Indicted INEC Officials And Sanctity Of The Electoral Process, By Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi.

Indicted INEC Officials And Sanctity Of The Electoral Process, By Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi.
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Perhaps, the frenetic pace at which tragic and melodramatic deadlines dominate the news and event cycles in Nigeria has prevented critical focus on the news about the recent arrest and prosecution of some officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). As widely reported in the print and online media, the INEC officials who played critical roles in the organization of the 2015 general elections in Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom are being held by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over unexplainably large amounts traced to their accounts.

Quoting unnamed sources from the nation’s graft buster, it has been alleged that over N675.1m has been traced to the various accounts of the arrested officials. It has also been revealed that a total of at least N23.3billion Naira was devoted to a comprehensive effort to buy over INEC officials across the states, as well as a gravy seeking set of election “monitors” for whom the critical role of observing the election, is nothing but an avenue to grab a share of the national patrimony.
As the shady deals and alliances around the 2015 elections unravel, one cannot help being dazed by the sheer audacity behind the plunder of the nation’s resources and the clear attempts at undermining the vote of Nigerians. The reality is that while the immediate past INEC helmsman, Professor Attahiru Jega was staking his reputation and toiling day and night with his team to give Nigerians credible elections, there were contractors masquerading as INEC officials working in cahoots with desperate politicians in the states to bring his efforts to nought. It beats the imagination that people whose weighty responsibility as electoral umpires and civic defenders of the votes of the people, would allow filthy lucre becloud their sense of patriotism. Nonetheless, the legal dictum, which presumes an accused innocent until proven guilty, remains sacrosanct. It is however important to interrogate the implications of the remotest possibility of this kind of alleged corruption of elements within an Election Management Body (EMB) and civil society, on the long term democratic aspirations of Nigerians. These revelations go to the heart of the debate about reforming the electoral process. The current electoral laws give the President powers to appoint the INEC Chairman and the Resident Electoral Commissioners across 36 States. This creates a gap with respect to administrative control and discipline. It is a dimension of this structural defect that has come to haunt the Commission.
So while the EFCC continues its investigations from the purview of the economic crimes that may have been committed against the nation, civil society leaders and pro-democracy activists must grapple with the fundamental problems of legitimacy, and the national security consequence of what is apparently an irreverent attempt to subvert the electoral process and deny the Nigerian people their express democratic preferences. It is therefore not a coincidence that the arrested INEC officials that are being called to account, operated in three states, which during the 2015 general elections, manifestly exhibited tendencies that suggested a resolve to rig the process in the pursuit of regional solidarity. As the leader of the civil society coalition, which robustly observed the electoral process, using the globally tested Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) otherwise known as the Quick Count, I have always known it was a matter of time before the truth catches up with, and overtakes the smokescreen falsehood, which propelled the attempt to subvert the electoral process in 2015.
I was at our National Information Centre (NIC) when the results of the 2015 Presidential election began trickling. Even for the statisticians at the centre who were analysing the figures, the returns from Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Bayelsa gave off the creepy feeling that there was more to it than meets the eye. It was therefore instructive that for 31 of the 36 States and the FCT, INEC’s official results were consistent with TMG Quick Count estimates. Since statistics, a science does lie, statistical analysis pointed at the main offending states to be the four states of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Bayelsa. Also the Quick Count analysis of the six geo-political zones spotlighted a suspicious trend in the turnout estimate in the South-South. While INEC turnout figure stood at 55.9 percent, the Quick Count estimate put turnout at 40.6 percent. What was therefore clear was that some elements were working assiduously to undermine the supremacy of the votes of Nigerians.
To say the least, those acts are treasonable and must be treated as such. I have always made the point that all such acts of electoral malfeasance be decisively dealt with, the long term objective being to deter similar behaviour in future. It is clear that with such juicy rewards, allegedly received for a “job well done”, the indicted officials went ahead to enact a repeat performance at the level of the governorship election in two of those states; Rivers and Akwa Ibom. Tragically, the Supreme Court decided to lend its weight to the subversion of the legitimate democratic aspirations of Nigerians in these states.
Now that the EFCC is taking the officials to task about the economic dimensions of their malfeasance, who would take them up on the conspiracy to subvert the electoral process? It is therefore a matter of utmost necessity and urgency that the actors within civil society who were active and passive participants in these damaging acts of corruption, to be named and shamed. Pro-democracy activists have waited with a sense of anticipation for this naming and shaming exercise, which would provide a rare opportunity to separate genuine pro-democracy organisations from the imposters. It is pertinent to stress that this necessary act of cleansing would go a long way in addressing the hasty generalisations, which may arise in the public space, which could create the erroneous impression that all the civic organisations are involved in this sleaze.
The perennial problem of a compromised electoral umpire is one area to ponder as we all concert efforts towards an incremental reform of the electoral process as the clock ticks towards 2019. All the righteous noises about reforming the electoral process would end up as empty posturing, if there are no concerted attempts to instil deterrence in the system. The way things stand, the thinking out there is that it is possible to criminally subvert the electoral process and go scot free. There is therefore no thought of consequence by those who seek to subvert the will of the people. It has to be stressed again that the electoral process is the foundation of the leadership recruitment process. The spate of bad governance that has been inflicted on Nigerians since the return of democracy in 1999 is partly a reflection of a flawed electoral system, which has been defined by a continuity of impunity by critical actors, as well as the systematic disempowerment of the Nigerian voter. The Pro-democracy community must therefore be interested in how the charges against the indicted INEC officials could be framed in such a manner to send the message that all acts of electoral impunity will no longer be taken in silence. The message must be clear that all such acts would be investigated, and charges pressed. And talking of investigations, the Quick Count findings pin pointed Bayelsa as the other State from where specious figures emerged during the 2015 Presidential election. The authorities would do well to thoroughly investigate and determine if the INEC people there also soiled their hands. It is a season of crime and punishment, and the deal for those who attempt to steal the votes of Nigerians, should be very harsh.
Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi is the Chairman of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of over 400 civic organisations, which deployed the Quick Count for the 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections.

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