As controversies trail the just-concluded presidential and National Assembly elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission is in the eye of the storm. By Adekunbi Ero
Even the most hardened heart would havemelted at the subdued mien of Mahmood Yakubu, head of Nigeria’s electoral body,the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as he carried out theburdensome task he would have wished he never had to do – announcing, less thansix hours to the opening of polls – the postponement of an election he had hadthe luxury of four years to prepare for. Yakubu’s discomfiture was palpable ashe struggled to let out the words from his trembling lips to deliver a mostundesirable news that was to hit Nigerians like a thunderbolt. The INEC bossblamed the postponement on “logistics and operational problems” leaving abewildered nation and friends of the country wondering if there had been noindications of these 48 or 72 hours before then to have called off theelections. At a news conference on a day the elections were to commence,beginning with the presidential and National Assembly polls, Yakubu, aprofessor of political history and international studies at the NigerianDefence Academy, Zaria, served the country a cocktail of challenges that hadput spanner in the works. These included delay in delivering materials likeballot papers and result sheets due to flight challenges caused by bad weather;and attempts to sabotage the Commission’s preparations,listing fire outbreaks at INEC facilities which destroyed smart card readersand voters’ cards. The fire that gutted its Anambra State office in which over4,600 card readers were destroyed, was the most devastating. Yakubu explainedthat if he had proceeded with the polls, it would have meant some states havingto start well ahead of others with the implication of the elections beingstaggered.
thepostponement was not without precedents and seemed to have followed a setpattern especially since 2011. Under the watch of Attahiru Jega, formervice-chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and professor of politicalscience, general elections were postponed twice. The first was in 2011 when itwas postponed for two days when the exercise had already gotten underway, andthe second was in 2015 when the elections had to be postponed for six weeksover security concerns in the North-east. These were during the administrationof immediate past president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Even though the 2015postponement fuelled suspicion in the polity that it was done to allow theruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, perfect its rigging plans, that electionremains today a reference point, and a benchmark that Nigerians expected Jega’ssuccessors to uphold or even surpass. The 2015 election, which has remained awatershed in Nigeria’s political history, saw the defeat of the sittingpresident, whom even the electoral umpire admitted never meddled in theCommission’s activities.
But thequestion that arises today especially with the conclusion of the 2019presidential and National Assembly elections is, has Yakubu’s INEC sustainedthe tempo and built on the successes and landmark achievements of hispredecessor, or has he fallen below that standard? On assumption of dutyNovember 2015, Yakubu, had promised Nigerians that he would consolidate on thegains of the last two election cycles – 2011 and 2015, and to “always be open,transparent, and responsive”.
politicalwatchers believe Yakubu’s INEC had taken Nigeria several steps backward fromthe gains of the Jega era. In his less than three years in office, Yakubu hadgiven Nigerians reasons to doubt his competence, firmness, and neutrality as anelection umpire. The off-season elections he superintended in Kogi, Bayelsa,Edo, Ekiti, Anambra, Ondo and Osun States had also been most controversial andadjudged flawed. Some other legislative re-run elections were also declaredinconclusive. Incidents of violence, over-voting, snatching of ballot boxes,among other infractions, prompted INEC to cancel results in 91 polling units inKogi State, while in the case of Bayelsa, the election was declaredinconclusive because it was plagued with severe logistic challenges andviolence in the notoriously volatile Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.
Otheropportunities however presented themselves for Yakubu to redeem his image, butas far as many Nigerians are concerned, he bungled most of them. His firstmajor test was the 2016 Edo State governorship election, which had to bepostponed under controversial and shady circumstances. Curiously, in recallingprecedents to the postponement of the February 16, 2019 presidential andNational Assembly elections under Jega’s watch, everyone appeared to suffercollective memory loss as nobody remembered the most recent – the 2016 EdoState governorship election, which was postponed 72 hours to the September 10scheduled date. Oshiomhole, the current national chairman of the APC, was thenthe out-going governor. Amazingly, he too, perhaps out of honest forgetfulnessor selective amnesia, also failed to acknowledge this as he pouredvituperations on the INEC chairman during the latter’s meeting withstakeholders over the botched election arrangement. There were however insinuationsin the camp of the opposition that the reason the APC national chairman wasbeside himself with rage and very hard on Yakubu was because the INEC chairmanhad resisted pressures piled on him by the ruling party for a staggeredelection. Christopher Agbonwanegbe, a lawyer and chieftain of the PDP, told themagazine that if Oshiomhole had had his way, the elections would not have beenpostponed despite the challenges INEC said it was facing. According toAgbonwanegbe, the game plan of the ruling party was to force INEC to conductelections in 26 states, and hold the remaining 10 which would be the strongholdof the opposition, at a later date in order to allow the party manipulate theprocess, using the security operatives and compromised INEC officials, as itwas allegedly done in previous elections in Edo, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Osun, Ondo andKogi.
Interestingly, theEdo governorship election in September 2016, was the first major assignment byYakubu’s INEC, which presented a golden opportunity for it to assert itsindependence by resisting the pressure from a cabal in Abuja citing “credibleintelligence” of “terrorists’ threats” to postpone the election which was onlythree days away. Though the statement issued at a joint conference by thepolice and the DSS in Abuja at a time Yakubu who was on ground in Benin, wasseemingly oblivious of the unfolding drama, was advisory and an appeal, thevarious stakeholders, namely Clement Nwankwo’s Nigeria Civil Society SituationRoom, Edo Civil Society Organizations, Conference of Non-governmentalOrganizations, CONGOS, and the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations, CSOs,as well as representatives of the various political parties, urged INEC toignore the appeal. A miffed Nwankwo, Chairman of the Situation Room, expressedworry about what was happening. According to him, one of the partners of theorganization, CLEEN Foundation, launched a report a few days back about thesecurity situation in the state ‘’and it was not as bad as painted by thesecurity agencies’’.
Jude Obasanmi,President of conference of non-governmental organizations, CONGOS, Edo State,spoke in a similar vein, telling Yakubu pointedly that shifting the electionwould only mean that “INEC, as presently constituted, is not capable to conductelection in Nigeria”. Leading opposition party, the PDP, fingered Oshiomhole as“the masquerade behind the action of wanting to postpone the election”.
Thesenot withstanding, Yakubu caved in and the rest is history. Though an atmosphereof peace prevailed with insignificant cases of violence, the outcome wasanything but credible, free and fair as attested to by civil society groups,local and international observers, that participated in the election. Votebuying that has today become a scourge afflicting the country’s electoralsystem, was taken to a higher dimension in Edo State, while also the practiceof see-and-buy, a situation whereby a voter displays his/her ballot paper toshow to agents of political parties which party that was voted for, and then gobehind to get paid, was also patented by Edo politicians during that electionas candidates got more desperate to win elections at all cost. The patent rightwas however sold to Ekiti and subsequent stand-alone elections as politiciansbrazenly traded votes for money at polling centres. Apart from allegation ofmanipulation of figures at the collation centres where even election observerswere reportedly prevented from accessing, victory at the election went to thehighest bidder.
It isostensibly against the backdrop of the Edo governorship election postponementsaga and other recently held elections, that the opposition party was wary ofthe decision by INEC to postpone the 2019 presidential and National Assemblyelection, perceiving it as another hatchet job by Yakubu’s INEC to achieve apredetermined outcome. And with the inevitability of that postponement, INEChad created a crisis of confidence with consequential humongous trust deficit.The onus was therefore on the Commission to build that confidence through free,fair and credible elections. The conclusion of the elections won overwhelminglyby the ruling party, had been eliciting reactions with the major oppositionparty rejecting the outcome and disputing the figures. Incumbent president, MuhammaduBuhari, defeated his major opponent, Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president,with over three million votes. From the reports and reactions of variouselection observers, foreign and local, it was clear Yakubu appeared not to haveacquitted himself creditably as many political analysts rated him as havingperformed below the standard he met. Not a few analysts have described theelection as perhaps the worst ever, recording about 39 deaths, as men of theNigerian Army allegedly turned their guns on Nigerians.
The preliminary reports of some foreign and localobserver groups appear to be a testimonial of Yakubu’s scorecard in the nowcontroversial elections with many indicting the Commission for not living up toexpectation, despite the postponement. The European Union (EU) Chief Observer, MariaArena, said while presenting a preliminary report on the election last Mondaythat though INEC worked in a very difficult environment and made variousimprovements, “however, its serious operational shortcomings reduced confidencein the process and put undue burden on voters”. While noting that 14 per centof some essential materials were missing from polling units, Arena, a member ofthe EU Parliament observed, that “majority of polling units opened extremelylate, leaving voters waiting for hours, uncertain of when voting would begin.This was compounded by a general lack of public information from INEC”. Shesaid as a result, “there was confusion and tension, and voters were likelydeterred from participating”. She also noted that in nearly 90 per cent of 190EU observations, agents of the two main political parties were present; “however,important polling procedures were insufficiently followed”.
Arena further reported that insome cases where card readers malfunctioned, voting continued. Also, of concernto the EU observers were “evident problems in completing results forms”, whichshe said, “were not publicly displayed in half the counts observed, weakeningtransparency”. Positively, in almost all cases, she said party agents receivedcopies. The Commonwealth Observer Group expressed similar concerns with casesof election-related violence and loss of lives in many places, which marred theexercise in Rivers, Lagos and a few other places. Chairperson of the group,Jakaya Kikwete, a former President of Tanzania, noted that “notwithstandingfurther assurances provided by INEC”, there were delays in the distribution ofmaterials, resulting in late opening of polling units, adding that althoughINEC subsequently authorized extended voting hours for those polling units thathad opened late, “this information was not communicated effectively and notfollowed by all staff.” Kikwete, however, lamented the arrangements of somepolling units, which made the voting process too open thereby compromising thesecrecy of the ballot. It was however not all knocks for INEC as the formerpresident commended it for the way persons with disabilities were able to vote.
Perhaps most damning was thereport by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room,which said it received field reports from more than 8,000 of its deployedobservers and networks across the country. It noted that “INEC has not managed the electionefficiently and significant shortcomings have been recorded. The election hasbeen a step back from the 2015 General Election and actions should be taken toidentify what has gone wrong and what can be corrected”. Nwankwo, its chairman,also expressed disappointment in “the serious lapses” during the election. He said, “despitethe elections being conducted against a background of an earlier postponementon February 16, 2019, on grounds of logistics challenges, it still sufferedfrom major logistic lapses”. Nwankwo, who is also the Executive Director,Policy & Legal Advocacy Centre, noted that the delay in commencement ofpolls was especially pronounced in some states across the South-east and South-southgeopolitical zones of Nigeria, adding that there were even reports of pollingcommencing at 4 pm in some areas such as PU 001, Ward 5, Methodist Boys HighSchool, Oron, Akwa Ibom State. “Additionally, the election was marred byviolence, security lapses and instances of overreach. Other challenges includecompromised INEC officials as well as partisan security operatives. Conduct ofmajor political parties was disappointing”, he stated.
The Situation Room gave a breakdown of the no fewer than 39 deathsreportedly recorded during the election as follows: Borno State– four; BayelsaState – four; Rivers State – 16, Yobe State- two; Kogi State-Two; Ebonyi – two,Lagos – one; Oyo- one; Delta- Two; Zamfara – one, and Taraba State- four. Thegroup also said that it had documented cases of 260 politically-motivateddeaths from the beginning of political campaigns in October 2018 to February23, 2019. The Situation Room was however generous in its commendation formembers of the National Youth Service Corps, which it identified as “among theshinning lights” during the elections, saying that they were exemplary in theirwork under very difficult conditions.
Coalitionof United Political Parties, CUPP, also condemned the elections stating that“evidence abound nationwide, and Nigerians are no longer in doubt that the2019 general elections was a complete departure from the electoral gainsmade in 2015, and that the INEC chairman is the worst Chairman since1999”. Spokesman of the group, Imo Ugochinyere, accused Yakubu of having “fullycollaborated with the regime to rob the people of their will while looking theinternational community straight in the eyes and lying to them.” Accordingto Ugochinyere, “In the glare of the whole world, the government killed its owncitizens, cancelled results particularly in areas of strength of theopposition, inflated scores recorded particularly in areas of strength ofthe President, burnt INEC offices in areas where it was not sure ofvictory, raided opposition leaders’ homes and offices, compromised INECand security officials, yet the INEC chairman crowned them withvictory dripping with the blood of innocent citizens who were mauled downby bullets of enemies of democracy because of the desperation of anon-performing President to hold on to power”.
Similarly,YIAGA Africa, in its preliminary report presented in Abuja, said “Nigeriamissed the opportunity to improve on the quality of its elections beyond whatwe attained in 2015”. Its spokesman, Hussaini Abdu said, as was the case in2011 and 2015 elections, polling units in the South-east and South-south,opened later than in other geopolitical zones of the country. He said the mostfrequent incidents recorded by Watching the Votes observers related to cardreader malfunctioning. “We received 106 of such reports; intimidation orharassment of voters, poll officials, political party agents, we received 62 ofsuch reports; vote buying, bribery, we received 62 of such reports; ballot boxsnatching and stuffing, we received 51 of such reports; interferences by partyagents, we received 48 of such reports”. On its part, Centre for TransparencyAdvocacy said it deployed 1,000 domestic observers across the country and thattheir findings during the election were that activities of security agencies,politicians, as well as some INEC officials left much to be desired. The groupnoted that in many cases, the security agents were slow to respond whenneeded. Faith Nwadishi, who spoke on behalf of the group while presentingits preliminary report, noted that “areas identified as flashpoints recordedlight presence of security agents. In many instances, many of the armed forcesleft their primary responsibilities and became participants in the electoralprocess. The logistics problems turned out to be logistics nightmares”. Thegroup also accused some INEC officials of conniving with politicians bywithholding materials thereby preventing elections from starting on time.
Nwadishi said the group saw a new strategy in vote-buying reported across the states. “We have also seen that because of the issue of vote-buying, citizens were not obeying the rules of INEC in the way to fold their ballots. Yesterday, we also noted that the president of the country did not also fold his ballot paper”. Some other groups
The position of the United Kingdom (UK) is that Nigerians could have confidence in the outcome of the election. Harriett Baldwin, UK’s minister of state for Africa, in a statement, said the result declared was consistent with the civil society parallel vote tabulation process, and congratulated Buhari on securing a second term as president. With the PDP rejecting the results, Baldwin charged the opposition to challenge the result in a peaceful manner, stating that “we also recognise that independent Nigerian voices have expressed concerns about the conduct of the electoral process, in particular logistics and results collation, and reports of intimidation of election officials. We urge any party or individual who wishes to challenge the process to do so peacefully and through the appropriate legal channel and we encourage Nigerian authorities to examine all allegations of wrongdoing carefully and take the necessary action against individuals found responsible”.
Though YIAGAAfrica’s preliminary report had faulted the elections, it however seemed tomake a volte-face saying that the flaws noticed did not substantially affectthe outcome of the election. According to Samson Itodo, itsexecutive director, the infractions identified in YIAGA’s data were not justisolated cases, “but do not have the impact that it would have had if they werewidespread”. These incidents, Itodo insisted, “were not substantial enough toimpact on the outcome of the elections”, stressing that same goes for theresult”. Ogunye would however not ascribe too much credibility to the positionof those CSOs commending INEC for having been performing better progressively,stating that “who are those commending INEC? Civil Societies who are working intandem with INEC?” In spite of all the knocks and thumbs down, the electoralbody, it must be appreciated, had its own challenges which could have affectedits performance. Many of its electoral officers, for example, were abducted andforced to announce results under duress, some lost their lives, while therewere cases of harassments and intimidation which made many of them to run fortheir lives.
Thepresidential candidate of the PDP, who has rejected the declared results, ishowever not impressed with those endorsing the outcome of the election stating that If he had lost in a free and fair election,he would have called the victor within seconds of his being aware of hisvictory to offer “not just my congratulations, but my services to help uniteNigeria by being a bridge between the North and the South”. In his personallysigned statement, Atiku posited however, that “in my democratic struggles forthe past three decades, I have never seen our democracy so debased as it was onSaturday, February 23, 2019”. According to the former vice-president, “2007 wasa challenge, but President Yar’Adua was remorseful. In 2019, it is sad to seethose who trampled on democracy thumping their noses down on the Nigerianpeople”. Atiku also noted “manifest and premeditated malpractices” in manystates which negated the results of the presidential election announced byINEC, noting that “one obvious red flag is the statistical impossibility ofstates ravaged by the war on terror generating much higher voter turnouts thanpeaceful states”. According to him, the suppressed votes in his strongholdswere “so apparent and amateurish, that I am ashamed as a Nigerian that suchcould be allowed to happen”. While highlighting other areas of concern, he wasconsoled that “already, many international observers have given their verdicts,which corroborate our observations. I am sure more will come in the cominghours and day”. For Yakubu however, the governorship and Houses of Assemblyelections coming up Saturday March 9, is yet another opportunity to redeem hisimage so that the verdict of history will not be harsh on him. But the bigquestion is, would he have the right atmosphere to do the needful?