As Yakubu awaits Senate confirmation of his re-appointment

KUNLE ODEREMI examines issues relating to the tenure of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, since 2015 as President Muhammadu Buhari offers him another tenure.

AT inception on November 9, 2015, President Muhammadu Bihari expressly gave a mandate to Professor Mahmood Yakubu as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC). The directive was meant to complement the functions of the commission as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act. Buhari had said: “The nation has reposed a lot of trust and confidence in you. You cannot afford to fail.”

In a quick response, Yakubu, a Professor of History and International Relations, made a vow. “We shall not fail the nation,” he quipped. Five years down the line, stakeholders are taking stock of the high and low points of his first tenure, in the first instance and projecting into the future, in the second instance. The reviews are against the backdrop of President Buhari to offer Yakubu another five-year tenure, the first in the history of electoral bodies in Nigeria.

The appraisal of the first tenure of the Bauchi State-born academic as INEC boss is also premised on the promises made by both the president and the INEC chairman in 2015 not to disappoint the nation on election and electoral issues. From records during the period, the INEC held 11end-of-tenure/offseason governorship polls in Kogi (November 2015), Bayelsa (December 2015), Edo (September 2016), Ondo (October 2016), Anambra (November 2017), Ekiti (July 2018) Osun (September 2018), Kogi (December 2019), Bayelsa (December 2019), Edo (September 2020) and Ondo (October 2020). This was aside bye-elections into 163 election constituencies comprising 15 senatorial districts, 47 federal constituencies and 101 state House of Assembly constituencies following the demise of the incumbents and nullification of the original election by the Election Petition and Appeal Tribunals. The commission also held the FCT Area Council elections in April 2016.

Among the most exciting polls conducted by INEC were the 2019 elections: presidential and National Assembly election held on February 23; governorship, state Assembly and the FCT Area council polls conducted on March 9 2019, all of which were regarded as the largest electoral enterprise in the nation’s electoral history. The exercise involved 24,353 candidates nominated by 91 parties for 1, 558 constituencies and with a voter population of 84,004,084 spread across 119,973 polling units nationwide. Based on this and other data, even many of the ardent critics of INEC Yakubu acknowledge the modest achievements of the 58-year old in the last five years to deserve confirmation of his reappointment by the Senate. Using the outcome of the governorship polls held in Edo and Ondo states on September 19 and October 10, respectively as a possible roadmap, some stakeholders believe that Yakubu has raised the bar at the commission, though there is still room for improvement.

 

Interventions

Two major tasks seem to lie ahead of Yakubu in the next five years as the chairman of INEC. One of them will be to consolidate on the gains of his first tenure. The second will be raise the bar, as it were, by embarking on more pragmatic actions in tandem to the standard obtainable in other democracies, where the fad is all about the deployment of technology.  Statistics showed that the commission recorded major strides spanning more than six categories in the last five years, one of which is the gradual deployment of technology in the nation’s electoral process and system. Thus, in the bid to strengthen the electoral administration and management, the INEC ensured the revision of regulations, guidelines and manuals to abolish separate accreditation and voting procedure; introduced the Continuous Accreditation and Voting System (CAVS), mandatory use of the Smart Card Reader (SCR) for the accreditation of voters; ended the use of Incident Forms to check fraud and brought about the requirement by poll officials to paste results at each polling unit in a new form EC60E.

According to observers, the INEC ensured a sustained deployment of upgraded Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCM) and SCRs to improve voter turnaround time and deployed the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV), an online portal accessible by the general public for election results (EC 8A) uploaded directly from the polling unit by the presiding officer at the close of polls, as well as on-line portals. These include the INEC portal for recruitment of all election ad-hoc staff; INEC candidate nomination portal to capture information and documents of candidates nominated for election by parties; INEC Media Accreditation Portal (IMAP) for the accreditation of organisations for the coverage of election day activities; e-learning portal for the training of all ad-hoc staff and security agents; INEC observer group portal that enables observer groups submit applications and details of accredited observers for specific elections; INEC political party management system that allows parties to submit polling agents for specific elections; and INEC online newspaper (INEC News).

Many applaud the Yakubu-led INEC for the conduct of registration of voters and maintenance of the National Register of Voters, which it ensured through an all-year-round Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) as prescribed by law at local government areas and other designated levels resulting in the registration of 14,283,734 new voters. It also procured upgraded Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCMs) with fingerprint scanners and camera; re-capturing of incomplete bio data of previously registered in previous CVR exercise; ensured quarterly display of claims and objections on the register of voters during the CVR exercise and increased transparency and accountability in the Permanent Voter Card collection processes commission introduced the harmonised procurement procedure for a coordinated, timely and transparent procurement process; established a Collation Support and Result Verification System (CRSVS) at constituency and local government area collation centres for accurate tallying of votes; reactivated the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory and the Graphic Design Centre; enhanced customisation and securitisation of ballot papers and result sheets and counting, tallying and mandatory announcement and publication of election results in every polling unit on Form EC60E to enhance transparency.

Another major highpoint of the INEC was in regular and periodic consultation and engagement with stakeholders, including political parties, CSOs, media, and security personnel within the ambit of Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security; information dissemination and press releases to the public following the weekly commission’s meeting and after any major decisions by the commission to promote transparency and reduce the circulation of fake news and launched the INEC Online newspaper (inecnews.com). The INEC engaged with relevant stakeholders, including National Assembly; the Judiciary; Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) and the international development partners.

 

The task ahead

The views of majority of the stakeholders in the democratic structure and institutions on the reappointment of Yakubu has been a mixture of optimism and caution. While the consensus is that the reappointment was a welcome development, some are of the opinion that he should use the opportunity to raise his game. Members of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) through its spokesperson, IkengaUgochinyere, asked Yakubu to use his reappointment in consolidating the gains of the Edo and Ondo elections. “The shifted elections earlier scheduled for October 31 would be the first test of what this second term would be for. Nigerians will expect nothing less than a very credible, free and fair 2023 general election from him,” the coalition stated. It promised to monitor him “as he carries through the introduction of electronic voting which the commission has been test running over the years.”

Main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also counselled the INEC boss on how consolidate on his achievements so far. The party tasked him to see his reappointment as an ample opportunity to address the challenges that “characterised the first five years.” PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said: “This re-appointment entrusts on Professor Yakubu the fate, hope and future of over 200 million Nigerians, as well as that of generations yet unborn.” Accordingly, he added: “At least, with this reappointment, whatever happens in our future elections cannot be ascribed to inexperience and lack of adequate preparedness on the side of INEC. Furthermore, we consider this reappointment by President Buhari as an impetus to demonstrate readiness for a free fair and credible election, which Mr President had always promised to bequeath at the end of his second and final term in office in 2023.

The Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) similarly sounded advisory while reacting to the reappointment of Yakubu. Citing what he called the digitalization programme of the INEC, which has transformed the conduct elections in the last four years, its national chairman, Dr Leonard Nzenwa, said: “The success of the Edo and Ondo 2020 gubernatorial polls is a clear example of the positive technology and digitisation trajectory, which Professor Yakubu’s first tenure gave to Nigeria.”

Other stakeholders, however, challenged the INEC boss on what they described as part of his unfinished business. Of greater interest to them are the reforms he has consistently pushed for, which required collaboration with the National Assembly, pressure groups and political parties. Not long ago, Professor Yakubu listed four of such critical areas that require reforms in the Electoral Act. Some observers also contend that there is a need for a similar collaboration among all the stakeholders to tame the menace of vote trading, which tends to blight the outcome of elections in the eyes of the public.

 

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