INEC: Shall we be concerned about Edo elections?

In a matter of weeks, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be up for another major test when it will be conducting the governorship election in Edo state.

Soon afterwards, the commission will also conduct the governorship election in Ondo State in November; get some respite till 2018 when it is expected to conduct governorship elections in Osun and Ekiti states.  Under the leadership of Professor Attahiru Jega, the debate over conduct of acceptable elections would not have arisen.  Though the commission at the time was not all perfect, it certainly gave a number of citizens little cause to worry about its search for credible and acceptable elections.

Jega left no one in doubt that his INEC was seeking incremental success at every election round and that was why post-election litigations that got to an unprecedented pitch after the 2007 elections started nosediving from the 2011 elections.

We can say that till now, many Nigerians still view elections as a thing for politicians. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that elections remain a critical ingredient of the leadership recruitment process in the democratic environment. Where the process is faulty, the polity suffers.  For many years, Nigeria has been a victim of faulty leadership process, leading to truncated Republics, commotion and deaths. With the determination to go the democratic way, there is no doubt that popular participation is the only way by which credible leadership can emerge and that a warped process cannot guarantee the progress the nation ungently desire.

Somehow, many Nigerians, politicians and citizens alike have started fretting over the current INEC. Some have christened it Inconclusive National Electoral Commission. Many others are beginning to see INEC as a burden in the electoral process and the concern is growing daily. The examples that strike fear into the minds of many are abound. Almost all elections conducted by INEC under the present leadership ended up being inconclusive. From the governorship election in Kogi, to the senatorial elections in the same state and six other senatorial constituencies, as well as the Abuja Area Councils to even Imo last week, INEC failed the tests.

Right now, the fear of INEC, rather than the fear of losing elections, appears to be the major nightmare of political actors.

In my interactions with gladiators in Edo State, especially, the fear out there is that INEC should get its acts together.

Hear one of the gladiators: “It will interest you to know that we are not scared of facing the people. We are not scared of winning or losing the election. But INEC has become a major source of fear for us. Elections are expensive to run and it won’t be acceptable for INEC to wake up with this inconclusive syndrome after we have put in all the hard work the election deserves.”

The last one year has really witnessed a reversal of electoral successes recorded under the Jega-led INEC. It seems as if the current electoral commission needs to confer with some gods before it could announce results. This is strange, especially as the National Assembly did not reduce its powers or erode its independence in any way.

So, if politicians are already seeing the commission as an impediment rather than an umpire, how do we guarantee violence-free elections? How do you assure the loser that he lost according to the wishes of the people and that the winner was not helped or padded into the office?

The Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC has a huge duty to regain people’s confidence starting with the Rivers senatorial rerun and then Edo governorship polls in September.

The feelers out there appear to indicate that INEC’s declaration of inconclusive elections is not only a drain on the economy but have never been supported by the facts on ground. The excuse from INEC when declaring elections inconclusive is that the outstanding votes are more than the gap between the leading candidate and the runners up. So it was in Kogi, in Rivers, Imo, and the Federal Capital Territory. But at the end of the day only a handful of voters ever get added to the votes already counted after repeated elections. INEC on the other hand has always failed to avert itself to the fact that only voters with Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) can cast their votes. It would rather base its calculations on the number of registered voters, whereas its rules say that only voters with PVCs can cast the ballot.

It is surprising that rather than allow the politicians play their pranks, INEC is fast becoming the central game changer in a negative way.

Perhaps, the new INEC chairman is not abreast of the pranks his subordinates can play to subvert the process and foist and inconclusive declaration. One is the lopsided distribution of election materials, such that far distant areas in a state like Edo would receive materials before Benin City, the spot where the materials would originate; procurement of rickety vehicles to convey materials to particular areas; disappearance of result sheets and electoral officers; especially presiding officers at critical stages; failure to assign adequate policemen to particular polling units; prolonged delay in accreditation in certain areas such that actual voting drag till late as well as actual attempt to swap result sheets.  Once INEC is vigilant enough on its own beat, it will be easy to isolate desperate politicians who plan to truncate the quest for free and fair polls.