For INEC To Succeed In Kogi And Bayelsa Elections, By Ayo Baje
POLITICS DIGEST – At the heart of heightened tension and apprehensions prelude to the governorship elections coming up in both Kogi and Bayelsa states on November 16, 2019 is how well and impartial the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) handles its conduct. It is no doubt a two-horse race between the candidates of the ruling All Progressives Party(APC) and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) in the two states. Incidentally, while the incumbent Kogi state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello belongs to the APC and will slug it out with Mr Musa Wada of the PDP, the tussle in Bayelsa state is between Mr. Lyon Pereworimini of the APC and Mr. Diri Duoye of the PDP.
Not unexpectedly, there are ping-pong blame games being traded between the prominent candidates, bothering on alleged attempts at vote buying, arms build -up, threats of the use of force by political thugs to cow the opposition. Such insinuations are not new to Nigeria’s volatile political space. But for democratic ethos to be sustained and indeed strengthened the people’s votes must count. That is what matters most and INEC must ensure that, as a truly unbiased umpire in what one has referred to as ever intriguing party ‘poll-y-tricks’.
INEC has its statutory functions well spelt out in Section15, Part 1of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution(as Amended). So it is in Section 2 of the Electoral Act 2010.The subsisting laws empower INEC to conduct elections into elective political offices. These include executive offices such as that of the president, vice president, governors and their deputy. Also listed are elections into legislative offices such as the Senate and House of Representatives.
This background therefore, underscores the importance of the functions of INEC. The onus lies squarely on its shoulders to conduct free, fair and credible elections to meet international standards. It should be on record that specifically in June 1993 the then National Electoral Commission of Nigeria under the Chairmanship of Prof. Humphrey Nwosu gave Nigeria such widely adjudged credible elections. The Commission used the Option A4 voting system and Open Ballot System. Most unfortunately, that milestone election which should have served as a template for subsequent ones was crudely annulled by the military junta in power. The rest, as they say is history.
In specific term, the current Mahmoud Yakubu-led INEC has the golden opportunity to redeem its image with the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in the two states of Kogi and Bayelsa. And this is because it has been at the receiving end of accusations of its inability to curtail insidious and unpatriotic electoral crimes such as vote-buying, use of brute force by some paid thugs to carry out ballot box snatching and destruction during someprevious elections. So far, it seems to be putting its best foot forward.
For instance, only recently the top hierarchy of INEC met with the top-notch of Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) all geared towards having peaceful and people-oriented elections that would eventually express their democratic franchise.Both representatives of the police and NSCDC – Kabir Quarzo and Peter Maigeri – have given assurance to that effect. That is as a proactive measure to forestall the use of dubious permanent and ad-hoc workers by desperate politicians.Card readers will be used for accreditation of voters, while collation and transmission of results will be manual in line with the extant laws.
Similarly, INEC has held its quarterly meeting with political parties to review its performances during the previous elections and retool areas that have some challenges to be sorted out. The commission will hold one election in Bayelsa (the governorship election), while it has scheduled two for Kogi (governorship and senatorial election in Kogi West Senatorial district). Yakubu explained that the decision is to make it more economical.
After the INEC Chairman’s meeting with the commission’s Resident Electoral Commissioners in Bayelsa and Kogi, Mr Monday Tom and James Apam, assurance has been given that Nigeria will once again boast of free, fair, credible and internationally acclaimed elections that would be in sync with the wishes of the majority of the voters.
To move forward, we have to use the Root Cause Analytical Approach to find out where we get it all wrong. Put in its proper perspective, over the years, electoral anomalies such as under-aged voting in parts of the north, multiple registration, non-serialisation of ballot papers as well as deliberate delay in the display of the voter register took the centre stage especially in the 2007 polls.
Indeed, so questionable was the outcome of the polls that the independent observers of the election and the international community cried blue murder. There were reported incidents of the carting away of electoral materials between Abuja and Edo state. The same sordid scenario played itself out in parts of Delta state. The then INEC worsened matters by the controversial disqualification of candidates who refused to appear before its screening committee. That was contrary to Section 32 (1-5) of the former Electoral Act, 2006.
Matters got to an ugly head on the day of the election when, some eligible voters could not locate their names on the voter register and were, therefore, disenfranchised. Some candidates’ names, party logos and photographs were missing from the ballot papers. There were several reported incidents of mishandling of logistics characterized by late arrival of electoral materials, even keeping the voters waiting till 2.00pm!
In addition to multiple thumb printing by paid fraudsters, snatching of ballot boxes with some top government functionaries involved went on with spree. Yet, rigging of election in collusion with security forces and declaring results from Abuja instead of the state capitals took place in clear violation of the Electoral Act. Between then and now, how far have we really fared? That is the million-naira question.
Some political affairs analysts believe that under Jega there were some significant improvements. They cite the computerization of the electoral system, the coding of ballot papers, ballot boxes and polling units. Its conduct of gubernatorial polls in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states recorded increasingly fair elections. But it is not yet Uhuru.
For instance, the often delayed updating of the voter register and the distribution of the much-needed permanent voter cards PVC have been widely criticized. Still, some flaws persist.
There is voter apathy, as was reported with evidence in several states during the last-held gubernatorial and presidential elections. Also, the way and manner candidates go about their smear campaigns, couched with outright insults and innuendoes despite signed peace pacts gives cause for concern. Mass voter education should be an on-going exercise.
But the real concern is the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill into law. Without it, the wishes of the voters may not be fully expressed. Another critical issue is the desperation of politicians to win and hang on to power at all costs-more by crook than by hook-not to serve the people but because of the mouth-watering apparatchiks of political office.
Will the forthcoming elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states make the desired difference? Only time will tell. But from here, we sue for peace.
Baje is a public affairs analyst