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Mahmood Yakubu: How did he miss it?

CHAIRMAN of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, does not come across as a tongue in cheek diplomat. He comes around as a teacher ready to bare his mind at the right touch of the button. Though a Social Scientist, whenever he speaks, he comes with the precision of a natural scientist and he convinces you along the line.

We have had several big names hold the position of Chief Electoral Commissioner of Nigeria (INEC Chairman) at different ages and it looks more like a thankless job all the time. From Ovie Whiskey of the FEDECO era to Humphrey Nwosu of the June 12 saga, INEC chairmen have always come off the chair with bloodied nose. In their times, some chose to be on the side of the people, others chose to be on the side of the system that put them in office. Either way, they lose and no thanks.

The coming of the Fourth Republic did not immediately change the fortunes of INEC chairmen substantially. Though the initial chairmen maintained a low profile, the entrance of Professor Maurice Iwu changed the profile of the chairmen of this era. Iwu was everywhere and he covered the ground. A number of people claimed he conducted a bad election in 2007, but he went down in history as the Electoral Commissioner that opened up INEC in recent years. He engaged the civil society, the media and other stakeholders. But he operated under an administration that orchestrated the ‘do or die’ election prognosis. The man who would be credited for eventually revolutionalising the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega was originally brought around the commission by Iwu.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan recognised Jega’s qualities and put him in charge. He received all the support he needed and at least standardised operations of the commission. He established the standard voter cards and then brought the Permanent Voter Card (PVC). Jega was the only one that received a bit of accolade as chairman of the commission in recent years. His image was helped by the disposition of President Jonathan to concede the election of 2015 and not to seek judicial review of the election.

So, when Professor Yakubu entered the saddle in 2016, he promised to emulate Jega and conduct an acceptable election. I remember him saying that who would not want to walk the streets free like Professor Jega. “I will like to leave office and be able to move about freely like my predecessor. I will like to conduct a good election,” Yakubu had said at one of the several public outings.

He repeated that line several times. The tendency is to hold the words of INEC chairmen with huge dose of salt. When you look at the perceived innocence in the eyes of Yakubu, you would think you have misread him. “He could be believed,” you would be tempted to conclude.

But Yakubu entered the arena so early in the day, even though not many people took it against him. When the Presidency was exhibiting its opposition to the plan by the National Assembly to fix the order of elections and put the same into the revised Electoral Bill 2018, his INEC jumped into the fray releasing dates of elections for the next how many years, 50 or so? I wondered what his business was in releasing dates of elections in 2027, when it would only take a coordinated action by the National Assembly to amend the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

Ghana has a legally binding date for elections, which is not open to congestive of the electoral body, the same for the United States of America. You then wonder what Yakubu was driving at releasing election dates for the next century even when the same is not backed by the force of law. The 2019 election round showcased the folly in that unwarranted exercise ad Yakubu himself announced the election had to be postponed in the morning of the Election Day.

If that did not give clear insights into the person of the INEC chairman, the rounds of election witnessed on February 23 and March 9 told the whole story. At the end of it all, the nation was treated to an unprecedented seven states of inconclusive election. Elections in six states were actually not concluded while the exercise was suspended in one.

Meanwhile, not all the inconclusive polls were as a result of act of God. Only inexplicable disaster or acts of God can force the postponement of elections that should warrant a revisit. The nation’s 1999 constitution (as amended) in Sections 133, 134 and 179 clearly state conditions by which elections would be won and lost. The two main conditions did not recognise “margin of win” upon which banner INEC of Yakubu diverted the six states to the inconclusive platform. If the constitution recognises simple majority and spread as the conditions for winning a presidential or governorship election, why would INEC step up the search beyond the belly of the nation’s grundnorm? As of the last count, INEC had raised the level of inconclusiveness to 18 states of the federation with the list encompassing state constituencies, federal, senatorial and governorship seats.

The unpalatable side of the inconclusive story is the fact that the “margin of win” mantra was arbitrarily applied as similar scenarios as you have in Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi , Benue and Plateau also occurred in Ogun State as well as Abia North Senatorial Seat won by former Governor Orji Kalu. Whereas, the margin of win between Kalu and Mao Ohunabunwa was less than the cancelled votes, INEC refused to conduct supplementary election in his constituency. The same was, however, not done for Abia South where Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe was leading his opponent with over 28,000 votes. A run-off was ordered in Abia South, which eventually yielded not more than six thousand votes.

You would want to ask Mahmood why the commission would apply the margin of win logic in one constituency and refuse the same in other areas.

It all clearly shows that Professor Yakubu has lost it. He appears not to be in control anymore, especially as magic took over the Bauchi scene where local governments whose governorship results had been collated suddenly emerge on the rerun list. We do sincerely pray that the commission can recovered from this challenge but with the scenario that played out in the general election so far, Yakubu’s desire to walk the streets freely like Jega is clearly challenged.

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