidate selection to a sort of auction. In certain instances also, unserious candidates aspire to elective offices with intent of being approached for bargaining.

What played out in Bayelsa recently might not have followed that pattern, but the noticeable elation by the incumbent Governor Henry Seriake Dickson at the withdrawal of Reuben Okoya from further contest in the governorship primary seem to encourage unserious candidates to throw their hats in the ring in jest. Though Governor Dickson told journalists that the news of Okoya’s withdrawal came to him while he was on his way to the screening venue, his (the governor’s) remark that the decision of Okoya was “an action in the best interest to the party in the state”, flies in the face. The remark suggests an unstated dread of possible defeat even a faint suggestion of a back channel negotiation. Though Governor Dickson still has Senator Emmanuel Paulker to face in the PDP governorship primary, there is nothing to support the possibility of an upset.

However, it is left to political parties to state categorically what happens to incumbent governors seeking a second term ticket. Should there be an automatic or an open primary? The answer to that query would remove the tendency for party chieftains to use the second term as bait to fleece state governors.

In Kogi, there are allegations that the incumbent was asked to bring certain humungous amount of money if he is serious in his ambition to serve as second term in office. While the continuous shift of dates for the primaries is said to be a ploy to strain the governor further, some members of the party insist that the incumbent is not a champion from the party with which to go to the main governorship battle.

It is not only within PDP that this dingdong is going on. In the All Progressives Congress (APC), there are internal bickering too. While the concern in Bayelsa has to do with what happens to party cohesion after a stiff governorship primary, in Kogi the wounds of the primary refuses to heal. Yet, in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), one of the aspirants and former Aso Villa chaplain, Prof. Obale, was said to have demanded that the party’s governorship ticket be handed to him gratis. Though Prof. Obaje’s alleged demand raises anew the issue of place of money in elections and campaign funding, it is left to imagination how far a candidate that obtained the party’s ticket free of charge could go in the election. In the light of the foregoing, it would not be a bad idea if INEC goes back to insert the clause of refundable deposits so that candidates that could not score a certain number of votes in the ballot should lose their deposits. That may prove a good panacea to parties fielding unserious candidates in a blind gamble or to serve as bargaining chips.

In the final analysis, since political corruption fertilizes other forms of corruption, the ruling APC Federal Government should ensure that security agencies maintain absolute neutrality and provide the enabling climate for voters to perform their civic duties with undue harassment. Security is a core requirement for free, fair and credible democratic elections. It has been argued that until the environment for the people to elect leaders of their choice are created, politicians and public officers would continue to be corrupt and wallow in impunity. Kogi and Bayelsa would reveal how far Nigeria has traveled on the road to durable democracy.

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