INEC 12 months after: getting it right or letting it down

The admission by President Muhammadu Buhari that his administration failed in Kogi, Bayelsa and Rivers states, pointed to the criticality of further reforms of the nation’s electoral system. Professor of Sociology and former national commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Lai Olurode, has pointed out that Rivers State should be made a case study, especially on the account of killings and gross electoral misconducts that attended the re-run election in the state.

In Bayelsa State, the governorship election threw up greater concerns about Nigeria’s political stability and unity than the 2015 presidential election. Out of the gubernatorial debacle and inconclusive proceedings in Southern Ijaw local council of the state, INEC experimented with the idea of holding the accreditation of voters and actual voting simultaneously.

But the exercise in Kogi stretched INEC’s capability and ingenuity beyond measure. Not only did a candidate die midway into the declaration of the results of the governorship poll, the electoral umpire was pushed to its wits end by the puzzle of whether to base its decision on the election on the difference between the votes of the candidates or the number of registered voters or number of votes with Permanent Voters Card (PVC).

INEC made itself part of the election, following its decision to declare the election inconclusive in the belief that the difference between the candidate with the highest number of votes cast and the runner up was less than what was canceled. That decision, as well as the conduct of the Kogi governorship poll is currently being tested at the election petition tribunal

However, taking together the number and texture of subsequent elections conducted by INEC after the 2015 general election, many are of the opinion that the little gains made in sanitizing the electoral system are gradually being lost. This has also raised concerns about the sustainability of the innovations engineered by the former INEC national chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega.

Next to that, the conflicting judgments from the various levels of Nigerian courts make the search for further reforms in the nation’s electoral system very acute. A lot of people are already complaining that given the outcry against the attempt by President Buhari to appoint Hadjia Amina Zakari, as Prof. Jega’s successor, similar public scrutiny that characterized Jega’s appointment was not extended to Mahmud Yakub, the current INEC national chairman.

Apart from the issues of composition and appointment of INEC officials, the Electoral Act and other legal instruments necessary for the conduct of transparent, free, fair and credible elections demand urgent attention from the government. But regrettably, the current APC federal government does not seem to be passionate about the improvement of the nation’s electoral system.

Having defeated the PDP administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that set the tone for a radical surgery on the electoral process, the government seems to be content with the search for financial corruption. But there is a consensus of opinion by experts that political corruption is the strong foundation upon which other aspects of graft stand.

Remotely connected to the reforms of the electoral system is the crying need for the restructuring of the country and government seems to be more inclined at preserving the status quo. Most state governors have found it expedient to avoid the conduct of elections into the local government system. But at the same time State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) remain, although some have long overstayed their term limits.

In the recent Rivers State re-run election, the question was whether soldiers should be involved in elections, which is purely a civic process, or not. How far could political thugs go to frighten away voters, in the absence of security personnel, especially soldiers? How could voters be made to come out on election days to exercise their franchise?

The foregoing presents the rich background that prefaces the urgent need for electoral reforms in the country. And with the next general election being three years away, the time is now to have a second look at Nigeria’s electoral system. Unfortunately, both chambers of the National Assembly do not have review of the Electoral Act 2010, in their legislative agenda for 2016.

Whenever the lawmakers decide to review the enable laws for credible election, the place of card reader machine should occupy a prime of place. Despite the few noticeable hitches in its application, the card reader, alongside the permanent voter card, present as modern innovation that could serve as antidote to rigging.

Almost 47 percent of Nigeria’s 170 million can use the automated teller machine cards. Proponents of the PVC note that the same way the ATM cards have been made exclusive, the next step in the electoral reform is for the country to go full blast into electronic voting. The challenge to this improvement should revolve around power supply and protection of the machines from political thugs that may be commissioned by politicians to vandalise them, especially at their rivals’ perceived strongholds.

Polling unit delineation should also be embarked upon even as common features or criteria for creating polling units should be made public. What could be the maximum or manageable number of registered voters to vote at a particular polling unit?

From the polling unit delineation, INEC should also embark on proper review of the voter register. Now that Nigeria has taken the issue of data registration serious, the time is also ripe to align data. There should be synergy between INEC and the National Population Commission (NPC), at this point in time, the people say.

The death of a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), in the Rivers State re-run election has called to mind the use of such caliber of ad hoc staff by INEC during elections. When similar deaths were recorded in Bauchi State in 2011, a lot of people started kicking against the exposure of young graduates to explosive election environment, arguing that it amounts to exploitation.

Others have however urged INEC to develop a pool of volunteers that could be subjected to periodic trainings on ethics, electoral procedures and data management.

On top of the pyramid of issues requiring a fresh look in the ongoing efforts to make Nigeria’s election credible and transparent is the idea of allowing incumbents to seek a fresh term of the same office. Perhaps, if the nation had heeded former President Jonathan’s suggestion for governors and presidents to enjoy one single term of six or seven years, by now legislative and governorship elections in the states should not be taking place alongside presidential and National Assembly elections at the same time.

The ongoing calls for electoral reform would help bring all these critical ingredients on the table. The cost of conducting controversial elections that would end up being quashed by the courts has been humongous. This waste of scarce resources could be avoided through painstaking review of the electoral process. Nigeria should be encouraging greater wastage if the gains already achieved in sanitizing the electoral process are allowed to relapse.

INEC: Bleeding In Rivers, Buffeted In Anambra

Part of the vexations against INEC played out in Abuja days ago. In what some observers described as strange, few members of the Anambra State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) massed around the commission’s headquarters in Maitama, protesting against the alleged refusal by the commission to give their representatives certificates of return, nearly one year after they won elections allegedly, into the National Assembly.

The protesters, comprising House of Representatives candidates of the Ejike Oguebego-faction of PDP, with upraised placards demanded INEC to obey a Supreme Court judgment delivered on February 24, 2016. They accused INEC of willfully delaying action on the Supreme Court judgment on the status of the National Assembly seats in Anambra State, after their faction was declared the authentic state organ of the party.

Their spokesman, Mr. Tony Offiah, contended that it was mischievous for the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakub, to evade them, pointing out that his group had written many letters to solicit for audience.

Though the group laid blames for their misfortune on the former Acting Chairman, Hadjia Amina Zakari, insisting that Zakari, who was in charge at the time of the judgment and INEC were biased against them.

But no sooner had the protesters left the INEC premises than the counsel to members of the National Assembly elected in March 28, 2015; Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN, released a statement, explaining that salient points in the various court judgments, including those of the apex court, which raised their case beyond mob sympathy.

Among other points, the statement declared: “It is obviously very surprising why INEC has continued to give a listening ear to candidates in the list emanating from the congresses conducted by Ejike Oguebego. INEC had two senior advocates in court when the ruling of the Supreme Court of 24th February, 2016 was rendered.

“It is an established principle of our jurisprudence that lead ruling or lead judgment is the ruling or judgment of the court. A contributory judgment can only add to the lead judgment or ruling, where it does not conflict with same; immediately it conflicts with the lead ruling or judgment, which ruling is supported by the majority of the justices in the panel, the conflicting ruling or part thereof becomes a minority judgment.”

Counsel to the NASS members noted that “it was only Justice Ali Ngwuta that brought a slight twist to the judgment, when he held in his ruling that the judgment of Hon. Justice John Chukwu of the Federal High Court was restored instead of the initial judgment of Justice Ngajiwa of Federal High Court, Port Harcourt.

But if the attacks on INEC in Anambra over court rulings could be described as misplaced aggression, the situation in Rivers leaves the commission with a lot of explaining to do. Midway into violence-enmeshed re-run poll, INEC suspend the release of results already collated and further conduct of the exercise in other areas that polling did not take place.

INEC came under fire also for disqualifying a candidate for the House of Assembly. Rivers State chairman of PDP, Felix Obuah, was the first to shout foul. He said his party would not allow the disqualification of its candidate for Akuku-Toru state Constituency II, Tonye Awari Alalibo.

Obuah remarked that neither INEC nor an election petition tribunal has the constitutional right to disqualify a candidate in an election, describing INEC’s action as illegal and mischievous.

Allegations of bias and partisanship against INEC peaked in the commission’s conduct of the Rivers State re-run. This has stirred up concerns about the capacity and independence of the commission. That may be why the deputy national chairman of PDP, Uche Secondus, remarked that INEC was carrying out its functions not as an independent electoral umpire, but as a parastatal of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Leadership of Southeast-based coalition of human rights organisations (SBCHROs), comprising International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety), Anambra State Branch of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Center for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy (CHRPA), Human Rights Club (a project of LRRDC)(HRC), Forum for Justice, Equity and Defense of Human Rights (FJEDHR), Society Advocacy Watch Project (SPAW), Anambra Human Rights Forum (AHRF), Southeast Good Governance Forum (SGGF), International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ITERSOLIDARITY) and Igbo Ekunie Initiative (pan Igbo rights advocacy group), expressed the fear that INEC was returning to the dark era.

In a statement signed by Emeka Umeagbalasi and Aloysius Attah, Coordinator and Media director, respectively, the coalition, said it was deeply concerned and dismayed by the continuing rigmarole of INEC, especially with the non-conduct and non conclusion of outstanding re-run elections in Imo North and Anambra Central Senatorial districts and affected areas in Rivers State.

It regretted that one year after Nigeria’s federal legislative polls were held, INEC’s macabre dance in subsequent polls, “worries and saddens us”. “The source of powers of the commission to conceal and possibly doctor election results weeks after they were conducted, before releasing them in bits as is the case in Rivers State remains surprising and confusing, because we are not aware of any such provisions in the INEC Establishment Act of 2004, the Electoral Act of 2010 and the 1999 Constitution,” the coalition added.

It noted that “by this strange and brigand act of the commission, the country’s democracy is endangered and the universally entrenched culture of one-person-one-vote rapaciously threatened”.

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