Yakubu’s high neck

IN modern global society, a high premium is placed on democratic practices of which election is an integral part. Election is so crucial because it serves as a means of recruiting leaders into the various offices. In appreciation of the role of election in a democracy and the need to protect the sanctity of the citizens’ will, electoral bodies are set up to draw up frameworks for the elections, administer and oversight same.

For Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the task of election conduct is herculean, given the nature of the country’s political ecology. The political class has a murderous desire to win election at all costs as a result of which the electoral process is now more heavily monetised. Political parties, irrespective of the creed they profess, include INEC staff and security operatives in their budget. Do INEC staff, ad hoc or permanent, actually get these sumptuous votes from parties? Your guess.

Since its creation in 1998, INEC has come under biting criticisms from within and outside the country and the manner it has been carrying out its constitutionally assigned responsibility.  A number of chairmen considered ignoble have presided over its affairs. Of all the politicians who got into office through the tactical support of crooked INEC heads and staff, only the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was honest enough to admit that the election which brought him into office was heavily flawed and consequently began a process of electoral reforms. It is still argued in some quarters that Yar’Adua would have seen it to a logical end had he not died.

After a long outcry that probably jarred on his nerves, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Professor Mahmud Yakubu as a substantive INEC chairman to replace Mrs Amina Zakari, INEC’s perceived iron lady, whose appointment in acting capacity had been largely condemned on account of her alleged closeness to President Buhari.

Yakubu’s appointment came with a considerable amount of burden. President Buhari, while swearing in the new INEC head last year, charged him thus: “Unless our system stops covering up all forms of electoral malpractices, we can hardly get it right. No system endures with impunity.”

The INEC boss knows he cannot afford to perform below the benchmark set by the Jega era and consequently spelt out in his mission statement: “my principal responsibility is to consolidate on the gains of 2015. I don’t think we have time for needless experimentation. If something worked in 2015, it is our responsibility to deepen it. And to do so, we have to continue to use and deploy technology. One of the major achievements of 2015 was actually the deployment of technology and so we need to deploy and deepen that. We shall not fail the nation.”

The INEC boss is adjudged to have done well with the conduct of the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. One novel thing INEC has recorded under him is the introduction of simultaneous accreditation and voting which experts had clamoured for as part of strategy to reduce the time spent on voting on the country.

But regarding the Edo State governorship election and the rerun election in Rivers State, tongues have continued to wag about the likelihood of the electoral umpire relapsing to those dark days. INEC has been pilloried for the manner the Edo election was postponed and the reason advanced for it. Those who poured out on the streets to protest the outcome of the election have given accounts which seem to detract from the credibility hitherto enjoyed by INEC.

The manner INEC has handled the rerun election in Rivers is considered most disturbing by stakeholders. Granted, the current INEC head inherited as many as 137 cases of elections that had to be re-done and this comes with a big challenge for a man just acclimatising so to say.  “Unfortunately, this is a commission that had no honeymoon: we were sworn in on 9th of November, 2015 and less than two weeks later, we were faced with the Kogi election. The commission has conducted 137 elections. It is election virtually every weekend since we assumed duties. We have virtually conducted all of them, except for the following: 22 in Rivers…This is the highest number of elections conducted by any new commission in the history of our democracy.”

The rerun was called by the Appellate Court as a result of the litigation arising from the 2015 general election and was slated for March, 2016. Involved in the exercise are the three Senate seats, nine House of Representatives seats and 10 or more state House of Assembly seats from the state. But the election could not largely be concluded as a result of the desperation of the politicians from both parties which made the exercise to be characterised by violence, maiming, killing, ballot box snatching and other vices. In areas with minimal or no incident of violence, the results declared by INEC showed that the PDP won 10 House of Assembly seats, while APC won one.

Consequently, INEC called off the rerun and rightly blamed the development on politicians. What got stakeholders curious was its slating the conclusion of the rerun for July, for months later.  What god was INEC trying to please with this decision? After a series of complaints about the issue, the stakeholders took it in their stride, resolved to go to the polls whenever INEC was ready for them.

July came and Mahmood’s high neck was not forthcoming in its promise to conduct the election at the appointed month.  Speaking with stakeholders in Rivers politics a month later, Hajiya Zakari said INEC was looking at October as the new date for conclusion of the election. She, however, declared ex-cathedra that nothing would happen on the new date, saying “If there is continuous violence, there cannot be elections.”

The Senate two weeks ago threatened to go on strike over the undue delay in concluding the rerun. The questions many perceptive Nigerians have asked is: why did Mahmood’s INEC wait till the Senate issued a threat to suspend plenary before it announced its intention to conclude the election in Rivers? Could the scale of insecurity in Rivers be compared to the threat to security in insurgency-ravaged states in the North-East where elections were held in 2015? What happened to the people of Rivers who have been denied the opportunity to be represented at the National and State assemblies? What happened to the lawmakers whose tenure will not be extended as a result of the delay?

At the exit of Jega, the beard of suspicion against INEC, which was considerably and commendably shorn under him, appears to have regrettably begun to grow and even in an uglier fashion under Professor Mahmood’s INEC. Or is it the case that there is a de facto INEC boss within or outside the INEC apart from Professor Mahmood Yakubu? Whatever the answer is, Mahmood needs to bring his academic credential to play in his handling of the affairs of the commission, especially as the country inches towards another general election. Mahmood is a professor of political history and international studies. He is an expert in guerrilla warfare, terrorism and counter-terrorism. Shouldn’t INEC, in concert with the security operatives and the political stakeholders and benefiting from its chairman’s background, have devisesdan ingenious means of beating violence entrepreneurs at their own game?