2019: INEC On A Tight Rope

2019: INEC On A Tight Rope

Despite introducing reforms and repositioning the electoral system and INEC, several hurdles still stare the electoral umpire in the face.

BY AMINA ISAH

It is precisely thirteen months before the 2019 general elections and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the body saddled with conducting elections in Nigeria, has taken the positive step by coming out with the election timetable.

Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman who was appointed to superintend the 2019 elections has adopted a reformist approach to the electoral process.

The current INEC Chairman’s reformist approach has seen some attempts made at clearing the Augean stable. INEC is carrying out an internal cleansing of itself, as over 250 staffs of the organisation have been indicted for various election malpractices and have been handed over for prosecution.

It is believed that the reforms are yielding results, as no court has invalidated any elections conducted by the Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC. History was made when the recently concluded Anambra gubernatorial election when all the candidates accepted the outcome of the elections and congratulated the winner.

The reformist agenda also shows deliberate attempt to respect the letters of the electoral act as amended. Registration of new voters is now continuous and systemic, with more robust engagement with stakeholders.  There are quite a number of honest and hardworking staff who genuinely want the system to work but the few who take ‘crumbs’ from the politicians to perpetuate electoral fraud are so entrenched in the business that it would take more than just prosecutions to rid the Commission of bad eggs.

There are suggestions that going forward, INEC needs a surgical, methodical and meticulous reorganisation for efficiency but the fact that there is no time presents danger to the 2019 elections. Apparently this is a sign that in 2019, when elections will be simultaneously taking place, INEC may not have the capacity to carry out a timely and efficient intervention in the event of sabotage of its operations from within.

A more potent and dangerous threat to the outcome of elections is the emerging trend of vote selling. Based on observed patterns of votes buying, the average cost of a vote in Nigeria is about one thousand naira. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, the 2016 economic outlook declared about 66 million Nigerians were living in abject poverty. With this fact in hand, an average Nigerian priority is to be able to feed and one thousand naira will go just well to sway him to vote for his ‘greatest enemy’.

The last administration of President Goodluck Jonathan allegedly requested for billions of dollars to combat the Boko Haram insurgency, but it is believed that most of those monies went into manipulating the electoral process to seek re-election for the ruling party as shown in Dasukigate which is still unfolding.

Nigeria has been unsettled with several security challenges that have made it near impossible to conduct elections safely in specific areas. The resurgence of Boko Haram attacks in the North East, murderous inter-ethnic clashes in Adamawa, Taraba and the North Central states of Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa, a threatening Niger Delta Avengers and potentially lethal IPOB all have the capacity of inciting the political class to trigger Section 26 of the Electoral Act.

The section grants INEC the powers to postpone elections, if all these insecurities are likely to cause a breach of the peace or the occurrence of natural disasters of such ramifications that could jeopardize the conduct of elections.

However, the greatest threat to the 2019 elections is that posed by security institutions saddled with the responsibility of providing a safe environment for the conduct of the elections. With this, the role of the police and other security agencies need to be critically examined.

The Inspector General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris who was allegedly rewarded for providing the security cover that ensured that the APC was not sidelined in the 2015 elections is expected to up his game in the handling and management of security during elections.

An IGP that shows serial disregard for due process cannot be trusted to provide security supervision for the 2019 elections. His integrity was called to question by the allegations of a serving senator. Rather than investigate the weighty allegations against the IGP, the government filed a case against the senator. There are concerns that if the IGP is left to supervise the security arrangements for the conduct of the 2019 elections, it would portend grave dangers ahead.

The war between two security institutions, Directorate of State Services, DSS, and the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, whose covert operations help provide proactive intelligence for use in the planning of the security architecture for elections is a disastrous omen for the 2019 elections.

The desperation of the political class, at the heart of the many process manipulations will do whatever it takes to seize and retain power are also part of the threats to the elections.

The role of the Judiciary in elections is contained in the constitution and the Electoral Act but it is not beyond politicians to use a corrupt few in the bench to derail the 2019 elections.

Reactions

According to Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, a political commentator, ”Professor Mahmood has deepened the reforms taking place in INEC, perhaps one of the strongest is the introduction of the smart cards, that is, the permanent voter’s card but the INEC boss has taken it a lot higher now by reproducing the transmission of the card electronically.

“Unlike previously, when results are taken from polling units to wards, to the local government, and most of the time, they end up changing the results, but now that we are going to see direct transmission from the polling unit straight to the server changing of results will be difficult. And what it means is that a returning officer can without asking questions cancel results that will not reflect in what has happened in the polling unit.”

He noted that there was  internal governance negligence within INEC by Professor Jega, who wasn’t too interested in deepening reforms within INEC itself, so he had issues of staff welfare and promotion, which he didn’t handle but Mahmood has turned things around and the morale of the staff is higher.

“Many of those who have not been promoted in the last ten years have been promoted. And we are also dealing with INEC staff who have been relieved of their duties and prosecuted, many of them are already in court answering for the election malpractices they have committed.

“These are things that will add value to our electoral process and all that needs to happen is for the National Assembly to introduce supportive amendment in the electoral act that will galvanize Mahmood to deepen the reforms. It is also important to ensure that relevant agencies will not stop INEC reforms.’’

In a similar vein, Chima Amadi, Executive Director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy commended the Chairman of INEC and also advised him to do more. He said, “I think since Professor Mahmood has been in office, there have been an attempt to reposition INEC, what other past INEC Chairmen had done was to just find the way of covering the stench that was in INEC. When I say stench I mean they are so many issues that are deep rooted in the Nigerian system. This has made INEC a typical Nigerian agency that is bereft of ideas.

He however praised the INEC chairman for coming out with reforms to address these issues.

“His reforms if encouraged by the political class will change the political and the electoral terrain in Nigeria. For the first time, INEC is prosecuting its officials that are found to be involved in electoral fraud,” he said, adding that, “Also carrying on with a continuous voter’s registration card as stated in the electoral act, instituting the E-transmission of results, simultaneous voting and also ensuring that all aspects of the Electoral Act are strictly adhered to are commendable.  Elections are becoming better. The Anambra example is good for us and should serve as template to guide and shape the 2019 elections.  The INEC boss is on the right direction but we also think that he needs to do more in terms of getting rid of the rotten eggs in the agency and properly repositioning the agency for efficiency and a restructured INEC.”

Also, Faith Nwadishi, Executive Director, Konenum Foundation and Board of Trustees, Centre for Transparency Advocacy lauded the INEC chairman for following strictly the Electoral Act and for being able to move to where he is today.

“I think it is a state of fresh air; there are so many reforms that are going on that the past leadership of the commission has not been able to take on. For instance, the earlier days of Professor Mahmood’s tenure, there were issues; people didn’t understand why they had inconclusive elections.

“It was because he wanted to follow strictly the provisions of the electoral act, and then if you see what is happening now, especially with the continuous voter’s card registration, he needs our support. For the first time in Nigeria we are having it the way it is stated in the Electoral Act, that is why it is called continuous. We are not supposed to stop and have a fire brigade approach when it’s like three months to election, so we are having drastic results.

“Now, we are having elections that we rarely go to court. The last time we had election in 2015, if you look at the record, we had the highest number of elections that were upturned by the court. We have also had situations whereby we have constant interface with stakeholders, political parties, civil societies, politicians themselves and even the media, having to explain issues around why things are happening, declaration for election, assurances and even where people have thought that elections will not happen.”

Nigerian Online Newspaper=


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